The best songs of 2020 were incredible, but the best songs of 2021 are just as impactful. This year gave us a treasure trove of new music—from Taylor Swift’s Red rerelease to the debut of Olivia Rodrigo, and both jazz and EDM confections by Lady Gaga. Throw in some anthems from Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, and Justin Bieber, and you have quite the dynamic year in music.
Here are our picks for the best songs of 2021.
“All Too Well” (10-Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) by Taylor Swift
I’ll spare you from my 10-minute dissertation (Anna’s Version) on the genius of Taylor Swift reframing what history wrote off as a bitter breakup song into a thoughtful discussion about the weaponization of memory. Instead, let’s just focus on the numbers: To understand the impact of “All Too Well” in 2021, all you need to know is that it broke the Guinness World Record for the longest song to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100. All while cutting into the pockets of the men who took control of her masters, necessitating the need for a rerecord in the first place. As Blondie said herself, “Fuck the patriarchy!” This is hands down one of the best songs of 2021, and arguably one of the best songs of all time. —Anna Moeslein, deputy editor
“Good Ones” by Charli XCX
One of Charli XCX’s most pure pop songs ever, “Good Ones” clocks in at just over two minutes but will stay in your head for much longer. Listen at your own risk. —Christopher Rosa, entertainment editor
“You for Me” by Rita Ora and Sigala
Perhaps my most streamed song on Spotify this year, “You for Me” is summer personified. A bouncy beat, an infectious chorus—this track was designed for poolside dance parties. —C.R.
“Free Woman” (Remix) by Lady Gaga, Rina Sawayama, and Clarence Clarity
Honestly, this is Best Song Oscars 2021 material. Don’t believe me? Just listen to 30 seconds, and you’ll see how Rina Sawayama and Clarence Clarity turned the already bombastic “Free Woman” into a song with even more energy. —C.R.
“Driver’s License” by Olivia Rodrigo
RED LIGHTS! STOP SIGNS! Just by the bridge alone, it’s no wonder that Olivia Rodrigo’s heartbreak anthem dominated the first half of 2021. (It’s one of the most ubiquitous new songs this year.) A viral sensation, Rodrigo’s pleading voice and honest lyrics resonated with anyone who’s gone through a tough breakup. —Ariana Yaptangco, senior beauty editor
“The Motto” by Ava Max and Tiësto
Tiësto’s latest EDM slammer is an easy personal pick for one of the best new songs of 2021. Ava Max’s voice is digitized and robo-fied here as she sings about the joys of drinking just a little too much and dancing your ass off. —C.R.
“Out Out” by Charli XCX, Joel Corry, Jax Jones, and Saweetie
Speaking of that theme: Joel Corry teamed up with Charli XCX, Jax Jones, and Saweetie for an ode to convincing your friend to join you for a debauched night out. What are you waiting for? The Uber’s outside. —C.R.
“Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” by Lil Nas X
Lil Nas X was the king of new music this year, blessing us with two monster singles and a hit album. The first of those singles, “Montero (Call Me by Your Name),” was an electropop/hip-hop hybrid with an earworm chorus and music video that broke the internet. —C.R.
“We’re Good” by Dua Lipa
Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia is the gift that keeps on giving, and after releasing a remix album last year, the pop star put out an extended cut for 2021, featuring this bonus track. It perfectly shows off the more soulful side of Lipa’s vocals. And the island influences kept it on heavy rotation when I felt like I needed an escape. I would be remiss not to mention the lyrical brilliance of the line “We’re not meant to be, like sleeping and cocaine.” Genius. (For our picks for Dua Lipa’s best and worst songs, click here.) —Bella Cacciatore, beauty writer
“Easy on Me” by Adele
In early October, Adele previewed a new song. That song was “Easy on Me.” Yes, Adele made her triumphant return to music in the most Adele way possible: with a sweeping, lush power ballad. Even after a six-year hiatus, her vocals are in top shape and, dare I say, the best she’s ever sounded. While today’s chart-toppers boast heavy production, Adele proves you can make a smash hit with just a piano and an unforgettable voice. —A.Y.
