Top 50 singles of 2021

 Top 50 singles of 2021

Last week saw the second annual Electric Angels Singles of the Year survey, in which I was THRRRRILLED to see what everyone else has been loving this year. Now, it’s time for my own choices!

This is my 14th annual year-end Top 50 (Christ), and I actually found it quite hard to compile this year, especially versus 2020. There was plenty of good pop to pick from, but not as much really, really amazing pop. Still, I adore these 50 songs – and you can find the obligatory Spotify playlist here or at the bottom of the post.

My year-end playlists from 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008 are also all on Spotify (for various reasons, some of the older ones are incomplete).

This year’s best albums to follow!

50. Build It Better – Natalie Imbruglia

I can’t say I was waiting with bated breath for Natalie’s first album since 2015 (her first of original material since 2009), but when this single dropped, WHEW! I remembered how much I used to love her. Her voice, the gentle Radio 2 instrumentation, the lyrics about letting things go to shit so they can be duly reborn… it’s like a lovely cuddle.

49. Anyone – Justin Bieber

Released on New Year’s Day, Anyone was the First Good Song of 2021, and another excellent track from a popstar I keep forgetting is capable of brilliance.

48. Come Through – Priyanka feat. Lemon

The usual mid-and-post-Drag-Race-song lyrics about “slaying all day” etcetera are elevated in this case by the sheer star quality of Priyanka; not to mention the turbo-charged guest rap from Lemon that probably deserves some sort of Grammy.

47. Je me casse – Destiny

Whispers about alleged funny business at Eurovision totally passed me by, so I was free to fully buy into the hype on this. Destiny is a star, the bilingual hook is a neat touch, and really I just had it in my head for fucking WEEKS.

46. Dancing With The Devil – Demi Lovato

The title track from a massively under-rated album, Dancing With The Devil might not be Demi’s most memorable lead single but the brutal honesty of the lyrics and the !!EMOTION!! of the vocals give it one hell of a bite. And that BRIDGE, good Lord. Demi’s voice feels like it’s ready to break as the instrumentation swells around “I thought I knew my limit, yeah, thought that I could quit it, yeah…”, but by the time the final chorus kicks in, they’re back to their defiant, glass-shattering best. It may have become cool to dunk on them over the last couple of years but they’re still highly capable of being excellent.

45. Hope – Arlo Parks

WHAT a YEAR for Ms Parks!!!! Collapsed In Sunbeams is a gorgey album, and this song – serviced as a single around the time of its release – is one of its most glorious moments. It delivers what its title promises; mixing beautifully written and intricate verses with a chorus that simply reminds us, over and over, “you’re not alone like you think you are”.

44. Heartbreak In This City – Steps feat. Michelle Visage

One of the stronger moments on 2020’s What The Future Holds got a bit of a glow-up for its single release here; including slightly glossier production and a guest appearance from – who else? – Michelle Visage. It’s catchy, it’s danceable, it’s got a tinge of sadness running underneath the boppery… it’s classic Steps.

43. Overdrive – Conan Gray

Only one lone person gave this song some love in the Singles of the Year poll, which tells me y’all have been massively missing out and need to get this injected into your veins FAST.

42. On The Ground – Rosé

Jesy Nelson’s launch prompted a lot of chat about the best and worst solo debuts from girlband members over the years, and to be frank I did not see enough love given to this! Rosé’s first non-Blackpink release is an electropop stomper packed with great vocals, addictive melodies and ground-shaking production. A moment!

41. Have Mercy – Chloe

This chorus will NEVER! LEAVE! MY! HEAD!

40. Sacrifice – Bebe Rexha

Bebe went back to the 90s for this surprising Greg Kurstin-produced megabop from the Better Mistakes album; all big thudding hooks and attention-hungry lyrics. 2021 may not have been… shall we say commercially satisfying for Bebe or her label, but at least it spawned a song this great.

39. Life’s A Bitch (LAB) – Nina Nesbitt

“Life’s like a bitch, I hate her but I love her”. A 10/10 central lyric from a 10/10 best-of-times-worst-of-times bop.

