The Best Songs of 2021
Well - 2021 wasn't better than the year before. Music did most of the heavy lifting, providing another set of excellent songs that pulled us out of reality or helped us understand it a little better.
This year, we've collaborated with BLOB STARS NFT for our list. See more here.
30. Lorde - Stoned At The Nail Salon
On Lorde's Solar Power she mellowed out, but that doesn't mean she drowned out all the sound. Thoughts creep in and out of Solar Power dimming its sunshine. Never more so than on Stoned At The Nail Salon though. In a gorgeous guitar-led ballad Lorde confronts everything from age to relevancy, working herself up only to reduce it to something as simple as, "maybe I'm just stoned at the nail salon."
29. Polo G - Rockstar
Polo G's Rockstar arrived at a point when his star power was so large that anything he released probably would've gone to number one. Rockstar wasn't just anything though. It may be braggadocious at points but it's not flashy or boisterous. Instead, it's introspective and earnest delivered through one of the best melodic rap performances of the year.
28. Chlöe - Have Mercy
One short clip of this song was enough to send the internet into a frenzy this year. We've been burnt before by promising clips but the full version of Chlöe's first solo outing delivered. It's a cascading, relentless R&B cut that drips with confidence. With an expert vocal performance, Chlöe manages to play both an angel and a seductress.
27. Normani - Wild Side (Feat. Cardi B)
Normani took her time with Wild Side. Arguably too much time. In the time she away though she tightened her tools and honed in on what she really wanted to make. Wild Side doesn't sound like a hit but it turned into one thanks to an effortlessly charismatic vocal and, video that conjured gasps from the get-go.
26. Tkay Maidza - Cashmere
2020's Last Year Was Weird Vol. 2 proved that Tkay Maidza had found her artistic niche but 2021's Last Year Was Weird Vol.3 proved she'd hit her stride. Cashmere, the brightest star of the bunch, is delivered with a confident calm. It grows like ivy, slowly taking grip with otherworldly melodies and an instrumental that feels suspended in air.
24. Tyler, The Creator - WUSYANAME (Feat. YoungBoy Never Broke Again & Ty Dolla $ign)
Plucking a singular moment from Call Me If You Get Lost feels like severing a limb but if any could stand on its own it's WUSYANAME. Flying on a bed of Boyz II Men harmonies, Tyler comes through like a summer breeze. Meanwhile, YoungBoy floats and Ty croons, all amounting to a general feeling of peace without any member taking centrestage.
23. Wizkid - Essence (Feat. Tems)
Afropop finally got its moment on the world stage this year thanks to Essence. Tems and Wizkid have had extraordinary years with a handful of excellent moments. Nothing beats this one though. It's an intoxicating love song that runs at one heavenly pace. Nobody breaks the mode with both Tems and Wizkid moving at the same frequency. It's so streamlined that it's hypnotic.
22. Charli XCX - Good Ones
Charli XCX is done being niche. She's ready for her mainstream moment again but that doesn't mean she's going to compromise completely. Good Ones may be the most straight forward single she's delivered in years but it still sounds like it grew from the sticky floors of a club. She taps into a pulsating '80s beat and sucks oxygen with a demonic chorus.
21. Silk Sonic - Leave The Door Open
There's something so instant about the chemistry between Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak. They came out of nowhere with a song that sounded nothing like anything else in 2021 and then won everyone over quickly with their sheer charisma. They deliver each of the lines in Leave The Door Open with a cheeky grin. It's theatrical and overblown but they're so damn likable that it's impossible not to be up singing like a Mum at the Ellen Show by the end.
20. Japanese Breakfast - Be Sweet
Japanese Breakfast's past music has been melancholic but she switched gears on Jubilee. It's the boldest, most colourful music she's ever made and Be Sweet feels like the blueprint. The '80s instrumental commands you to move immediately as Michelle Zauner crafts an irresistible melody. "Be sweet to me baby, I wanna believe in you," is surely one of the best pop hooks of the year.
19. Kacey Musgraves - Camera Roll
Much of Kacey Musgraves' star-crossed explored new horizons but its best moments were its most intimate. Camera Roll is one of her most bare-boned offerings yet but it's also one of the more heartening. Using the phone as this haunting document of heartbreak and happiness, she reckons with goosebump-raising honesty. "Chronological order and nothing but torture / scroll too far back that's what you get," she sings in real-time.
