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The 100 best songs of 2021
From RXK Nephew’s thrilling “American tterroristt” to Lucy Dacus’s poised and startling “Thumbs,” and everything in between, these are the songs that reflected a deeply strange year.
The 100 best songs of 2021 Lara Torrance / The FADER

You could make the argument that no song reflects the world as it is now more vividly than RXK Nephew’s “American tterroristt,” a 10-minute-long, this-is-your-brain-on-Twitter rant that jumps from conspiracy to clarity to lunacy without much of a pause. You could also make the case (as I do below) that Lucy Dacus’s “Thumbs,” a spare song about revenge and empathy delivered with a quiet resolve, captures something essential about the year just gone. In the end, what won out this year was the next generation: the young artists dreaming up new ideas, whether in bedrooms or giant studios, occasionally borrowing from the past but always expressing things in thrilling and unconventional ways. Still, you’ll have to scroll down to find out what won out after a few days of The FADER team haranguing each other and arguing over Zoom calls.

If you missed our albums list, published earlier this week, you can check it out here. Whatever happens next year, whether we’re down at the front of the venue together or listening in from our homes, we’ll be covering the most exciting music in the world. We can’t wait. — Alex Robert Ross, Editorial Director

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Stream a playlist of all 100 songs on Spotify.

100. Japanese Breakfast, “Be Sweet”

“I wanna believe in you, I wanna believе in something”

99. Iceage, “The Holding Hand”

“O limp wristed god, limp wristed god,
Don’t you know I’m not at a fault in your weakened arms?”

98. Prettyboy D-O, IAMDDB, “Falling”

“Shе say she no like guys from the internet.”

97. Magdalena Bay, “Chaeri”

“Was I a bad friend?
It was only that bad with you
I’m sorry.”

96. Ecco2k, “In The Flesh”

“I inhale, there's something else out there
I want to know what it feels like”

95. No Rome, “Spinning”

“My love like a city All night, everywhere.”

94. Overmono, “So U Know”

“I let you get to me once.”

93. Soccer Mommy & Kero Kero Bonito, “rom com 2021”

“What does it say about me?
That I’d rather die in your arms than
Watch you move on without mе.”

92. Water From Your Eyes, “‘Quotations’”

“Myths of memories going down
Myths of memories in thе sounds.”

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91. CFCF, “Night/Day/Work/Home”

“Is this a far off future dream beyond the Anthropocene?
I love my machine, I love my machine.”

90. Beabadoobee, "Last Day On Earth"

“This song I wrote is just so fucking sick, it goes…
Shoop-doop, shoop-doo, badoobadoo.”

89. Armand Hammer & The Alchemist feat. Earl Sweatshirt, “Falling Out The Sky”

“It felt sleepy at night, but I liked that, felt like you could relax
Like you could disappear, like I wasn't surrounded by the past.”

88. Cola Boyy, “To Be Rich Should Be a Crime”

“Throw out the old society
Build a brand new
Build it up!”

87. Stove God Cooks, “That’s The Game”

“All I ever wanted was a billion dollars
Knew that I’d be rich when we was whippin powder.”

86. GoldLink feat. Jesse Boykins III, “Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk”
The 100 best songs of 2021 Jack Risbridger

“Me laying low, wit' you near me. Stuck in between, you and my dreams.”

85. reggie, Monte Booker & Kenny Beats, “Ain’t Gon Stop Me”

“The drugs almost got me, my best friend was Oys.”

84. Unknown T, “WW2”

“My mother thinks that I'm loco, why?
I get blood pressure when the door knocks 'cause of popo.”

83. Arlo Parks, “Hurt”

“Wouldn't it be lovely to feel somethin' for once?
Yeah, wouldn't it be lovely to feel worth somethin', huh?”

82. Conan Gray, “People Watching”

“I'm only looking just to live through you vicariously,
I've never really been in love, not seriously.”

81. Shygirl, “BDE”
The 100 best songs of 2021 Trinity Ellis

“If you got what I like, you can hit it every night.”

80. Moneybagg Yo, “Time Today”

“She ain't even sneeze, but still I bless her (Achoo).”

79. Leon Vynehall, “Snakeskin Has Been”

Luxurious, warp-drive techno beats.

78. Kacey Musgraves, “breadwinner”

“He wants your dinner until he ain't hungry anymore.”

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77. Megan Thee Stallion, “Thot Shit”

“I don't give a fuck 'bout a blog tryna bash me, I'm the shit per the Recording Academy.”

76. Brent Faiyaz feat. Tyler, The Creator, “Gravity”

“I’m on (Don’t act like I’m average, come on).”

75. Indigo De Souza, “Kill Me”

“I clean up when the party is over
You're plastered, I'm fine.”

74. Isaac Dunbar, “Intimate Moments”

“​​I need to get this off my chest, that I'm here and I've regressed.”

73. Lily Konigsberg, “Owe Me”

“Thank you all for coming to my show… If you didn’t know, now you certainly know.”

72. Majid Jordan feat. Drake, “Stars Align”

“I know you been searchin' for someone
To make you happy and get the job done.”