38. Message In A Bottle (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault) – Taylor Swift

I can see why this was left out of the original release of Red: even though it pulls Taylor in a poppier direction than her first three albums, it lyrically feels a little…… juvenile compared to her other stuff? It’s as if, back in 2012, this was her testing the Max Martin-y waters, and the material that did make the album (22, WANEGBT, IKYWT) was her fully diving in. Still, there’s something about her wheeling it out nine years later, dusting off that dangerously addictive sugar rush of a chorus, that just feels so good. A time machine back to when we were all younger, more innocent and more easily swept up in the romance of it all.

37. John Hughes Movie – Maisie Peters

Essentially a trip back to every naive crush and petty heartbreak that once upon a time felt like the end of the world, John Hughes Movie perfectly captures the crush-related angst and hurt we all felt before we knew better. You would think Maisie’s delicate voice would be totally swallowed by production this big, but actually it all just adds wonderfully to the drama. A triumph!

36. Toothbrush – Grace Davies

The highlight of Grace’s 2020 Friends With The Tragic EP was the almost Robyn-esque Addicted To Blue, so it’s been amazing to hear her leaning into more of that electroballadry throughout 2021. Toothbrush is a right stunner; a midtempo feelings-fest that culminates in an explosive finale that begs to be howled along-to in full voice.

35. All Your Exes – Julia Michaels

There’s been a lot of adoration for the way Billie Eillish’s Happier Than Ever morphs from subtle acoustic number to full-blown ragebanger, but I actually think Julia Michaels gifted us with a fine example of that too. Irrational jealously has rarely been this fun.

34. Altar – Kehlani

A beautiful reflection on those who’ve been lost, Altar is emotional but never mopey; it’s gripped by grief but packed with love. A really, really lovely song.

33. Mirror – Sigrid

Sigrid said a firm NO to self-doubt on this slick pick-me-up; complete with an impossibly catchy “ah-ah-ah” chant in the bridge that lingers in the brain for weeks.

32. That’s What I Want – Lil Nas X

Lil Nas X’s near-flawless year was such a triumph because not only was he so unapologetic horny, but he was also unafraid to show a bit of heart and vulnerability. This impossible-to-dislike bop sees him yearning for something more than a quick dicking, and it’s also catchy as hell.

31. Bouncin – Tinashe

Remember those terrible years when we had to wait ENDLESSLY for a Tinashe album? Nowadays she simply will not let us breathe! Bouncin is an irresistible little song, and the video? Art!

30. No – Little Mix

The annual resurgence of Christmas songs in mid-November meant that No spent only two – TWO!!! – weeks in the UK Top 100; an abominable way to round out the current chapter of the Little Mix story. No is a natural successor to Sweet Melody; punchy, confident, catchy as Omicron… it’s Little Mix doing what they do best.

29. Wild Side – Normani feat. Cardi B

The wait for Wild Side was borderline barbaric, but what a display of excellence! An assured single from a woman who remains one of music’s most promising talents, and the video was – in a surprise to nobody – a total blockbuster. Let’s keep the momentum up!!

28. Shade of Yellow – Griff

Black Hole gave this megastar-in-waiting a well deserved hit in 2021, but it’s Shade of Yellow that stands out for me; a lyrically rich, understated track with writing and production by Griff and Griff alone. Consider me PUMPED to see her go from strength to strength in 2022.

27. Crave – Years & Years

It doesn’t sound like a hit (and sure enough, it wasn’t) but Crave does sound like the kind of darkly brooding pop song that Years & Years do best. I enjoyed Starstruck, but this was what properly got me excited for the Night Call era.

26. I Want Love – Jessie J

A serve? From Jessie J? In 2021? These really are unprecedented times!!

25. Sister Ray – Foxes

Her Friends In The Corner EP was a brilliant reintroduction, but the first three singles from upcoming album The Kick have been total slam-dunks; this one in particular. Foxes = the British Carly Rae? Perhaps!

24. Here Comes The Night – Agnes

It’s so obvious from the opening bars of Here Comes The Night that Agnes is going to fully punch you in the face with a balls-to-the-wall discobanger, and OH MERCY, punch you she does. The title lyric is not so much a warning or a premonition as a call-to-arms.

23. Hot Hot – Bree Runway

Bree Runway No1 for 12 weeks when?? After her excellent 2000and4eva mixtape last year, Hot Hot was another check-mate from this potential titan of British music; a summer-ready jam that soars with or without all the Busta Rhymes sample drama.

