So the year’s almost up and I…didn’t really get to write that much for the blog, unfortunately. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t listened to my fair share of what this anxiety-filled year had to offer, which happens to be a lot of very good music.
We had legends coming out of hiding to deliver powerhouse projects, newcomers that shattered expectations and worthy additions to re-releases of tracks we love. From these I’ve whittled them down to a list of the 10 best songs of 2021, ranked.
I’ve also made a 50 song playlist of my favourites on Spotify too, so hit the link here and give it a follow if you’re keen.
And now, here are the best of the best the year had to offer.
10. Lana Del Rey – “Chemtrails Over The Country Club”
Coming off Norman Fucking Rockwell!!, it’s hard to imagine that we’d hear from Lana again so soon. Let alone 2 full studio albums in 2021, both of which continuing to unravel the folk sound from that era.
“White Dress” is often lauded as the standout of Chemtrails Over The Country Club and Blue Banisters, and for good reason. Vocal performances that reach so high in her register that it rejects any notion for listeners to sing along to, as she likens herself to a God during her waitress/white dress days. A quintessential and essential song in her discography.
Yet it’s the title track that stuck with me. Simple in its presentation – backed by gorgeous keys and haunting strings, Lana sings about blissful ignorance alongside her girl friends, each of them subtly mentioned on the song (and referenced throughout the record). It’s a personal track that doesn’t skim on the abstract imagery that I adore in Lana’s music, easily making it one of my favourite songs of hers.
9. James Blake – “Funeral”
Now, I’m talking about the Slowthai-less version of this track (even though that one is really good too) but why do I prefer the solo version? Mainly because it feels like an infinitely more intimate affair when James Blake is left to wallow in his isolation on his own.
A song that explores the fear of being forgotten by the world, “Funeral” was an instant gut punch on first listen, and continued to break me as the world felt to seemingly keep moving on while I stagnated in my personal growth. Crooning over a skeletal piano production, James is distraught and frail but the real kicker here is the chorus.
“And I know this feeling too well (Too well)/Of being alive at your own funeral.” Just the way he delivers these two lines alone deserve a mention on this list. Making a note for anyone reading to play this song at my funeral too.
8. Taylor Swift – “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version)”
I’m sure I don’t need to go into too much detail about this one. Taking over the world upon its release, Taylor Swift somehow managed to make one of her best songs into an even greater masterpiece.
Making a production sound fuller is a call that gives the 10-minute version its longevity and replayability, but it’s her ability to effortlessly pick up quotable off the 2012 cutting room floor and give their genius a time to shine. Like come on: “You kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath“, “The idea you had of me, who was she?” – how can you not hear lines like these and not have your face scrunch up in admiration?
7. Jenevieve – “No Sympathy”
I first came across Jenevieve on YouTube a year ago on “Baby Powder” – a delightful throwback 2000s R&B jam that absolutely nailed the era’s aesthetic even if it didn’t really stand out too much. “No Sympathy”, on the other hand, is a tour de force of a tune that showcases her ability as a pop star too.
She still pulls from sounds of the 2000s but this single feels fresh. The sassiness of it all gives the track a tongue-in-cheek flair that’s acutely aware of its influences, but still leans hard enough into it to go beyond being a simple homage.
6. Justin Bieber – “Peaches” (feat. Daniel Caesar & Giveon)
For a moment in time, this was the favourite song of my life. R&Bieber has always been a top-tier artist (if you ignore Changes) ever since Journals, and “Peaches” was a welcome return to form that proved he still could glide over a beat as well as he could back then.
In the grand scheme of things, this single doesn’t reinvent the wheel or add any new insights into Justin’s already storied career. What it is though, is a simple and catchy tune that shows that over a decade into his career, Justin Bieber still has a lot of gas left in the hitmaking tank.
5. Silk Sonic – “Smokin’ Out The Window”
When Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak announced their surprising yet somehow obvious collaboration project, the world held its anticipation with bated breath. Then “Leave The Door Open” hit and gave us a taste of their delectable chemistry and mastery over 70s soul music.
“Skate” came after and tapped into the sounds of 70s funk, both of which felt like very well done homages towards their influences. It wasn’t till “Smokin’ Out The Window” where it truly felt like they’ve dropped an original Silk Sonic song – making full use of both artists’ strengths to produce a song that’s greater than the sum of their parts.
Bruno’s buttery smooth crooning paired with .Paak’s penchant for dramatic flair left us with the greatest anti-gold digger anthem since Kanye’s “Gold Digger”.
4. Adele – “To Be Loved”
“I’ve only really sung it a few times and definitely can’t even really listen to it without getting emotional,” Adele revealed, “‘So I will not be performing that one live.”
Written during her divorce, the 6-minute ballad is a career highlight amidst a career chock full of highlights. It’s tough to stomach how heartbreakingly vulnerable the track is and Adele’s vocals…God, what else can I say about it? One of the best singers of our generation bearing her entire soul for the world to hear.
I might be jumping the gun here but “To Be Loved” might be the best song of her career.
3. Kanye West – “Off The Grid”
You know, after Jesus Is King and ye, I didn’t think Kanye had it in him to rap his ass off anymore. On his latest polarizing project Donda, there are glimpses into his vulnerability following his divorce, gorgeous odes to Christianity and the ignorant braggadocio that powers some of his best work.
“Off The Grid” is filled with the latter are definitively one of the best bangers of his career. Hopping onto a New York Drill beat alongside Playboi Carti and Fivio Foreign, Kanye hits us with a “Mercy”-era level performance that proves he can still rap circles around his competition when he feels like it – case in point, gives us two verses as great as Fivio’s.
Sure it isn’t the forward-thinking sound that we associate with Yeezy but he had already stopped being that type of artist years ago. Today’s Kanye West navigates his way through current trends leaves an indelible stamp of distinction – so it’s not surprising that “Off The Grid” is as good as it is.
2. Doja Cat – “Kiss Me More” (feat. SZA)
Has there another artist who has been as consistently incredible as Doja Cat since their breakout hit? “MOOO!”, “Tia Tamera”, “Rules”, “Bottom Bitch”, “Juicy”, “Say So”, “Streets” and the list goes on. Beating the allegations of being a TikTok artist, her 3-year run so far cements her as one of the best pop artists working today.
“Kiss Me More” is another gem notched onto an ever-growing crown. Dr Luke iffiness aside, the Olivia-Newton John sampling single rides in the same lane as the 80s pop-inspired “Say So”, a sound that many artists have replicated but few have really nailed like Doja has. Not forgetting that Doja has never skimped on a rap verse, and the energy she brings injects a needed bravado into the gentle nature of the track.
1. Joy Crookes – “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now”
The moment the bass lines start to kick in, “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” invites you to move along to the beat of its drum – to ready yourself and walk forward according to what you believe is right.
“This song is one of the most complicated songs I’ve ever written (in a good way),” Joy said, “The track carries with it a deep sense of irony, it’s written from the perspective of someone who finds it easier to remain complicit out of a fear of being cancelled.”
Inspired by the political climate today, Joy grants us a motivational track that soundtracks every awkward family dispute – propping us up and not giving in to the temptation of conforming to the masses. It’s a stellar breakdown of what Cancel Culture feels like and a song that doesn’t shy away from how dense mob mentality can be until it is challenged by those willing to.
It is “re-educating yourself and challenging your friends and families,” Joy claims, “Open up a dialogue, speak out, make mistakes – that’s okay and that’s how progress happens.” A message that’s sorely needed in the world right now.