The 20 Best Songs of 2021

What will be crowned number one?

Well, you have to scroll down to find that one out.

That's how lists work, you see.

On this here list, we're counting down the 20 Best Songs of 2021.

You should, of course, listen to all of them.

Alright, no more messing around.


#20. Olivia Rodrigo | 'Deja Vu'

'Drivers License' was the song that turned Olivia Rodrigo into a household name seemingly overnight, but 'Deja Vu' is the shiniest gem from her subsequent Sour album.

I'm not sure I believe that Billy Joel is a go-to artist for teenagers these days, but his presence is weaponised to great effect here.

Clip via Olivia Rodrigo

#19. Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen – 'Like I Used To'

A glorious team-up born of mutual respect between two artists that fit one another so well that an entire album of this union is now very much in demand and would be very much welcome indeed.

Clip via Sharon Van Etten

#18. TORRES | 'Don't Go Puttin Wishes in my Head'

The kind of song that Brandon Flowers hears and goes, 'Feck, why didn't I do that?'.

Clip via TORRES

#17. Saint Sister | 'My Brilliant Friend'

An outstanding ode to relationships, perception, toxicity, devotion, heartache and, but of course, love from an act that elevated themselves to a new plain of songwriting this year.

Clip via Saint Sister

#16. Sparks | 'So May We Start'

The number that kicks off Annette, one of the weirder musicals you'll ever witness, stands as one of the most addictive ensemble songs of 2021.

The film that follows, sadly for this writer at least, couldn't quite measure up, nor could any of the subsequent musical efforts from the wild imagination of enduring UK avant-pop outfit Sparks, who also came up with the story for Annette and co-wrote the screenplay.

'So May We Start' is magnificent, though, brought to knowing life by a most willing cast including Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard and Simon Helberg, who, it turns out, has a lot more to offer than The Big Bang Theory.

Clip via Sparks

#15. Activity | 'Text The Dead'

A beautifully moody waltz from a band I'd never heard of until I stumbled upon this song.

It seems like they're pretty underground in general, really, so get it while it's hot!

Clip via westernvinyl

#14. Brockhampton ft. Danny Brown | 'Buzzcat'

If you're not on your feet and head-banging along by the time Danny Brown shows up for his feature, then you're not living your life correctly.

Clip via Brockhampton

#13. IDLES | 'The Beachland Ballroom'

Bouncing back from the too scattershot for its own good Ultra Mono, outspoken 'don't call us punk' punk troubadours IDLES delivered one of the best songs of their career as the lead single to November's CRAWLER album.

Frontman Joe Talbot has spoken of his fondness for soul music and his desire for his band to be held aloft within that genre.

'The Beachland Ballroom' certainly makes you believe him, even when it takes a typically aggressive – and brutally brilliant – IDLES turn as things threaten to become too romantic.

Clip via IDLES

#12. Shame | 'Station Wagon'

Very much in an IDLES vein, London post-punkers Shame scored big and early in 2021, releasing the very strong Drunk Tank Pink album just two weeks into the first month of the year.

The standout is 'Station Wagon', a stunning maze of a closing track that builds and builds and builds and finally exhales before sending you away in wonderfully dazed yet oddly hopeful fashion.

Clip via Shame

#11. Gang of Youths | 'The Angel of 8th Ave.'

In a year in which Sam Fender released 'Seventeen Going Under', an excellent stomper of a rock song that – sorry Sam, I know you hate this – once again brought vintage Bruce Springsteen to mind, another act managed to outdo the Geordie on the Boss front.

Step forward Australian indie quintet Gang of Youths, who are very much throwing the likes of The War on Drugs and The National into the mix alongside Bruce in terms of 'on the sleeve' influences.

No bad thing, and in 'The Angel of 8th Avenue' they manage to just about make it their very own, and how.


#10. Dave | 'Heart Attack'

Simultaneously one of the most ambitious, audacious, impressive and important songs of 2021, Dave's 'Heart Attack' is a true one of a kind.

Across 10 minutes, Dave casts a critical eye on knife crime, broken societal systems, biased media, fake friends, doomed relationships, the 'heavy lies the crown' nature of fame and fortune, and a great deal more.

