LIST: The 100 Best Songs of 2021 (100-50)
Updated: Dec 27, 2021
100. Taylor Swift, “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)”
This 10-minute director’s cut of the Red fan-favorite gives more context to the Jake Gyllenhaal dating phase of her career, showing a changed woman reflecting back on blatant toxicity with more nuanced detail. Rather than simply just re-record, she relives.
99. Sematary, "Creepin' Thru Da Woods
What do you get when you mix “Don’t Like”-era Young Chop production with Children of the Corn? Probably something pretty close to “Creepin’ Thru Da Woods”, a blasted out, distorted emo rap track that references True Religion, The Necronomicon and samples crying women for some extra flavor. While we can’t say that the rest of his output is entirely our style, this track is an interesting look into the twisted mind of one of rap’s proud outliers.
98. Paris Texas, “girls like drugs”
Channeling the rap-rock of N.E.R.D, Cali duo Louie Pastel and Felix (aka Paris Texas) are looking for love from OnlyFans girls. Their patented looped guitar production services them well on this frill-free jam.
97. Isabella Lovestory, “Vuelta”
The Montreal-based, Honduras-born Latin pop star has been dropping bangers all year, and I think it’s finally time that she’s given her flowers. Using the same Spanglish approach as Kali Uchis, “Vuelta” is a catchy, danceable track for Spanish and English speakers alike.
96. Remble, “Gordon R Freestyle”
“Are you willing to die for those Christians/Do you really feel fly in True Religion?” is the question of the year, and only someone as charismatic as Remble could ask it. The fact that this is a freestyle is astounding, each line about speakers in white Benz’s and Shawn Michaels high kicks locks together like an iced out Cuban link.
95. domino, “i_know”
Domino is a man of many genres, though I think his strongest offering yet is a nu-metal throwback that points to the glory days of Slipknot, Korn and Linkin Park. “i_know” is some pent up, angry Woodstock ‘99 shit with it’s clanky drums and piercing guitar hits. Once he starts screaming “BITCH I FUCKING KNOW!” it’s all over.
94. Femi Kuti, “Na Bigmanism Spoil Government”
Femi, son of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, decided that he wanted to honor the legacy of his father in a way that wasn’t rehashing. Instead of 12-minute long jazz odysseys, Femi and his band cut straight to the point while still holding onto that political spirit of masterpieces like “Zombie” and “Expensive Shit”. On his sunniest and most powerful song yet, he challenges the authoritarian ways of the Nigerian government on his own terms.
93. RXKNephew/RxPapi, “Squabble”
RXKNephew is the next rapper in a lineage that started with outsider freaks like Lil B and Viper, dropping over 100 songs in 2021 alone. “Squabble” is a rave-led riff fest where him and fellow RX member Papi are going off about 40s, welfare couches and mohawk afros It calls back to the most fun Teejayx6 and Kasher Quan cyphers, two friends just bullshitting over some odd production.
92. Mariah the Scientist, “Maybe”
Sampling Ariel Pink’s cult-classic “Fright Night (Nevermore)”, Mariah The Scientist tries to understand what went wrong in her previous relationship. “Maybe I should've prayed/Maybe we should've danced together all night/Twenty-first birthday/Maybe you were afraid” sounds like a full-on investigation, with the conclusion being “maybe we needed space”. Closure doesn’t exist, because the “what if” game will always keep going.
91. Arlo Parks, "Eugene"
Over a guitar line straight out of the In Rainbows playbook, newcomer Arlo Parks fantasizes about her best friend’s man. This is a song about the way that jealousy over being replaced can tear apart a lifelong friendship. The subject of ire here is Eugene, her best mate’s new man. She feels like she’s being replaced, and even though the tone is soft, she is going off on these people. The line “I had a dream that we kissed’ says it all, there’s much more at play than friendship here.
90. Tirzah, "Sink In"
Mica Levi and Tirzah are a duo that understands how to make emotionally impactful R&B music. Using such a dour melody to accent the uncertain, tentative nature of a new love is haunting, but accurate to real life. “Gonna let myself, gonna trust again, gonna show that I'm okay” is a forward moving affirmation, one that is self-assured but still knowingly hesitant.
89. BROCKHAMPTON, “THE LIGHT”
On their newest record, longtime recluse JOBA becomes the frontman of BROCKHAMPTON. On “THE LIGHT”, he uses his verse to tell the tragic tale of his father’s suicide, and still someone tries to be optimistic. This pandemic has been a really tough time for all people, and this is just a snapshot of how cruel it can all be.
