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2021 culture roundup: Recess staff picks favorite culture pieces of the year

“Donda” 

Kanye West's “Donda” earned a place among my favorite pieces of media this year. The album, though bloated and messy at times, is beautifully unique, and no other artist could make something like it. Everything about this album’s release was also unforgettable, from the three live performances he had to its eventual unexpected release on a Sunday morning. “Donda” is both a return to form for Kanye, yet it also marks artistic growth for an artist with a career spanning two decades. The production is eclectic, covering many sounds and sub-genres within hip-hop, with featured artists from all across the music world. It’s too soon to talk about the record’s lasting impact and influence, but I can definitely say that “Donda” is a special album that encapsulates everything that makes Kanye unique in the music world.
—Rhys Banerjee, music beat writer

“The Beatles: Get Back”

If you are a dedicated Beatles fan, you have to watch Peter Jackson's "Get Back." Spanning nearly eight hours and using film from Michael Lindsay-Hogg's documentary in 1970, the series chronicles the creation of the album "Let It Be" (formerly known as "Get Back"). While watching the series, you see some of the most famous Beatles songs being written. It is the perfect view into the iconic band's final year. —Kerry Rork, local arts editor

“Kandinsky The Pioneer of Abstract Art” exhibition at West Bund Museum

The first retrospective exhibition of Vassily Kandisky, credited as the founder of abstract painting, debuted in May at Shanghai's West Bund Museum. You have to see Kandinsky’s painting in real-life to understand how a painter can take the word “composition” to a whole new level. —Katherine Zhong, staff writer

"Lamb"

As an A24 horror movie devotee and the owner of an unshakeable individuality complex, I am required to turn your attention away from the company's critically acclaimed fantasy "The Green Knight," and towards their claustrophobic Icelandic drama "Lamb," which premiered much more quietly in October. The fabulistic tale of two childless farmers who take in an infant human/sheep hybrid born in one of their barns (yes, that's correct) and raise her as their own is as unsettling as it sounds, but I have not stopped thinking about it since I left the theater. The ability to empathize with the irrevocable loneliness that colors the couple's decision to treat the lamb as family — and the isolating measures they take to protect their "child" from the outside world — is only as strong as it is because we are two years into a pandemic. I doubt that this film will affect me the same way ten years from now, when (hopefully) I no longer remember the feeling of isolation-induced brain fog, but for now, like, who can't relate to the urge to isolate themselves on a farm with only your loved ones and the reality you create? —Tessa Delgo, Recess editor 

“The Mitchells vs. the Machines"

I don't often watch animated movies, but I've never been more glad this year than when I decided to watch "The Mitchells vs. the Machines." I was instantly hooked by the art style, with popups similar to "Spider-Man: Into to the Spider-Verse," but stayed for the engrossing story that's laugh-out-loud funny and equally heartfelt. If you relate to dysfunctional families, worry about the AI revolution, or dream of giant, evil Furby monsters, then look no further than this wonderfully written and directed movie. —Devinne Moses, design editor

“Planet Her” 

If there’s any album that defined the sound of 2021, it was Doja Cat’s “Planet Her.” The sensual sound of “Need to Know” and the energizing beats of “Get Into It (Yuh),” to name a few, mastered the art of music that is fit for both the screen and the dance floor. From my high school nights scrolling past her whimsical animated “Mooo!” video to seeing the artist take the stage at the VMAs, it’s been both inspiring and always entertaining to watch her grow in her artistry — and, if “Planet Her” is any indicator of what’s to come, this is only the beginning. —Skyler Graham, Recess editor

“Nonante-Cinq”

"Nonante-Cinq" is the Belgian star Angéle's sophomore album, and, like her debut, it is filled with sleek French pop. Here, though, she improves on her previous effort in every regard: the production is sharper, the melodies are catchier, and the songwriting is more meaningful. Take lead single "Bruxelles je t'aime," a love letter to Brussels and Belgium. What might otherwise be a solid dance pop song is elevated by Angéle's clear passion for her home, pleading that her country might never divide along language lines. Angéle's songwriting has always been her biggest strength — she wrote every song on "Nonante-Cinq" by herself — and yet, even if you don't know a lick of French, the songs are bangers worth listening to in any case. "Libre" has a hook so good it was stuck in my head for a week, and "Pensées positives" (the best song on the album) is the kind of up-tempo anthem I wish I had last summer. In "Nonante-Cinq," Angéle has achieved both my favorite album and piece of culture of the year.  —Jonathan Pertile, culture editor 

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