Last year when writing these year-end lists, I kept commenting on how the music world started real slow, and how it picked up steam as the year progressed. 2021 started a lot hotter and faster, with so much good music coming out in the first months of this last trip around the sun. So much great music came out right when the year got started, and it consistently poured out throughout the first half of 2021. This was another year where so much great music came from so many different genres. It is so cool to be able to listen to so many quality songs that are so different from each other as a year progresses. Before I start, I would like to note that there is no ranking order for this list. The songs are just in order of when I got into them. With that being said, here is a list of some of my favorite songs from the first half of 2021. I will post a Spotify playlist below with all songs mentioned in this write-up so there is an easy place to listen to them all. Please comment below if you enjoy this list, and also comment on what great songs came out before July in 2021 that I didn’t write about.
drivers license – Olivia Rodrigo
To start this list, I have to talk about what was arguably the biggest song of 2021 as a whole. Seemingly coming out of nowhere, Olivia Rodrigo catapulted to the top of the charts and soared into complete superstardom at the beginning of 2021. She was already known by younger people as being a star of the High School Musical tv show, but no one could have predicted how big her music would get in such a short amount of time. Her meteoric rise is comparable to Justin Bieber, who also became known worldwide overnight before turning 18. ‘drivers license’ is so popular for many reasons, though. It’s an off-kilter Pop song with a unique sound and a beautiful sense of vulnerability. Olivia Rodrigo is able to get the listener to feel so much emotion when listening to her lyrics. She has that rare ability to truly get the listen to feel how she feels and empathize deeply with her sorrow on this track. ‘drivers license’ is a truly incredible debut single, and it deserved all the hype it got.
Crash and Burn – Maggie Lindemann
Maggie Lindemann is an artist who has been on my radar for a long time. She has always had awesome talent; it has been fun and interesting to watch her grow and come into her own as an artist. She started out making angsty Electro-Pop and has now slowly transformed into a Pop-Punk artist. I think she has truly hit her stride with this sound, and it is easy to hear her song ‘Crash and Burn’ from her EP PARANOIA. The whole project is very good and there are other songs I would recommend (like ‘Knife Under My Pillow,) for instance). On ‘Crash and Burn,’ though, I feel like Maggie shows her true potential as a Rock star. Her vocals work so well with the instrumental and her range is so great; also, her lyricism shows a vulnerability that makes me her music so relatable to listeners. ‘Crash and Burn’ is a great Pop-Punk track, and I hope Maggie continues down that path with her music in the future.
What’s Next – Drake
It isn’t possible to get through a year without at least one Drake track(if not more… foreshadowing) on the best music of the year list. He has become so prolific in his output at this point and has mastered his craft so well that every year he’s going to have at least one hit if not more. His hit from the first half of 2021 was ‘What’s Next.’ This song has a synth-heavy instrumental with a video game quality that almost brings it back to mid-2010s Trap music by Lil Uzi Vert or Playboi Carti. Drake murders this beat with a variety of killer flows that go so well with the instrumental and engage the listener so well. There is not much more to say about this track other than it’s a total banger and that it is an example of Drake at the top of his game.
Anyone – Justin Bieber
I feel like a lot of people would pick ‘Peaches’ or ‘Ghost’ as their favorite songs from Justin Bieber’s 2021 album Justice, but I personally really enjoyed ‘Anyone.’ So much about what makes Justin Bieber great is highlighted in this song For one, the lyricism in this track is excellent. It does an excellent job of showing the level of love he has for his wife; the lyrics on ‘Anyone’ capture the emotions Justin feels when he is with her so well. Another thing I love is Justin Bieber’s vocals on this track. He pushes himself in the best way on ‘Anyone,’ and flexes a part of his range we do not get to always hear. ‘Anyone’ has a bit of a grandiose love ballad tone; the instrumental goes well with the feeling you the lyrics. I think this will be an iconic Wedding song for so many people in the younger generations. ‘Anyone’ is this song I think I will remember the most from Justice, and I think it will be very popular for such a long time in all types of settings where love is in the air.
