Songs About Places 2021: 'Outside,' 'Lockdown,' and Memphis Among the Themes of Another Pandemic Year

2021 was full of songs that centered place in art's reckoning with reality. Were you listening?

December 12, 2021, 11:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


memphis Bus

Noel Pennington / Flickr

2021. What a year, right?

Writers have been writing the same sad paragraphs about art as a reflection of the sickness in the world since before the pandemic, surely, but nearly two years after the first stay-at-home orders, mask mandates, and 20-second incantations for hand washings, I'm fairly confident I can't add anything to the conversation.

But that doesn't mean I won't try. In the words of André Gide: "Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again."

The artists on the attached Spotify playlist are saying it again. Unbound the limitations of my chosen medium, they are also accomplishing the magic trick of speaking timeless truths in new ways—with new musics, enabled by new technologies, holding up a mirror to a new world. 

It was easy to make the following playlist of songs about places—all 138 songs of it. I had more than 50 songs on the playlist, gathered through my compulsive but casual listening throughout the year, before any of the "Top Albums" lists of the year lists started to pour in last week. No doubt, however, that the various authorities of the music Internet subsequently facilitated the efficiency of my collection. All the "Top Albums" lists of the year were overflowing with songs about places. Almost every album on the Pitchfork top albums of the year list includes a song about a place. Almost every album on the Stereogum top albums of the year list includes a song about a place. Almost every song of the Quietus top albums of the year list includes a song about a place. Almost every song on the NPR top albums of the year list includes a song about a place. Almost every album on the XXL and HipHop DX top albums of the year list had a song about a place.

It's more than a coincidence. It's a trend. 

Without being reductive or building a mountain of a mole hill, I did notice a few repeated words while listening for songs for the list. In my unscientific and heavily biased semantic analysis, most conspicuous were the words "outside," "lockdown," "police," and "Memphis." If you listen to this playlist in order you might also notice that I stan for synth punk, Griselda Records, and, again, Memphis, but I did my best to be comprehensively inclusive across genre (although, admittedly, that is an impossible task).

For previous "Songs About Places" lists from Planetizen, please check the following links: 2020, 2019, 2018, rivers/rain, 2017, 2015, and 2014.

And as a bonus to make this particular corner of the Internet come alive a little, even for non-Spotify users, here are some of the best music videos about places from the artists and songs of 2021. No elaborate sets. No CG. Just landscape, location, and the occasional filter.

"Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again." -André Gide


James Brasuell

James Brasuell is a writer and editor, producing web, print, and video content on the subjects of planning, urbanism, and mobility. James has managed all editorial content and direction for Planetizen since 2014 and was promoted to editorial director in 2021.

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