18. Taylor Swift - All Too Well (10 Minute Version)
Nothing was ever going to quite beat the raw emotion of All Too Well's original but Taylor Swift's 10-minute version created the sort of event for the song that it deserved originally. This version still manages to cradle the heart for 10 minutes conjuring nostalgia through all the senses. With Jack Antonoff's propellant production, Swift presents herself as a Springsteen-esque songwriter, creating both arena-ready motion and intimate heartache. It's also amazing to hear what was pulled from the cutting room floor. How good a writer do you have to be to originally omit a line like, "You kept me like a secret but I kept you like an oath"?
17. Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen - Like I Used To
How did Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen make the best ABBA song in a year where ABBA released an album? Like I Used To is the most boisterous song either of them has ever made. It's a grandiose, bold opus that's already a certified classic after the first chorus. This feels like a celebration of their collective talents, as if they're showing off the whole time and it's bloody beautiful.
16. Jessie Ware - Please
Someone tell Jessie Ware deluxe editions aren't meant to contain some of your best work. With the inspiration still flowing from Ware's decadent fourth album What's Your Pleasure, she added to it with Please - a pulsating, luscious club track that doesn't hold back on anything. Everything about Please is indulgent from the ad-libs to the backing vocals.
15. Tinashe - Bouncin
Tinashe's Bouncin feels like it was born in a lab. It so effortlessly rolls along that it creates its own utopia. Tinashe's vocals are featherlight and the instrumental is aquatic, crafting a sonic environment of fertile soils and an ideal climate. That's just another way of saying Bouncin is otherworldly perfection.
14. Lana Del Rey - Arcadia
"Listen to it like you listened to Video Games," Lana Del Rey said before she released Arcadia. As always with Lana, it's hard to ascertain exactly what she means but Arcadia does present like Video Games. It's a ballad that manages to be both cinematic and intimate, waltzing as Lana sings, "My body is a map of LA." Unlike Video Games, Arcadia explores both the past and the future, rarely catching itself in the moment. That kind of perspective shows Lana's growth as a songwriter and human being.
13. Jazmine Sullivan - Pick Up Your Feelings
On Pick Up Your Feelings, Jazmine Sullivan sits back in the beat and lets it all out. She leaves no stone unturned as she finds confidence in independence. The mess isn't her problem anymore and this song feels like catharsis as she rejects any kind of responsibility for her ex. From the runs to the harmonies, this whole song is vocal masterclass.
12. MUNA - Silk Chiffon (Feat. Phoebe Bridgers)
There was something in the air when this song dropped. It was the end of summer and COVID had left us alone for a little while. For a moment we could believe, "Life's so fun, life's so fun." MUNA and Phoebe Bridgers masterfully create this atmosphere on Silk Chiffon where happiness is delivered with a hint of sarcasm. We're in love but we're still high and anxious outside a pharmacy. Such is life.
11. Lil Nas X - MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)
A skeptic would've written Lil Nas X off before the release of MONTERO. This, however, arrived with force. Nas X became a fearless artist who knew exactly who to troll and who to entertain. MONTERO is a spectacle. The song is a sexually-charged showstopper and the video is proper popstar shit. In a year where things were scaled down it felt great to watch something so over-the-top.
10. Caroline Polachek - Bunny Is A Rider
Bunny Is A Rider presents more questions than it answers. Who is bunny? Why is there a baby crying? What's a rider? And yet, none of that matters. Bunny Is A Rider is absurd and it feels so good. It captures that exact moment when you feel like you've turned a corner or, in Polachek's words "heart is unbreaking". It's a celestial, liberating, and charming pop song that gets under your skin and digs, and digs, and digs.
9. Megan Thee Stallion - Thot Shit
After Good News failed to stir the storm Meg is used to stirring, she came back all guns blazing on Thot Shit. Tapping back into her alter-ego Tina Snow, she delivered an unforgettable rap moment. Few MCs right now can do this - take a minimal beat and a repetitive beat and turn it into something that you can't take your ears off. Meg is so engaging that you're hanging off her every word and she rewards you at every turn with lines like, "I'm the shit per the Recording Academy."
