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At the end of another weird year we’ve been looking back and pondering – was 2021 better or worse than 2020? It’s a tough call – parts (extended winter, Jan-Apr) have been really terrible, but we have been locked in our houses a lot less since then? Although, while last year intruded more on our personal freedoms, this year has revealed a lot more about the rank corruption, malignant policy design and selfishness of the world in general. It’s probably too close to call?

The world may be on fire, but at least we’ve had live music. And a whole load of wonderful albums to listen to as we stare at the flames. As is traditional, we have done a lot of polling to mark the end of the year. The music team have been interrogated to discover their favourite releases of 2021, with the top ten each presented here alongside one fan’s passionate argument for its greatness. We’ve also focussed more specifically on Scottish music, with an overview of the big events of the year, alongside a rundown of the top ten releases by Scottish bands.

The film team have had their time at the polls, resulting in a top ten of the best films of 2021, with a countdown of the most overlooked films of the year running alongside it. Comedy has conducted a perhaps less scientifically rigorous survey, and put together a list of the funniest things to have happened this year including but not limited to Bo Burnham; an overheard conversation between 14 year olds; a very small coffee table. 

The centre spreads are once again pull-out-and-use sheets of wrapping paper designed by supremely talented illustrators Mac Machen and Connie Noble. As it is the season of consumerism, we have compiled our usual gift guide asking the team for their recommendations / list of demands. We wanted to move away from focussing on stuff, so this year we asked that everyone consider ideas of subscriptions, experiences, vouchers that can continue to support small businesses and – not to be too travel influencer – collect memories not things. All with the usual focus on local, sustainable, ethical. 

While we were working on this issue, the heartbreaking news reached us of Beldina Odenyo Onassis, Heir of the Cursed’s passing. One of Scotland’s most talented artists, her October SAY Award performance honouring Kathryn Joseph was electrifying – no one who saw it will ever forget it. Her performance online during the dark days of lockdown offered a memory of live music’s beauty, hope and connection. We have collected tributes from those who knew her to honour her memory. 

 In Art, we meet Howardena Pindell for an interview conducted over voice note, providing an insight into her studio practice, and the last 60 years of making social change as an artist and activist. At the end of another year where the threats to women and those from marginalised genders’ basic safety have been constantly highlighted, most recently with reports of needle spiking (to go alongside the drink spiking we already had to be constantly vigilant against), we meet some of those working to properly and authentically implement safer space policy in the club scene. Returning to the apocalypse, in Books Katie Goh – author of The End: Surviving the World Through Imagined Disasters – takes a look at how some of the year’s disaster fiction can help us live and find hope in the midst of man made catastrophe.

Continuing in the theme, our final Q&A of the year embraces the world of pantomime. Turn to the inside back to hear from Scottish panto stalwart Grant Stott, covering our favourite topics of cooking dinner for Billy Connolly, looking up to his dad and fighting Joe Pasquale.

[Rosamund West]

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