40) Undo (Back To My Heart) – Tinashe & Wax Motif
After waiting 7 years for Tinashe to finally live up to the potential she clearly had, album 333 defied all of my expectations as the best album of her career so far. Undo (Back To My Heart) is the centre of the album, a throbbing pop hit that finally has the same star quality as Tinashe herself does as a performer.
39) Selfish Love – DJ Snake & Selena Gomez
From one career best to another, I had a feeling that Selena Gomez would eventually make the full move into Latin music, but I didn’t think the results would be as brilliant as this. Selfish Love is undeniably my favourite song she’s ever done, with flickers of reggaeton alongside the pulsing house bass. The little guitar riff when she sings ‘Does somebody else care?’ is a joy, while Selena delivers her most assured performance as a ‘popstar’ yet.
38) Wake Me Up – Foals
The band’s first single as a threepiece following the departure of Edwin Congreave earlier this year, Wake Me Up is a thrilling way to kick off a new era. Hooky and catchy, it’s relentless from the off, the ‘Oh No’s across the verse have this wobbly quality to them like the song is about to fall apart. One of the UK’s best bands doing what they do best.
37) The Slightest Touch – Steps
The best single Steps have released since their ‘comeback’ being a cover of a 80s pop hit isn’t too big of a shock once you remember how good their take on Chain Reaction was. The overall campness of it; Faye’s career defining talky bit; Claire absolutely GOING for it before the final chorus before it all goes off. Seeing Steps perform this in an arena full of people was one of the year’s gayest, but best moments.
36) Let’s Go Home Together – Ella Henderson & Tom Grennan
Am I basic for absolutely loving this song? This could be a song by Ed Sheeran or Jess Glynne and I genuinely wouldn’t consider going back for another listen, but there’s something here I love. Ella and Tom sound genuinely great together and I can’t help but wail along to that chorus every time. Who knows why but this has been in my head all year.
35) Thot Shit – Megan Thee Stallion
‘Hoes tryna call me a snake, shit, I guess I can relate/Cause a bitch spit a whole lot of venom’. Every bar that Megan raps on Thot Shit is iconic, it’s a non stop showcase of her lyrical prowess and by now no one can possibly question her talent. It’s filthy has one of the most memorable videos of the year and Megan Thee Stallion bosses every moment as always.
34) justified – Kacey Musgraves
The best moment on a Kacey Musgraves album that sadly didn’t have much of a chance of living up to the enormous hype. Justified is the best example of leaning way more into the pop space, but retaining the instrumentation of her ‘home’ country genre. It’s one of the few moments from star-crossed where I feel that lyrically she’s still at her peak. This stands next to the likes of Space Cowboy and Slow Burn as one of her best lyrics.
33) One Night – Griff
It felt like Griff had a massive year, but she’s still yet to release her debut album. I really hope she doesn’t end up as one of those artists who never quite gets to release a full length record because given the quality of One Night she could be one of the biggest pop stars of 2022. One Night is instantly infectious and Griff delivers everything with this subtle edge of vulnerability that makes it so engaging.
32) STAY – The Kid LAROI & Justin Bieber
The Kid LAROI has had a huge year, with this, Without You and his ridiculous never ending album he keeps adding songs to, but he’s not really my thing. Even though he’s basically a featured artist here, STAY manages to feel like the peak of the current Bieber resurgence among a number of genuinely great 80s pop influenced songs from him. (Anyone would have made my top 20 had I not been strict on myself about it coming out on 31st December last year). STAY was inescapable this year but it’s honestly a great song.
31) Diamond Studded Shoes – Yola
A protest song aimed at Theresa May for doing the usual Tory thing of cutting support for families while wearing shoes with diamonds in the heels should not sound this fun and catchy, but my god it is. ‘We aren’t the rich ones/Some of us’ll barely get by/they buy diamond studded shoes with our taxes/Anything to keep us divided’ Yola says what needs to be said on this, while singing like only she can. Yola is in full command of her craft and uses her voice to genuinely say something.
30) Shivers – Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran has featured on my Best Singles list at least once for every album he’s released since X, so it’s not a surprise that at least one of the songs from = was genuinely great. Shivers is that song. Yes the lyrics are absolute nonsense but there’s very few songwriters who can make pop songs as good as this. The middle 8 bit with the handclaps? Pop magic right there.
29) He Said She Said – CHVRCHES
Lauren Mayberry is absolutely done with toxic men and honestly who can blame her. He Said She Said is brutally honest and somehow the clattering production heightens the emotion and personal turmoil of having to deal with this shit day after day. ‘I feel like I’m losing my mind’ surrounds you on the chorus, the song spinning around you in one of the year’s most immediate moments.