22. Transparent Soul – Willow feat. Travis Barker

Olivia Rodrigo deservedly got a lot of hype for her pop-punk sound; a subgenre that was as prominent in 2021 as it was in the early 2000s. But Willow was also serving guitar-crunching angst this year, and Transparent Soul – which returned her to the UK and US charts for the first time in a decade – kicked off her whole new era perfectly.

21. Easy on Me – Adele

She just sounds so GOOD, doesn’t she?! The vocals are as crystal clear as… well, crystal on Easy On Me; a quintessential Adele ballad and one that makes the most of her ability to deliver both technical perfection and an emotional sucker-punch. May we all drink wine and cry to this for years to come.

20. Good Ones – Charli XCX

Honestly I come and go with Charli XCX; flitting sporadically between ‘gosh what a clever artiste’ and ‘gosh what kind of RACKET is this?!’. On Good Ones she’s squarely in unpretentious pop belter territory, and I just cannot help myself. What a riot.

19. Priorities – L Devine

With not one but two EPs out over the course of the summer, L Devine really planted herself firmly on my Ones To Watch radar, and with Priorities – in which she sings about a new squeeze who’s not putting in the hours – she’s on perfect form; giving big hooks, moody synth-laden production and a vocal that nails the perfect balance of hurt and pissed-off.

18. Heartbreak Anthem – Galantis, David Guetta and Little Mix

As a dance banger, this may not re-invent the wheel, but Christ I was mainlining it from the second I first heard it. With buoyant production, great vocal work from all of Little Mix and lyrics about refusing to dwell on troubled times, it was easily top of my Spotify Wrapped – and hey, you lot voted it your favourite track of the year too.

17. Call on Me – Raye

Given all the fuckery Raye spoke about around the time of this song’s release, I hope it doesn’t go on to represent a bad time for her – because LORD, what a great single. The Song of the Summer contender that (like much of Raye’s work) deserved better.

16. Save Your Tears (Remix) – The Weeknd and Ariana Grande

Ariana has rarely sounded better than she does on this; a song that enables her to play around at the bottom of her range as well as at the very top of it. Save Your Tears was an exceptional song in its original form. This remix kicks it up even further.

15. Church Girl – Laura Mvula

Pink Noise was S!U!C!H! a great era for Laura, and each pre-release single was better than the last. Church Girl is simply impossible to sit still to; it’s an immaculately written, performed and produced song for which everyone involved deserves some sort of plaque.

14. Glam! – Allie X

A song so massive it can probably be seen from space, Glam! is a fist-in-the-air scream-a-long anthem made for stadiums; and the fact Allie originally scrapped it from her debut EP back in 2015 is a crime for which she should absolutely stand trial.

13. Let Them Know – Mabel

All you need to know about Let Them Know is the fact it was put together by Mabel, Raye, MNEK and SG Lewis. If that doesn’t immediately tell you how much it slaps, really nothing will. (Also – bouquet of flowers for whichever of them came up with “up here the haters look teeny tiny”).

12. Used To You – Grace Davies

Grace has developed quite a knack for heartbreak-laden torch songs and Used To You is, for me, her best yet. Beginning with a low vocal over synthy chords so quiet you can barely hear them, the song builds and builds like an unstoppable panic attack; reaching a devastating crescendo in its beautifully raw bridge – the sort of gutteral outpouring that comes when you can only keep a restrained lid on your emotions for so long.

11. Good 4 U – Olivia Rodrigo

Drivers’ License was a great lead single but it was on Good 4 U that Olivia’s MO really became clear. It’s a modern pop-punk classic that wears its anger on its sleeve – and though Olivia may cite Taylor Swift as a major influence, here she brilliantly shuns any Swiftian poetic imagery and sticks to songwriting that’s brutally straightforward, to-the-point and… yes, teenage. ‘Good for you, you look happy and healthy, not me, if you ever cared to ask.’ A star is born!

10. Big – Rita Ora, Imanbek and David Guetta feat. Gunna

Releasing a song about lavish partying at a time when her fondness for a party was all over the papers… Bold! But when the material’s this irresistible, why the hell not?! The highlight of a very good EP, Big is a taut, expensive-sounding banger made for strutting down the travelator at Waterloo; and I was fucking addicted to it back in February.