Up – Cardi B
Cardi B is one of those artists that has been very polarizing to the general public since her career started on social media back in the day. She is the kind of person people love to love and people love to hate; she has such an eccentric and over the top persona, and if it rubs you the right way you love her, and vice versa, Regardless of how you feel about her personality, it can’t be denied that Card B puts out bangers. ‘Up’ is yet another great example of this. It has a brash modern Trap beat that is reminiscent of her original bit ‘Bodak Yellow.’ As expected, Cardi B bodies this instrumental. She has so many catchy flows on this song that will get stuck in anyone’s head. It’s a club banger that is sure to get the crowd pumped up at any point. It does what every great Cardi B song does; bring the energy level to a maximum for anyone listening.
Last Day On Earth – Beabadoobee
If you have been following this blog for a while(or if you just know me), you should know about my love for Beabadoobee. I am constantly telling people to look them up because I think they are just awesome. Their EP from 2021, Our Extended Play, is one of my favorite projects of the year; my only “issue” with it is that it’s not long enough(not enough songs) to include on my year-end list for albums and mixtapes. ‘Last Day On Earth’ was the lead single from that EP. This song shows off so much of why I love Beabadoobee. The instrumental has a sound that combines 90s Slacker Rock, very distorted old-school Alternative, and modern indie Rock. It is so cool how Beabadoobee can somehow sit directly in between so many music styles; they draw in different kinds of music listeners by toeing this line so well. Like so many Beabadoobee songs, ‘Last Day On Earth’ is incredibly catchy. It is the kind of track that will be stuck in your head for hours when you hear it; you will notice yourself humming along to it randomly while doing mundane tasks. ‘Last Day On Earth’ does a great job showing off why Beabadoobee is so great, and I personally can’t wait to hear their next record.
Montero(Call Me By Your Name) – Lil Nas X
I obviously can’t do year-end lists for 2021 and not mention Lil Nas X. He arguably had a bigger year than anyone in music or Pop Culture in general. He has become one of the best and most polarizing artists around this year. His song ‘Montero(Call Me By Your Name)’ took the world by storm when it came out due to its erotic and controversial(to some) music video and its advertising roll-out, which featured shoes for sale which supposedly had his blood in them. But the actual song ‘Montero(Call Me By Your Name)’ is a bop. It is an extremely catchy Pop song with a super catchy guitar riff and chorus that is an earworm. I love the sort of Latin Rock tone the instrumental has. Lil Nas X kills it with his vocals on this one shows how versatile he can be as an artist.
Kiss Me More – Doja Cat feat. SZA
Doja Cat has been on a hell of a roll since going viral a couple of years ago and taking the music world by storm. It seems like for about two years straight now she has been at the top of the charts at all times, whether that is through features or music of her own. ‘Kiss Me More’ was the lead single from her 2021 album Planet Her. This track is a smash hit that was one of the most popular songs from 2021. It shows off a softer more Pop side to her. The instrumental has a funky and summery upbeat sound that makes anyone want to dance, and her sultry vocals make the song such an earworm. As per usual, SZA kills it with her feature on this track. She is so great at going on other artists’ songs and accentuating their sound while still showing off why she is so great herself. ‘Kiss Me More’ will be remembered as one of the biggest songs from 2021 because it just has such iconic energy to it.
Bankroll – Brockhampton featuring A$AP Ferg and A$AP Rocky
After taking 2020 off, everyone’s favorite Hip hop boyband was back at it again at the start of 2021. They released an album, Roadrunner, in April, to critical acclaim. ‘Bankroll’ is my favorite track from this record. A lot of Roadrunner had an energy that was reminiscent of Brockhampton’s epic Saturation trilogy(specifically Saturation II). It has a beat that mixes old-school 90s Boom-Bap with new Hardcore Trap, and the delivery of every Brockhampton member on this track keeps up with its spirit so well. I also really love the features on this track. Both Rocky and Ferg come on with their typical chaotic liveliness, and it matches with the sound of the song so well.