“Black Bathing Suit” by Lana Del Rey
Say what you want about her, there’s no denying Lana Del Rey’s songwriting prowess, and this year she treated us to two full-length albums. I kept both on steady repeat since their release, but I think this track is one of her career bests. It feels so layered and cinematic yet deeply personal—touching on body image and wanting a supportive partner instead of sugar daddies and glittering diamonds—and is beautifully wrapped up in the Hollywood haze that makes Del Ray so special. She also pushes her voice in a way we haven’t heard much of before that makes me so excited to see what’s to come. —B.C.
“New Shapes” by Charli XCX, Caroline Polachek, and Christine and the Queens
Three of pop music’s tastemakers join forces on this delightful synth-pop jam that simultaneously feels ’80s and ahead of its time. —C.R.
“Future Starts Now” by Kim Petras
The reigning pop princess returned to her glossy disco roots with “Future Starts Now,” a French-inspired jam with one of my favorite bridges this year. —C.R.
“Valentine” by Snail Mail
There is no sweeter sound than pure, unbridled female angst. I love the contrast here of the cool, almost detached verses and the pounding emotion of the chorus. It perfectly captures the ups and downs of a breakup. —B.C.
“Angel Baby” by Troye Sivan
Oh Troye Sivan, my sweet baby prince. I love this fresh take on an ’80s power ballad. The synths and saccharine chorus just get to me. It’s the perfect soundtrack to dancing around the kitchen with someone you love and may be one of the best love songs 2021 gave us. —B.C.
“Met Him Last Night” by Demi Lovato and Ariana Grande
Unsurprisingly, Lovato’s and Grande’s vocals blend beautifully on this slow jam about meeting a guy you know is bad for you. —C.R.
“Bunny Is a Rider” by Caroline Polachek
I was hoping for a full album from Caroline Polacheck this year, but I’m satisfied with this shimmering earworm of a track. The nonsensical lyrics—per Polacheck, we are all “Bunny”—and metallic, almost methodical instrumentals make me feel like I’m inside a vintage video game in the best way possible. It’s an unconventional banger that has stuck with me way past its summer release. —B.C.
“Kissing in the Rain” by Soccer Mommy
In the iconic words of one Mr. Bernie Sanders, “Let me thank Soccer Mommy for the music.” The artist has been one of my mainstays this year, as has this song that’s equal parts lovely and wistful. —B.C.
“Rumors” by Lizzo and Cardi B
“I definitely called Cardi ’cause she’s, I mean, she’s incredible,” Lizzo told E.T. Canada about this brilliant collaboration. “I’ve been wanting to work with her for years. Ask anybody at Atlantic [Records], the day she got signed, I was like, ‘I want a song with Cardi B!’ So, when I finally had a song on the level, that was perfect for us, I hit her up and sent it to her and she loved it and sent her verse through. Because of COVID, you know, we couldn’t be together, but we FaceTimed. The rest is herstory.” —C.R.
“Essence” by Wizkid, Justin Bieber, and Tems
“Essence” feels like a perfect day. Like sand between your toes, the smell of salty air, and an ice-cold cocktail in your hand. You can’t help but sing along and wind your hips when the beat drops. Wizkid has been a long-standing Afrobeats artist with plenty of hits in his repertoire, but this record just does something to you. It’s that good. The addition of Nigerian singer-songwriter Tems on the hook and Justin Bieber on the remix take it over the edge. It was hands down the song of my summer 2021. —Cortni Spearman, senior social media editor
“Butter” by BTS
BTS continued their journey to world domination by releasing the song of the summer. With a funky beat, feel-good lyrics, and strong vocal performances from each member, Butter is pure, unmitigated joy. —A.Y.
“Industry Baby” by Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow
Leave it to Lil Nas X to follow up “Montero” with an even bigger smash. Rapper Jack Harlow helped catapult this hit to number one. “I think he’s is giving a voice to a lot of people and kids who could use one,” Harlow said of his collaborator to Variety. “I think the community he represents could use someone who’s succeeding on a mainstream level—it doesn’t have to be a niche thing, it can feel like, Yo, you can be number one, you can be the greatest. I really recognize what he’s doing and I think he gets a lot deeper than the jokes and whatever gimmicky stuff people wanna associate—I really think he’s an icon. I really recognize what he’s doing, and I admire him—I admired him long before we met.” —C.R.
