The 21 best songs of 2021

In 2021, there was some not great music (did you know Crazy Frog returned?), but also some surprisingly not horrible music (hello, pop-punk revival).

Here’s the best, listed in a completely arbitrary ranking that I mainly settled on as it flows nicely as a playlist. But sure, you might as well pretend the numbers mean something if that excites you.

21: Masked Wolf, Astronaut in the Ocean

The slinky track from the Sydney rapper, exploring his battle with depression, was ubiquitous in 2021. Originally released two years ago, it broke out on TikTok in February, ended up the most Shazamed song of the year (globally), and even scored a mention on Barack Obama’s summer playlist in July.

Maroubra rapper Masked Wolf had one of the year’s biggest hits.Credit:Nick Moir

20: Lil Nas X, Montero (Call Me By Your Name)

Lil Nas X’s queer anthem – and its viral video, which featured the Old Town Road star sliding down to hell to give Satan a lap dance – brought some impish energy to the pop charts, drawing the ire of conservatives and briefly turning Lil Nas X into Gen Z’s equivalent of ’80s Madonna.

Lil Nas X, 22, owned the year with his unapologetic pop.Credit:AP

19: The War On Drugs, I Don’t Live Here Anymore

With its propulsive rhythm and chiming guitars, indie rock’s most dependable mainstays delivered another of their signature driving anthems – it basically sounds like doing 110 km/h on a coastal highway. Who knew that evoking the booming ’80s FM of Bryan Adams and Don Henley could be so vital?

18: Hatchie, This Enchanted

Hatchie’s vocals float above a sun-dappled wash of guitars and electronics.Credit:Lisa Businovski.

New Order synths, crunchy dream-pop guitars and effortlessly sweet vocals, the Brisbane rocker crafted the kind of song you’d replay on the night bus home in the wee hours (you know, if we’d actually had the chance to go out much this year).

17: Indigo De Souza, Hold U

If this one didn’t make you wish you were on a dance floor packed with sweaty strangers splashing vodka-limes all over your pant legs, then really, I can’t help you. De Souza’s cooing crescendo, echoing Talking Heads’ ever swoony This Must Be The Place, might be music’s most sublime moment of the year.

16: Saweetie and Doja Cat, Best Friend

Saweetie’s hit with Doja Cat is one for all the best friends.Credit:Invision

This bouncy paean to friendship from the year’s most charming pop breakouts is too fun. I like to picture this song blaring in the background every time I see my five-year-old playing at the park with some random kid.

15: Kanye West, Believe What I Say

Kanye West (now known as Ye) onstage during a Donda listening event in July.Credit:Getty

From an album that got more attention for its endless features (Jay-Z, Andre 3000, um, Marilyn Manson), this one – a throwback to Ye of yore, with its College Dropout-era Lauryn Hill sample and Graduation-era house beats – was Kanye at the most life-affirming he’s sounded in years.

14: Torres, Hug from a Dinosaur

In a year when female artists led the charge in defying the prevailing “rock is dead” narrative, indie rocker Torres (aka Mackenzie Scott) delivered the crunchiest. It’s the kind of song that demands you push the volume up on your phone, way past the “hearing loss” warning.

13: Elton John and Dua Lipa, Cold Heart (Pnau Remix)

I know, a song of the year nod to what’s essentially a Jive Bunny megamix of Elton John hits? But try to defy that pounding beat from Aussie stalwarts Pnau, plus the fluttery vocals from pop’s leading disco diva Dua Lipa – you can’t. It’s pop celebration at its most deviously infectious.

12: Kacey Musgraves, Breadwinner

Kacey Musgraves’ post-divorce Star-Crossed was another winning country-pop crossover.Credit:Anne Marie Fox/Amazon Studios via AP

After the Grammy success of 2018’s Golden Hour, this year’s Star-Crossed – a concept album based around her divorce – was another winning country-pop crossover from Stoner Swift. Breadwinner, a surprise play on the Y2K R&B of Timbaland and Destiny’s Child, was a highlight, a blistering post-breakup kiss-off.

