What a year it's been for music! Despite the industry still being stunted in some ways by the COVID-19 pandemic, so many talented artists were able to put out hit songs, debuts, and music videos in 2021. This year was full of new rising stars, comebacks from artists we've missed, and other welcome surprises. The world's taste in music seems to be diversifying, and we're celebrating that with a very special end-of-year top 10!
For this list, we're showing respect to the 10 best songs that were released in 2021. Not only is the ranking based on Live365's own personal recommendations, but also on chart data and streaming numbers. Essentially, we're listing the tunes that made big splashes this year, as well tunes we feel will stand the test of time and define this decade.
Without further ado, let's count down!
10. "Leave the Door Open" - Silk Sonic
One of the biggest music moments of the year was when Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak debuted their band Silk Sonic at the 2021 Grammy Awards. They played this song on national television - which, unsurprisingly, shot up in the charts soon after.
On June 25, 2021, “Leave The Door Open” was certified platinum by the RIAA. The song is basically the band's thesis statement. With it's smoother-than-silk instrumentals and nostalgic 60s/70s soul and funk sounds, "Leave the Door Open" is a preview for what you can expect if you decide to listen to An Evening with Silk Sonic (which has been hailed by critics as one of the best albums of the year).
9. "Bad Habits" - Ed Sheeran
"Bad Habits" is a pretty emotional track for Sheeran. Despite its chipper dance groove, it's actually a song about the singer/songwriter attempting to overcome his drinking and partying vices in order to be a better father. While his pink-suited "glampire" getup is more sparkly and hypnotic than Edward Cullen, it's actually a metaphor for how his addictions can make him feel dead inside.
During the week ending July 10, 2021, “Bad Habits” debuted at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. It is Sheeran’s eighth top 10 song and peaked at #2 during the week ending August 28, 2021. Thanks to "Bad Habits," Sheeran also had a great time at this year's MTV Europe Music Awards. The English artist took home awards for Best Artist and Best Song for "Bad Habits."
8. "Kiss Me More (feat. SZA)" - Doja Cat
It's taken many years for Doja Cat not only to go mainstream, but become an artist capable of critical respect. In other words, she's come a long way since her jokey song "MOOO!" trended all over TikTok. Planet Her was one of the most breathtaking albums released this year, and among so many standout tracks, "Kiss Me More (feat. SZA)" took the lead.
With a tasty hook, great feature by SZA, soft, comforting disco vibes, and a smart-yet-subtle interpolation of Olivia Newton John's "Physical," "Kiss Me More" deserves all the recognition (and radio airplay) it's gotten this past year.
7. "STAY" - The Kid LAROI & Justin Bieber
There's no way you haven't heard "STAY" in 2021. It's a collaboration between The Kid LAROI and Justin Bieber which details LAROI’s wish for his lover’s forgiveness and Bieber’s admiration for his partner. According to LAROI, the electronic song came about "organically" between him and his friends and was very much a spur-of-the-moment effort.
“STAY” debuted at #3 on the Hot 100 during the charting week of July 24, 2021. The track became The Kid LAROI’s highest-charting song, and it is Bieber’s 24th top 10 hit on the chart. During the week ending August 14, the song finally peaked at #1 on the chart. It is Bieber’s eighth #1 and LAROI’s first. We can't wait to see where LAROI goes from here!
6. "Easy On Me" - Adele
Adele made her long-awaited return this year, and she chose the track "Easy On Me" to preview her record-breaking album 30. The song was actually the first written for the album (Adele revealed to BBC Radio 1 she penned it back in 2019), and broke the world record for the most streamed song in 24 hours, with 24 million streams.
Although the song didn't get the chance to debut at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (it was only available for five hours until the end of the chart week), it peaked at #1 on the chart the following week. Adele is the reigning queen of ballads, and we love "Easy On Me" for its subtle soul sounds, daring vocals, and heartfelt message about asking for forgiveness from your loved ones.
5. "All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor's Version)" - Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift's original "All Too Well" was good enough, but this 10 minute version showed us just how nostalgic we were for the Red era. It also proved that when Swift is given more creative freedom, she can accomplish incredible things.
