Now, I bet you’re asking two really big questions:
- Arpydarpy, where are the b-sides and worst lists!?? We’re already near the end of February?
- An English list? Wtf?
And well, my answer to the first question is pretty simple:
- They’re coming soon. Been pretty uninspired by majority of this years releases so far so that’s also why not many reviews are coming atm.
The answer to the second question is a bit more complicated.
So around halfway through 2021, I started to listen to a lot more English music than I had in any year since 2015. And because of that, I became pretty fond of quite a lot of tracks that I otherwise would not have found otherwise. So because of this, I found myself replaying and enjoying some of the tracks listed below more than songs that topped both my K-pop and J-pop lists. So I thought, eh, why not just make a list of some of my favourites. And while many such lists have likely been made by much bigger pop focused websites and corporations, I feel like my one will be slightly different.
And yeah there are some expected and critically acclaimed tracks that almost everyone on the planet knows about but they’re only here because I genuinely enjoyed them. Not because of their popularity. Just like my K-pop lists. So before we get on with it, lets lay some rules of what can be included within the list.
- Song must be performed in English by a western artist
- Must be released or heavily promoted between 1st Jan 2021 – 31st Dec Jan 2021
Great Songs That Missed Out Because They Actually Came Out in mid-late 2020
iamnotshane – I’m Leaving, Sorry For Your Loss / What a perfect day for crying
Shawn Mendes – Teach Me How To Love
Isaac Dunbar – love, or the lack thereof / scorton’s creek / isaac’s insects / makeup drawer
Rory Webley – Something Super Sweet
Lil Nas X – Sun Comes Down
Coldplay & BTS – My Universe
Zara Larsson – Look What You’ve Done
Olivia Rodrigo – deja vu / drivers license
Chelsea Collins – “Open Your Mouth
Silk Sonic – Leave the Door Open / Skate
30. Why Don’t We – Love Back
Reigniting the kind of momentous synth assisted pop rock popularised in the early 2010’s, Why Don’t We struck gold with the anthemic Love Back. That rousing chorus is everything, topped only by an always great ‘nanana’ post chorus.
29. Charli XCX – Good Ones
A 2011 Lady Gaga song reinvented for modern day audiences, Good Ones rides uses its stunning production to create one of the years most striking tracks. If anything, it’s just too short!
28. Lil Nas X – That’s What I Want
2021 was Lil Nas X’s year and the catchy, guitar driven That’s What I Want alongside its great music video, was the perfect single to herald in the release of his debut full length album. It’s a little too straightforward to compete with his absolute best work but boy is it catchy.
27. Ed Sheeran – Shivers
Ditching the boring, mopey, by the numbers soundscape that he been following since his breakout, Ed Sheeran graced us with some pretty great singles throughout 2021. Shivers was the strongest, anchored by an instantly memorable chorus and very catchy instrumental.
26. Camilla Cabello – Don’t Go Yet
Camilla Cabello brought the party with wonderfully buoyant Don’t Go Yet. This is exactly how you do a latin inspired dance track and not make it boring.
25. KSI x Lil Wayne – Lose
I didn’t think I’d ever unironically like a KSI or modern Lil Wayne song (Mirror is still a masterpiece) but Lose was genuinely great, bringing a newfound emotive pop rock edge to KSI’s sound that allowed for one of the years most expansive and emotionally resonant choruses.
24 . blackbear – u love u (with Tate McRae)
A synth assisted mid-tempo anchored by the strength of its incredibly potent chorus, u love u came out of nowhere and instantly found a home in my playlist thanks to constantly evolving structure, gorgeous vocal performance and the aforementioned chorus
23. Conan Gray – Astronomy
A comfort song for the ages, Astronomy stripped everything back for a track that shone full light on Conan’s gorgeous vocals. It’s the the perfect late night soundtrack, growing from a hush to a breathtaking climax.
22. Lil Nas X – Montero (Call Me By Your Name)
Anchored by that utterly enthralling guitar loop, Montero is one those tracks that grabs ahold of you on first listen and refuses to let go. It’s the definition of an earworm and only got better the more controversial it got.
21. Rat City – Rather Be
Rather Be pulses forward on an immensely satisfying house inspired beat that doesn’t hold back in the slightest. I caught onto this track pretty late but once I heard that chorus, I was completely sold.
20. Doja Cat & SZA – Kiss Me More
Chock a block full of charisma and wonderfully catchy, Kiss Me More used its simple production and initially unassuming mid tempo bounce to its advantage, crafting a track that just got better and better every listen. What a damn groove.
19. NEIKED x Mee Muller x Polo G – Better Days
Using Clairo’s great Sofia as a sample to bounce off, Better Days brings together a trio of performers to create a track that feels destined to rule the upcoming summer. From Muller’s breathy performance to that pulsing percussion and finally Polo G’s standout rap break, every single moment of Better Days illicit’s a sense of pure joy.