His performance is astonishing, especially as all music drops out and the cadence and venom of his words take over.

Throw in a genuinely harrowing conclusion and you have one of the most jaw-dropping listens of 2021.

Clip via Santan Dave

#9. Nation of Language | 'Across That Fine Line'

Tragically hip, effortlessly cool, wildly indebted to the great new romantic guitar bands of the 1980s and one of the most fun kick-in choruses in ages.

Clip via KEXP

#8. Kanye West | 'Moon'

Bet the house on Kanye West forever dividing opinion and driving many people mad, but you cannot deny the man when he's on this kind of form.

Backed up by guardian angel Kid Cudi and a truly dreamlike vocal from Don Toliver, 'Moon' is the kind of stunning lullaby that can halt even the most ardent Kanye hater in their tracks.

If only for a few minutes, but what a few minutes they are...

Clip via Kanye West

#7. Cassandra Jenkins | 'Hard Drive'

The rise of speak-singing / spoken word / Sprechgesang shows little sign of cooling, and the genre can certainly prove divisive enough.

You might worship at the arch alter of Dry Cleaning's apathetic indie rock stylings or you might find the idea of what can effectively amount to a podcast-esque approach to music a bit naff.

In any event, there are artists out there who are making it, well, sing. Cassandra Jenkins is one such voice and 'Hard Drive', deployed amidst the first weeks of January, makes for a sublime short story.

Clip via Cassandra Jenkins

#6. Yves Tumor | 'Jackie'

One of modern music's most exciting innovators, the difficult-to-pin-down Yves Tumor remains a wonderfully sharp slap to the face.

'Jackie', though not quite a flagrant bid for mainstream success, is the kind of immediately glorious bop that should provide a friendly entry point for anyone previously unaware.

Clip via Yves Tumor

#5. Arooj Aftab | 'Mohabbat'

The single most spellbinding song on this list.

Clip via Arooj Aftab

#4. HEALTH x Nine Inch Nails | 'Isn't Everyone'

Admittedly a dream collaboration for this particular music fan and thus unlikely to miss, the union of Los Angeles noise-pop heroes HEALTH and legendary industrial titans Nine Inch Nails is a triumph.

HEALTH – a band you really should investigate if you don't know them – frontman Jake Duzsik has noted that he didn't want to put his vocals on 'Isn't Everyone', fearing that he simply couldn't compete with the revered Trent Reznor.

Thankfully, he was convinced otherwise. The result is a stunning marriage, with Duzsik's pitch actually resonating the stronger on a typically beautiful-yet-bruised effort from both acts.

Clip via HEALTH

#3. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis | 'White Elephant'

Only the partnership of Nick Cave & Warren Ellis could make a line like "I'll shoot you in the fucking face if you ever think of coming around here" sound like the most poignant expression in the world.

And boy, does it ever.

Clip via Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

#2. The Armed | 'All Futures'

You simply will not find a stronger adrenaline shot in all of music in 2021.

Clip via Sargent House

#1. Kanye West | 'Jesus Lord pt. 2'

I can't say that I'm a religious person.

However, as time moves on and more chapters are added to whole 'life experience' thing, the hardline atheist in me sometimes wonders about and wants for a cosmic presence in the world.

Wherever you land on the divine spectrum, it really doesn't matter as far as Kanye West and 'Jesus Lord pt. 2' are concerned.

Yes, this is a song steeped in devotion from the title on upwards, but it invites every single person in, regardless of their standing in life or their feelings one way or another on a higher power.

Kanye West is many things and he didn't exactly cover himself in heavenly glory with the rollout of his most recent record, but you forgive him when he unleashes an epic such as this.

Clocking in at almost 12 minutes, 'Jesus Lord pt. 2' finds time for Jay Electronica to deliver the best individual rap performance of the year, The Lox to remind us of their undeniable power, and Larry Hoover Jr. to purposefully bring everything back down to earth.

And then there's Kanye, the flawed but searching overseer, the beating heart, holding everything together in a perfectly imperfect way.

God bless the man.

Clip via Kanye West