‘The Year I Turned 21’: A Captivating Exploration of Love, Loss, and Self-Discovery

Beninese-Nigerian singer, songwriter, and Mavin Record signee Ayra Starr has released her second studio album, “The Year I Turned 21,” after a two-year gap from her debut album “19 and Dangerous,” which was a global success. The highly anticipated album comes almost a year after its intended release and after Ayra’s many accolades since turning 21 in 2023.

The singer bagged awards such as the 2023 Headies Best Female Artiste award and Amazon’s Breakthrough Artist 2023. She has also received nominations, including a Grammy nomination for Best African Music Performance for her song “Rush” and three for this year’s BET Awards, including Best New Artist, International Act, and Best Her with “Commas.”

Ayra also appeared on the global scene, including performing at the O2 arena in 2023, VisaLive at Louvre in France, headlining the C6 Fest in Brazil, and heading her first world tour. All of these achievements create steep expectations for the new album.

The highly anticipated album is age-themed, just like her first. The age “21” is celebrated as a rite of passage, signifying the transition into adulthood and the embrace of newfound freedoms and choices, which explains the general theme of the second body of work by the singer to signify her independence. Let’s get into it!

“Birds Sing of Money”

“Birds Sing of Money” is the opening song of the album. The song opens with admiration for the singer and further expresses her undeniable presence and fearlessness. It then transcends into a reggae tune, which gives a similar feel to Tiwa Savage’s “Wanted” and Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money.” If you want a song to announce your arrival or silence the crowd, this is for you.

“Goodbye (Warm Up)” 

“Goodbye (Warm Up)” comes next on the album, featuring Asake in a dancehall style. The song itself speaks of the back and forth of a toxic relationship and the hurdles involved in trying to break out of it. Although not my top pick, it is definitely one of my favourite features as Asake “Asaked” the song. His verse on the song had the typical Asake vibe, with catchphrases that might stick for a while. This song is for when you’re in that “idgaf” mood and need to say goodbye to a toxic ex.


 “Commas,” the third song on the album, although released earlier in the year, it still had the effect it did when it first came out. With this upbeat pop-style tune, the singer expresses her newly attained maturity and intolerance for bad energy. She also speaks of all the many things she will do with her life as she is now, especially chasing her dreams. So if you’re feeling mischievous and need morale for a risky adventure, “Commas” is the right pick.

“Woman Commando”

“Woman Commando” features Anitta from Brazil and Coco Jones from America. Arguably, we can tag it as the best artiste feature on the album, as all women brought their styles of salsa, R&B, Afropop genres, and blues. They blended them while expressing the feminine bond of women globally. As the title implies, this is for a fun girls’ night out in the city.


“Control” gives a sultry feel of a confident woman ready to do anything to get her beau. Ayra expresses the power of femininity while interposing lyrics and melodies from Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie,” an artist for whom she had previously expressed immense love and respect. So, here’s your jam for any woman looking to spice things up in the bedroom—or perhaps outside the bedroom.

“Lagos Love Story”

“Lagos Love Story” (LLS) matches the mid-tempo Afrobeat style of “Control” and tells the story of the thrills that come with young and fresh love, the butterflies, and its many escapades. It’s the story of a “hard babe” who finally finds and embraces love. Are you struggling to let your crush know you like them, or perhaps you want to appreciate your beau? Just send them this song.

“Rhythm & Blues”

“Rhythm & Blues” is the perfect follow-up for LLS. It is an upbeat, afrobeat song that further tells of the jitters of love and how hopelessly in love people can get. It has a similar feel to the preceding song and makes for an excellent follow-up.


“21” is THE album song. This R&B tune showcases the depth of Ayra’s vocal and lyrical strength. I think “21” would have made a perfect opening song, as it perfectly tells of the singer’s personal experiences and growth since her first body of work, “19 and Dangerous.” The music reflects on the singer’s struggles since gaining fame and fortune, and the perfection of the lyrics also expresses issues that regular people have been through since coming into adulthood, making it one of the most relatable songs on the album.

“Last Heartbreak Song”

The next song on the album, “Last Heartbreak Song,” is a mid-tempo tune with the perfect feature artist, Gideon. Giveon, known for his toxic and sad love songs, brought magic to the song. We might just have a new heartbreak anthem, so grab a bottle of wine and chocolates, and let’s cry together. Don’t forget tissues!

“Bad Vibes”

“Bad Vibes” featuring Seyi Vibez, which was pre-released, is a hit and will always be one. The song further expresses Ayra’s intolerance for bad energy and her focus on only what makes her happy. With the right amount of Seyi’s street tune and Ayra’s pop, the difference in sounds of both artists worked perfectly on the song, making it perfect for the Friday night drive to and from the club.


“Orun” has perhaps the most unique instrumentation on the album. The rich Highlife tune tells of her unrelenting strive and dedication to doing better, irrespective of all she has achieved. Perfect for some personal girl time while doing self-care or just letting your hair down.

“Jazzy’s Song”

“Jazzy’s song,” which was part of Wande Coal’s “You Bad, ” lived up to expectations. The song expresses the need to work, turn up, and let loose. “Jazzy’s Song” is an instant club banger, guaranteed to get you off your feet and on the dance floor.


“1942,” featuring Milar,  her younger brother, tells of Ayra’s reflection on her journey and all she’s worked for while enjoying a bottle of 1942—a tequila brand. If you don’t pay close attention, you might not differentiate between the two artists in the song as they both sound so alike, which fooled me once—a typical feel-good song for when ready to kick back and reflect.

“The Kids Are Alright”

“The Kids Are Alright” is the official closing track and the singer’s tribute to her dad. The song opens with Ayra’s mother emphasizing the singer’s need to live in the moment and enjoy all she’s worked for. Ayra remembers her late father in hopes that she is making him proud and also reassures him that everyone he left behind is doing okay.


The album includes a bonus track, “Santa,” by Jamaica’s Rvssian and Puerto Rican singer-songwriter, Rauw Alejandro, which explores desire and attraction. The lyrics describe a strong emotional and physical connection with a rhythm that encourages the exploration of said connection.


The album displays the singer’s ability to explore diverse genres, showcase her versatility in continuously putting out great solo work, and hold her own on the songs she features from top global artists.

“The Year I Turned 21” is a definite success, and the numbers back it up. Since its release, the album has peaked at No. 1 on Apple Music in over 11 African countries, top 10 in countries across continents, including number 6 in the UK Apple Album Charts, making Ayra Starr the highest-charting African artist in the UK, setting a significant record.


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