The 21 Best Songs of 2021
2021 was a hard year for everyone, and many people have found solace in music. Headphones this past year were dominated by Taylor Swift's re-recordings, newcomer Olivia Rodrigo, Lil Nas X, and most recently, Adele's new album. With 2022 right around the corner, we're counting down our picks for the 21 best singles of 2021.
Although it was released in late 2020, this single of her 2021 album Heaux Tales is easily one of the best R&B songs of the year, receiving two GRAMMY nominations last year and is certified Gold by RIAA.
This single was a good, but not perfect, transition into her new era following the immense success of her 2019 album, When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go and subsequent singles. However, it gave us the Billie content we needed to get us through the year and this song was everywhere: TikTok, TV commercials, and all over the radio.
Another hit by Thee Stallion! This song went viral on TikTok and the video captured audiences with the blend of sexual pleasures and politics. It's a feminist anthem full of sexual freedom and clappin' back at the haters!
Post-divorce, everyone was looking forward to this album by Musgraves. This disco-country-pop infusion tells the story of her spiraling marriage and how she should have seen the red flags a but ultimately comes to terms with it and moves on. “He wants your shimmer/To make him feel bigger/Until he starts feeling insecure,” she sings.
Technically released in 2020, this song was pushed to radio as a post-album release single. This motivational country song with pop/rock elements is everything we needed to get us through the year.
Reba McEntire's revisited album of her biggest hits often featured remixes that modernized the songs and saw new voices. Her 1993 hit featured singer Linda Davis. But for this revisit, she replaced Davis to invite fellow country queen, Dolly Parton to be a part of the song. This song and video are both hypnotizing as the song tells the tale of a sordid love triangle and details a conversation between a wife and ‘the other woman.’
Part of Adele's album 30, the singer that this song revealed it is "about the first time that I basically left my house after my anxiety and stuff like that started to sort of subside". Upon album release, the song was chosen as "Song of the Week" by Consequence. Writers Mary Siroky and Glenn Rowley described the song as "refreshing", while lyrically, it "replaces outright sadness with internal conflict". David Cobbald of The Line of Best Fit, however, viewed the inclusion of the song on the album as "questionable". Well David, we think the song fits perfectly in the album and is one of the best of the year.
With one of the most controversial songs of the year, Lil Nas X proved he's no one-hit-wonder. Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone says, "“Montero” raises the stakes with queer glam-metal flamenco thunder, making sure everyone knows his name."
This single from singer-songwriter and voice actress Haley Reinhart is hauntingly beautiful, exploring all of music has to offer with bellows of pop, blues, and rock. This timeless, vintage-pop song is some of her best work as she toys with the risks of falling in love again.
This upbeat pop song was played non-stop across the country and its infectious beat made it hard to dislike. With over a billion streams, there's no confusion why this song makes our list.
This mega smash hit from newcomer Olivia Rodrigo shows heartbreak can happen at any age, and immediately thrusted us back to our teenage years (or made you feel 'seen' if you are a teenager). Rolling Stone says, "Rodrigo spends the ballad carefully dissecting just how awful it feels to get your license after a breakup, making a 17-year-old’s heartbreak instantly relatable regardless of age. And when she calls out Becky with the good hair (“And you’re probably with that blonde girl/Who always made me doubt”), you fiercely take her side."
Silk Sonic is the duo of Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, and they lit the world, or rather the bedroom, on fire with this single and album. Inspired by Seventies Soul Train R&B, this vintage sound fits perfectly into 2021.
A commercially-underrated choice from Eilish's Happier Than Ever, this song serves as the album's third single. The song recounts an abusive relationship and how it affected her. Fans theorized that the song was about Q, AKA 7: AMP, who Billie dated back when she was only 16. However, during an interview with Esquire in May 2021, she confirmed that the song isn’t about a specific person, while also expressing her hope that this song can spark change and reflection. Not only are the lyrics stellar, but this song is musically and sonically near perfection.
An ode to 2000's Paramore and pop-punk, this song was played constantly throughout the year across radios, streaming, social media, and earbuds. In the lyrics, she seems to be taking a dig at a former love interest who has moved on very quickly from their relationship. In the music video, Olivia plays a cheerleader who tries to get revenge towards her unbothered former bf, as she appears to destroy his bedroom, setting fire to her ex’s belongings. The lyrics are full of sarcastic remarks, which is a different vibe compared to her previous ballads about heartbreak.
Maybe a song you wouldn't expect to see this high on the list. But 2021 was the perfect year for this song to be released, with the indie-pop vibe being so transporting. "Their easeful, ecstatic song about staying out until dawn with a girl as soft as silk chiffon has one of the year’s sweetest melodies, radiating the kind of pure pop bliss so many bands go for but almost never get this right," Rolling Stone admits.
One of the biggest hip hop hits of the year, this song never fails to get us hype! According to songsmeaningsandfacts.com, the single serves as a poetic way of Lil Nas X saying that he has made it big in the music industry. We love a humble brag!
It should be no surprise that Adele's comeback single post-divorce made our top 5. As NY Times describes it, it's "a classic piano torch ballad that ignores virtually all contemporary pop standards." The song reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart, with 54 million streams, 74,000 track downloads and 19,000 radio spins in the United States during its first full week out, according to MRC Data. The piano-led tune was written for their son, Angelo, as she tries to explain to him why she decided to split from his father and choose a new path for the two of them. Beautiful.
Rodrigo does it again with this emotional tune full of relatable jealously. Often overshadowed by her other hits "Good 4 U" and "Driver's License," Rodrigo relates to every teen who has gone through heartbreak. Mixed with references to older music like Billy Joel, she puts her signature spin on pop that makes it refreshing and relevant in 2021.
The most listened to song in Jamaica in 2021, this catchy disco hit by two of rap and R&B's biggest names is popular all across the world. This song is pop in it's purest form: silky chorus, gleeful, danceable, memeable, and TikTok-able.
The highly-anticipated 10-minute version of Taylor's version of "All Too Well" was not unloved by fans. Taylor goes deeper than before into the memory, digging up her original lost verses, turning “All Too Well” into a whole new heartbreak epic, full of grief and fury and extremely accurate historical detail. It is truly a work of art.
Adele gives us her most heart-wrenching song yet in the second single from her album 30. This song is perfect for those nights when you need a good cry alone and a glass (or bottle) of wine. At just over six minutes long, the ballad brings in notes of vintage gospel as she bares her soul and love pains to the world from her divorce from ex husband Simon Konecki with whom she shares a son. She revealed in an interview that to get through her divorce, in addition to writing music, she stopped drinking alcohol/wine as alcoholism runs in her family and she wanted to think more clearly during these difficult times. Not only is the song about that, but also shedding one's ego.
But what really makes the song the emotional masterpiece it is? Her narration towards the end. Rolling Stone explains, "Adele wrote the song for her and her friend, during a period when she was taking things very personally. The lyrics allowed her to explain why she needed to evolve a bit more to be present in their friendship. A different friend named Jed had suggested to Adele to start recording her moments of self-doubt, and one of those conversations about her regrets and relationship with memory makes it in at the end of the song.
“But because of that period of time — even though it was so much fun — I didn’t get to go on and make new memories with him,” she says in the voice recording of the most “turbulent” period in her life. “There were just memories in a big storm.”
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