Rapstar – Polo G
Polo G has had one of the biggest rises over the last couple of years out of all the riding superstars in Hip Hop. With 3 top ten studio albums(including his latest, Hall of Fame, reaching number 1) to his name before the age of 22, Polo G is as big as anyone in the Rap scene right now. He is very good at telling stories about his life and making himself feel relatable to listeners even though he had had it as tough as anyone; he also is very honest and vulnerable in his music, which listeners appreciate. His melodic sound soothing vocals also pull in a large audience because it makes his tough lyricism palatable. All of these qualities are very present in his number one single from 2022, ‘Rapstar.’ On this track, Polo G sings about the struggles he has gone through and how money has not exactly helped him feel better all of the time. This song has a smooth and pretty melody, and Polo G’s vocals glide over this melody so nicely, and it brings out the best in him. ‘Rapstar’ is an example of Polo G at his best.
Ski- Young Thug and Gunna
Young Thug has been one of the most enigmatic and innovative artists in Trap music since he bursts onto the Trap music scene several years ago. He is always trying to push the envelope and come up with even more unique sounds. Gunna has been one of his main protégé’s the last couple of years; he has a more subdued sound than Young Thug, but he still always follows whatever general sound or style Young Thug is currently into. ‘Ski’ is a fun and exciting track from this duo that comes from their music label’s collaborative mixtape from early 2021. ‘Ski’ is not the craziest or most inventive song from Young Thug; it has a more light-hearted and fun sound with a bright and colorful synth-driven melody which provides a nice palette for Young Thug and Gunna to flex their vocals a bit. The performances from Young Thug and Gunna are exciting, and they make ‘Ski’ a fun and memorable song that is perfect for fans of this kind of Melodic Trap music.
Don’t Wanna Be Invited – Maya B
If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, Maya B is another name you should recognize. I have written about her quite a few times over the last couple of years, as she is one of the most eclectic and exciting rising R&B stars. Her versatility is awesome, as she can go with a more typical Trap R&B sound as well as neo-R&B sounds influenced by Electro-Pop, Alternative music, and Atmospheric Hip Hop. In other words, Maya B has something for everyone. ‘Don’t Wanna Be Invited’ kind of combines two of those sounds I just mentioned. It does have a Synth Pop tone, but also has a very Cloudy and Atmospheric Hip Hop quality as well. Maya B’s vocals on this track are excellent. It is a song where she shows off her range in a great way. ‘Don’t Wanna Be Invited’ is a super enjoyable track that shows off so much of what makes Maya B a great artist as a whole.
Seeing Green – Nicki Minaj featuring Lil Wayne and Drake
Unfortunately for her army of “Barbs” online(this is her fandom’s nickname), in 2021, Nicki Minaj did not release any new projects. She did, however, put her classic 2009 mixtape Beam Me Up Scotty onto streaming platforms, as it had just been on free mixtape sites like DatPiff and Soundcloud before this. In celebration of this re-release, Nicki added three new songs to the mixtape, including ‘Seeing Green,’ This track is most definitely for her older fans; everything about the sound of this track is so nostalgic. It has late 2008s Bling Rap sort of instrumental that reminds me so much of the music that Nicki, Drake, and Lil Wayne were releasing when this mixtape came out. And as expected, all three of these artists absolutely murdered this instrumental. All three verses sound like the way these three legendary rappers did in their prime. Lil Wayne especially stands out on ‘Seeing Green.’ It is like he was transported back to 2007 again on this record. If you need a new example of why Lil Wayne is one of the greatest ever, listen to ‘Seeing Green.’