88. A.G. Cook & Charli XCX, “Xcxoplex”
I thought Charli XCX said her hyperpop era is dead? If that’s the truth, let “Xcxoplex” be her swan song, a bright technicolor celebration that would sound at home at a Subculture Party. A.G. continues to prove that this is viable movement with this track and his recent work with Namasenda.
87. SpotemGottem/DaBaby, “Beat Box 3”
We know, DaBaby has been a real asshole this year. The HIV comments at Rolling Loud were certainly the pinnacle of this, and his appearance on DONDA just kind of poured salt on the wound (“junkiesssss”). Before all this bullshit was a simpler time, when he could “piss in a cup [and] call it lemonade” and rap about some girl sucking his toes. He is nasty in more ways than one on this silly, off-the-wall remix of SpotemGottem’s only good song. By the way, did we ever get an explanation for him calling JoJo Siwa a “bitch”? Maybe it’s better if we just leave it as is. I hope DaBaby thinks before speaking in 2022, though this was a real instance of doing the opposite and it working out.
86. BabyTron, “Cowabunga”
Watch some basketball with this song and other Michigan rap on in the background, and I promise the game will increase in excitement level by 200%. BabyTron jukes your eardrums with this production and lines like “Droppin’ loads off it looks like Saks at the dry cleaner” and “Cowabunga, on the dark web surfin’ with a punch”. He has no time for chrouses, it’s just bars bars bars for 2 minutes and it’s over, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
85. Lady Gaga/Elton John/Chester Lockhart/Moodkiller & Lil Texas
This is the most ridiculous song of 2021, it’s like the moon landing for how far meme culture can go. We get Lady Gaga and Elton John dueting over clown horns and other novelty instrumentation courtesy the wickedly talented Chester Lockhart and Moodkiller, but then, there’s Lil Texas’ part. He ramps it up to 200 BPM as per usual, and just destroys your brain. It is a real tank of a pop remix, one that could only be made this year.
84. Viagra Boys, “Ain’t Nice”
If Trevor from Grand Theft Auto V started a garage rock band, this would be his first single. Sebastian Murphy portrays himself as this sleazy, hoarder of a man who needs “shrimp” money and a place to put all his “vintage calculators”, or he’s out. Just by their name alone, it is clear the Viagra Boys are all about horned up antics, and “Ain’t Nice” is the most succinct version of this wild energy.
83. Xiu Xiu/Liz Harris, "A Bottle of Rum"
After suffering from a nervous breakdown, Xiu Xiu’s Jaime Stewart decided to turn to some of his close friends in music for some help. This eventually turned into a collaborative record full of surprises, with the straightforward, shoegaze bliss of “A Bottle of Rum” being our absolute favorite. Liz Harris of Grouper never makes music like this, her and Jaime back away from their experimental leanings for some much needed catharsis.
Stylistically, Goldlink’s HARAM! was a complete and total mess. There are acoustic cuts with Flo Milli, UK-drill and his typical hip-house; at a certain point, it kind of leaves his possession. Yet every “rough” has its “diamond”, and here that is “Evian”. Truly, this is PinkPantheress featuring Goldlink and two other rappers, because she completely steals the show with her chorus, “Feel like you're making a fool of me/I'll still act accordingly/Time's still my enemy/When we're close it's time to leave”. Everyone flows like butter on this one, and it’s PinkPantheress that makes the first slice.
81. LustSickPuppy, “EGO BRUISER”
“I’m the girl that your man ran to, yuh!” will be stuck in your head for days on end if you let this song into your life. LustSickPuppy knows that she’s the shit, making men’s “eyes roll back” and spitting flows faster than the human brain can comprehend. The gabber-heavy production here is a non-stop thrill ride that only gets more intense and intricate as LustSickPuppy unlocks her swag.
80. Emerson Snowe, “Home Sweet Home”
Dreampop is a genre that has been a little stagnant over the past few years, and it’s one that we dearly miss. Luckily, Berlin transplant Emerson Snowe is here to fulfill that need with his drowsy, quirky Ambien rock. The click-clacky DIY dreamscape he paints on “Home Sweet Home” is woozy and constantly shifting on the verses, but hits a real point of focus as Emerson sings “Trust in me, trust in me, I will never let you down”. He is like your own personal sleep paralysis demon doing an acoustic set just for you.
79. Claud, “Soft Spot”
If only we could put Claud in our pockets and let them be our voice of reason. Their hopeless romanticism and optimistic attitude makes us almost believe in true love, especially on tracks like “Soft Spot”. “I wish I left all the things at your place so I could come get them” feels so refreshingly honest, especially with this electronically boosted indie rock backing behind them. Claud’s music is reaffirming, and we should all try and hear them out more in 2022.