11: Hiatus Kaiyote, Get Sun

Melbourne neo-soul band Hiatus Kaiyote. Credit:Tre Koch

Recorded with Brazilian cult hero Arthur Verocai, this densely-packed single was another expansive step for the Melbourne neo-soul faves. A warm plea for comfort from enigmatic singer Nai Palm following her battle with breast cancer, it also resonated across multiple COVID lockdowns.

10: Lana Del Rey, White Dress

Another sparkling entry from Lana Del Rey’s couldn’t give a f–k era. Her fragile vocals, wistfully recalling her simpler pre-fame past as a waitress, tap into some hilarious free-verse: Del Rey finds solace in Sun Ra, Kings of Leon, and the positively horrible sounding “Men in Music business conference”.

9: Taylor Swift, All Too Well (10 Minute Version)

Taylor Swift, pictured at the premiere of her All Too Well short film in November.Credit:Invision

Only Taylor Swift coulgd re-record a 10-minute version of a decade-old deep cut, and transform it into a Guinness World Record-breaking no.1 hit that had the whole internet Googling about a red scarf and sending Instagram abuse to Jake Gyllenhaal.

8: Japanese Breakfast, Be Sweet

A sort of plea towards manhood (“I wanna believe in you!” ), the first single from Michelle Zauner’s Jubilee evoked the ’80s synth-funk of Talking Heads and Tears For Fears for an endlessly singable anthem.

7: Billie Eilish, Happier Than Ever

She might’ve copped an Old Hollywood makeover, but Eilish’s sound was all Gen Z angst.Credit:Interscope

A Marilyn-esque makeover prompted fears Eilish had perhaps matured too much beyond the bedroom-goth vibes that defined 2019’s angsty When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? – but when the song takes a sudden turn into grunge guitars and Eilish’s guttural “Just f—ing leave me alone!” scream, you know the kid’s alright.

6: Wet Leg, Chaise Longue

A playful throwback to ’90s indie novelty in so many ways, from its wiry guitars to its absurdist lyrics (the Mean Girls-riffing, “Would you like us to assign someone to butter your muffin?” ), this winner from the British indie duo is the funnest track of the year.

5: Genesis Owusu, Don’t Need You

Genesis Owusu poses with his four ARIA Awards.Credit:Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

While Obama (again) had the Canberra rapper’s more delicate Gold Chains on his end-of-year playlist, this genre-bending track – which shifts from pastoral symphony to P-funk hiphop – displays all the intensity, charm and idiosyncrasy that made Smiling with No Teeth the ARIAs’ album of the year.

4: Amyl and the Sniffers, Hertz

More than just punk rock: Amy Taylor of Amyl & the Sniffers. Credit:Getty

The anti-city vibes (“Take me to the beach! Take me to the country!” ) don’t get me, but you can’t deny Melbourne singer Amy Taylor’s blistering intensity. It’s the kind of song you’d headbutt a windshield to, which may explain why Hertz haven’t used it in an ad yet.

3: Adele, To Be Loved

For all the delightful segues into zeitgeist-y pop that Adele ventured into on new album 30, it was To Be Loved – a torch ballad centred on her powerful vocals alone, this generation’s Whitney – that stopped us in our tracks. Like a natural reflex, I still find myself getting up for a standing ovation every time it ends.

2: Olivia Rodrigo, Good 4 U

Olivia Rodrigo somehow made pop-punk sound necessary again.Credit:AP

Drivers Licence, of course, was the TikTok breakout, but really, how many times can you listen to a melodramatic teen ballad? This one, a pop-punk revival that flips the genre’s old gender dynamics (remember all those annoying songs from boys about girls who did them wrong?) on its head, was infinitely more replayable.

1: The Kid Laroi, Stay (with Justin Bieber)

Sydney rapper The Kid Laroi crafted one of the year’s best hits. Credit:Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

The Sydney rapper joined forces with pop royalty and crowned himself a global superstar along the way, with the kind of hit – emotional, energetic, infinitely catchy – that any pop musician would kill for. The more I listen, the more I want to play it endlessly at double-speed and slam-dance like a teenager.

Most Viewed in Culture

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article