71. Caroline Polachek, “Bunny Is a Rider”
The 100 best songs of 2021 Nedda Asfari

“Bunny is a rider
Satellite can't find her.”

70. Kanye West, Hurricane

“Eighty degrees, burnin' up the leaves.”

69. Sleepy Hallow, “2055”

“She said, ‘Boy you nice, boy you nice’
Heart cold like some water and some ice.”

68. Serpentwithfeet, “Fellowship”

“This is the blessing of my 30's
I'm spending less time worrying and more time recounting the love.”

67. Mannequin Pussy, “Control”

“I'm in control
That's what I tell myself.”

66. Wolf Alice, “Smile.”

“I ain't ashamed in the fact that I'm sensitive
I believe that it is the perfect adjective.”

65. Tems, “Crazy Tings”

“If you need somebody's craze
You fit chop somebody's craze.”

64. Fauness, “Dragonfly”

“I like it, up above the mess
It’s been good to me, this metamorphosis.”

63. Jazmine Sullivan, “Pick Up Your Feelings”

“New phone (who is this?)
Contact? Don’t exist
Need a ride? Call that bitch.”

62. Navy Blue, “My Whole Life”

“So what they got a branch? My roots in the Earth.”

61. Zack Fox, “Fafo”

“Nigga play me like a square, I spin the block like it's a Rubik’s.”

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60. Ibeyi feat. Pa Salieu, “Made of Gold”

“My soul shows them passion
Your history walks through them golden lines
Your blood carries diamonds.”

59. Elujay, “Luvaroq”

“You roll a likkle spliff while you read my signs
That woman is Jah, she can bless my mind, yeah.”

58. Smiley feat. Drake, “Over The Top”

“Prada and Gucci, it don't go together
Louis and Dior, I swear it go better.”

57. Little Simz feat. Obongjayar, “Point & Kill”

“Family no go suffer, oh, inna my lifetime
Dey be fine, do am proper, no lie lie.”

56. Lil Nas X, “DEAD RIGHT NOW”
The 100 best songs of 2021

“Left school, then my dad and I had a face-to-face in Atlanta
He said, ‘It’s one in a million chance, son,’
I told him, ‘Daddy, I am that one-uh, uh-uh.’”

55. DJ Sabrina the Teenage DJ, “Try Not to Be Afraid”

“I won’t drink the Kool-Aid
Try not to be afraid.”

54. Black Midi, “Ascending Forth”

“Impotent Mark puts his pen to forehead
Waiting for proof of his unquestioned gift
As three open windows bring air to his cheeks
The rest of him smothered in three sweat drenched sheets”

53. dltzk, “search party”

"That's not the plan
I'm just praying I don't lose my head
I'll end up dead
And I'll promise I'll be back by 10"

52. DJ Khaled feat. Lil Durk & Lil Baby, “Every Chance I Get”

“I’ll give her forty, fifty-thousand cash to start up a business
I’ll spend that shit at the dentist.”

51. Deafheaven, “Great Mass of Color”
The 100 best songs of 2021 Robin Laananen

"Do I need this affection?
Do you need this confusion?"

50. Dean Blunt, “Dash Snow”

On the lilting, slide-guitar-slicked ballad “Dash Snow,” Dean Blunt is an unlikely voice of comfort. The prolific producer and songwriter has spent years writing fractured breakup ballads, blistering noise, and confrontational rap tracks, among other experiments that intentionally keep prying audiences at arm’s length, But here he sings simply, “It’s gonna be alright.” There are few other words on the track, so this refrain works as a mantra of perseverance, a soundtrack to trudging ahead in tough times. More moving still is his delivery, shaking and soft, as if he’s trying to convince himself in real-time that things really will get better. — Colin Joyce

49. Arooj Aftab, “Mohabbat”

A divine symmetry runs through “Mohabbat.” This is the sun that illuminates every other song on the Pakastani-American artist Arooj Aftab’s third album Vulture Prince. A loop of tender acoustic guitar notes skip through these eight minutes, a circuit through a delicate transcendence. A reconfiguration of the Arabic poetic tradition of Ghazal, “Mohabbat” surges with the pain of a romantic separation, and the deeper, existential plight of knowing you may never be enough. Aftab conveys all of that through her careful composition and stunning delivery, gifts that transcend language. — Jordan Darville

48. Silk Sonic, “Leave The Door Open”

There’s something charming in seeing Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, two artists who have rarely been coy about their influences as soloists in the past, unite and openly pay homage to one particular era. Sure, An Evening With Silk Sonic has the lavish touches of modern studio wizardry, a few bars from .Paak to punctuate things — but this was a loving tribute to ’60s and ’70s R&B from two artists who are, deep down, huge music nerds. “Leave The Door Open” was the highlight, a falsetto-driven slow-jam about waiting for your lover. With a little more tape hiss, it might have played on AM 40 years ago, but it’s a pleasure to listen to now, joyful and nostalgic for a time that most of its listeners weren’t alive to experience. — Alex Robert Ross

