2021 in Review

Year two of the coronavirus pandemic saw a bit of a return to normalcy for the music world. Artists began touring again, people started going out more and hearing music in various settings other than their homes, and bands got back to the studio and released records that felt a long-time overdue. 

That doesn’t mean you couldn’t still feel some lingering effects of the pandemic. Some releases sounded a little flat energy wise, maybe due to the lack of being around a live audience in a while. 

There were also some redundancies, with songs by TheWeeknd and Dua Lipa that came out early in 2020 still getting plenty of air time late in 2021. Megan Thee Stallion and Lil Nas X both again had smash hits. Tyler, The Creator put out another acclaimed record that was a refined, more hip-hop centric version of 2019’s Igor. The members of Griselda each put out multiple projects again in 2021, building onto their already prolific catalog of underground hip-hop tracks. And Drake and Kanye West again feuded like it was 2018, with Kanye releasing Donda and Drake, College Lover Boy, a week apart. 

Overall though, 2021 will go down as a pretty deep year, and one with a good variety of artists near the top of most year-end lists. I’m not sure there are too many songs that stood out as instant classics, but coming out with a top 50, even a top 100, it felt like some really good music would inevitably be left out. 

The big stars this year were current and former teen pop idols. Billie Eilish, Lorde and Adele, who each at one time put out the biggest records in the world as young women, returned. Lorde and Adele’s records were fine, but didn’t receive as much traction as the artists had with past releases, and Billie Eilish’s more personal and mature Happier Than Ever had a big year, but in a different way than her debut record in 2019. They were all dwarfed, though, by the success of Olivia Rodrigo’s debut, SOUR.

Other notable releases included Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak.’s fun Silk Sonic project, Kendrick Lamar’s brief return through a few cameos on Baby Keem’s record, and some fun singles by recent chart regulars Charli XCX, Doja Cat and Justin Bieber.

Songs of the year

2021 Albums

Drunk Tank PinkShame★★★★½87RockAlternative RockPost-Punk
Call Me If You Get LostTyler The Creator★★★★½86Hip-Hop
Blue WeekendWolf Alice★★★★83RockShoegazeDream Pop
For The First TimeBlack Country, New Road★★★★81RockAlternative RockPost-Punk
JubileeJapanese Breakfast★★★★79RockIndie Pop
Bright Green FieldSquid★★★★79RockAlternative RockPost-Punk
I Don’t Live Here AnymoreThe War on Drugs★★★★79RockAlternative RockHeartland Rock
Glow OnTurnstile★★★★78RockPunk RockPost-Hardcore
Sometimes I Might Be IntrovertLittle Simz★★★★78Hip-Hop
Vince StaplesVince Staples★★★★77Hip-Hop
Afrique VictimeMdou Moctar★★★★75Rock
The House is BurningIsaiah Rashad★★★★75Hip-Hop
PromisesFloating Points★★★★75Classical
Modern FictionDucks Ltd.★★★★75RockIndie PopGangle Pop
Smiling With No TeethGenesis Owusu★★★½74Hip-HopExperimental Hip-HopAlternative R&B
Things Take Time, Take TimeCourtney Barnett★★★½74RockIndie Rock
We’re All Alone In This TogetherDave★★★½73Hip-Hop
The Melodic BlueBaby Keem★★★½73Hip-Hop
IgnoranceThe Weather Station★★★½73RockIndie PopChamber Pop
Infinate GraniteDeafheaven★★★½73RockShoegaze
Collapsed In SunbeamsArlo Parks★★★½72PopIndie Pop
An Evening with Silk SonicSilk Sonic★★★½71PopNeo-Soul
Weight of the WorldMaxo Kream★★★½70Hip-Hop
HEY WHATLow★★★½70Rock
SourOlivia Rodrigo★★★½66Pop
Friends that Break Your HeartJames Blake★★★½65Pop
La MaquinaConway the Machine★★★63Hip-Hop
DondaKanye West★★★63Hip-Hop
Take the Sadness Out of Saturday NightBleachers★★★63Rock
King’s Disease IINas★★★63Hip-Hop
For Those I LoveFor Those I Love★★★63Electronic
Ice MeltCrumb★★★63RockIndie PopDream Pop
ValentineSnail Mail★★★62RockIndie Pop
CarnageNick Cave & Warren Ellis★★★62RockArt Rock
Black To The FutureSons of Kemet★★★62Jazz
Happier Than EverBillie Eillish★★★62Pop
The Golden CasketModest Mouse★★★61Rock
An Overview on Phenomenal NatureCassandra Jenkins★★★61RockIndie Pop
Parallel WorldCadence Weapon★★★60Hip-Hop
Little OblivionsJulien Baker★★★63RockIndie Pop
New Long LegDry Cleaning★★★60Rock
The Off-SeasonJ. Cole★★★57Hip-Hop
The Shadow I RememberCloud Nothings★★★56Rock
Real LatePeter Rosenberg★★★56Hip-Hop
Super What?Czarface★★★55Hip-Hop
CRAWLERIdles★★★55RockPost Punk
Prioritise PleasureSelf Esteem★★★55Pop
Gold-Diggers SoundLeon Bridges★★★55RockNeo-Soul
As The Love ContinuesMogwai★★½54Rock
MonteroLil Naz X★★½54Hip-Hop
Pray For HaitiMach-Hommy★★½54Hip-Hop
Still Over ItSummer Walker★★½54Hip-HopR&B
ULTRAPOPThe Armed★★½53Rock
Certified Lover BoyDrake★★½52Hip-Hop
The Life Of Pi’erre 5Pi’erre Bourne★★½52Hip-Hop
Solar PowerLorde★★½49Pop
Sympathy for LifeParquet Courts★★½49Rock
Music For Psychedelic TherapyJon Hopkins★★44ElectronicAmbient
See You Next WednesdayBelly★★44Hip-Hop
True LoveHovvdy★★43RockIndie PopDream Pop
Daddy’s HomeSt. Vincent★★43Pop
LIVE LIFE FASTRoddy Ricch★½34Hip-Hop
Big SleepoverBig Boi, Sleepy Brown24Hip-Hop

