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The undertone of 2021

While everybody shared their Spotify Unwrapped on the first of December, I wanted to wait until the end of the year, as a lot can change in a month. For those unaware, I am an Apple Music user which offers a similar to Spotify’s Unwrapped statistics. This year, Apple expanded the information available and now includes the most listened to artists and albums. However, the statistics are not fully accurate and cannot be trusted, as the Apple Music application does not properly update the play count of the songs (please, Apple). Regardless, a basic analysis of the listening trends can be made.

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Favourite Songs

According to Apple Music, I have listened to 1,169 hours of music, which is a little more than 3 hours a day on average. This number should be at least double or even triple. Subsequently, it is expected that the information contains some deviation from the reality.

My Top 10 of the most listened to songs looks like this:
  1. Цветелина Янева – Бой, Бой
  2. Go_A – SHUM
  3. Solomun – Tuk Tuk (feat. ÄTNA)
  4. Emilia, Florin Salam & Costi – Turbulence
  5. Джулия – Ножът
  6. Криско & Галена – Тръпката
  7. Taylor Swift - All Too Well (10 Minute Version)
  8. Go_A – Жальменiна
  9. Marwa Loud – Bad Boy
  10. Norton Andreev – Аз Съм Един

Бой, Бой” was released in March 2021 by one of my favourite Bulgarian singers – Tsvetelina Yaneva. I am not surprised that it is, apparently, my most listened to song for the past year, as I have been listening to the song almost daily since the release. With its glamorous music video, it is something I definitely would recommend checking out, even if you are not Bulgarian.
SHUM” is the song that represented Ukraine at the Eurovision 2021 Song Contest. The group that created the song, which is inspired by Ukrainian folklore, is one of my biggest discoveries in music for the past year, as it became one of my most listened to artists for the past year.
Tuk Tuk” was released in February and is a song I started listening to at a particular type of events I was attending throughout the year. Solomun is a Bosnian-German DJ who I had never heard of before this song. As some of the songs that eventually become my favourites, I discovered the track from the Apple Music’s New Music Daily playlist. As a side note, I follow the playlist every week and this is the main way I discover new music and new artists.
Turbulence” is a song by the Bulgarian singer Emilia and features the Romanian star Florin Salam. The song is produced by one of my favourite producers – the Grammy-nominated Costi Ionita. The song immediately became a hit in both Bulgaria and Romania. The amazingly directed and produced video generated 35M views within 6 months and became the most viewed music video in Bulgaria for 2021.
Ножът” is also a Bulgarian song I have been listening to a lot since its release. It was produced by Deyan Asenov. I wanted to mention his name, as, despite his young age, he produced most of the Bulgarian hits in 2021. I can be quite picky when it comes to Bulgarian music, as I have been listening to it all since I was born. Throughout the years, I have been following the trends and have been analyzing the good and the bad. While not necessarily the best, Deyan Asenov makes music that is better than what some other popular songwriters used to produce in the past few years.
Тръпката” is another song that I have been listening to daily since its release in August. While it did not become as big in my country as I expected it to be, once I heard it, it is exactly what I expected from its singer – Galena – for her summer single. I love the arrangement and the overall vibe of the project. In general, while it sounds commercial, it is still different from what was released throughout the year. The producer of the song, Daniel Ganev, produces music of very good quality. Not just when it comes to music and arrangement, but also when it comes to the quality of the sound itself. I love the layering of elements and listening to his music on a good pair of headphones is a better experience than what many of the world-famous producers can offer.
All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” – “All Too Well” is a song I have never listened to carefully before the release of RED (Taylor’s Version). As I became a Swiftie when she released her “1989”, I have never paid attention to the music she had released before that. Not only that, but I never understood the fans’ love for the song. Undeniably, I have made a mistake and the song quickly became one of my favourites of 2021. I love Taylor’s ability to tell stories via her music. Even if the song tells a personal story, I can still relate to some of it. The 10-minute version is also very soothing – in a way that you want to listen to it over and over again, despite it being that long. You can read more about my take on RED (Taylor’s Version) and the song here.
Жальменiна” is a song of the debut album of Go_A which I have been listening to a lot last spring. I was still in Sheffield where I used to go for long night walks, listening to the album. I have listened to all of the songs from the album almost the same number of times, as I used to listen to the album in full, but this one seems to have gained a few additional plays which have placed it in my Top 10 songs for the year. It is also interesting to note that Go_A is the only artist that has two songs within my Top 10 list.

While “Bad Boy” is a song from 2018, it became popular in my country last year. I found out about it from one of the popular music channels over here and, even if not immediately, it became a favourite. Because of it, I checked out Marwa’s album “Loud”, as well as the 2021 release – “Again”.  There are a few more songs I liked out of these albums and listened to during the past year.
Finally, “Аз Съм Един” is my fourth single that I released officially in 2021. I am not sure if it is surprising that it has been one of my most listened to songs for the year, but it is an indication that I am happy with the result and that I like the song myself (which is not always the case with the artists). Sometimes, people ask artists if they listen to their music – while I cannot speak for everybody, the placement of my song within my Top 10 answers the question for myself.
As I listen to both Bulgarian and International music, I have always seen these as two separate entities. Looking back at my Top 100 songs of 2020, I only have 6 Bulgarian songs. The first one of which is under #37. On the contrary, this year I have 23 songs in my Top 100 with 5 of them being in the top 10. In that sense, I can say that I have listened to much more Bulgarian music this year which is also representative of the improved quality of the singles released.