47. “Bastard,” Glaive

Glaive’s best songs sound like a fist crashing through a plywood wall. He’s full of rage but seemingly bummed out about not having the answers to life’s problems, which makes sense — he’s still just 16 and working shit out. “Bastard” is one of the North Carolina hyperpop wunderkind’s most vivid tracks in that vein, capturing his alienation from the “actors” he’s surrounded by and the end of a “fairytale” romance. Feeling isolated, he falls into despair — the truest expression of adolescent pain. — David Renshaw

46. Doja Cat, “Get Into It (Yuh)”
The 100 best songs of 2021 David LaChapelle

If Doja Cat lays claim to any superpower, it’s crafting the kind of earworms that work their way from intrigue to obsession. On “Get Into It (Yuh),” Doja bounds over the track’s twinkling production, contorting her voice from fast-paced rasp to all-out chant by the time the hook shows up. It’s a testament to Doja’s versatility as a pop-rap maven. — Sajae Elder

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45. Don Toliver feat. Kali Uchis, “Drugs N Hella Melodies”

Sex sells, and here’s the proof. “Drugs N Hella Melodies” is dreamy and lustful, a love song for the OnlyFans generation, a twinkling song that coils around Kali Uchis singing “Sex full of adrenaline / This pussy put you right to sleep just like a sedative” but never sounds corny. Worth every cent. — Janiel Richards

44. SZA, “Good Days”

Every new SZA track since 2017’s CTRL has arrived like a whisper, a plea to return back to her. “Good Days” is another moving addition to her canon of gentle, welcoming songs. It’s honest and unafraid of its messy emotions, all the anxiety and hopelessness. It’s resolute, too, the chorus like a mantra for peace amid panic. “All the while,” she sings, “I'll await my armored fate with a smile.” — Larisha Paul

43. Tyler, The Creator, “CORSO”

This standout from Tyler, The Creator’s CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST pairs soft piano trills with a deep, arresting synth bassline. Between Tyler’s gruff and textured delivery and the extra backup from 2000s mixtape king DJ Drama, “CORSO” is the perfect summation of the project as a whole: all pulsing and frenetic but poised, putting his talents as an experimental producer, vocalist, and expert songwriter on display. — SE

42. Fred again.., “Marea (We’ve Lost Dancing)”

“All these things that we took for granted,” The Blessed Madonna says before the beat drops into Fred again..’s “Marea (We’ve Lost Dancing).” It’s a song for every disillusioned dancer, a track from a breakout UK house artist that’ll make you want to dance in between reminders of everything that’s changed since the last time we all shared a dancefloor together. Straddling the line between hard times and the hope for something better isn’t easy, but this track feels like a call to arms and an important snapshot of dance music history. — DR

41. Olivia Rodrigo, “Driver’s Licence”

Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License” is is a perfect pop disruption, a raw and melodramatic recount of romantic loss. She makes this heartbreak story feel present and real, filling each line with vivid details and crushing realizations. “Red lights, stop signs,” she sings on the song’s captivating bridge. “I still see your face in the white cars, front yards / Can't drive past the places we used to go to / 'Cause I still fuckin' love you, babe.” It’s enough to convince you that her pain still hasn’t dulled. — LP

40. Solo Career, “Movie”

“Movie” is about seeing Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood with your family and fighting about it. It’s not the kind of event that would usually inspire a song like this, a hazy, nocturnal piece of bedroom synth-pop that carries all the pulpy tension (and subtle wit) of a grindhouse flick. Annabel Blackman, best known as a singer and guitarist in Body Type but now recording as the painfully un-Googlable Solo Career, anchors the track with a dry, unshowy vocal performance. It’s driving and methodical, but low-key acerbic when it counts. — Shaad D’Souza

39. 8485, “hangar”

8485’s “hangar” could be an emotional sequel to Avril Lavigne’s “I’m With You”: Your ride is finally here, but your relationship with the driver is shot through with ambivalence, intractably tied to your stifling surroundings. Co-produced by blackwinterwells, “hangar” pulses with a neon heartbeat. As it moves forward its atmosphere ascends to synth-pop nirvana, but 8485 remains agonizingly tied to the Earth: “This place is suffocating / I’ll still be here in five years,” she sings, the escape she needs dissolving as she drives closer to the horizon. — JD

38. Lambchop, “Fuku”

This is the strangest song on Lambchop’s Showtunes. Kurt Wagner’s vocabulary, usually pointed and clever, is fragmented and jumbled here. For the song’s first 90 seconds, he’s incomprehensible; for its last 90, he’s gone. In the four interceding minutes, he deals in repetition: “If it’s the last thing we do together / Let’s fall in love,” he says again and again. In sum, he uses 34 unique words. And yet, “Fuku” is also Showtunes’s most powerful track: Wagner lets his lyrics disintegrate in service of a feeling, one better illustrated by devastating harmony than any witty punchline. The closing line, “Bring back my you,” would be an eye-roller out of context. But Wagner’s “you,” stretched to the edge of his lung capacity, may be the saddest “you” I’ve ever heard. — Raphael Helfand

