In a time where the “big single” is king and the album experience is seemingly fleeting, artists have been forced to encapsulate worlds of meaning and emotion into a few short minutes. Not only did our favourite artists deliver profoundly poignant singles this year, but they reminded us how powerful the song can be as an art form. Whether it’s making us feel happy, angry, sexy, depressed, or heartbroken, songs continue to provide us with a powerful sense of awe and make us feel things no other art form can. These 21 songs represent that power in a variety of ways and are our picks for the best singles of the year.
“Addicted” – Jorja Smith
Jorja Smith has returned this year with the most heartbreaking and emotionally resonant track of her career. What makes “Addicted” so brilliant is how subtle it is—it’s a perfect showcase of Jorja’s powerful voice and intricate lyricism matched with beautifully faint production that allows her to soar over the track. Jorja’s search for reciprocity within her songwriting is devastatingly relatable, as the earwormy chorus includes the lines “I’m too selfless to leave, you’re the only thing that I need, you should be addicted to me.” “Addicted” is a perfect track about not getting the attention you deserve and proves Jorja as one of the premier vocalists in R&B.
“Blouse” – Clairo
Introducing a more poetic and folk-style that largely represents her staggeringly beautiful album “Sling”, “Blouse” showed us that Clairo is willing to explore themes in her songwriting that most artists won’t. Clairo’s level of honesty and vulnerability is paralyzing in all the best ways, as she sings about her place as a young woman in the industry and in society overall. Matched with lush strings and delicate acoustic guitar playing, “Blouse” evokes feelings of empathy for anyone who’s ever been treated unfairly by the unfortunate realities of our world.
“Brando” – Lucy Dacus
Singing about toxic relationships from youth has been a regularly used narrative in music. Lucy Dacus brings her version of it to life in such a dynamic way. With references to classic cinema, Lucy quirkily laughs at her past relationship and the lack of awareness that many young men have. Thinking you’re Marlon Brando is one thing, but to compliment someone by calling them “cerebral” is another as Lucy refers to this hilarious moment from her past—resulting in one of the most memorable moments in music this year. While criminally underplayed, Brando is the spurt of indie-pop energy we all needed this year.
“Chaeri” – Magdalena Bay
Speaking of toxic relationships from the past, “Chaeri” gives us an entirely different approach to the topic. Pampered with exquisitely layered production and one of the strongest hooks of the year, “Chaeri” presents a sincere conversation that one has with themselves about a past love. What brings this song above and beyond is the stellar vocal performance from frontwoman Mica Tennenbaum, who soars over the chorus with palpable personality and emotion. “Chaeri” proves that synthpop can still evolve and thrive in today’s musical landscape, and will be welcomingly stuck in your head for days.
“Days Like These” – Low
Distorted and fuzzed-out as usual, Low proved to the world that they’re still one the most unique rock bands on the planet on “Days Like These”—the lead single to their 13th record. It’s rare that a band can sound this fresh and inventive 27 years into their career, but Low continues to defy the odds as “Days Like These” is some of the best work of their career. With a first half of in-your-face vocals met with brashly distorted synths and a second half of heavenly ambience, “Days Like These” will make you forget about all of the world’s madness for just five minutes, and immerse you in its own.
“Drink The Lake” – IAN SWEET
Perhaps the most underrated project of 2021, IAN SWEET’s Show Me How You Disappear features some of the best drum sounds and production in years, and “Drink the Lake” has that on full display. Matched with gently youthful-sounding lead vocals and a tastefully rugged guitar melody, “Drink The Lake” is the perfect blend of indie-pop and garage-rock we didn’t know we needed. “I’ll start saying your name backwards so I’ll forget it” is a magically defiant chorus line, and one that lingers long after the track ends.
“Driver’s License” – Olivia Rodrigo
It’s rare that the biggest song of any year is also one of the best, but for Olivia Rodrigo and “Driver’s License”, that is exactly the case. While totally inescapable this year, “Driver’s License” encapsulates teenage melodrama with a level of authenticity and charm that feels so rare in pop music today. With breathtaking vocals and a truly unforgettable bridge, Olivia confirms she’s not just a flash-in-the-pan Disney star. This song is a masterclass on the concept of “the most personal is the most universal”—we’ve all been in Olivia’s driver seat, and that’s why it’s been on repeat all year.
“Family Ties” – Baby Keem feat. Kendrick Lamar
Capped with authentic horns and killer beat-switches, “Family Ties” is an innovative shift for Baby Keem and marks the long-awaited return of Kendrick Lamar. Kendrick’s verse is brilliant as always, as he drops instantly quotable lines and the already iconic “brother” moment. Keem proves that he can hang with Kendrick as well, and has undeniably exceptional flow across the track. What makes this song stand-out is its structure—Keem slaying the first half and Kendrick bodying the second with multiple glorious beat switches.
Famous Last Words – James Blake
James Blake might have the smoothest voice in pop music, and it’s fully on display throughout his beautiful single “Famous Last Words”. The track is a delicate look at the blurred line between friendship and romance in relationships, and how that can slowly drive you crazy. James’ ability to switch from soft but rich falsetto to his more powerfully resonant timbre is mesmerizing and creates a vocal dynamic here that feels totally unique. With a captivating arpeggiated synth-line and quiet beat, James’ voice takes center stage and floors everyone—it’s a truly remarkable single.
Happier Than Ever – Billie Eilish
Who knew that the rock anthem of the year would come from our biggest and brightest young pop phenom? “Happier Than Ever” marks an evolution in Billie as one of the premier songwriters of our generation, and is the best song of her career. Combining all of the influences of her and Finneas’s musicality, this song is the year’s best folk-pop and arena-rock wrapped into one. As Billie ruthlessly unleashes her emotions on a second-half reminiscent of My Chemical Romance, she evokes a feeling of catharsis that is fiercely potent. You internally feel every single word she sings, and completely understand just how far Billie has come as pop’s biggest phenomenon.
“Hush” – Jayli Wolf
Loaded with elaborate production and air-tight lyricism, “Hush” is the most empowering song of 2021. Jayli Wolf proudly sings about her Indigenous roots and experience as a Queer artist in today’s musical landscape, and her honesty is endlessly inspiring. Constantly discovering strength in her truth, Jayli Wolf breaks down barriers and proves to the world that we should all be proud of who we are. With opening lyrics “I feel the pain, let it in my way”, Jayli Wolf floors us with her stunning falsetto vocals. One of the best-produced tracks of the year, and an example of how powerful honest and personal songwriting can truly be.
“Kiss Me More” – Doja Cat feat. SZA
One of the best songs of the summer and an example of a perfect collaboration between two unparalleled artists. With an irresistibly catchy hook met with vividly sensual lyrics and masterful production, “Kiss Me More” stole our attention and refused to give it up all year. Doja Cat’s performance is endlessly memorable as her eccentric personality is unmistakable, and SZA’s feature reminds us why she’s one of the queens of our generation. This was the hottest track of 2021, and one that’ll stay in our cultural zeitgeist for years to come.
“Like I Used To” – Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen
Pure 80’s pop anthem, reminiscent of Pat Benatar and the Tunnel of Love-era Springsteen, is the best way to classify this stellar track by two of the greatest songwriters of our generation. Expertly produced with beautiful arpeggiated layers and lush instrumentation, “Like I Used To” is what happens when you bring together two masters of the art form—you get one of the most anthemic and lively songs of the year. With a chorus that’ll floor you and each singer trading verses, “Like I Used To” has everything you’d want from Angel Olsen and Sharon Van Etten.
“Red Room” – Hiatus Kaiyote
Featuring the best bass-line of the year and endlessly stunning instrumentation, “Red Room” is one of the catchiest and most dynamic tracks of the year. Singer Naomi Saalfield shines as she sings about the magical moment of the day when the sun shines directly into your room and creates an indescribable childlike feeling. Her voice is incredibly smooth and is complemented by exceptionally subtle jazzy production. Red Room is one of the most comforting songs of the year and is a true highlight on Mood Valiant.
“Seventeen Going Under” – Sam Fender
“Seventeen Going Under”, the best song of Sam Fender’s career, takes you on a journey of what it was like growing up in the Northern U.K. and you’d think you were looking back at your own childhood. Reminiscent of anthemic artists like Bruce Springsteen and the Killers, Fender has the unique ability to make his own experiences of growing up feel entirely universal while also making you feel empowered and energized. Alongside a slick lead guitar riff and earwormy melody, this track is dripping with nostalgia due to Fender’s pinpoint songwriting. Not many songs will hype you up as much as this one.
“Signal From The Noise” – BADBADNOTGOOD
Toronto alt-jazz group BADBADNOTGOOD announced their return this year with lead-single “Signal From The Noise”, and it’s the best they’ve ever sounded. Not many groups can pull off a nine-minute single that also opens the record, but this song sincerely feels like it’s from another planet. With an intoxicating synth line that leads into a boisterous jam, this track feels like something completely new for the genre. At the same time, BBNG eloquently gives nods to their influences like Sun Ra and the 70’s work of Miles Davis as the track unfolds. This song feels like an entirely fresh experience and is one of the best moments in music of the year.
“The Melting of the Sun” – St. Vincent
Always innovative and genre-bending, St. Vincent has never been as ambitious as she is on her latest record Daddy’s Home. Reminiscent of Young Americans-era Bowie, “The Melting of the Sun” confirms Annie Clark (St. Vincent) as one of our most unique voices in music today. As the choired backing vocals and 70’s-sounding production swell throughout the track, Clark’s ode to female artistry in her lyrics pack a massive punch. In yet another collaboration with super-producer Jack Antonoff, Clark cements herself as the coolest woman in rock music.
“The Only Heartbreaker” – Mitski
Indie-pop queen Mitski announced her long-awaited follow-up record to the masterful Be The Cowboy when she dropped “The Only Heartbreaker” – the most grandiose song of her career thus far. As she bears the blame for a broken relationship throughout the lyrics, the pummeling synth and drums create a feeling of euphoria that feels so rare in music today. With her angelic voice soaring over the intricate production, Mitski reminds us of exactly what makes her so special—there’s no one like Mitski, and “The Only Heartbreaker” is a perfect example of her divine singularity.
“t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l” – WILLOW feat. Travis Barker
Proving herself to be a mastermind of pop-punk and one of the genre’s key revivalists, WILLOW dropped “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l”—a killer track about not giving into the fake’s of the world. WILLOW’s voice perfectly suits pop-punk, and her sharp lyrics cut deep as she reviles against all of the people who’ve conspired against her. With a spirited feature from Travis Barker—the greatest punk drummer of all time—this song starts at 11 and never lets up. It’s so much fun rocking out with WILLOW, and watching her path through this genre is a treat.
“Valentine” – Snail Mail
With a new level of snarl and attitude to her voice, Lindsey Jordan (aka Snail Mail) embarks on a journey of self-discovery and heartbreak on her new record’s title track. Interweaving synth pads and a groovy bass line during the verses with Jordan’s signature impassioned but nonchalant vocal delivery, “Valentine” takes you through a star-crossed relationship from Jordan’s past. Once the chorus hits, the song completely takes off and takes Snail Mail to brand new heights. This song goes so hard, and Jordan’s indie-rock personality shines through so vividly.
“Woman” – Little Simz feat. Cleo Sol
An uplifting ode to powerful women that celebrates their successes on a global scale while empowering women around the world to chase their dreams. That’s what Little Simz is preaching on “Woman”, and it’s unequivocally inspiring. Referencing various cities as she thanks women worldwide for constantly inspiring her is sincerely moving, and Little Simz sounds amazing as always across the track. With a lively feature from the radiant Cleo Sol on the chorus, “Woman” has everything you’d want from an R&B track in 2021. Inflo once again proves he’s one of our greatest producers, as his layered instrumentation and stellar beat creates such a vivid atmosphere throughout the track. “Woman” also has some of the best bars of the year, as Little Simz’s flow and lyricism is pitch-perfect and truly unforgettable.
Listen to our most-played singles playlist on Spotify and Apple Music.
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