The Top Ten Best Songs of 2021 (So Far)
#10. “ACTION” — CHAI
Photo Credit: Yoshio Nakaiso
“ACTION” finds CHAI rejecting all the weight of self-seriousness (not that the band had much of that to begin with). Black Lives Matter protests inspired the Japanese quartet to think about what a call to action would look like to them, from the outside inward. The resulting sugar rush is direct without sacrificing fun, managing to lurch forward and glide simultaneously, thanks to the slick house pop production. Best of all is the addictive call-and-response chorus that brings everyone into the party.
#9. “jealousy, jealousy” — Olivia Rodrigo
Photo Credit: Geffen Records
Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album escaped the attention of precisely no one, evoking emotion from peers and older listeners alike while dominating the charts. Part of the album’s success stems from Rodrigo’s visceral lyrics that capture the specific mania of being a teenage girl that has to deal with teenage boys. Jam City helms “jealousy, jealousy” with the same uncomfortable tension that drove his collaborations with Kelela and Troye Sivan, but with a lot more Nirvana-inspired apathy and angst.
#8. “Rollin Stone” — Little Simz
Photo Credit: Jen Ewbank
Released as a promotional single for her forthcoming album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (out September 3rd via her label Age 101), “Rollin Stone” flips the script early on. Inviting strings crash into a classic, stuttering Simz beat that she skips over like hopscotch. “I can’t vouch for a man that ain’t got a talent and business combo,” she threatens as unworthy vultures flock around her, eager to grab at her success. Then, nearly halfway through, the beat flips to a skeletal trap signature that hits deliciously hard.
#7. “Down” — St. Vincent
Photo Credit: Zackery Michael
Daddy’s Home, Annie Clark’s sixth studio record as St. Vincent, draws influence from prog rock that Clark grew up on with her dad. Thematically, the record reckons with his release from prison on white-collar fraud charges and her self-awakening that resulted — she’s the daddy now. “Down” relies on a funky bassline before letting loose as a full-fledged brawl where Clark eviscerates someone who’s wronged her over flourishes of sitar synths and electric guitar. It’s vengeful in a thrilling, positive way.
#6. “Wildflower Wildfire” — Lana Del Rey
Photo Credit: Interscope Records
Melancholia, the Lars Von Trier epic film about the slow death of Earth, would’ve served as a phenomenal chapter title to Del Rey’s first decade in the public eye. Her tormented emotional confessions have gotten much more specific as of late, however, and the melancholic haze is lifting to reveal astute self-reflection. Hip-hop producer Mike Dean marries an electroclash waltz to a piano ballad in this riveting chronicle of her split personas: part lady of the canyon, part Heartland homemaker.
#5. “You Stupid B*tch” — girl in red
Photo Credit: Fiona Garden
“You Stupid B*tch” channels that oh-so-real feeling when you love someone but just need to shake them so hard and tell them how dumb they’re acting. Marie Ulven Ringheim wrote the song after comforting a friend through a breakup, firing off lyrics like, “Can’t you see? The perfect one for you is me.” The energy channels mid-aughts Artic Monkeys with festival-like chants, rattling bass drums, and driving guitar riffs. “You Stupid B*tch” ends more like an affectionate aside than an insult, a quick smirk with a noogie.
#4. “Thot Sh*t” — Megan Thee Stallion
Photo Credit: John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPx
Megan consistently ups her game as she senses more eyes upon her. 2020 firmly cemented her as a jewel in the crown of southern hip-hop, but even more as a capital-C Celebrity. “Thot Sh*t” grabs the magnifying glass and holds it right up to her ass, threatening a look if you dare. The track sees Meg return to her Tina Snow alter ego, a virulent lyricist who doesn’t mince words. She fills “Thot Sh*t” to the brim with effortlessly clever bars, but the hook is the icing on the cake.
#3. “Eyes Closed” — Jessie Ware
Photo Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times
Jessie Ware waited nearly a year to expand her hit record What’s Your Pleasure? into a deluxe edition, but the wait proved to be well worth it. “Eyes Closed” stands out among the new songs as something a little grimier and sexier; a churning synth fits the song right into her disco-tinged catalog, but decidedly ‘80s synth fall from the rafters in messy waves that make the party a lot more fun. Ware’s crystalline voice leads a post-chorus chant that evokes Gaga and the Eurythmics in the same breath.
#2. “Worth It” — Amber Mark
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Universal
Amber Mark spent the pandemic honing her craft, locking herself in her room and crafting unique covers and one-offs. The experimenting seems to have introduced a new looseness to her sound: “Worth It”, the first single from her upcoming studio debut LP, lends her uniquely global influence and applies it to a Sade-like groove, extending the song with a two-minute coda that steeps in self-affirmation and respect. Mark’s singular voice is a powerful beacon over the incredibly smooth music.
#1. “Pick Up Your Feelings” — Jazmine Sullivan
Photo Credit: Adedayo Kosoko
Jazmine Sullivan’s 2021 project Heaux Tales is a conversation between friends and mentors, each sharing insights on hookup highs and lows. “Pick Up Your Feelings” hits hard as an instant classic: Sullivan pulls off the bandaid in a toxic relationship, cutting this man out of her life — so she details each part of her life that he’s no longer a part of. “New phone (who is this?) / Contact? Don’t exist / Need a ride? Call that b*tch / Gas way too expensive.” Damn right.