37. Teezo Touchdown, “I’m Just a Fan”

Between the six-inch nails stuck in his hair, his mic bouquet, and his standout feature on Tyler The Creator’s CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST, Texas provocateur Teezo Touchdown made sure that nobody who came across him this year could forget him. “I’m Just A Fan” differs a little from his typical anthemics — here he sings hypnotically about one-sided relationships over a soft acoustic guitar. But no matter how much he changes his blueprint, Teezo will still get you hooked. — Nkosi Bourne

36. Billie Eilish, “Happier Than Ever”
The 100 best songs of 2021

The Old Hollywood glamour, the icy blonde hair, the soulful and low-key advance singles: they were all part of an elaborate feint. Happier Than Ever, Billie Eilish’s second album, is her most goth look yet, a slow-burn of a record that builds to an atomic bomb of a finale. In the final minutes of “Happier Than Ever,” the album’s penultimate title track, Eilish lets it rip, unleashing all the anger and pain that’s been simmering for the past hour. “I could talk about every time that you showed up on time / But I’d have an empty line, ‘cos you never did,” she scream-sings, replacing the fantastical horror images of her debut with genuine heartbreak. It’s a blowout that was worth the wait. — SD

35. Kali Uchis, “Telepatia”

The dreamy “Telepatía,” a standout on Kali Uchis’ first Latin album Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios), would be resonant and romantic in any era — but our ongoing isolation makes it feel particularly poignant. It’s an anthem about keeping love alive, no matter the barriers between you and your partner. “¿Quién lo diría / Que se podría hacer el amor por telepatía? (Who would have known you could make love telepathically?”) she asks. Her voice full of both desperation and surprising warmth, she reaches out across the vast distance. — LV

34. Backroad Gee feat. Lethal Bizzle & JME, “Enough Is Enough”

While the overly online obsessed over genre conventions and generational splits, Backroad Gee was busy colliding drill, grime, and dancehall in a particle accelerator, inviting two of his childhood heroes to bar out alongside him. The result combines Gee’s rapid-fire onomatopoeia with Lethal Bizzle and JME’s crisp diction and serves it over deeply mournful pan flutes. And with the benefit of a longer view, “Enough Is Enough” clearly highlights how grime’s past and drill’s future aren’t as far off as they may seem. — Son Raw

33. Lana Del Rey, “White Dress”

Lana Del Rey imbues the ridiculous with deep pathos. Nobody else could, or will, ever write a song like “White Dress,” a track that’s almost trollish in nature (Kings of Leon? The crackle of a Juul hit, right into the mic?) but which, somehow, possesses an aching, exhausting beauty. The images here — of the “men-in-music business conference,” of classic ‘00s rock bands, of the white dress/tight dress/waitress — are impossibly vivid; like a lot of 2021 culture, they yearn for a kind of turn-of-the-century innocence that’s impossible to get back. “White Dress,” so heady as it is, suggests that the memory is enough. — SD

32. Tokischa & Rosalía, “Linda”

Dominican star Tokischa and Spanish pop star Rosalía’s club-oriented collaboration “Linda” is an inclusive ode to femme camaraderie. Tokischa’s dembow beats and Rosalía’s playfully romantic flamenco-pop provide a vibrant backdrop for all of their winking flirtation and shared admiration. “Nos besamo', pero somo' homie’” ("We kiss, but we're homies”), the duo sing in grinning Spanglish. Sometimes, the world’s biggest pop stars just wanna have fun. — LV

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31. Punko, “Cash Under Your Bed”

“Cash Under Your Bed” ebbs and flows: the second single by Liv Jansz, aka Punko, it captures the one-step-forward, two-steps-back unease of leaving an abusive relationship with steely clarity. Rhythmic and softly propulsive, it reminds me a lot of Amen Dunes, who, like Jansz, can lull you into submission through the use of looping rhythms while writing about unfathomably dark topics. When you least expect it, Jansz can land a fatal blow: “You pulled me deep, deep down / I thought that’s what lovers do.” — SD

30. Sarz & Lojay, “Monalisa”

Sarz and Lojay boldly fuse amapiano and Afrobeats on “Monalisa,” though the whole thing sounds so natural it’s easy to forget they’re doing something fresh. Sarz doesn’t overwhelm the song, dropping in just enough log drum, a memorable bassline, and a comforting Afro-fusion groove. Lojay’s unique approach to melody, an ode to Yoruba vocal tradition, charges his pursuit of a love interest with an exciting new current. “Girl I’ll be foolish if I don’t let you indulge me,” he sings. “Your lips like poison / I’ll take my chance with you.” It’s a cross-cultural conversation between two powerhouse regions, but above all it’s proof that there’s strength in finding common musical ground. — AI

29. Amyl & The Sniffers, “Guided By Angels”

Desperation fuels “Guided By Angels.” Three minutes of the most driving, most pleading rock music to be put to tape this year, it’s a song that’s barely a song, more a mantra or a fight chant, a ferocious expression of defiance: “Guided by angels, but they're not heavenly / They're on my body and they guide me / Heavenly / The angels guide me heavenly, heavenly…” Amyl and the Sniffers’ Amy Taylor wrote “Guided By Angels” as she began to slip into ennui towards the start of 2020, as Australia’s environmental crisis gave way to the pandemic: “[I became] more self destructive and more self disciplined, more nihilistic and more depressed and more resentful, which ultimately fuelled me with a kind of relentless motivation.” The resulting song is purely electric: it doesn’t pander, as so much toxic positivity punk does, or appeal to unite against a common enemy. Instead, it provides forceful, ecstatic guidance — an appeal to persist, even when there’s no end in sight. — SD