78. ILOVEMAKONNEN, “My Parade”
Many people know ILOVEMAKONNEN for his weekday celebrations on “Tuesday'' with Drake, and for not selling molly. What people fail to recognize is how gifted of a songwriter he is, crafting full verses and choruses off the top of his head. His debut album My Parade, which featured skillful guitar work from friend of the page Peter Lailich (@popiscoville) is the product of a few of these brainstorm sessions, with the title track being his best in many years. “I remember growing up as a youngin, I would think about death so often” he admits, but then offers some inspiration, “Most nights I’m cold and coughin’, that’s why I’m marching loud today”. I would not have expected him to draw inspiration from R.E.M. and Third Eye Blind, but he embodies that style as if he’s been doing it all along.
77. Drake/Lil Baby, “Wants and Needs”
Lil Baby has been one of the biggest mainstream winners of 2021, and this excellent feature is just another notch in his belt. Drake’s lustful honesty on here is exciting and refreshing “I’m in love with two girls at one and they twins”, a mode from him that was sorely missing on the tame Certified Lover Boy.
76. Young Thug & Gunna, “Ski”
Welcome to Slime Academy, your professor Dr. Young Thug will be 45 minutes late to the lecture, and no, that doesn’t mean you can leave! Just keep drinking purple out of your S’well and let the T.A. Gunna regale you about how he fucked your bitch, and her friend, and her friend. This song is such an anthem, an instantly iconic beat from Wheezy sets the tone and the two kindred spirits (Thug & Gunna) do what they do best: be richer than you.
75. Club Intl, “Never Be The Same”
John Eatherly, if you’re reading this, please drop the Club Intl record already! If this track and the other singles from last year are any indicator, this will certainly be one of the most creative vintage pop records of 2022. Eatherly’s impassioned vocal performance is the heart and soul of “Never Be The Same”, a shimmering ode to the hopeless romantics.
74. ATARASHII GAKKO!, “NAINAINAI”
ATARASHII GATTO!! have a winning formula so early in their career. Themes of not belonging and hiding are laced into the track, but the momentum is so infectious I didn’t even look up the translation for the lyrics until my 20th play. About halfway through, the beat switches up to the Metal Gear Solid boss fight, and the members only take ten seconds to get into formation. This is a group that is ready to be on top whenever someone wants to give them that chance.
73. Deafheaven, “Mombasa”
Deafheaven’s Infinite Granite is about constraint, drowning one’s emotions in order to keep them contained. Their typical black metal vocal style is mostly absent, replaced with what sounds like Slowdive’s recent self-titled. While the album as a whole didn’t quite measure up to our expectations, the closer feels like a relapse unfolding before our very eyes.. It’s a deeply emotional conclusion, painting the rest of Infinite Granite with a new context like a great twist at the end of a film.
72. Armand Hammer, “Indian Summer”
The words that Armand Hammer blast out on any given track feel like they’re implanted in their brains from an otherworldly source. It’s so impressionistic that it’s hard to conceive how human beings can muster up lines like “I swore vengeance in the seventh grade, not on one man, the whole human race”, what evil demon is Inceptioning these dudes? As the chameleon of modern rap, The Alchemist is able to capture these choppy word collages with a mashup of his own; whistles, ugly horns and vocal samples feel as unnatural as billy woods and ELUSIVE do.
71. Kirin J Callinan, “Dumb Enough”
It’s scary how funny the line “I’ve said some dumb things too/But not quite as dumb as the president” translates to American culture. In my lifetime, three out of four presidents have been dumb as hell, maybe it’s time to put AntiArt Ryan in the oval office. I digress, Kirin J Callinan is the master of taking ‘80s sounds and re-contextualizing them for modern times, and on the self-aware “Dumb Enough”, he attempts to wipe the slate clean. Even so, he can’t help but admit that the dumbest may be yet to come. The jangly instrumental gives him a perfect space to air out the cringe, if only just for spectacle.
70. Faye Webster, “I Know I’m Funny Haha”
Faye Webster’s journal-like gripes about her boyfriend, his family and shitty landlords over a twangy country guitar just speaks to the layman soul. I had a landlord keep my money too, fuck them. This is the title track to her newest record, and for good reason. It definitely captures her essence.
69. Turnstile, “NEW HEART DESIGN”
The way that Turnstile was able to fuse their angry presence with these sexy ‘80s guitar tones still puzzles me to this day. This is the musical equivalent of Popeye’s Sweet Heat sauce, where both flavors are equally represented. Brendan Yates has always been a major vocal talent in hardcore, but I feel as though this one sees him reaching his full potential.