good 4 u – Olivia Rodrigo
There is no way I could make a list of the best songs from 2021 and not include ‘good 4 u.’ Honestly, I personally think this could be the best song of the year. It is no doubt in the top three. This song is a smash hit that blends some of the best sounds from the late 2000s and early 2010s in a way that feels perfect for 2021. The sound of ‘good 4 u’ is influenced by Punk Rock band Paramore and Pop superstar Taylor Swift; it takes some of the best elements from both of these artists and blends them in a way that is just perfect. The chorus of the song reminds a lot of people of Paramore’s hit ‘Misery Business,’ which makes it such an earworm because it is so catchy and so nostalgic. The song captures the angst, anger, and pain of a 17-year-old who got her heartbroken, which is so relatable for literally anyone her age and older. ‘good 4 u’ is a near-perfect Pop song, and it will be one of the songs most remembered from 2021 for many years to come.
Todo De Ti – Rauw Alexander
One thing I really love is when songs randomly go viral online(mainly on Tik Tok) and blast a great artist that was being overlooked into stardom. This is what happened for Rauw Alexander with the release of his smash hit ‘Todo De Ti.’ This is the kind of song that will get stuck in your head as soon as you hear it. It has such a bright and smooth melody and tempo that will make anyone want to start moving their feet and hips immediately. ‘Todo De Ti’ has a sound that feels like it is as equally influenced by 80s New Wave music as it is by late 1990s Boy Band Pop music. I feel like I could hear this instrumental coming out of either of these eras, which is weird because these two eras are typically never compared. It is a song where the way the lyrics are written is easy enough to follow along or even sing along to even if you do not speak Spanish. ‘Todo De Ti’ is a very catchy and fun song, and I hope it turns Rauw Alexander into a megastar in the music industry for years to come.
Yonaguni – Bad Bunny
It seems like at this point we can not go through a full calendar year without Bad Bunny releasing music that turns out to be some of the best of that year. Since he broke into the music scene a few years ago, he had been a force. He released two critically acclaimed albums in 2020, with the second one, El Último Tour Del Mundo, becoming the first all Spanish album in history to go number one on the Billboard Hot 100. He did not release any projects in 2021, but he has been active, contributing features to a few songs and releasing his single in June. This track has a tropical Reggaeton sound to it. The melody is one that will take you away and make you think about being on a beach on an island somewhere. The tempo is one that is perfect to dance to, yet also feels right in a calm setting. Bad Bunny’s vocals are so sweet as well. His singing on this song goes matches up with the melody in a great way, and it just feels so blissful. ‘Yonaguni’ is yet another example of how excellent Bad Bunny is at what he did.
Straightenin – Migos
Migos has become one of the most important and influential artists in Trap music. They have laid the blueprint for how to make Trap music that so many artists copy to this day. From their hard-hitting yet intricate instrumentals to their iconic staccato and choppy rap flows, they have shown the world exactly how to make successful Trap music. They originally got big off of the success of multiple mixtapes, and have seen a ton of success with their albums Culture and Culture II. They have seen so much success, in fact, that all three members of the group, Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff, have ventured off into a lot of solo work lately. After taking a 3-year hiatus, Migos came back together with the release of their third album Culture III. ‘Straightenin’ is the first single that was released in anticipation of Culture III. This song is a fast-paced Trap banger that gets the club going whenever it comes on. All three members of Migos showcase what makes them great as rappers on this track. I especially love Takeoff’s verse on this track. His flow is just so addicting and he goes so hard, and it just shows what makes him so great as a rapper. ‘Straightenin’ is an excellent re-introduction as a group for Migos back into the world of Trap music, and it proves why they are considered so highly within the genre
Headshots(4r Da Locals) – Isaiah Rashad
At this point, if you are a part of the Hip Hop collective TDE, you are known for being one of the most talented artists in the genre. From SZA to Schoolboy Q to the King Kendrick Lamar, all of the artists in TDE are thought of as top tier. I feel like Isaiah Rashad is thought of as a bit of a black horse, though. His 2016 album, The Sun’s Tirade, received critical acclaim upon its release, and most Hip Hop heads thought he was well onto his way to being one of the top artists in the genre. Unfortunately, though, due to lack of motivation and substance abuse issues, it took five years for him to complete his second album. Fortunately, his second album, The House Is Burning, was great as well, and he was able to show that he is still extraordinarily talented. ‘Headshots(4r Da Locals),’ was the second single released in anticipation of this record, and it is so good that many consider it to be the best song on the album as a whole. This song has a super smooth classic West Coast feeling to the instrumental. It is definitely influenced by classic artists like Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, and Kurupt. Isaiah Rashad’s low-key delivery and subdued flow goes so perfectly with the instrumental for this track. I do not think that his vocals could have been performed better for how this instrumental sounds. ‘Headshots(4r Da Locals)’ is an example of Isaiah Rashad at his best, and it is one of the top songs on his very good 2021 record.