28. Mach-Hommy, “The 26th Letter”

You don’t pay homage to Rakim, a.k.a the 18th letter, if you aren’t confident in your lyrics. But Mach-Hommy managed to surpass himself on this opener to Pray For Haiti, mixing triple-entendres about his car (“My whip talk for me, Bentley wheels been spoke”), references to the Python trench coat he first mentioned on his debut album HBO, and accusations that these rappers “Big 12, like March Madness.” All the while, a buzzing jazz micro loop hammers away in the background, and Westside Gunn skips the hook to mock us for the lack of sand on our toes. — SR

27. anaiis feat. Topaz Jones, “Chuu”

"I've been praying for a sign, for the strength to get out, to recall who I am, that I'm here for a reason," London’s Anaiis sings here. It’s call for liberation from the industry’s pressures and anxieties, set to perfectly mellow R&B. In the end, she finds relief: “I won't think ‘bout you, won’t even think ‘bout chuu.” A supple lullaby for anyone in need of a confidence-boost. — Janiel Richards

26. Amaarae, Kali Uchis, Moliy, “SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY”
The 100 best songs of 2021 @jussifaljabaar

This one’s an Afro-fusion anthem for ambitious women everywhere. “I feel like there’s nothing in my way,” Amaarae affirms sweetly in the opening verse. “All this money on me, it feels amazing.” The production by Yinka Bernie is a layered dreamscape of steady percussion and bass with cascading keys, a magical backdrop for lyrics that speak to the art of manifesting. Colombian-American singer Kali Uchis turns up the boss babe vibes with Latin flair on the remix, giving listeners a confident yet airy delivery communicating the thrill of owning your power as a woman. — AI

25. underscores, “Bozo bozo bozo”

Buried in a debut album full of digi-punk contortions, underscores’ “Bozo bozo bozo” is a shut-in’s prayer. Self-critical and overwhelmed, the track finds the California singer-songwriter apologizing for “oversharing to the friends I made by lying on the internet” and milling about in an anxious malaise. The instrumental is fitting for this ballad of digital disaffection too. It begins as a throwback pop-R&B beat but then caves in on itself, as if the Darkchild discography you once downloaded from Limewire had started to corrupt and corrode over time. Still, somehow, underscores sounds self-assured amidst the distortion and desperation — a suggestion that peace is possible, even for the most terminally online. — CJ

24. 454, “ANDRETTI”

The cotton candy fantasy of 454’s innovative debut 4 REAL posts the Florida rap abstractionist across the country. He says he’s out in California, but the threat of a bodega square-off feels entirely New York, where the track was recorded. And the tranquilized reprise? That’s all Dirty South. The point of “ANDRETTI” is that he could be anywhere. Named after a strain of indica, it’s the puff you take that puts everything into sharp perspective. — SM

23. Bladee, “Hotel Breakfast”

Bladee is suffering from success. On the standout from the Drain Gang leading light’s May album The Fool, he sings — eyelids heavy — about sleeping too late, missing out on a continental breakfast, and wandering around lost in an unfamiliar city. On an island, isolated from the life he once loved, he’s been thrust into a spotlight where, as he jokes, no one can even pronounce his name right (“I'm Bladee, she call me Blade-y”). In the track’s first verse, he refers to himself as “king nothing.” It’s a title he’s earned over the years, and “Hotel Breakfast” could be his coronation song. — CJ

22. M Field, "Andrew"

If Beatenberg — the Capetown trio that Matthew Field has fronted for the past decade — is his Genesis, then “Andrew” is his “Solsbury Hill.” The band hasn’t broken up, but Field went rogue this year with his self-titled debut EP, a deeply enlivening batch of tracks produced remotely by London analog pop savant Bullion. “Andrew” opens the project as a conduit for warm possibility, beckoning to “conquer the concrete, idealize the ivy” over blooming pastel synths. As for the man in the title role, Field’s explanation is resolutely oblique: “Like in dreams, in songs, everyone is you. But also nothing I say outside of my songs is actually true.” — SM

21. C. Tangana, Carin Leon, Adriel Favela, “Cambia!”

For his genre-bending breakthrough LP El Madrileño, Spanish rapper C. Tangana teamed up with artists across Latin America and Spain, and "Cambia!" is the record’s greatest success. C. Tangana slides into the world of the Mexican corrido with Mexican crooner Carin Leon and Chicano singer Adriel Favela. The trio reflected on how life's hard knocks shaped them as men. Together, they roll with the punches — offering a ballad of perseverance for a world that always needs reasons to carry on. — LV

20. Jayda G, “All I Need”

Canadian house producer Jayda G’s “All I Need” is three minutes and 40 seconds of irrepressible nostalgia. Built around a dreamy, looping beat and a wispy vocal about how “nothing has changed” — paired in the track’s video with archival footage from raves of a bygone era — the track is a dream of better days, when communion and connection felt a little easier to access. When Jayda G sings “All I need is you to heal me,” it’s clear that this is a love song for the dancefloor as much as it is for another person — a song in praise of the feelings that a long night out could open a person up to. It’s a reminder that the club can still save you, if you let it. — DR

19. Lingua Ignota, “Pennsylvania Furnace”

The first ironmaster of the Colebrook Furnace in Appalachian Pennsylvania threw his dogs into the flames after a bad hunt. He saw them charging toward him in his final moments, and they haunt the stone structure to this day, their howls penetrating the woods around it. On “PENNSYLVANIA FURNACE,” Kristin Hayter, a.k.a. Lingua Ignota, uses the local legend to illustrate incurable guilt and brutal retribution from above. “Me and the dog, we die together,” she opens over a piano dirge. “All that I’ve learned is everything burns.” Facing eternal damnation, she offers up a desperate prayer — “I fear your voice above all others” — as the hellhounds swarm. — RH

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18. KA, “I Need All That”

Simmering with frustration, “I Need All That” sees KA both reminisce on a tough childhood and demand that culture vultures offer recompense for decades of appropriation. The wordplay is clever and the worldview sober, but what rings most clearly is the hurt: the gap between the haves and have nots, witnessed by KA both from the street level and through serving as a firefighter, is finally too much for KA to bear. Freed to speak his mind, he unloads without ever losing the quiet, restrained dignity that defines his rhyming. — SR

17. Porter Robinson, “Look At The Sky”

In May 2020, a snippet of “Look At The Sky” premiered at the end of Porter Robinson’s livestreamed Secret Sky performance. The taste of this expansive electro-pop song, released in full this year on Robinson’s Nurture (our album of the year), became a balm I’d revisit to soothe my overheated heart in subsequent months. “Look at the sky, I’m still here / I’ll be alive next year” Robinson sings on the hook, his voice writing out the words like a sparkler. It’s not defiance that animates “Look At The Sky” but hope: that we can recognize the best parts of ourselves in this moment, then carry that knowledge into the next. — JD

16. Black Sherif, “Second Sermon”

Most people in the United States heard Black Sherif for the first time when clips from the video to "Second Sermon," which involved some machete-brandishing — and faced backlash from a few critics back in the 19-year-old’s home country of Ghana — found their way onto social media. But whatever controversy the video might have generated was immediately subsumed by the relentless power of Sherif’s music, a blend of highlife and trap full of left-field flows that won’t let up for three breathless minutes. It was tough to pick just one of his songs for this list — “First Sermon" and "Money" both had a shout. Another year like that and Sherif will get the truly global attention his incendiary sound deserves. — ARR

15. WILLOW, “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l”

WILLOW’s anthemic “transparent soul” was her first foray into pop-punk. But the itchy paranoia that informs the lyrics (“I don't fucking know if it’s a lie or it's a fact,” she sings) and the muscular percussion from Blink-182 drummer and busy collaborator Travis Barker made it feel like she was meant to be spilling her heart over brittle power chords her whole life. WILLOW is one of pop-punk’s true believers; the conviction in her soaring, searing vocals suggests she could turn herself into one of its stars. — LP

14. Tainy, Bad Bunny, Julieta Venegas, “Lo Siento BB :/“

Puerto Rican hit-maker Tainy has always demonstrated himself to be a voracious listener and fearless stylist. But on "Lo Siento BB:/," his collaboration with Mexican alternative artist Julieta Venegas and fellow Boricua star Bad Bunny, he functions as a bridge between vastly different musical worlds. Venegas opens the song, accompanied only by a stark piano line, singing about an out-of-this-world romance. Following her moment of bliss, Tainy drops the reggaeton beats and unleashes a moody Bad Bunny, who questions the idea of love altogether. The angsty, alt-rock-influenced take on reggaeton is an appropriate soundtrack for one of the year’s most vivid depictions of emotional devastation. — LV

13. Morgan Wade, “Wilder Days”

Morgan Wade has a voice like a jagged blade, sharp enough to draw blood but lustrous under the light. Just about every song on her debut, Reckless — the year’s best country-pop record, unquestionably — has a hook most of her peers would kill for. "Wilder Days," a right-person-wrong-time love song that oozes regret, doesn't need any flair to get its melancholy across, just a four-note guitar solo and an endlessly replayable chorus. There are echoes of Tom Petty and Jason Isbell here (Sadler Vaden, who co-produced Reckless, plays guitar in The 400 Unit). But the clearest sound here is that of Wade establishing herself as a crossover star-in-waiting. — ARR

12. Dijon, “Big Mike’s”

The opening track from Dijon’s Absolutely has the feel of a vibrant jam session, its overdriven guitar licks and muddy percussion growing and making space for organs, clarinets, and a warbly slide guitar. But the instrument that really anchors everything is Dijon’s voice, smoldering in parts and explosive in others, when he asks “Will you take me?” in the chorus. Maybe he’s addressing another person — it has all the hallmarks of a love song — but get swept up in “Big Mike’s” enough times and he’ll start to sound like he’s inviting another instrument to the mix. — SE

