The A-Zs that rocked 2021: From ART for art's sake to zero-waste packaging

The Straits Times presents an A-Z look at what rocked 2021, from ART (antigen rapid tests) for art's sake to zero-waste packaging.

A: ART for art's sake 

People complain about having to pay through the nose for theatre, but this year, it took a literal slant, as antigen rapid tests (ART) became de rigueur for the unvaccinated audience member.

A fresh spike in Covid-19 case numbers led to the introduction of new restrictions in May, including caps on audience numbers for live performances and the requirement of pre-event testing for shows with more than 50 attendees.


B: Boom time for cafes and bakeries

The cafe and bakery scene has never been more vibrant, with many expanding into big spaces in idyllic locations or offering novel themes.

Those in residential areas satisfy the caffeine fix of people who work from home, while others in far-flung locations become sweet escapes for travel-hungry diners.


C: Cell-cultivated and plant-based foods take off

The industry of cell-cultivated foods and plant-based products made leaps and bounds this year.

In the cell-based food sector, Israeli start-up Aleph Farms is looking to make its cell-cultured thin beef cuts commercially available in Singapore next year, pending regulatory approvals.


D: Diabetes in teens

While Covid-19 has loomed large for two years now, another worrying health spectre is on the rise.

Type 2 diabetes - usually more common in people who are older than 40 - has been increasingly diagnosed among teenagers - thanks to sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets.


E: Entertainment powerhouse Asia

Three trends converged this year: the pandemic made everyone stay home more, the selection of streaming goodies jumped and audiences around the world woke up to the idea that there is more to filmed entertainment than Hollywood.

In February, the Disney+ platform launched in Singapore. Its arrival was highly anticipated because it is a streaming service with a catalogue to match that of Netflix, which arrived here in 2016.


F: Fermentation fever

From kombucha to kimchi, from sourdough to tempeh, fermentation went into overdrive in 2021.

People who were making kombucha to drink at home started selling their wares online, lured by the low barrier to entry. All anyone needs is a scoby - symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast - plus tea, sugar and time. The scoby turns sweetened tea into kombucha in seven to 10 days.


G: Gym at home

Home exercise equipment flew off the shelves this year when gyms and fitness studios were either closed or saw group sizes reduced during heightened curbs.

Fitness buffs splashed out thousands of dollars to build home gyms, so they could keep up their workout routines from the comfort of their homes and limit their exposure to Covid-19.


H: Hybridity in performing arts

To stage or not to stage live shows, that is the question.

The answer for performing arts this past year has been hybrid productions where audiences can choose from in-venue events, digital streaming or a mix of both.


I: Indie takedown

Perhaps 2021 will go down in history as the year of accountability.

Amid the barrage of stories about the virus, Singaporeans were diverted by multi- chaptered sagas on company takedowns from the inside.


J: Jaw-dropping NFT prices

A Singapore-based entrepreneur caused a stir in March when he bought a digital collage for US$69 million (S$94 million) worth of cryptocurrency.

The record-smashing sale of Beeple's Everydays: The First 5,000 Days at a Christie's auction was the highest sum anyone had paid for a digital artwork. The buyer, collector Vignesh Sundaresan (known as "Metakovan" in the virtual world) paid in Ether, the world's second-largest cryptocurrency.


K: Kings of food

When the pandemic ravaged the food and beverage (F&B) sector, some chefs left their jobs to start their own ventures.

Having helmed the kitchens at top hotels and restaurants, they believe their signature dishes are the best in the land. And how do they set themselves apart from the competition? By proclaiming themselves "kings".


L: Local medley rally

From big-name pop stars to rising indie acts, home-grown musicians have been prolific in the past year.

With the number of live performances limited due to the pandemic, many musicians turned to writing and recording new songs. Every week saw a healthy number of fresh releases - whether in the form of singles, EPs and albums, or music videos.