“Peaches” by Justin Bieber, Daniel Caesar, and Giveon
Justin Bieber tapped two of the most exciting voices in R&B, Daniel Caesar and Giveon, for this glimmering love song. The respective verses of Caesar and Giveon are true to their distinct styles but come together seamlessly with Bieber to form an easy, catchy megahit. —A.Y.
“Heartbreak Anthem” by Galantis, Little Mix, and David Guetta
Contrary to the title, this serotonin-filled confection from Galantis, Little Mix, and David Guetta is not a heartbreak anthem. As the British girl group sings, they have no time to dwell on the bad times. Why do that when there’s so much dancing to do? —C.R.
“Just for Me” by PinkPanthress
Like most of TikTok, I fell in love with PinkPanthress this year, and this song is to thank for that. I love her baby voice, the fact that all her songs are shorter than two minutes, and her wide range of influences, from U.K. garage to early 2000s pop. She expertly pairs darker lyrics with twinkling instrumentals and an upbeat tempo, and this song, describing an obsessive relationship, is perhaps one of the best examples of that. —B.C.
“Brutal” by Olivia Rodrigo
Yes, I’m one of those “geriatric” millennials probably too cringey to love “Brutal” by Olivia Rodrigo as much as I do. Don’t care—the song is a jam. I feel sad for my 17-year-old self that she didn’t have this to comfort her during those brutal teen years. —A.M.
“Way 2 Sexy” by Drake, Future, and Young Thug
The lead single from Drake’s sixth studio album, Certified Lover Boy, “Way 2 Sexy” took over clubs and bars as the unofficial “We’re back outside” anthem of 2021. Simply put, it’s a bop. —A.Y.
“Thot Shit” by Megan Thee Stallion
“Thot Shit” has all the fun and bravado you can expect from a Megan Thee Stallion track. But more than anything, it’s the way Megan’s music makes us feel—sexy, joyful, powerful—that makes her a superstar. —A.Y.
“Bite Me” by Avril Lavigne
Avril Lavigne returns to her roots with an angst- and guitar-filled kiss-off to a dude who didn’t treat her right. “Bite me,” Lavigne screams in the chorus, and that about sums things up. —C.R.
“Silk Chiffon” by Muna and Phoebe Bridgers
This song won’t unstick itself from my brain, and I have no complaints. The chorus has been swirling around my head like a mantra since this summer’s release, and now I really do believe that life is, in fact, so fun! —B.C.
“Happier Than Ever” by Billie Eilish
Bangs. Slaps. She did that. Billie is the future. —B.C.
“Stay” by Justin Bieber and The Kid Laroi
Bieber and The Kid Laroi brought tempo back to top 40 with this zipping, haunting tune in which they desperately plead for a lover to, you guessed it, stay. —C.R.
“Kiss Me More” by Doja Cat and SZA
“I feel like me and SZA are similar in the way that we both grew up with spiritual backgrounds, but she was perfect for this song,” Doja Cat told Capital XTRA about this hit collaboration, per allhiphop.com. “I feel like I say this every time. She was in my heart when I wrote this, and I needed her to be on the hook, and I needed her to put a verse because she brings a depth to everything that she does.” —C.R.
“Message in a Bottle” by Taylor Swift
One of the best parts of Taylor Swift’s rerecorded albums is hearing her previously unreleased “from the vault” tracks. With its pulsating bass and bright ’80s inspired synthesizers, “Message in a Bottle” offers a fascinating insight into where Swift was headed musically—it feels more in line with her follow-up 1989 than its intended album, Red—and offers a promising glimpse about what’s still to come with the rerecords. —A.M.
“Good 4 U” by Olivia Rodrigo
As someone who was obsessed with pop punk and emo the first time it was cool, it was clear from first listen that I’d be into “Good 4 U,” still one of the top songs right now. But while the track has drawn (fair!) comparisons to its obvious predecessor—Paramore’s “Misery Business”—we need to still give full credit to Olivia Rodrigo. She put her own stamp on the genre, and her crisp songwriting and pitch-perfect angst will inspire a whole new generation of emo fans. —A.M.
“Breadwinner” by Kacey Musgraves
Nobody can turn a clever phrase into gut-punching lyrics quite like Kacey Musgraves. Take “Breadwinner,” her song about a woman realizing the man she’s with is too insecure to handle her success. “He wants a breadwinner / He wants your dinner / Until he ain’t hungry anymore,” she sings. “He wants your shimmer / To make him feel bigger / Until he starts feeling insecure. I wish somebody would’ve told me the truth / See, he’s never gonna know what to do / With a woman like you.” —A.M.