09. I Do This All The Time – Self Esteem

The whole Prioritise Pleasure era was clearly a total success for the ingenious Rebecca Taylor, and on I Do This All The Time, her ability to make you really stop in your tracks is on full display. Spoken-word verses that revisit an array of micro-aggressions and life lessons are delivered almost exasperatedly over a simple beat; interspersed with choral reminders to “look up, lean back, be strong”. The final act, when the orchestra swells and the chant-friendly vocals burst into cries of “I’ll take care, I’ll read again, I’ll sing again” is nothing short of euphoric.

08. 24 Hours – Agnes

Agnes confidently struts away from the remnants of a shattered relationship on this almighty stomper; allowing herself very briefly to look back at the darkness she’s leaving behind before declaring on the bridge “here and now, I choose my future”. God help anyone or anything that stands in her way.

07. Confetti – Little Mix feat. Saweetie

Confetti sounds so good in this slightly remixed, Saweetie-fied, Jesy-less form that it’s so incredibly jarring now to listen back to the 2020 original. The girls sound poised, assured and whole; switching between cool, unphased harmonies and powerful ad-libs with the ease of pros who’ve been nailing this popstar thing for a whole-ass decade. And the video? Oscars!!

06. Dover Beach – Baby Queen

Bella Latham appeared in 2020 with a highly promising string of singles, and in 2021 she unleashed her superb The Yearbook – led by this eardrum-bursting bop about having someone on the brain 24/7. The bridge (“it’s deep! Red! My broken dream!”) is a proper hands-aloft moment, and the clearest sign yet that the Baby Queen bandwagon is one we should all want to be on.

05. No Words Needed – Rebecca Ferguson feat. Nile Rodgers

Ten years on from Album Of The Century contender Heaven, R-Fergz returned with this shimmering, undeniable song that finds her in her most playful territory yet. No Words Needed is a lusty-eyed dream of a track with a gorgeous vocal and sparkling production; and if – as Rebecca has indicated – her next album will indeed be her last, it certainly seems like she’ll be leaving us wanting more.

04. Got Me – Laura Mvula

Got Me invites – nay DEMANDS – dancing; anything from a subtle shimmy to full-on hip-swinging. It’s the jewel in the Pink Noise era’s glistening crown; a sexy, joyful, neon-lit confection that pairs breathless, almost spoken-word verses with one hell of a satisfying chorus. I believe in a Mvula supremacy!!

03. Silk Chiffon – Muna feat. Phoebe Bridgers

Is there a better hook this year than “SIIIIIIILK!!!!!!… Chiffon”? Perhaps not! Over their first two albums Muna perfected heartbreak (Crying On The Bathroom Floor), community strength (I Know A Place) and a wry twist on the empowerment anthem (Number One Fan); but on Silk Chiffon it’s all about the pure, unfiltered joy of connecting so perfectly with another human being. It’s a queer love song that shuns angst entirely and just revels in happiness; a lighter-than-air thrill that’s as gentle as… well, silk chiffon. “It feels good to me… oh, why wouldn’t it be?”

02. Don’t Shut Me Down – ABBA

I Still Have Faith In You was the emotional reintroduction, but Don’t Shut Me Down was the song that fully reminded listeners the world over that nobody – NOBODY!!! – does pop music quite like ABBA. Emotional vocals, intricate instrumentation, exquisite storytelling (is it about a former couple coming back together, or a world-conquering pop group coming back together? Why not both!)… this is an act still at the height of their powers after almost four decades apart, and how lucky we all are to have had them back in these miserable times!

01. Montero (Call Me By Your Name) – Lil Nas X

Every now and then a song comes along that not only slaps, that not only is hugely successful, that not only lifts its performer to a new level of stardom; but also feels like it properly shakes-up the pop cultural landscape. The fact a mainstream gay artist – let alone a mainstream gay artist with roots in hip-hop – was this explicitly horny, on such a global stage, playing with the kind of religious imagery that could only infuriate those already out to get him… it was brave, bold, iconic, and – lest we forget – also a shitload of fun. Montero (Call Me By Your Name) is a brilliant song even without all that it represents, but it’s also an unforgettable ~moment; a megastar-making ace that will be referenced and talked about for generations to come.

And here’s the playlist:

Shaun Kitchener

Scriptwriter for the theatre and TV (currently Hollyoaks) and freelance entertainment ~reportage.