68. Doja Cat/SZA, “Kiss Me More”
Doja Cat nails the ‘80s inspired aesthetic on one of the catchiest songs of the year with this hypersexual banger. The things that she is able to sneak into Top 40 Radio (“I FEEL LIKE FUCKING SOMETHING”) is shocking, continuing the “WAP”-streak by pushing the envelope for female led pop. The chemistry that SZA and Doja Cat have on this track creates a song that we didn’t mind hearing over and over again this year.
67. Clairo, “Amoeba”
Calling back to the ‘70s AM radio pop, Clairo switches up her DIY style to fulfill the traditional role of a “songwriter”. Over a deceptively catchy piano melody, she sings “Aren't you glad that you reside in a Hell and in disguise?/Nobody yet everything, a pool to shed your memory”. Despite how cheery and akin to “Pretty Girl” the tone is, there is still an underlying disappointment that Clairo feels. Rather than just entertain, she wants us to focus on what she is saying.
66. Bladee, "Hotel Breakfast"
What exactly does “going trashstar crazy” mean? Well it’s an ethos that Bladee fully embodies on what may be his best track yet. Lusi gives him a platform to fully explore his idiosyncratic style without being bogged down by lo-fi SoundCloud trappings. The result is a well-made, Sims-type beat rap track that will have you hooked, and maybe one day you too can reach E-boy nirvana and go “trashstar crazy” yourself.
65. The War On Drugs/Lucius, “I Don’t Live Here Anymore”
Matthew from Fluxpod made an interesting point regarding the new War On Drugs album as a whole, remarking that it sounds like a shelved Bryan Adams album in the ‘90s with no hits. I obviously disagree, to me, it’s like throwing on Lite FM expecting something bland but getting Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out” or Phil Collins' “Sussudio” instead. The very best track here is the title track, a jam that would make the average person play air guitar while looking for condoms at Walgreens. It’s themes of taking chances, fate, and navigating the uncertainty of life feel so perfectly overblown, like a great Bruce Springsteen song that never was.
64. LSDXOXO, “Mutant Exotic”
Certain artists just exude sex appeal without trying, and then there’s LSDXOXO, who dropped a song earlier this year about sucking off Satan in Ibiza. While I almost put that song called “The Devil” in this spot, it’s clear that the more subtle “Mutant Exotic” is the clear winner of the Dedicated 2 Disrespect EP. “Mutant exotic/Everything I do is a little bit demonic/End the human race/Invade your planet” is said in the most effortless way over this peppy house rhythm. Like Arca, LSDXOXO is able to have fun while still being destructive.
63. Billie Eilish, “NDA”
Billie Eilish is burnt out on stardom and she’s only on her sophomore album. With such a meteoric rise, I bet there was a lot of pressure to keep everything just the same but bigger. On her best song yet, “NDA”, she tones it down and gets more honest. She keeps it 100 about her casual sexual encounters, a real life stalker and her need to runaway from it all. It’s like listening to a jaded, 15-year vet in the body of a 20-year old.
62. Eartheater, “Scripture”
Being a model and musician at the same time means double the press. Even we interviewed her. “The more they write, the more I turn to my/Scripture” Alexandra Drewchin confidently proclaims over poppy Sega Bodega production. As people continue to try to pin her down and define her art, she becomes more resistant to hold onto her autonomy. She is one of the most exciting singer-songwriters to watch considering how diverse her genre exploration is, although I hope to hear more material like this on the next album.
61. Tyler, The Creator, “CORSO”
Tyler is at his most braggadocious as he introduces himself on his latest project Call Me If You Get Lost. This sounds like a materialistic track on the surface, but the lyrics feel like he is trying to fill a void in his life, like when he says “Remembered I was rich, so bought me some new emotions / And a new boat ‘cause I’d rather cry in the ocean.” This song takes the bombastic production of IGOR and upgrades it to this pho-confident banger.
60. shame, "March Day"
In the same vein as Green Day’s slept-on lazy masterpiece “Longview”, shame is here to tell us about their do-nothing day. “In my room, in my womb/Is the only place I find peace” lead singer Charlie Steen says, before confessing to be on antidepressants. I love the way that laziness is treated like an act of resistance here, as if it’s giving into government control to walk around on the sidewalks. The guitars are definitely reminiscent of older UK post-punk outfits like Gang of Four, but I am loving the particular way that shame interprets and uses that sound.