“I Still Have Faith in You” by ABBA
For their first album in 40 years, ABBA pulled out all the stops, starting with “I Still Have Faith in You,” a power ballad that BBC wrote “slowly, majestically builds to an astronomical climax.” —C.R.
“Take My Breath” by The Weeknd
The Weeknd teamed up again with pop maestros Max Martin and Oscar Holter to create a thumping, retro-dance banger that will take your breath away, as the lyrics indicate. —C.R.
“Shivers” by Ed Sheeran
Sheeran swaps his signature acoustic flair for a plucky pop beat that works up to a truly satisfying chorus. —C.R.
“A Second to Midnight” by Kylie Minogue and Years & Years
No one does disco quite like Kylie Minogue, and for this round, she brings along British singer Years & Years (Olly Alexander) for something truly dazzling. —C.R.
“Bang Bang” by Rita Ora and Imanbek
“Bang Bang” doesn’t reinvent the wheel by any means, but it does provide arguably the most sledgehammer beat of the year—one that doesn’t just make you want to dance. It compels you to. —C.R.
“EveryTime I Cry” by Ava Max
In true Ava Max fashion, “EveryTime I Cry” isn’t a slow, weepy ballad, as its title suggests. Rather, it’s a crying-in-the-club anthem that’s an ode to tears. —C.R.
“Marry the Night” (cover) by Kylie Minogue
Lady Gaga didn’t hold back celebrating the 10-year anniversary of her iconic album Born This Way. She recruited everyone from Big Freedia to Ben Platt to cover the record’s hit songs. But the crown jewel reimagining goes to “Marry the Night,” bejeweled and disco-fied by one Kylie Minogue. —C.R.
“I Get a Kick Out of You” by Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett
A jazz classic reimagined by two legends for their final, critically acclaimed collaboration, Love for Sale. The album, a collection of Cole Porter songs, earned six Grammy nominations. —C.R.
“Leave the Door Open” by Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak, and Silk Sonic
“Anderson coming into the studio and unlocking something in my brain that I’ve never used before,” Mars said about this collaboration, per American Songwriter. “That’s what you hope. That’s how inspiration happens, you know? Even just hearing him talk, being a songwriter, sometimes you hear things in your voice, but working with other artists and you hear the way they talk. All of a sudden you start thinking differently.” —C.R.
“Higher Power” by Coldplay
“I was staying in a house with a big sink. I don’t know why but I just started hitting it. Violence against bathroom objects. It sounded really good, so I just recorded a bit of this loop on my phone and took that loop and went and sat on the keyboard. Then the song just went, ‘Here I am,’” Chris Martin explained to Etalk about the song’s inception. —C.R.
“911” (Remix) by Lady Gaga, Charli XCX, and A.G. Cook
Every queer person in New York City cheered when Gaga and Charli collaborated on this remix of “911.” Unusual in its structure yet undeniably alluring, it’s exactly what fans were hoping for. —C.R.
“To Be Loved” by Adele
“I’m so afraid, but I’m open wide / I’ll be the one to catch myself this time / Tryna learn to lean into it all / Ain’t it funny how the mighty fall?” Adele sings on this poignant ballad, and just like that, I’m sobbing. —C.R.
“Camera Roll” by Kacey Musgraves
“So I found myself just way back in the camera roll, just one night alone in my bedroom, and I’m like, Don’t do it, don’t do it. Just come back, oh God, now I’m back in 2018, now I’m in 2017 now, and you’re looking, and what’s crazy is that we never take pictures of the bad times, there’s no documentation of the fight that you had where, I don’t know, you just pushed it a little too far,” Musgraves revealed to Apple Music 1’s Zane Lowe about this song’s inception. “But it’s a mind fuck because you go back and you’re like, Oh my God, wow. It just paints this depiction of the past that really wasn’t there. Lurking behind these sunset photos is the fight that you had before dinner where we were like, ‘This is over.’” —C.R.
“Up” by Cardi B
One of the best rap songs 2021 gave us, “Up” by Cardi B earned a 2022 Grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance, solidifying her place as the woman with the most nominations in that category. You know, casual stuff. —C.R.