The best songs of 2021

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Clockwise from left: MUNA (Screenshot: YouTube), Baby Keem (Photo: Derek White/WireImage/Getty), Keshi (Screenshot: YouTube), Megan Thee Stallion (Screenshot: YouTube)

Clockwise from left: MUNA (Screenshot: YouTube), Baby Keem (Photo: Derek White/WireImage/Getty), Keshi (Screenshot: YouTube), Megan Thee Stallion (Screenshot: YouTube)
Graphic: Natalie Peeples

Songs are miraculous things. These little slices of music, usually just a few minutes long, can completely overtake us—changing our mood, realigning our outlook, or even triggering some emotional catharsis we didn’t even know we needed. Okay, most of them do no such thing, it’s true—but that’s why the ones that do achieve such potent results are all the more affecting.

2021 found our tastes in individual songs all over the map, possibly in order to better mirror our tempestuous relationship with the outside world, which goes from enticing to frightening so abruptly these days that we occasionally check to see if we have bungee cords attached to our bodies. A few caveats: Any artists that already made our Best Albums Of 2021 list were disqualified from inclusion here, in order to showcase the breadth and scope of musicians making such fantastic music this past year. (Sorry, mini masterpieces like Low’s “Days Like These” and Indigo De Souza’s “Kill Me.”)

Also, there was no double dipping: No one appears on this list twice, even if—like The Foxies or Megan Thee Stallion—there was good reason to nominate them for more than one track. There’s plenty of excellence to go around, and a few deserving names wouldn’t have appeared had we simply gone with the songs everyone already knows and loves. Hopefully, this is a chance for you to discover a track that escaped your attention over the past year; if nothing else, consider it an opportunity to hear some high points in genres you may normally avoid. Yes, that includes death metal. That shit thumps.

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