28) All I Know So Far – P!nk
I had forgotten about how much I loved this song earlier in the year when it came time to do this list, but P!nk absolutely nails it on this. ‘The little that I know I’ll tell to you/When they dress you up in lies and you’re left naked with the truth’ she has spoken directly to her daughter on songs before but it’s never sounded like this before. Of course P!nk sounds incredible vocally, that’s a given, but All I Know So Far has this dynamic honesty that’s been missing for me on so much of her recent music. Her best single since Try.
27) Silk Chiffon (Feat. Phoebe Bridgers) – MUNA
I already have 2022 pencilled in as the year when MUNA truly takes over the world. There’s something transcendent in Silk Chiffon like the song is even bigger than we can imagine. It soars to a higher place that none of us can reach, but at least Phoebe and MUNA made it there.
26) Mirror – Sigrid
Sigrid just nails the sort of pop tunes I have no choice but to stan for. A little disco, a little funky, a little Eurovision, and so obviously Sigrid; Mirror only gets better on each listen. The ‘Just fell in love with the person in the mirror’ bridge as the beat swells around her? Amazing. So instantly memorable and has me really hoping for a second album in 2022.
25) Take My Breath – The Weeknd
Continuing the After Hours era into a third year, Take My Breath wasn’t the monster hit I was expecting it to be. It’s the most obvious club banger hit of The Weeknd’s career, such a belter of a pop record from someone who has nothing left to prove to anyone anymore. I’m intrigued to see if his upcoming 5th album retains the style of After Hours, or if he goes even further into the pop world, but as long as there’s songs as good as this I’m all for it.
24) Smokin’ Out The Window – Silk Sonic
I can’t remember a single from artists as big as Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak that’s as genuinely funny as this song is. ‘Got her badass kids runnin’ round my whole crib like it’s Chuck E.Cheese’; hilarious. ‘Not to be dramatic, but I wanna die’; also hilarious. ‘I hope you found whatever it is that you need/But I also hope that your triflin’ ass is walkin’ round barefoot in these streets’; laugh out loud funny. Bruno and Anderson nailed the whole concept of their collaborative band on this one song, catchy and funny as hell.
23) 24 Hours – Agnes
I thought Fingers Crossed from last year would be a one off, little did I know that Agnes was about to drop the music of her career in 2021 including this storming pop record. The bit where she emphasizes each syllable of ‘Walk…ing…through the fire’ is utterly mesmerizing on this song. A Swedish heartbreaking dance pop song, who knew I’d love that?
22) Don’t Shut Me Down – ABBA
Oh you want Swedish Pop? How about from Agnetha, Frida, Benny and Bjorn?! Actual ABBA releasing an entire new album in 2021 still feels like a dream and the greatest moment comes 1 minute 20 into Don’t Shut Me Down. Benny slides his way down the piano and one of the choruses of the year begins. I’m not sure what I’m more shocked by, the fact that they are back or that they sound exactly the same as they ever did and can deliver a record that manages to sound like a classic just weeks after release. Don’t Shut Me Down is deserving of being on ABBA Gold, which is one of the biggest compliments a song can receive.
21) Solar Power – Lorde
I’m not going to talk about the most disappointing album of 2021 too much, but thank god at least something from Solar Power was worth listening to more than once. The steadily build before that joyous release in the final minute is brilliant. Like laying in the sun hearing the ocean and feeling truly zen for the first time in months. Right before I remember that the rest of this album exists and I come crashing back down to reality.
20) Up – Cardi B
The best way to enjoy popular music in 2021? Don’t install Tik Tok. It means I can enjoy a song like Up without instantly picturing white American girls attempting to twerk to it. Instead I get to enjoy one of Cardi’s all time best performances. She’s on fire on Up the hook is such a mind bending lyric it’s entrancing to hear. The verses are fiery and full of energy. Cardi B has been delivering year after year since her debut and for me Up is one of her best records yet.
19) Right on Time – Brandi Carlile
When I had read that Brandi Carlile was moving away from the Americana/Country sound we’d expect from her, I was slightly nervous. One listen of Right On Time, the opener of her album In These Silent Days and any worries I had were gone. Vocally spectacular, emotional and vulnerable Brandi leaves everything on this song. When she goes for that final high note and extends it even further, it feels like her life depends on it. Very few singers can perform like this.
18) drivers license – Olivia Rodrigo
By the time any of us had quite got our heads around exactly how drivers license had become such an immediate overnight streaming hit, it was already a defining single for 2021. It’s hard to think of a debut single where an artist is so assured of themselves lyrically and vocally. It’s a hit that gets played so much that you instinctively think I’m sick of it, until minutes later I’m screaming along to ‘RED LIGHTS, STOP SIGNS’. It’s brutally honest and refreshingly immature in a way that only someone mature enough to write this openly could be.
