Stereogum’s 70 Favorite Songs Of 2021

Stereogum’s 70 Favorite Songs Of 2021

As you might’ve already gathered from our best albums of 2021 list, we found this to be a strange year. With blockbuster releases being scarce and often disappointing, 2021 felt particularly well-suited for digging into personal favorites and transfixing albums that may have gotten less attention in another year. Every time we look back at the songs of the year, it works that way — rather than voting and creating a list approaching some kind of consensus, we just pick the songs each of us were completely obsessed with. The only rules are that no song can appear twice amongst any of us, and that every pick has to have come out in 2021, or be a 2020 song that really left its mark this year. Check them out below.

SCOTT LAPATINE

After 20 years in NYC, in January I moved to the woods of New England. That means I now drive regularly, listening to XMU or, if my daughter is in the car, Hits 1. So in 2021 I heard our most vital indie rockers getting bolder and poppier, and our biggest pop stars getting tripped up with improbably subdued approaches. Singles from Snail Mail, Japanese Breakfast, and Parquet Courts were slick and hooky and among the year’s best. Meanwhile Billie Eilish, Lorde, and Justin Bieber delivered muted, insular statements that didn’t leave much of an impression. Maybe you felt differently about all that, but one thing we can agree on is that the year’s #1 song was “Succession (Main Title Theme).” That wasn’t eligible here, but hopefully you’ll still find all bangers in my list below.

01 Snail Mail – “Valentine”
02 Geese – “Disco”
03 Ada Lea – “damn”
04 Yves Tumor – “Jackie”
05 Low – “Days Like These”
06 Soul Blind – “Misplaced”
07 Tinashe – “X” (Feat. Jeremih)
08 Men I Trust – “Sugar”
09 BADBADNOTGOOD – “Timid, Intimidating”
10 Lightning Bug – “Song Of The Bell”

TOM BREIHAN

I can ease into an album. I can find a wavelength and vibe out. Individual songs, though? Can’t do that. When it comes to tracks, I need blood and fire. I need something that can take a musclebound man and put his face in the sand. That’s why my list is, more or less, all ragers. It’s hardcore hell-rippers from Spice and God’s Hate and Section H8 and Militarie Gun. It’s gunned-up-and-clapped-quick threats from Pooh Shiesty and Nardo Wick. (Why does Lil Durk go so much harder on other people’s songs than his own?) It’s Olivia Rodrigo’s “Brutal,” the hardest teen-pop anthem in years. It’s the chaotic UK drill posse-cut party anthem “Body (Remix).” But my favorite song of the year is more intense than any of those. It’s Lucy Dacus’ “Thumbs,” a spare and elegant revenge-reverie that has reduced me to tears more times than I care to admit. With all the guns and mosh pits on this list, nothing lands harder than Lucy Dacus quietly confiding that, if asked, she would put thumbs to eyeballs and make the world one piece of shit lighter.

01 Lucy Dacus – “Thumbs”
02 Tion Wayne & Russ Millions – “Body” (Remix) (Feat. ArrDee, 3x3E1 & ZT, Bugzy Malone, Fivio Foreign, Darkoo, & Buni)
03 Spice – “A Better Treatment”
04 Pooh Shiesty – “Back In Blood” (Feat. Lil Durk)
05 God’s Hate – “Finish The Job”
06 Olivia Rodrigo – “Brutal”
07 Militarie Gun – “Ain’t No Flowers”
08 Section H8 – “Nightmare”
09 Nardo Wick – “Who Want Smoke??” (Feat. Lil Durk, 21 Savage, & G Herbo)
10 Lil Nas X – “Industry Baby” (Feat. Jack Harlow)

CHRIS DEVILLE

Weird year, but when I think about the songs that made me happy, these were the ones. Through sheer coincidence (and because Ryan took “Hard Drive”) I ended up mimicking my colleague James Rettig by exclusively choosing tracks that do not overlap with our best albums list. My picks are dominated by R&B and soul, but even those selections span a wide stylistic range, from the passionately howled to the stylishly whispered. Ditto my emo picks, which include a snappy power-pop tune and a 15-minute post-metal epic. There are also indie songs that coursed with the boundless joy of friendship (“Hold U”) and creation (“Time Escaping”), and, sure, why not, a zippy little guitar banger called “Strokes” (as in THE Strokes). Weird year!

01 Giveon – “Heartbreak Anniversary”
02 Yola – “Diamond Studded Shoes”
03 Big Thief – “Time Escaping”
04 Wizkid – “Essence” (Feat. Tems)
05 Camp Trash – “Weird Carolina”
06 Normani – “Wild Side” (Feat. Cardi B)
07 Indigo De Souza – “Hold U”
08 Ovlov – “Strokes”
09 Jorja Smith – “Addicted”
10 The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – “Infinite Josh”

JAMES RETTIG

I’ll echo a popular sentiment that this year there were a lot of albums that I personally loved, but few that felt like they could be rallied around as any sort of consensus “album of the year.” But consensus is boring (except when it’s ours :P) and I enjoyed putting in the time with some lower-key albums, making intimate connections with musicians that might not register on a larger scale. But that’s also sort of what I’ve always done — every year when putting together my favorite songs list, I opt to choose artists that didn’t appear on any of our other year-end lists. That means leaving some of my most-listened-to songs by the wayside, but it also means that whatever spotlight I have gets to shine on some albums that got left off this year’s lists for one reason or another. And all of these songs are fantastic in their own right, worthy of whatever accolades one wants to bestow. There’s maximalist, chaotically deconstructed pop music at the top of this list; as you go on down, there’s also refined, narrative-driven folk songs and crackling, anthemic rock songs. But the only thing that really ties these together is that I love them all very much.