11. Ethel Cain, “Crush”

Holed up in a 19th-century church in rural Indiana in the dead of winter, Hayden Anhedönia — the Florida-born songwriter behind the moniker Ethel Cain — wrote “Crush” in 20 minutes. It sounds like songwriting myth-making, the sort of detail that emerges in a documentary about a forgotten artist decades later. But it makes sense for Anhedönia, who seems so intimately connected to the darkness at the edges of the American Dream that these sorts of songs spill out of her unbidden. “Crush” is a love song for a bad boy, but it also functions as a catalog of all the specters that haunt life at the margins in America: addiction, gun violence, senseless crime. Still, harmonies swirling, it’s clear that Anhedönia sees some light in all the darkness — the warmth of a hand to hold in the cold Indiana winter. — CJ

10. Baby Keem & Kendrick Lamar, “Family Ties”

Usually, reuniting with family around the holiday season results in cousins coming up with poorly choreographed dance routines to show their family later on. These days, you might even end up with a poorly filmed TikTok for your troubles. But when you’re Baby Keem, and your cousin is Kendrick Lamar, you can craft Grammy-nominated hit with ease instead. “Family Ties” brought the hard-to-catch Lamar out of hiding for his first official feature appearance in three years. The pair spend four minutes exchanging heat with comfortable and confident camaraderie, the sort of easygoing atmosphere you can only end up with if you’re on a track with someone you love like family — or someone who is family. — LP

9. Doss, “Puppy”

As Doss explains it, her first single in seven years was born out of an endlessly-stretching night horizon. “Driving back at 2 a.m. to Maryland, I was sort of parsing through how sweet and welcoming [an ex] had been, but how I knew that it would never be like it was before, and what to do with all of those feelings.” With each blitzing second of “Puppy,” something that was once so visible begins to shrink in the rearview mirror. It’s the tangle of tail lights blurring in the foreground, it’s the cold wind lapping against your face when you roll the window down, it’s the music.

This summer, Doss’s long-awaited reemergence entwined with the unceremonious reawakening of New York nightlife. Each of her 4 New Hit Songs became canonical additions to the queue, soundtracking the expanse everywhere from Ridgewood to Rockaway Beach. Many nights she was there, too, a leader to the kundled masses as we pretended we were the same people on the dancefloor as we were when we left it. We weren’t, of course. Marred by the trauma and loss of the past two years, our need for healing revealed itself as continually as the world morphed into a less accommodating space to do so. But “Puppy” holds on to the heart-racing chance that wherever we’re all heading — as far from what we’ve known as it may be — there will always be cause for dancing. — SM

8. Lost Girl, “Love, Lovers”

Jenny Hval’s trains of thought are long and can wander from musings on linguistic development, to mundane anecdotes about annoying Jehovah’s witnesses, to daydreams of a collective conscious, all in a single song. On “Love, Lovers,” from her Menneskekollektivet album with Håvard Volden, she’s less verbose but more opaque. Her cold monotone speaking voice and repetitive lyrics here are enough to repel the unacquainted ear from finishing the track, but those who dedicate 15 minutes of their day to giving it a deep listen will not be disappointed. In the song’s first section, she commands listeners to do their job and listen, but it eventually becomes clear that the point isn’t to absorb Hval’s words and their ambiguous meanings. Instead the focus belongs on the sound of her voice and Volden’s underlying instrumentation, which remains sparse for most of the track but grows more urgent by the moment. “Untangle the word from the mind,” she orders. Follow her vocal track as it slowly opens into melody. Push past the ego and let Hval and Volden spirit you into their ecstatic waterfall of harmony and rhythm. Let go of language and lose yourself in sound. — RH

7. RXK Nephew, “American tterroristt”

What do Ben Franklin, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Algebra, and Cardi B’s vocal inflections have in common? They all get roasted on “American tterroristt,” a nearly 10-minute masterpiece of extreme logorrhea and/or therapeutic free association from Rochester rapper RXKNephew. Questioning anything and everything, and dismissing the American education system and organized religion with extreme prejudice, the song is part Twitter rant, part street corner freakout and all attempt to get a rise out of the listener. From bar to bar, he’ll claim the T-Rex discovered electricity, tell you he cried when watching Will Smith’s I Am Legend, and call Spongebob Squarepants a bitch. For most, the initial reaction will be laughter. But RXKNephew is no clown: “American tterroristt” is lightning in a bottle, the rare artistic achievement that managed to capture the humor, pathos, and insanity of the past two years, and wrap it all in pop culture commentary and a trap beat. Plus, it’s the only song this on this list where the artist threatens to beat Santa with hammer. — SR

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6. Rauw Alejandro, “Todo de Ti”

Rauw Alejandro has spent the last few years establishing himself as a force in Latin trap and reggaeton music, but on “Todo de Ti,” he proves he can be a pop star too. The Puerto Rican singer discards both of the genres with which he made his name. Instead he shoots for neon-streaked, disco-influenced funk, a fittingly groove-heavy sound for a star who’s put a heavy focus on his efforts as a dancer. It’s his most magnetic song yet, blending sunny ’70s pop with colorful ’80s synthscapes and dizzy harmonies that feel both refreshingly modern and uniquely his. He’s played up his smooth operator persona before, but rarely as energetically as he does here, when he compares a partner’s magnificence to the ocean and outer space. Breezy and bright, “Todo de Ti” will be a flirty summertime swagger for years to come. — LV

5. Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen, “Like I Used To”

It’s strange to think that Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen hadn’t collaborated together prior to “Like I Used To.” Few artists in their close-knit corner of the indie rock community write so vividly about doomed love, with gentle melodies flickering like the embers of a dying fire. Confident, yet clearly masking raw wounds, “Like I Used To” finds each artist pushing the other toward bold emotional peaks. The song is all Springsteen-scale anthemics, meant to be belted out in front of a dive bar karaoke machine at closing time. Van Etten and Olsen imbue everything with an aching remembrance, capturing how hard it can feel to find a fresh start when you’re trudging through life. Still, they press on. — DR

4. Wizkid feat. Tems, “Essence”

“Essence” may have been released on Wizkid’s Made In Lagos late last year, but it was the song of the summer in 2021. It’s warm and enveloping, a fusion of ’90s and ’00s R&B, UK Afroswing, and insistent keys over the joyful Afrobeats that’s turned Wizkid into a star already. His vibes are breezy here, and he shares the spotlight equally with Nigerian star Tems. Their voices contrast perfectly — Wizkid sounding effortlessly mellow, Tems punchy and insistent — which is the first rule for any song about a love affair. Tems’s hook (“You don’t need no other body,” she insists) is irresistible, the keys are a sun-kissed dream, little embellishments (sax trills in particular) sound expert. It’s set for many more summers of repeated airplay. — AI

3. Lucy Dacus, “Thumbs”

Lucy Dacus had been playing her most devastating ballad live for three years before she finally released it this past spring. With each performance, the “panic” that she felt after writing “Thumbs” was diluted a little. “That’s why I was playing it live,” she told The FADER, “so that it would stop feeling so intense and I could just do it by muscle memory.” Maybe that’s why Dacus sounds so poised — so convincing — when she sings about committing murder on the studio version. The imagined victim is her friend’s absent father, a man who’s turned up out of the blue to send his daughter spiraling, and his proposed death is vivid: “I imagine my thumbs on the irises / Pressing in until they burst.” She sings that without wavering, backed only by muffled organ and some crescendoing white noise. But chilling though Dacus sounds there, “Thumbs” isn’t just a homicidal daydream. It’s a song about protecting a friend, choosing a family, and overcoming the trauma passed down by blood. “You don’t owe him shit even if he said you did,” Dacus sings after the fuzz cuts completely and she’s left alone. The furious clarity of her voice in that moment, after the dark fantasy subsides, suggests she’s working from much more than muscle memory. — ARR

2. Skiifall feat. Knucks, “Ting Tun Up, Pt. 2”

“Ting Tun Up, Pt. 2” proves that “tropical pop” need not be a bland euphemism for watered-down dancehall. Instead, it has the potential to be a sugar-rush of a genre, connecting disparate global scenes through a common musical heritage. The original already had a perfect hook from Skiifall, the young Saint Vincent-via-Montreal vocalist, but the sequel takes things a step further. The verse from London rapper Knucks foregrounds the common stylistic DNA at the heart of not only hip-hop and R&B, but also dancehall, grime, drill, and even Afrobeats.

The track leans on skittering triplets, lightly Auto-Tuned melodies, and Caribbean slang with a dash of London swagger; it’s the kind of songs that can only come about organically, as the result of an adolescence spent vibing to a global selection of music. Skiifall emerges on the track fully formed, attacking it with the energy of a vital young rapper but also the nuanced songwriting of a studio pro, with neither side overshadowing the other. No wonder Drake is paying attention. — SR

1. PinkPantheress, “Just for me”

PinkPantheress will conclude 2021 having amassed hundreds of millions of streams of her discerning revisitations of UK garage, as well as the TikTok videos they soundtrack. But she was a disrupting force beyond these numbers. Breakout songs like “Pain,” “I must apologise,” and “Break it off” were criticized for their “obvious” samples of underground hits, a cardinal sin in crate-digging circles. Whether PinkPantheress is a canny superfan or a skilled selector treating garage classics as riddims, she left her critics in the dust — even the most reloaded track she sampled sounds vibrant in her hands, newly charged with the possibilities of youth and the pleasures of the rave.

The considerable talent she displayed prior to “Just for me,” an original, sample-free song produced by Mura Masa, meant that her compositional skill was less revelation than affirmation. It’s not hard to imagine her sharp ear guiding the beat’s composition. The gentle plucked guitar and shuffling drums recall the 2-step duo Artful Dodger and evoke the kind of puppy love that lives in your chest and drifts, fluttering, into your stomach. PinkPantheress’s voice shares that same quality: light, wistful, and slightly dazed, she sings as though the memory of her crush is the only thing keeping her awake. “Just for me” is a love letter covered in creases from where PinkPantheress has been holding it deep in her pockets. It’s a veneration of past sounds, but it’s also a shining example of modern pop’s power. — JD

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The 100 best songs of 2021