8. Olivia Rodrigo - Driver's License
It took one week for Olivia Rodrigo to go from a virtual unknown outside of the Disney community to a superstar. A launchpad and a love triangle helped but conversation revolved around this one song Driver's License. It's hit everybody almost instantly. There was something instantly devastating about it. A song so honest and unfiltered that you couldn't help but get swept up by the melodrama. A perfect storm of influences from Taylor Swift to Lorde, it instantly presented us with the songwriter of this generation.
7. Adele - I Drink Wine
Adele has always been a go-to for honest anthems of heartache but maybe we didn't know just how unfiltered she could be. 30 is excellent because it's Adele spilling emotion without overthinking anything. When word of Adele's divorce broke, there was this sadistic excitement that we'd be getting a middle-finger record. 30 is not that. Instead of pointing fingers, Adele looks inward. I Drink Wine captures that self-assessment best. Over an Elton John-inspired instrumental she declares, "I hope I learn to get over myself." She makes growth sound so easy and so complicated at the same time.
6. PinkPantheress - just for me
PinkPantheress, on paper, is the antithesis of a TikTok artist. She's evasive, tuned-in, and snappy. She's only made a handful of songs over 2-minutes which most would pen down to a grab for TikTok fame but there's nothing intentional about what she's doing. just for me is the proof. It presents as a scrapbook of her influences and emotions that doesn't linger any longer than it needs to. It sweeps by in a wave of garage-inspired beats and sweet vocals, pulling at the heartstrings before it slips away. Her attention span has already taken her elsewhere.
5. Doja Cat & SZA - Kiss Me More
There was a moment when it felt like Kiss Me More was everywhere. In the summer, when COVID felt like it was loosening its grip, this song was ubiquitous. The carefree, slippery nature of the song was exactly what that momentary bliss called for. SZA and Doja Cat levitate on the song, sliding through with sexy nonchalance. They know just when you're attention is about to dip though hitting accents just when it's become too carefree. Doja declares, "I feel like fucking something," while SZA censors herself with a well-placed ding. It's pop excellence in its highest form.
4. Olivia Rodrigo - deja vu
Most would've told Olivia Rodrigo to play it safe with her sophomore single. She had other ballads in her arsenal after all, but instead, she switched gears. Where Driver's License is devastating, deja vu is dizzying. It twists and turns in a flurry of rage and jealousy as Rodrigo explores all the sides of jealousy. Her vocal is taunting - horror movie stuff - while the beat grinds with sounds that would be sanded down in most radio-ready songs. deja vu is a thrill from start-to-finish and sealed Rodrigo as multi-dimensional artist.
3. Billie Eilish - Happier Than Ever
Most people thought they had Billie Eilish figured out by her second record. The oddities that had made her a breath of fresh air on her debut had begun to become normalities in the next wave of popstars. And yet, Eilish had a thrilling twist up her sleeve for the end of her second album. Happier Than Ever waltzes in as a beautiful ballad, luring you with Eilish's crisp vocals. And then, without even leaving a second to breathe, she terrorises the song tapping into a pocket of anger the whole world may have needed at this stage. It's the most satisfying exhale of the year as Eilish turns the dial on her pop/punk influences and absolutely goes for it. You can't help but scream alongside her. It's the ultimate catharsis.
2. Lana Del Rey - White Dress
For years Lana Del Rey has evaded the question, "Who is Lana Del Rey?" It's an endless, unanswerable question anyway. Who are you? This year, however, she attempted to answer it, digging into her past on two brutally honest records. White Dress is a warm breath of nostalgia as she takes us back to her days as a waitress. For years, Del Rey was painted as fame-hungry - desperate for pop success. At every odd turn, she's debunked that critique but this most be her most believable rebuttal yet. She's not famous here but she "feels like a God." Without responsibility things are uncomplicated and sonically it's as if Del Rey is relieving herself of popstar responsibility here. She gives her most loosest vocal delivery ever here, losing herself in a daydream. It's beautiful.
1. SZA - Good Days
We all needed to breathe when Good Days was released. A year into the pandemic, communal anxieties were palpable and Christmas was feeling very different. Good Days retreats inside, as SZA battles a war in her mind. Her lyrics present an inner turmoil between the negative and positive but it always feels as if she's actively striving to look for the good. "Good day living in my mind," she sings introverted but free. That notion of striving for a good day despite all the rumbles around just hit at exactly the right time. Good Days is almost 5 minutes of pure bliss even if it's fruitless. We're all just attempting to free our minds before the end of the world.
Here's the full top 50 in a Spotify playlist for your convenience: