The 50 best songs of 2021
15 December 2021, 17:50 | Updated: 16 December 2021, 18:36
Our favourite tracks from the last year - from Lil Nas X to Billie Eilish to Olivia Rodrigo
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It's the most wonderful time of the year. Yes, it's the 'best of 2021' season.
As the dust begins to settle on another chaotic and strange year, it's time to look back on the tracks from the last twelve months and argue about who deserved to be at the top of the list until we're blue in the face.
READ MORE: The 30 best albums of 2021
The votes from the PopBuzz team have been counted and verified. There was a little less shouting this year thanks to a new voting system but we also made changes to the eligibility criteria too. Previously, our EOY list only included songs that were released as singles. This year we have expanded the list to include any song that was released in 2021. We also increased the number of songs on the list from 20 up to 50, because why the hell not?
As with previous years, songs from 2020 that were released as singles in 2021 are still eligible, and only one song per artist is allowed (excluding features). Got it? Good. So without further ado, here are the top 50 songs of 2021.
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50) Meet Me @ The Altar - 'Feel a Thing'
Pop-punk hasn’t sounded this good since 2003 and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. - Woodrow Whyte
49) Avril Lavigne - 'Bite Me'
It wouldn’t be right to have a pop-punk resurgence without the original pop-punk princess coming back to show everyone how it’s done. ‘Bite Me’ is classic Avril. Add this to your ‘remind me why I shouldn’t get back with my ex’ playlist. - Sam Prance
48) Tom Aspaul - 'The Program'
It's giving poppers o'clock. - WW
47) Donna Missal - 'sex is good (but have you tried)'
Donna described this song as “wet” and honestly nothing I write will beat that. - WW
46) Kacey Musgraves - 'breadwinner'
Thanks to this song, I now have the inner strength to divorce the husband I don’t even have. Add this one to your First Wives Club-inspired playlist. - Katie Louise Smith
45) Alaina Castillo - 'indica'
Named after part of a cannabis plant, Alaina Castillo’s Gen Z stoner bop is perfect for idle days and smoking till you “can’t see straight”. - WW
44) Wuh Oh - 'Daddio'
As many of us went without a festival for yet another year, Scottish producer Wuh Oh gave us a tantalising reminder of what we're missing out on. 'Daddio' is a hands-in-the-air, four-to-the-floor rave anthem that would/should have been burning up festival fields and dancefloors the world over. Fingers crossed for next year, eh? - WW
43) Wizkid - 'Essence (feat. Tems)'
The ultimate summer playlist staple. Wizkid and Tems did what needed to be done. - Jazmin Duribe
42) Griff - 'Black Hole'
'Black Hole' is a bleak banger that will have you dancing and contemplating heartbreak at the same time, and honestly is there any better genre of song?! - Emily Beard
41) Dave - 'Clash (feat. Stormzy)'
'Clash' is an unapologetic boast of wealth and grandeur, but the best part is you’re made to feel like you’re along for the ride with them through their infectious flows and laser-sharp lyrics. - EB
WATCH: Meet Me @ The Altar spill their secrets in 'The Tower Of Truth'
40) Shygirl - 'Cleo'
The beautifully cinematic ‘Cleo’ melts together the unexpected combination of sweeping string arrangements and dance floor filling beats to create a song that is one of the most sonically interesting releases we’ve had all year. - EB
39) Summer Walker - 'Unloyal (feat. Ari Lennox)'
Picture the scene: You've dumped your boyfriend and you're attempting to remind yourself that you're a bad bitch. This is your song. - JD
38) The Weeknd - 'Take My Breath'
It’s official: The Weeknd literally doesn’t know how to make a bad song. All bangers, all the time. Drop the ‘80s Disco album, Abel. My body has literally never been more ready. - KLS
37) Selena Gomez - 'De Una Vez'
When Selena Gomez announced that she was releasing her first Spanish-language project, we expected bangers but we weren’t prepared for her to move us to tears. ‘De Una Vez’ is a captivating mid-tempo ballad that will make you ugly cry at 2am. Add this to your ‘I’m going through it, help me’ playlist. - SP
36) Anitta - 'Girl from Rio'
Anitta has long been an international superstar and her English language debut shows that she has her sights set on full global domination. ‘Girl from Rio’ introduces listeners to Anitta’s culture and a side of Rio that is rarely shown in media. Mixing personal, tongue and cheek lyrics with one of the best choruses of the year? What’s not to love. - SP
35) Maggie Lindemann - 'Crash and Burn'
If you were looking for a song to scream into your pillow after getting your heart smashed into a million pieces, this is THEE song, with Maggie’s ode to a tragically doomed relationship shining as a highlight on her excellent ‘PARANOIA’ EP. - EB
34) No Rome - 'Spinning' (with Charli XCX & The 1975)
In a world saturated with collabs whose only real purpose seems to be clout building, this link-up between No Rome, Charli and The 1975 actually came through with the goods. Ten points to everyone involved. - WW
33) Ashnikko - 'Slumber Party' (feat. Princess Nokia)
Any song that includes the lyric 'I gave your girlfriend cunnilingus on my couch' is worthy of being on the list. - JD
32) Aminé - 'Charmander'
Fans of Aminé will already know that his music always pushes boundaries, and, with its vulnerable lyrics and trippy video, ‘Charmander’ is no different. Bonus points for the star of the music video being a giant version of his dog Oliver. - EB
31) Tinashe - 'Bouncin'
Tinashe is the queen of bops and ‘Bouncin’’ is no exception. It’s the type of song that you enjoy at first and then, the more you play it, the more you can’t get enough of it. A flirty anthem for anyone feeling cute and getting to know someone cute. Add this to your ‘Boppulence, I own everything’ playlist. - SP
WATCH: Ashnikko answers questions about their life and paints a self-portrait
30) Silk Sonic - 'Smokin Out the Window'
One for the smooth playlist, the pre-drinks playlist or even the TikTok jams playlist. A true all rounder. - JD
29) Jorja Smith - 'Addicted'
As well as lacing this song with a highly addictive substance called "vibes", Jorja Smith had us in our feelings with 'Addicted'. Sad and bittersweet, this one didn't have us crying in the club but it did have us crying on public transport...on several occasions. - WW
28) Mahalia - 'Jealous (feat. Rico Nasty)'
This is how you launch a new era. ‘Jealous’ harks back to the sounds of TLC and Destiny’s Child without ever sounding like an imitation of either of them. Add this to your ‘Jealousy is a disease bitch, get well soon’ playlist. - SP
27) MUNA - 'Silk Chiffon (feat. Phoebe Bridgers)'
A euphoric queer anthem for the ages, ‘Silk Chiffon’ has been described as “a song for kids to have their first gay kiss to,” one that would play at the end of a coming-of-age cinematic masterpiece. MUNA and Phoebe Bridgers did what they needed to do on this one. Now it’s Hollywood’s turn to make it happen. - KLS
26) Lizzo - 'Rumors (feat. Cardi B)'
It had been a while since Lizzo gave us something new and we were starving. Luckily, she didn't disappoint, every single second of 'Rumors' offers something new. - JD
25) Caroline Polachek - 'Bunny Is a Rider'
Who is Bunny? And what the hell do you mean they're a rider? To be frank, I don't know or care. All I know is that the song is a total earworm and the lyrics feature the phrase 'giddy up', so what else do you need, really? - WW
24) Adele - 'Oh My God'
We all know that Adele has a way with ballads but it’s always exciting when she turns up the tempo and gives us something different. ‘Oh My God’ is a fun song about risking it all for a crush and suddenly realising how in over your head you are. Adele’s vocal delivery combined with the Mary J. Blige worthy production make this a standout on 30. - SP
23) Ariana Grande - 'pov'
Ariana Grande is best known for her out of this world, room filling vocals, so it’s a pleasant surprise that one of the year’s best songs from Ari is this understated, vulnerable opus to self-love. - EB
22) Cardi B - 'Up'
It's hard to top 'WAP' but Cardi B came pretty darn close with 'Up'. This infectious track gave the girls the perfect Instagram caption for years to come: "Broke boys don't deserve no pussy." - JD
21) Laura Mvula - 'Got Me'
Who put 50p in Laura Mvula? Every single she released in the run up to her third album Pink Noise was a stone cold banger, but as soon as the bass line to 'Got Me' kicked in she had us hook, line and sinker. - WW
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20) Bree Runway - 'HOT HOT'
As a wise woman once said, she's got a point, she's an icon, she's a legend and she is the moment, now c'mon now! - WW
19) Rebecca Black - 'Girlfriend'
Justice for Rebecca Black. She gave us ‘Friday’ in 2011 and now the teen viral star turned alt-pop icon has given us a Carly Rae Jepsen level bop in 2021. ‘Girlfriend’ is a track about getting back with an ex even though all the signs are saying that you shouldn’t. Add this to your ‘Oh shit, here we go again’ playlist. - SP
18) Måneskin - 'ZITTI E BUONI'
If you missed the Måneskin takeover in 2021 honestly where WERE you?! Italy’s greatest export (sorry to pizza) took over and 'ZITTI E BUONI' cemented that Måneskin have arrived and they’re here to shake things up. - EB
17) Priyanka – 'Come Through' (feat. Lemon)
Priyanka’s signature humour and killer production were perfectly complimented by THEE Lemon verse that shook the internet. Not to mention it all came with a killer video with the kind of budget that would have the first season of Canada’s Drag Race quaking in its thigh-high boots. - EB
16) Chlöe - 'Have Mercy'
Chlöe did NOT mess around with her solo debut. After wowing us for years in Chlöe x Halle, she came through with an empowering anthem about being irresistible and having a “booty so big” that people scream “Lord, have mercy!” It’s fun, it’s catchy and it's impossible to take off of repeat. - SP
15) Doja Cat - 'Woman'
It's true. The perfect song does exist. - JD
14) Saweetie - 'Fast (Motion)'
Imagine the scene: You’re sitting in your Princess Peach-themed Lamborghini on the starting grid of a street race in Fast and Furious 17. Vin Diesel is in his whip to your right, The Rock is in a truck to your left. While they’re beefing each other, you zoom right past with Saweetie blasting out your speakers and win the race. Biggest Main Character Energy ever. - KLS
13) Taylor Swift - 'All Too Well (10 Minute Version)'
‘All Too Well (10 Minute Version)’ is – and I simply cannot stress this enough – one of the greatest things Taylor Alison Swift has ever given us. Not only does the epic track deliver an endless amount of new, God tier Swift lyrics that will easily rank at the top of everyone’s ‘Best Taylor Swift Lyrics Of All Time’ lists, but it’s a masterpiece that ties the entire Red album together in a way that no one ever expected. The 9-year wait was worth every single second. - KLS
12) SZA - 'I Hate U'
'I Hate U' was never meant to be a single. SZA simply uploaded it to her SoundCloud in August as a treat to fans. However, the universe had other plans and the song went viral on TikTok. Cut to SZA releasing it in December and it's now an undeniable smash and an anthem for the broken-hearted. Hatred never sounded so good. - SP
11) WILLOW - 'Transparent Soul (feat. Travis Barker)'
I never had a pop-punk phase when I was a teenager but with this perfect banger, the supremely talented WILLOW' has got me wanting to enter my 'Kourtney-Kardashian-Mrs.-Travis-Barker-punk-rock-princess' era. I love it and it fucking slaps. – KLS
WATCH: Priyanka paints a self-portrait and talks Drag Race & girl groups
10) Charli XCX - 'Good Ones'
Is this era Charli in her truest form, or is she the deepest in pop music satire she’s ever been? ‘Good Ones’ is a perfectly formed pop smash that leaves you wondering if popstar Charli XCX could be her strongest form yet. - EB
9) Halsey - 'Honey'
Initially just a quick experiment in the studio "to show my little brother how I write songs", Halsey returned to the demo a few days later to create the track from their masterful fourth album. So, no pressure Dante, but if you could just rustle up something as good as 'Honey' in a couple of minutes like your sister can, that would be great. - WW
8) Little Mix - 'Confetti' (feat. Saweetie)
Little Mix have had an incredible 10th year as a group and they kicked off with one of their best singles to date. ‘Confetti’ was already brilliant in its original form but the remix comes through with beefed-up production, extra ad-libs and Saweetie’s greatest guest verse to date. It’s the ultimate song to hype you up after a break-up and it makes you feel just as iconic as Jade, Leigh-Anne and Perrie are. - SP
7) Normani - 'Wild Side' (feat. Cardi B)
After over a year without new Normani music, the elusive chanteuse teamed up with Cardi B for an understated R&B sex jam and it was well worth the wait. Everything about ‘Wild Side’ feels expensive. The production, the video and Normani’s vocal delivery are all exquisite. Also the 'doot-doot-doot' hook is magic. Add this to your 'Normani will release an album in 2022, I am manifesting it’ playlist. - SP
6) City Girls - 'Twerkulator'
In the words of Saweetie: "Something fun, something for the summertime, something for the girls to get ready and party to." – JD
5) Megan Thee Stallion - 'Thot Shit'
An unapologetic sex positive anthem with a beat that makes you want to twerk (even if your knees won't allow it…) Would we expect anything less from Thee Hot Girl Coach? – JD
4) Olivia Rodrigo - 'Drivers License'
Many Olivia Rodrigo songs could have made the list this year but ‘drivers license’ is the single that captured the entire world’s attention and catapulted Olivia into superstardom. Every word Olivia sings is overflowing with emotion and the way she screams ‘I still fucking love you’ on the bridge is heartbreaking. The ‘Someone Like You’ of the 2020s. - SP
3) Billie Eilish - 'Happier Than Ever'
Billie really said "Oh y'all wanted a twist, 'ey?" when it came to writing 'Happier Than Ever'. The title track from her brilliant second album starts off as a softly strummed ukulele number before going full-belt, emo power ballad on our asses. Doing the unexpected and keeping things fresh can be where many pop stars falter but 'Happier Than Ever' hints that those days are a long way off for 19-year-old Billie. - KLS
2) PinkPantheress - 'Pain'
At 1 minute and 38 seconds, 'Pain' is certainly the shortest song on this list. However, what it lacks in length, it more than makes up for in impact. PinkPantheress, TikTok's break out musical star of 2021, might take a lot of her inspiration from the nostalgic sounds of the early aughts but 'Pain' offered something completely fresh and original in comparison to many of her contemporaries. You'll likely hear plenty of PinkPantheress rip offs and copycats in 2022 but none will come close to this short slice of bedroom pop heaven. - WW
1) Lil Nas X - 'MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)'
Who else could release an unashamedly queer anthem about hooking up with a guy who’s on the down low and make it a Number 1 single? Only Lil Nas X. As well as being incredibly important for representation, ‘MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)’ is an 11/10 banger. From the 'Mmm, mmm, mmm’ refrain to the hypnotic chorus, the entire song is pop gold from start to finish and we’ll be getting our lives to it for many years to come. - SP
🏆 Cardi B - 'WAP' feat. Megan Thee Stallion (2020)
🏆 Normani - 'Motivation' (2019)
🏆 Panic! At The Disco - 'High Hopes' (2018)
🏆 Paramore - 'Fake Happy' (2017)