17) Remember – Becky Hill & David Guetta
I might just start writing Becky Hill’s name in the top 20 preemptively as she keeps releasing the biggest dance bangers of the year. In a year where she was finally able to release her debut studio album (that’s genuinely good considering the messy lead up) Remember was the biggest and best thing she released. That chorus is huge. The production is huge. The ‘I’m missing youuuu’ bit is huge. Remember is huge.
16) Here Comes The Night – Agnes
In a year where ACTUAL ABBA made a return, the best ABBA song of 2021 comes courtesy of fellow Swede Agnes. I think this might be my favourite song she’s ever released, full of drama, a powerhouse vocal performance and thrilling dark production. There’s a section where the piano is playing in the distance and you can hear the bassline just repeating as the backing vocal ‘Ah’s echo around. The energy on Here Comes The Night is electric and the layers of instrumentation are a true joy to hear.
15) Your Power – Billie Eilish
Your Power might be my favourite vocal performance from Billie, delicate but purposeful in every syllable she pronounces. Lyrically it’s by far her best record and the verses genuinely affect me every time I hear it. ‘Does it keep you in control for you to keep her in a cage/and you swear you didn’t know you said you thought she was your age/How dare you’. Billie is still so young and yet so sure of what she wants to say in her music and who she’s directing it to.
14) Black Hole – Griff
Black Hole is subtle, it isn’t as in your face as other pop records on this list, but it doesn’t need to be. It feels like a perfect example of Griff’s talent as a performer where it’s the emotion in her voice and performance that’s the real draw, not bombast and spectacle. It feels like a true breakthrough moment for a talent bound for greatness.
13) I Love You, I Hate You – Little Simz
The strings and production on I Love You, I Hate You are glorious. Like a Bond soundtrack before it crashes in with drum beats and gospel vocalists. Lyrically this is the shining moment on Sometimes I Might Be Introvert ‘It’s easier to stargaze and wish than be faced with this reality/Is you a sperm donar or a dad to me?’. Little Simz puts everything into these lyrics, so deeply personal on her fractured relationship with her father, but surrounds it with some of the best production on any of her songs.
12) Easy On Me – Adele
I’ve seen so many people complain that Easy On Me is ‘Adele by numbers’ and that she’s done countless songs that sound like this. Maybe I’m in the minority when I say that this is one of her greatest moments. Vocally thrilling and interesting, the way she uses her voice this time around is so different to how it was before, maybe it’s the journey she’s been on, maybe it’s taking an extended break from singing, maybe it’s the heartbreaking situation she finds herself in. Whatever it is, Easy On Me is stunning and lyrics like ‘I changed who I was to put you both first but now I give up’ get me every time.
11) INDUSTRY BABY – Lil Nas X & Jack Harlow
INDUSTRY BABY is a victory lap, it’s Lil Nas X’s theme music. When he walks into the ring to prove everyone who doubted him wrong, those blurts of brass is what’s playing. ‘Funny how you said it was the end, then I went did it again’ he’s got the receipts that he’s more than a viral hit and the step up from Old Town Road to the songs from MONTERO is outstanding. Even Jack Harlow delivers a career best verse here, Lil Nas X bringing out the best in his collaborators, his fans and himself on this storming track.
10) Please – Jessie Ware
I was very close to allowing What’s Your Pleasure’s final track Remember Where You Are to be included on this list, where I’d probably have stuck it at #1 in all honesty, but I decided it was more of a thing for me last year. The one that did make it, Please, is undeniable and infectious. ‘Do you need company, Do you belong to me?’ she teases on the hook. Please sums up everything that has made the WYP era the best of Jessie’s career; vocally confident; catchy as hell; produced with so much love for the genre and pure fun from start to finish.
9) Happier Than Ever – Billie Eilish
‘I could talk about every time that you showed up on time, but I’d have an empty line ‘cause you never did’ is such a cutting and simple way of explaining the pent up anger and frustration that the smallest things can cause, which this song captures perfectly. One second delicate and sweet, but almost terrifying in it’s haunting creepiness, the next explosive and searingly intense. It works even better in the context of an album that builds and builds until it needs a moment to fully let go. It;s an exhausting experience but that’s entirely the point, that moment where you finally snap captured in 5 minutes of music.
8) New Shapes (Feat. Christine and the Queens & Caroline Polachek) – Charli XCX
Poor Charli and Christine end up just outside my top 5 yet again, with another collaboration alongside Caroline Polachek, that’s another effortlessly cool pop smash. All three women sound so distinctive on their verses, the way Caroline sings ‘Yeah I’m dive bombing again and again’ almost altering the melody of the music around her; the way Christine and The Queens continues to sound like she’s singing like her life depends on it and how Charli XCX acts like a sort of Alt Pop puppeteer curating a song as thrilling as this.