Leave The Door Open – Silk Sonic
Similar to Olivia Rodrigo’s songs drivers license and good 4 u, 2021 is going to remember for music by the artist Silk Sonic. ‘Leave The Door Open’ is a song that will be popular for years and years after 2021. Silk Sonic is the collaboration of Bruno Mars and Anderson.Paak. I do not think that anyone could have predicted that these two artists come together, but it has been about as perfect of a link as possible. They are both incredibly talented vocalists and instrumentalists, and they both have a goofy style of energy that goes so well with each other. ‘Leave The Door Open’ is a song that showcases how great these two are together. This track is a slow and smooth R&B/Soul joint that is very reminiscent of artists like Marvin Gaye and Al Green. On this song, Anderson.Paak plays the drums and Bruno Mars plays the piano while switching off singing. It is pretty awesome how great their chemistry is while singing at the same time. It feels like their voices work so great with each other. ‘Leave The Door Open’ is easily one of the top songs of 2021, that is for certain.
Build a Bitch – Bella Poarch
I usually try my best to give everyone a fair chance, but I have to admit even I was a little skeptical going into checking out Bella Poarch as a musician. The track record of a lot of these Tik Tok-turned-Pop Stars has not been good at all(cough, cough, Addison Rae), so I just did not know what to think about Bella Poarch making music. With that being said, I am pleasantly surprised with how great her debut single ‘Build a Bitch’ is. It has a bit of an avant-garde and Dark Chamber Pop sound. This sound not only goes super well with her style and image, but it also goes super well with her voice. She a high-pitched and haunting voice that has so sweet yet so eerie sounding. ‘Build a Bitch’ is a very fun and catchy Pop track that is a definite earworm and it proves that she has a ton of talent. It makes me very excited about what she does in the future as far as music goes.
Butter – BTS
Last year, I finally ventured into the world of BTS because I wanted to know why they are so beloved. When someone is as popular as BTS, something has got to give; there has to be a lot about an artist that is exceptional for them to be as popular as BTS. While I was on my journey of learning about how talented BTS is, they released their debut all-English single, ‘Dynamite.’ It ended up being one of my favorite songs from 2020. It is so funky and fresh and catchy, and I totally understand why it is such a big hit. In May of 2021, they released another all-English single, ‘Butter.’ I have to say, I like this song more than ‘Dynamite,’ which is saying a lot. This song also has a funky feeling to the instrumental, but it feels even brighter and more fresh than ‘Dynamite.’ In some ways, ‘Dynamite’ almost feels more family-friendly, and ‘Butter’ feels more mature. It isn’t just the lyrics that make me feel that way; ‘Butter’ just feels like a bit more of a club song. It is the type of song that will get anyone wanting to dance when it comes on. ‘Butter’ is an excellent song, and I honestly feel like it is on the level of ‘Leave the Door Open’ and ‘good 4 u’ as the absolute best songs on this list.