Favourite Artists

During the past year, I checked out music from 1,424 artists, and, unsurprisingly, the one I have listened the most to is Taylor Swift – she is my favourite artist. Furthermore, she released two albums in 2021 and two albums in 2020, meaning that there was a lot of new music from her to listen to. She is followed by Go_A which, as I already mentioned before, is my biggest discovery for the past year. Despite only having one released album, the group managed to become my second most listened to artist.
My Top 10 list of the most listened to artists looks like this:
  1. Taylor Swift
  2. Go_A
  3. Marwa Loud
  4. Галена
  5. Selena Gomez
  6. Halsey
  7. Katy Perry
  8. Цветелина Янева
  9. Lady Gaga
  10. Теди Александрова
Apart from Go_A, Marwa Loud, and Теди Александрова are big surprises for me. Marwa is an artist I started listening to causally, so I did not expect her to be in my Top 10. Some of her songs that I have been listening to are – “Bad Boy”, “Cevi”, “On y va”, “Je voulais”, and “Gâché” from her album “Loud”, as well as “Bimbo” from “Again”.
Finally, Теди Александрова has never been a favourite artist of mine. Conversely, I have condemned most of her music throughout the years. This year, however, the tables turned and she was one of the most productive Bulgarian artists. She released an album, multiple music videos and, in general, dramatically improved her production quality. Some of her songs I have been listening to quite a lot are “Автомата”, “Цак-Цак”, and “Ало, ало”.
All of the other artists on the list have been my favourites for many years now, so there are no surprises there.

Favourite Albums

According to Apple Music, last year I listened to songs from 446 albums. It is noteworthy to explain the way Apple Music counts album plays – it does on per-song basis. For example, listening to one song of an album counts as one album play. In that sense, if I have one favourite song from an album – as it is “willow” from evermore – listening to it ninety times results in ninety album plays. Then, if we take an album with thirty songs, such as Red, and I listen to it three times in full – this will also result in ninety album plays. However, it is clear that I like Red more than evermore, as I have listened to the whole record, rather than just one song out of it. 
Taylor’s Red (Taylor’s Version) and Fearless (Taylor’s Version) come at first and second place, respectively. They are followed by “Loud” by Marwa Loud. The full list of my personal top 10 is as follows:
  1. Taylor Swift – Red (Taylor’s Version)
  2. Taylor Swift – Fearless (Taylor’s Version)
  3. Go_A - #Ідиназвук
  4. Marwa Loud – Loud
  5. Taylor Swift – folklore (Deluxe Edition)
  6. Taylor Swift – Lover
  7. Taylor Swift – reputation
  8. Lady Gaga – Chromatica
  9. Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
  10. Taylor Swift – evermore (Deluxe Edition)
No matter how Apple Music counts album plays, “Red” and “Fearless” are definitely my favourite albums for this year (and the ones I bought physically on a CD).

Personal Projects

Annually, I release two big playlists – one in January with my favourite Bulgarian songs from the past 12 months and one during the summer with my favourite world music. I have been releasing both of these projects for more than a decade now and they have always taken a huge part in my heart. All my memories and experiences are associated with the songs included in the albums and, as I like to say, I feel like they are telling the story of my life.
Last year, the Bulgarian playlist – “Беден в Сърцето” – was released on January 8th with 48 songs. The summer playlist – “Love Me Land” – was released on July 16th with 60 songs which made it my biggest such release since the 2014’s “#Can'tLetGo”.
In 2021, I also released my fourth single – “Аз Съм Един”. It was recorded back in March 2020. However, I did not want to release music during the lockdown and justifiably decided to postpone and release alongside another big event in my life – my graduation from university. The single is co-produced by Andy Stefanov (ANDRO) who I worked with for the first time.

AirPods Max and third generation AirPods

It is not just the music released that matters, but also the way one listens to it. I have been using AirPods since they were released back in 2016 and I have eagerly been waiting for each new generation. Apart from AirPods, I have wanted Beats over-the-head headphones for years, but the rumours for over-the-head AirPods and the prevalence of the bass associated with the Beats headphones have made me postpone the decision to get a pair multiple times. Last year, my patience paid off with the release of AirPods Max. It is a product I had been waiting for years and, even if not as sophisticated as the rumours were picturing them, they became my favourite headphones I have ever owned.

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In October 2021, Apple also announced the third generation of AirPods which replaced my second generation. While I am not entirely happy with the new fit, I find the sound quality much better than what it used to be with the first two generations. AirPods Max are still the ones I use most of the time, however, I like the smaller ones for when it is rainy or snowy outside or when I am wearing glasses.

Dolby Atmos

Finally, Apple announced Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos support for its Apple Music subscribers back in June 2021. For those unaware, Dolby Atmos allows producers to position different music elements precisely in the soundscape. The technology adds height channels which allow for an immersive, 360-degree sound that you might be familiar with from the movie theatres. When mixing for Dolby Atmos, the producers can decide the elements they want to emphasise and, as the separation is much better than with stereo sound, the listener can hear elements that were once flattened in a standard stereo mix. More information about the technology can be found here.

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By the end of 2021, most of the albums by major artists were re-uploaded in the Dolby Atmos format, while most of the new music is mastered for it by default. Apart from elevating the listening experience, the technology makes listening to previously released favourite albums even more pleasing.

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