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The Top 100 Songs of 2021 (#100 – #81)

From Courtney Barnett’s “Write A List Of Things To Look Forward To” to Demi Lovato’s “The Kind of Lover I Am” and More

Amit Vaidya Dec 09, 2021
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2021 was a mixed bag in terms of music. While many of us continued to exist in a pandemic bubble, some of us broke free, began to socialize again and found our ‘normal.’ Concerts and tours began in some parts of the world while others remained ghost towns. Artists began to collaborate outside the world of Zoom and music started to incorporate a post-pandemic reflection, sometimes matching and sometimes not matching the tone of the times.

Huge new artists like Olivia Rodrigo became big stars and long-term hitmakers like Maroon 5 stalled. TikTok continued to dominate what songs would breakout and once again, a small number of artists seemed to dominate radio, often replacing themselves at the top of the charts. And then there was Adele.

This year, my list is a bit more eclectic than usual. While there are still many collaborations, there has been a significant decline in the number of features included, quite possibly because there seems to be only a handful of artists in heavy circulation getting featured (ahem, Justin Bieber), thus making them not as interesting or hype/hit-worthy anymore. Beyond that, there was also a surprisingly high number of songs that became huge hits and also chart high here – a rare case of the top commercial hits also being critically lauded.

As always is the case, the chart is based on my initial reviews of the song, the song’s repeat value, the number of listens (I do not alter this even if I may regret it later!) and how the song has aged (and its cultural impact) since my initial listen. So as to ensure more diversity of artists and styles, no more than two singles by any artist can feature on the chart.  Love it or hate it, here goes! Enjoy and be sure to debate!

100. Miraa May, RAYE – “Go Girl”

Algerian-born, Tottenham-raised Miraa May joined hands with one of my faves, British singer-songwriter RAYE on this underrated girl anthem “Go Girl.” The two’s voices blend seamlessly creating an empoweringly fun track where they sing praises about one another and why they are the “baddest bitch in the room.” Catchy, clever and with call-out chorus, what’s not to love!

99. Courtney Barnett – “Write A List Of Things To Look Forward To”

Taken from her wonderful album Things Take Time, Take Time, Barnett’s “Write A List Of Things To Look Forward To” is a melancholic musical gem that tackles isolation and depression, two familiar topics this year seen reflected by numerous artists as many got their first chance to express what they experienced during the pandemic. Here, Barnett creates a safe space to show her gratitude for the friendships she has despite the sadness she expresses.

98. Sevyn Streeter, Chris Brown, A$AP Ferg – “Guilty”

Produced by Chizzy, “Guilty” was a welcome return by Sevyn Streeter featuring Chris Brown and A$AP Ferg after nearly a four-year absence since her debut album dropped. The instantly catchy track gets it funk on thanks to one of the OG go-to samples, James Brown’s “The Payback” (which has contributed to massive hits for everyone from En Vogue to Biggie Smalls to even Massive Attack). While the song didn’t create waves like those other classics, something tells me this track will find its dues in time.

97. Cards – “Anton”

A song completely lost in the shuffle but thankfully not for me is “Anton” – a clever ditty by LA-based Cards. In a chorus that most closely resembles Kelis’s classic “Caught Out There” in angst, the track soars. How this didn’t get picked up for a film soundtrack (I guess it still can!) is beyond me – and the No Country For Old Men character reference is just pure brilliant.

96. The Record Company – “Never Leave You”

L.A. rockers The Record Company put out a solid third album “Play Loud” this year expanding upon their bluesy vibe by incorporating a bit more funk, pop and soul into the mix. It shines best on “Never Leave You” – a track that sounds like it could have been recorded by Sheryl Crow in the Nineties, John Mayer in 2000s, or well, them now. A fun record for sure, this track should have made a big crossover dent but sadly The Record Company still continue to exists on the sidelines of the fame they rightly deserve.

Also See  The Top 100 Songs of 2021 (#80 – #61)

95. Alesso, CORSAK – “Going Dumb”

Swedish DJ Alesso works his electropop magic here with the instantly sing-along ready “Going Dumb.” The original mix with Chinese musician and producer CORSAK is the winner for me. Something about the vocals on that just make for a far less cheesy mix than the one featuring K-Pop stars Stray Kids (sorry, it just is!)

94. Majid Jordan – “Summer Rain”

The Canadian R&B duo do it again – this time hitting it out of the park with “Summer Rain.” The atmospheric single is as smooth as ice, cooling us down just when we need it. It might quite possibly be their best record without a Drake feature. I’m still not quite sure how they’ve managed to stay under the radar as much as they have. I mean, this was a stronger song than most of what The Weeknd put out this year (keep in mind, I said most!).  

93. Hayden James, Yaeger – “Waiting For Nothing”

Aussie Hayden James was in collaboration mode in 2021 and his best effort was actually his last one of the year with Swedish-born singer Yaeger. “Waiting For Nothing” is fueled by the very real lyrics questioning if a relationship is stuck on a loop, something many questioned during Covid. Yaeger’s emotional vocals juxtapositioned with James’ floor-thumping house beat makes for a euphoric production that we’re likely going to still dancing to in 2022.