7) Woman (Feat. Cleo Sol) – Little Simz
Smooth, soulful and joyous Woman is a classic. The way Little Simz just rides over the top of the beat feeling it as much as the audience is. This song in particular is an example of the appreciation and love for music that Little Simz has, the swells of strings subtle at first and then given space to shine. It’s what sets her apart from other rappers who would need to be the ‘star’ at all times, instead it’s Cleo Sol and the musicians that send this song from 0-100 for the listener, as Simz delivers verse after verse of effortless lyrical genius.
6) MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name) – Lil Nas X
It’s hard to write about MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name) without the context of Lil Nas X, Twitter viral star who came out at the peak of his run at the top of the charts living so proudly in an industry where he shouldn’t ‘fit’. The context is what makes an already impeccable pop record, full of spanish guitar and infuriatingly catchy hand claps into an all time classic. He’s fully himself on every lyric, on every tease of ‘Oh’, in the incredible music video and in every trouser splitting live performance. MONTERO feels like the true moment that Lil Nas X arrived. He became a superstar in these 2 minutes and what’s scary and exciting is that he’s only just getting started.
5) good 4 u – Olivia Rodrigo
Olivia Rodrigo does not mess about. It takes 30 seconds for the poppiest hook of hooks in 2021 to kick in. Not a single moment is wasted. Every lyric so perfectly aimed at one very specific person, it gives the whole song an unhinged menace that’s a thrill every time I hear it. ‘Maybe I’m too emotional, you’re apathy’s like a wound in salt’, or ‘You will never have to hurt the way you know that I do’ or ‘I guess the therapist I found for you, she really helped’ every lyric cuts straight to the point. Also anyone who says they haven’t screamed LIKE A DAMN SOCIOPATH at some point this year is kidding themselves.
4) Church Girl – Laura Mvula
All four of the last songs in this list have been at the top at some point, so believe me when I say all of them are 10/10 all time favourites for me and all four are the best songs these artists have ever released. First up Laura Mvula and I really don’t have to explain what makes this song shine so much. Like someone bottled the magic that was in the air when Madonna wrote Lucky Star and gifted it to Laura, Church Girl is an absolute joy. Laura sings with the same incredible emotion and unique tone that I’ve always loved but the gleaming production somehow enhances her performance here. The tiny details in the instrumentation are what lift this into the stratosphere, a masterclass in pop from someone who’s making sure you know what she’s capable of.
3) Introvert – Little Simz
Little Simz on the list for a third and final time with what I’d consider the song of her career. The high drama and high stakes in every moment of Introvert is felt musically, vocally and lyrically. Navigating the world in 2021 has meant Little Simz has had to go deep into her own emotions and soul and you hear it in every moment here. The second verse has more incredible lyrics than I could mention here, but the way the choir swells behind Simz as she raps ‘How they talking on what’s threatening the economy? Knocking down communities to re-up on properties’ is so affecting to me, it’s so beautifully created that the lyrics hit even harder. I get emotional during that verse every time, the best thing Little Simz has ever created.
2) How Can I Make It OK? – Wolf Alice
Something gets me deep within whenever I hear How Can I Make It OK?. Wolf Alice have made music like this before, but have never come close to what they’ve managed to create on this record. Every time we hear Ellie sing ‘I just want you to be happy’ is more emotive, more immediate and more desperate than the last. By the time we reach the moment where the vocals start echoing over the top, the guitars building every time, before a final chorus explodes into view, I’m exhilarated and stunned by what I’m hearing every single time. The emotion and anguish that builds and builds is a thrill to hear, where a band that may have previously been too cool to leave everything out there just stop trying for once. I can’t overstate how much I love this song.
1) How Not To Drown – CHVRCHES & Robert Smith
There’s darkness in How Not To Drown, it’s heard across most of the album Screen Violence but especially on what somehow has become my favourite song of 2021. There’s songs with a bigger musical impact on this list, songs with better lyrics, songs with bigger hooks, but there’s something in the danger and isolation heard on every moment of How Not To Drown that drew me in more than anything else. Robert Smith sounds incredible alongside Lauren from CHVRCHES, the moment where she sings ‘Watch as they pull me down’ in the second half of the song suddenly becomes even more thrilling when Robert starts to harmonise. The song even trails off into this jazz inflected final minute or so, the antithesis of the immediacy and banging hits I’ve mentioned elsewhere in the list, but it captures a feeling of helplessness and has stuck with me more than anything else. Nothing in 2021 went the way I was expecting it to, so for a song like How Not To Drown to be my favourite of the year, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m surprised.