M: Myopia and obesity in kids

Childhood myopia and obesity - already on the rise in Singapore before Covid-19 hit - became bigger problems this year.

As screen time shot up with more time spent indoors, more children started to have myopia or found their condition worsening, say eye-care professionals and doctors.


N: New digital nomad

Working from home has become the norm during the pandemic.

Home could be a Housing Board flat in Yishun or an Airbnb apartment overlooking the sparkling Adriatic sea in Stobrec, Croatia.


P: Pizza

Perhaps as a protest against the pro-protein diets of the last few years, pizza came back with a vengeance in 2021.

The seeds for unbridled carbo-loading had already been sown in the last three years, and took off in 2020 when the pandemic hit and people self-soothed with comfort food such as bread, noodles, pasta and pizza.


Q: Quest for sustainable city living

The Singapore Pavilion at this year's Expo 2020 Dubai presented a microcosm of what future cities can look like by integrating nature, architecture and technology.

Despite being one of the most densely built-up cities in the world, Singapore is also among the greenest and its pavilion reflects its aspiration to be a city in nature.


R: Reunions and revisits

From Friends to Bennifer, 2021 was marked by reunions and revisits in the entertainment world.

In May, the six main cast members of American sitcom Friends (1994 to 2004) got together for Friends: The Reunion.


S: Squid Game's tentacles

In early November, the cast of Netflix's South Korean hit Squid Game were on a publicity tour of the United States when a journalist asked the show's lead actor, Lee Jung-jae, what it felt like to be suddenly famous.

Lee is a star in South Korea, having grown from young heart-throb to character actor in a career that spans decades. So the journalist's solipsistic assumption - that anyone with a fan base outside of her bubble has no fan base at all - upset fans of South Korean entertainment but for everyone else, served as reminder that the Anglosphere considers its own entertainment to be the default option, not just for the members, but for the world.


T: TikTok gets bigger

Known for its short, snazzy clips, video-sharing app TikTok has seen its user base grow this year, hitting a billion active global users in September - securing its place among the biggest social networking apps in the world.

An international version of Douyin, which was released in the Chinese market in 2016, TikTok became available worldwide around two years later.


U: Up-to-the-minute prototyping

This was the year 3D printing proliferated in almost every sector of the economy.

The technology that began in the early 1980s in Japan as a faster way to make prototypes for industrial parts went mainstream, changing the way things are made - from heavy manufacturing to home-based 3D printing of toys and decorative accessories.



When international borders remained closed this year, people took to rediscovering the island, going on cruises to nowhere and booking staycations for every occasion - from birthdays to bachelorette parties.

Then came vaccinated travel lanes (VTLs), which rekindled the possibility of leisure travel. In September, Germany became the first destination people in Singapore could visit - quarantine-free.


W: Wellness and health apps

 As the pandemic dragged into its second year, socially distanced Singaporeans sought tech solutions to improve their mental health and well-being - and tech developers responded.

Worldwide, mental health and wellness weighed on people's minds. Google searches for ways to maintain mental health, and for positive affirmations - such as "I am worthy and I am loved" - reached an all-time high among English-speaking countries, according to the search engine's 2021 trends report.


X: Xi Jinping crackdown

A number of scandals rocked the Chinese entertainment scene this year - notably the arrest of pop star Kris Wu for rape, and the surrogacy and tax evasion controversies involving actress Zheng Shuang.

And Chinese President Xi Jinping has had enough.


Y: YOLO economy

If you are a millennial who has given up your steady job to start your own business, pursue a niche hobby or simply to take a break, you have joined the YOLO (you only live once) economy.

The term was coined by The New York Times to refer to the phenomenon of overworked millennials foregoing cushy, financially secure jobs in favour of high-risk ventures.


Z: Zero-waste packaging

These days, it is almost taboo for a beauty brand not to align itself with the green movement and use sustainable packaging.

In 2019, Forbes reported that the global beauty industry produces 120 billion units of packaging annually, making it one of the top contributors to plastic waste.


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