59. G Perico & Rucci, “Keep Killin”
Now, given all the violence occurring this year that has taken the lives countless people, I am definitely not endorsing the “keep killing” mentality. However, I do endorse G Perico and his version of Cali bounce, with a prominent sample from Tom Tom Club. I love how honest his lyricism is, he pulls no punches, “And I stay away from hoes that ain’t go shit going on/Might be a hot girl summer but I ain’t got shit for ‘em”. This is one of the most addictive rap tracks of 2021, I just hope the dudes who made it stay safe out there and don’t practice what they preach.
58. The Kid Laroi/Justin Bieber, “STAY”
Enough though we are often critical of both of their work, we have to give this pair credit for writing an icy blue synth pop banger. Even with questionable lyrics like “I told you I changed, even though I knew I never could”, this song just works. Bieber is almost like a redeeming force, continuing to simp for his wife as he did on Justice, minus the MLK sound bites.
57. Earl Sweatshirt, “2010”
It’s official: Earl Sweatshirt has gotten his swagger back. After the doldrums and darkness of his last three records, it seems like he has returned to making clear-headed rap music, with reflective bars like “Had a full plate, you ain't wanna split it/Tell it to you straight, you ain't wanna listen”. He sounds like a man who’s always had a clear vision, taking note of who has supported him from the jump. Now that he’s one of the biggest underground stars of his generation, he gets to rearrange the world in his image.
56. Westside Gunn, “Hell on Earth, Pt. 2 (feat. Benny the Butcher & Conway The Machine)”
Just as I was getting tired of Griselda and their dusty drums, they pulled me back in! Fresh blood in the producer Sovren reinvigorates the three boom-bap rappers to perform at their respective peaks. Benny goes back to his yacht and coke shit, Conway is going on about his shooters and Westside drops the best verse, with my favorite bar being “Got the dope stench stuck in the walls, Dior goggles”.
55. Namasenda, “Shots Fired”
A.G. Cook hit a bit of a slump over the past few years with his solo material, it’s as if he needed another muse to filter his oddities through. Thank god he and Sweden’s Naomi Namasenda linked up for the Unlimited Ammo mixtape, with the closer being one of the most focused hyperpop jams of the decade thus far. Namasenda uses bullets as a metaphor for heartbreak, and it’s kill or be killed in her word, “You don’t love me anymore so/I might cut you off forever”. This is a rare instance of a closing track that perfectly wraps up an album and leaves the audience off on an extreme high, with blaring rave synths and busy drums stacking on top of one another to like a tidal wave of pop excess. Pew pew!
54. Rosalía/The Weeknd, “LA FAMA”
The Weeknd has built a bridge between art and the Billboard Charts with his perfect pop opus After Hours. With him, he’s bringing all of the best bursting, practically mainstream talents like Oneohtrix Point Never, FKA twigs and now, Rosalía with him. On the track, the pair duet about “fama” (fame) and all that comes with it. Even without a translation, the melodies, beatwork and overall drive of the track slap, transcending language barriers.
53. Olivia Rodrigo, “deja vu”
Olivia Rodrigo’s perspective on this breakup track is very clever and her vocal performance really elevates the track. She highlights how unimaginative her ex is as he recreates multiple dates that he went on with her with his new girlfriend. Plus that bass drop after the chorus sounds amazing as she sings over it. 2021 was a huge year for Rodrigo, and we hope to see her continue to grow.
52. Drakeo The Ruler/Don Toliver/Ketchy The Great, “Dawn Toliver”
Drakeo’s word play on this song is insane and the production is so smooth yet dangerous. This fun beat is so dynamic that it transitions the 3 distinctive flows of Drakeo, Don Toliver and Ketchy The Great, perfectly. Drakeo has been the king of riffing on a subject, and “Dawn Toliver” is by far the most creative example of this. Drakeo was just starting to rise to the top, and sadly, we will never see that potential full realized due to his untimely passing. Rest in peace King.
51. Magdalena Bay, “You Lose!”
“You, you play/But there are no winners in the game” Mica Tenenbaum sings about heartbreak, as if she’s out of lives and tokens. The arcade themes are pretty heavy handed on their record Mercurial World, and “You Lose!” is no exception to that. Pumping up the 8-bit blips with some grungier songwriting turns their playful sound anthemic, rocking even until the screen says “GAME OVER”.
50. Caroline Polachek, “Bunny Is A Rider”
Seeing Caroline Polachek twice in one year was a major treat, and one of the main reasons was getting to hear “Bunny Is A Rider” both times. This is such a deceivingly simple pop track produced by PC Music’s Danny L Harle, who gives a great backing for her to be the star she’s always been destined to be.