"All Too Well (10 Minute Version)" set a plethora of records this year, but perhaps the most impressive record it broke was becoming the longest (in minutes) #1 song to chart on the Billboard Hot 100. It de-throned Don McLean's classic hit "American Pie," which held the title for almost 50 years.
Red (Taylor's Version) is amazing on its own, but the 10 minute version of "All Too Well" helps to set it apart as one of Taylor's best projects. Anyone else still crying over the short film? We are.
4. "Happier Than Ever" - Billie Eilish
Talented artists like Billie Eilish only come once in a generation. We believe "Happier Than Ever" is to Eilish what "Bohemian Rhapsody" is to Queen. Sure, maybe the former song isn't as rock-heavy or revolutionary as the latter, but it is similarly emotional, retrospective, vocally impressive, and a song we think will be hailed as a "classic" in years to come.
The song itself alludes to Eilish's former flame, LA rapper Brandon Adams. Eilish’s 2021 documentary, The World’s a Little Blurry, showcased the ugly side of their relationship. If you've seen that film, you know how cathartic it must be for Billie to wail her heart out on this track. We hope this song's success and acclaim is making her happier than ever.
3. "good 4 u" - Olivia Rodrigo
All hail the new teen princess of pop: Olivia Rodrigo! "good 4 u" played everywhere this year. It played on TikTok videos and other social media platforms, on almost every radio station, and of course, over and over again inside our heads. It's just so catchy!
2021 was a huge year for Rodrigo. Sour songs like "deja vu," "driver's license," and "brutal" got her attention, but it's "good 4 u" which christened her as a household name. The angsty song debuted at #1 on the Hot 100 during the week ending May 29, 2021. Rodrigo became the first artist in history to have two #1 debuting songs from a debut album.
Besides being another tongue-in-cheek song on Sour which addresses Olivia's ex, "good 4 u" has been hailed by music theory nerds as a smart throwback to early 2000s' pop-punk jams. Rodrigo is often compared to Avril Lavigne on the track, and the interpolation of Paramore's "Misery Business" into the melody couldn't be cooler.
2. "MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)" - Lil Nas X
Creating a follow-up to "Old Town Road" may seem like an impossible feat, but somehow, Lil Nas X did the damn thing. "MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)" is the steamy first single released for the artist's debut studio album. And yes, Montero is actually Lil Nas X's real name.
"MONTERO" had a lot of reasons for getting peoples' attention: from being Lil Nas X's first time openly coming out as gay - thus doing so much good for the queer community - to causing controversy among religious and conservative groups because of Nas's sexy trip to hell in the music video. However, the unforgettable visuals only helped boost the song's popularity.
Putting the shock value of "MONTERO" aside, this song has other reasons for being hailed as a modern classic. The electropop trap mixed with gentle guitar strums, handclaps, flamenco tones, and psychedelic vocal transitions is musical experimentation at its finest. Just like in the CGI music video, the sounds of "MONTERO" will take you to another world.
1. "Butter" - BTS
If the Beatles brought the "British Invasion" to the U.S. in the 60s, BTS is bringing the Korean Wave in the 2020s. The beloved K-pop group has had no shortage of recent hits, but their second English-language dance track broke so many records, it's hard to keep track.
"Butter" became the group's 3rd bop to debut at #1 on the Hot 100, and their 4th track to hit #1 on the Hot 100. Before Adele's "Easy On Me" was released, it also held the record for the most-streamed song in 24 hours. We've heard "Butter" everywhere this year: from radio plays to phone commercials to TikTok dance trends. Yet somehow, it's never gotten stale.
What makes "Butter" so tasty is its sweet and playful vibe, witty lyrics, and ability to show off each group member's unique personality. Because of that, it easily became a smooth summer anthem. And who can forget that amazing debut performance of the song during the Billboard Music Awards? No wonder BTS has an army of fans: their stage presence is incredible.
2021 may have been another challenging year for all of us, but "Butter" gave us a reason to smile, dance, and sing for a change.
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Article Image: Olivia Rodrigo at the Variety 2021 Music Hitmakers Brunch, Lil Nas X at the 10th Annual LACMA ART+FILM GALA, Billie Eilish at the 10th Annual LACMA ART+FILM GALA. (Jean_Nelson, PopularImages, and PopularImages via DepositPhotos.)