92. Inna, Thutmose – “MAZA”             

Some artists keep cranking out what they are best known for over the years and you wonder, is anyone really listening? I used to think that about Romanian singer Inna who hit it big about a decade ago with a slew of dance-pop hits. While her music continues to sell, there’s no doubt much of it is sort of interchangeable. Then came “Maza,” the English-Romanian version of her late 2020 Romanian release “Maza Jaja.” I’ll admit I was hooked. The U.S. version featured Brooklyn-based Nigerian-American rapper Thutmose. I’m still quite not sure why this didn’t become the big global hit it deserved to be.

91. NEIKED, Mae Muller, Polo G – “Better Days”       

Swedish producer Neiked brought together Chicago rapper Polo G and English singer-songwriter Mae Muller for “Better Days,” a disco-pop jam that just makes you want to get up and dance along. The optimistic track is still climbing up the charts and has been one of many viral TikTok successes this year, and thankfully one that belongs to a worthy enough song!

90. Omah Lay – “Understood”

Nigerian singer-songwriter Omah Lay’s “Understood” resonated with folks because of its earnest and honest lyrics and his silky fine vocals. The track produced by fellow native Tempoe is soothing and at the same time mesmerizing. It’s great to see African artists making their slow and steady way towards global mainstream success and Lay here proves why he is a standout.

89. Tinashe, Buddy – “Pasadena”

One of the best tracks this past summer was Tinashe’s “Pasadena” featuring California rapper Buddy. Despite a steady streak of hit-worthy singles, the artist continues to somehow slide below the mainstream pop radar. I had really hoped with this joyful track and nearly perfect visuals of the complementing music video, we’d finally see the star reach the next level. Our collective loss.

88. Agnes – “24 Hours”           

In 2009, Agnes released the global hit “Release Me.” She had a dancier Leona Lewis vibe to her, so we weren’t sure which direction her career would turn. After her experimental pop album Veritas in 2012, she sort of disappeared. But the long gap seems to have refueled the artist and after her comeback single “Fingers Crossed” shot straight to the Number One spot in her native Sweden, her follow-up single “24 Hours” proved her return was no fluke. “24 Hours” is classic Swedish pop, something many wished the new ABBA record would have included!

Also See  The Top 100 Songs of 2021 (#40 – #21)

87. Demi Lovato – “The Kind Of Lover I Am”

An anthem for sexual fluidity seems only natural in 2021 and especially by the non-binary Demi Lovato who shared with the world this truth in the stellar “The Kind Of Lover I Am.” While many have forgotten about their album Dancing With The Devil (ahem, Grammys), this track was memorable for many reasons. While the album itself was strong, there was probably no better song on the album to express where Lovato was at, in the moment. It also doesn’t hurt that the song is incredibly catchy. Why it didn’t get released as a single is anyone’s guess.                        

86. Snail Mail – “Valentine”

Lindsey Jordan’s second album as Snail Mail, Valentine, was a sheer delight. An album about love and its many stages worked especially because of her solid songwriting. This is best showcased in the title track “Valentine” which is probably the most “pop” record off the album but it’s the added hooks and layered synths that make the song feel that much more of a fascinating emotional show.

85. Milky Chance – “Colorado”

When the first line of a song is “I get high like Colorado,” you think you’d know where the song is headed but Milky Chance actually go deeper here, reflecting on why it’s important to have your friends around to grapple with life’s challenges. “Colorado” is sunshine with a message and it works specifically because of that.

84. Adam Melchor, Lennon Stella – “Light Year”

Jersey-born singer-songwriter Adam Melchor hits gold here with Lennon Stella on “Light Year,” a cinematically uplifting duet that is part folk, part pop, and totally catchy. The song about longing and feeling vulnerable feels particularly meaningful at this time. Like so many other tracks this year, the sense of hope and connecting felt necessary for inclusion for our collective soundtrack.

83. Magdalena Bay – “Chaeri”

LA-based duo Magdalena Bay are somewhere between Charli XCX and well, Depeche Mode. This is straight up synth-pop – non-apologetic in its style, its message and its world. “Chaeri,” their debut single pulses hard and aggressively over the synths and bass to create a hypnotic other-worldly sound we’ve seldom heard in recent times produced as crisply.

82. King Princess – “House Burn Down”         

Glam-style guitar riffs aren’t easy to find these days in pop/rock but King Princess does it so perfectly in her ode to self-destruction “House Burn Down.” The artist, whose real name is Mikaela Straus, finally released the track which had actually been a live staple of her set since 2019. The recorded version tightens the song and proves exactly why King Princess has been touted as one of the most promising rising artists of recent times.

81. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – “Face Down In The Moment”

Gospel rock is hard to come by these days but Nathaniel Rateliff has seemingly resurrected the subgenre on his own. “Face Down In The Moment” is one of the standout tracks of his latest album The Future with The Night Sweats, who serve more like a jam band than a soul session, which perhaps would have been an even better fit for the artist’s style. The production – in particular Rateliff’s vocals – are the highlights here. We don’t get many big records; this was one, and it was done right.

Stay tuned for more with tracks #80 all the way to #1 remaining. Who will be at the top this year?

Also check out our Top 100 Songs of 2020.

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