01 Arca – “Señorita”
02 Katy Kirby – “Traffic!”
03 Anika Pyle – “Emerald City”
04 Wendy Eisenberg – “Analogies”
05 Illuminati Hotties – “MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA”
06 Little Simz – “Rollin’ Stone”
07 Remember Sports – “Out Loud”
08 Alien Boy – “The Way I Feel”
09 Hovvdy – “True Love”
10 Torres – “Thirstier”

PETER HELMAN

Every year I tell myself that I’m going to keep track of my favorite songs throughout the year so I’m not scrambling desperately when it comes time to make this list. Every year I fail to do that. And every year I end up pleased with how my list turned out anyway, both as a collection of songs and as an actual playlist. That’s basically the story of 2021 in miniature — not quite what we hoped and/or planned for but still pretty okay, all things considered. Half of the songs on my list, including Tirzah’s peerlessly vibey “Send Me” and the explosive pop exuberance of Japanese Breakfast’s “Paprika,” overlap with our best albums list. But I couldn’t stop listening to Hildegard’s shadowy rave music either, or the anxious smoke break of “Cigarette Packet,” or PinkPantheress’ hyperpop-meets-garage splendor. And when it all comes together? Pretty okay list, if I do say so myself.

01 Tirzah – “Send Me”
02 Japanese Breakfast – “Paprika”
03 Low – “White Horses”
04 Hildegard – “Jour 1”
05 Liars – “Sekwar”
06 Loraine James – “Running Like That” (Feat. Eden Samara)
07 Iceage – “The Holding Hand”
08 Sorry – “Cigarette Packet”
09 W.H. Lung – “Showstopper”
10 PinkPantheress – “I must apologise”

RYAN LEAS

As 2020 yielded to 2021, I pretty much blew my whole life up. I moved out of my apartment, exited a five year relationship, and spent the entirety of this year not really living anywhere full time. What should’ve been a blur instead turned into a year of discrete, radically different chapters — some frantic and euphoric, some quiet and still and insular. Sometimes songs were so addicting I wanted to listen to them over and over, like Squid’s “Pamphlets” or Dry Cleaning’s “Scratchcard Lanyard.” Otherwise, though, my favorites were almost comically on the nose for how they just seemed to appear out of the ether and align perfectly with my life in 2021. Saying goodbye to old selves (“Price Of Blue”), imagining new selves navigating chaotic times (“Hard Drive”), visions of home both warmly reflective (“Galacticana”) and despondent (“This Fractured Mind”), or just the idea of “Living Other Lives” as I stayed in far-flung corners of the country, in different people’s houses and apartments, wherever I had a free place to crash. Then, of course, there was “I Don’t Live Here Anymore,” becoming my theme song for everywhere and nowhere, a companion in goodbyes and tumbling into whatever the hell comes next.

01 The War On Drugs – “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” 
02 Strand Of Oaks – “Galacticana” 
03 Efterklang – “Living Other Lives” 
04 Cassandra Jenkins – “Hard Drive” 
05 Nation Of Language – “This Fractured Mind” 
06 Squid – “Pamphlets” 
07 Arab Strap – “Sleeper” 
08 Flock Of Dimes – “Price Of Blue” 
09 Dry Cleaning – “Scratchcard Lanyard” 
10 Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – “White Elephant”
 

RACHEL BRODSKY

Making end-of-year lists stresses me out. I’m generally not the sort of music listener who keeps track of play counts or cares about Pazz & Jop lists (but no shade to anyone who does). So by the time December rolls around, I’m all, “Wait, what the hell did I listen to this year?,” and then I’m forced to consult Spotify to jog my memory. One thing does remain consistent though: my favorite songs and/or albums always boil down to whatever I had on repeat in the car. (And before I moved to LA, it was whatever I played on my subway commutes.) And in my car, I only want to hear pop music. Preferably with guitar and a little minor key thrown in for extra heartache. Maybe listening to pop in the car reminds me of riding around with my parents as a kid, bugging them to turn on the Top 40 station. Only now I have control over the dial — ha ha!! Anyway, my super-favorite song this year belonged to Slothrust, whose “Once More For The Ocean” is criminally underrated, and I could listen to it over and over and never get sick of it. There’s also lots of top-billed *~INDIE~*: Japanese Breakfast, Snail Mail, Pom Pom Squad, Girl In Red. Plus, there’s a slight mix of alternative, emo, and other variations on those themes. The only track that diverges ever so slightly is Kacey Musgraves’ “Simple Times,” which fed me some major divorce-related catharsis. The through-line, ultimately, is dopamine. I’m just a sucker for a great hook, and these songs delivered.

01 Slothrust – “Once More For The Ocean”
02 Girl in red – “You Stupid Bitch”
03 Hurry – “A Fake Idea”
04 Charli XCX – “Good Ones”
05 Pom Pom Squad – “Head Cheerleader”
06 Olivia Rodrigo – “Good 4 U”
07 Wet Leg – “Chaise Longue”
08 Kacey Musgraves – “Simple Times”
09 Snail Mail – “Ben Franklin”
10 Japanese Breakfast – “Be Sweet”

Listen to a playlist of all our favorite songs on Spotify.

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