50 Best Songs

  1. LUMBERJACK – Tyler, The Creator
  2. Like I Used To – Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen
  3. Keep My Spirit Alive – Kanye West
  4. Track X – Black Country, New Road
  5. Smokin Out The Window – Silk Sonic, Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak
  6. Narrator – Squid, Martha Skye Murphy
  7. The Shining – Vince Staples
  8. Born in Luton – shame
  9. The Other Black Dog – Genesis Owusu
  10. FOREVER – Flight Facilities, BROODS
  11. No Hard Feelings – Wolf Alice
  12. Life Of The Party – Kanye West, Andre 3000
  13. MAMA’S PURSE – Maxo Kream
  14. How Did You Get Here – Little Simz
  15. Scatter Brain – Conway the Machine, Ludacris, JID
  16. Bread Song – Black Country, New Road
  17. Good Ones – Charli XCX
  18. To Lose You – Mannequin Pussy
  19. Fruitcake – Subsonic Eye
  20. family ties – Baby Keem, Kendrick Lamar
  21. Jackie – Yves Tumor
  22. Hurricane – Kanye West
  23. JUGGERNAUT – Tyler, The Creator, Lil Uzi Vert, Pharrell
  24. I Don’t Live Here Anymore – The War On Drugs, Lucius
  25. Walking at a Downtown Pace – Parquet Courts
  26. Before You Gotta Go – Courtney Barnett
  27. Great Mass of Color – Deafheaven
  28. BLACKOUT – Turnstile
  29. For Violet – Arlo Parks
  30. Nobody – Nas, Ms. Lauryn Hill
  31. Headshots (4rd Da Locals) – Isaiah Rashad
  32. Stay High – Brittany Howard, Childish Gambino
  33. Next 2 You – Rochelle Jordan
  34. Movement 6 – Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders
  35. Overheated – Billie Eilish
  36. Slow – black midi
  37. Up & Down – Crumb
  38. Paddling – Squid
  39. Hood Blues – DMX, Westside Gunn, Benny the Butcher, Conway the Machine
  40. March Day – shame
  41. Paprika – Japanese Breakfast
  42. let.go.my.hand – J. Cole, Bas, 6LACK
  43. Valentine – Snail Mail
  44. BIG PERSONA – Maxo Kream, Tyler, The Creator
  45. Off The Grid – Kanye West
  46. Bed Head – Manchester Orchestra
  47. Atlantic – The Weather Station
  48. Be Sweet – Japanese Breakfast
  49. INDUSTRY BABY – Lil Nas X, Jack Harlow
  50. ALL FUTURES – The Armed

Genre Highlights




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