18. The Weeknd – Moth To A Flame (with Swedish House Mafia)
Don’t You Worry Child was one of my formative musical experiences and because of that, Swedish House Mafia will always have a special place in my heart. And when Moth To A Flame dropped, it was exactly what I had hoped for, acting as a perfect extension of The Weeknd’s throwback sound and SHM’s club ready bounce. That extended instrumental break at the tracks climax steals the show.
17. Isaac Dunbar – fan behavior
Isaac Dunbar was best discovery of the year and the bouncy, cool fan behavior is one of his strongest efforts, tying together a sticky bass loop and airy hook to create a real moment. It sounds yards away from his previous work but at the same time also distinctly Isaac.
16. Willow x Travis Barker – t r an s p a r e n t s o u l
Pop punk had a real re-emergence in 2021 and Willow’s t r an s p a r e n t s o u l was one of the best examples of the sound. It’s a perfect combination of old and new, housing an incredibly nostalgic instrumental yet wholly modern melody.
15. Imagine Dragons x J.I.D – Enemy (from the series Arcane League of Legends)
As the soundtrack to not only the greatest video game inspired show but one of the greatest shows of all time, I was eventually going to fall under Enemy’s charms. And though it didn’t initially do much for me much, it taken alongside the show result in what is easily Imagine Dragons greatest track in years. The jerky production transitions perfectly into J.I.D’s show stopping bridge and equally potent climax.
*Also watch ARCANE, 100% recommended. Just don’t think playing League after that is a good idea*
14. bbno$ x Rich Brian – edamame
Perched upon an invigorating.percolating beat, edamame may be dumb, freewheeling hip hop but it’s my kind of dumb, freewheeling hip hop. Trumpet accents and all. It’s just a great time from start to finish but never forgets the strength of a great arrangement, moving from one killer verse to the next with absolute ease.
13. Conan Gray – Overdrive
Emotive synthpop is one of my favourite genres and Conan Gray is one of my favourite artists. There was never going to be a world where I wasn’t going to love this.
12. Olivia Rodrigo – good 4 u
Olivia Rodrigo ruled the world for the better half of 2021 and though I didn’t get the Drivers License craze at the time, Good 4 u‘s attitude infused blast of Paramore inspired pop rock had me under its spell the moment I heard it. Easily my favourite off ‘SOUR’.
11. Isaac Dunbar – Celebrate
Another propulsive pop rock track but one that brought a more uplifting message, Celebrate’s unyielding production is countered by a surprisingly emotional and uplifting melody that perfectly captures the essence of its lyrics to craft an absolute knockout of a track. This really should have gotten a music video.
10. Robin Packalen Hard To Love (ft. Alex Mattson)
A massive sounding dance track that ushered in a new era for the former Swedish boy wonder, Hard To Love is everything I look for in a dance track and more, elevated by a soaring finale and gorgeous climactic disco strings that are just the cherry on top.
10 (TIED). Silk Sonic – Smokin Out The Window
A gorgeous jazzy lounge track that saw Silk Sonic at the peak of their powers, Smokin Out The Window became an instant hit thanks to its incredibly quotable wordplay and beautiful melody. It’s the perfect throwback.
9. Charli XCX – New Shapes (ft. Christine and the Queens & Caroline Polachek)
Sometimes simplicity overcomes all and New Shapes‘ oft repeated hook is an absolute winner. Assisted by an instantly captivating snare and abrasive synth heavy instrumental, the arrangement allows for plenty of breathing room to make New Shapes feel like the kind of show stopping musical moment that a collaboration of this magnitude should be. The charisma is literally dripping off the speakers.
8. Lil Nas X – Industry Baby (ft. Jack Harlow)
From its scandalous music video to its larger than life production, Industry Baby is MOMENT, bringing everything great about Lil Nas X and his music into one immense hit. The trumpeting brass loop is a genius addition and gives the track a sense of grandiosity that both performers play off in expert fashion to create one of 2021’s most iconic moments.
7. Dua Lipa – Love Again
Though initially released as part of 2020’s genre defining ‘Future Nostalgia’, Love Again got the full promotional treatment in 2021 and cemented Dua as one of modern pop’s biggest superstars. That Your Woman sample is everything.
6. Conan Gray – People Watching
Conan is an artist that excels at both uptempo dance tracks as well as softer, more emotional material. People Watching fit under the latter, acting as the strongest mid-tempo he’s released yet thanks its soaring, immensely cathartic chorus and beautiful lyricism.
5. The Weeknd – Take My Breath
The Weeknd has exploded in popularity since his adaption of synth heavy sounds and Take My Breath took everything great about his past singles and distilled it into one knockout track. From its sinister Halloween inspired bridge to that incredibly gripping percolating synth, there’s just so much to love here.
4. Robin Packalen – Sucker For That Love (feat. SAAY)
Robin and SAAY get lost in the groove during this killer dance track that perfectly exemplifies the snowball effect into a taught 3 minute all killer no filler affair. Those crunchy synths are absolutely killer.
3. Andrew Garfield – 30/90 (feat. Vanessa Hudgens & Joshua Henry)
Andrew Garfield had one of his biggest and best years, perfectly playing the roles of troubled playwright Jonathan Larsson, the werewolf and most importantly, Peter Parker aka Spiderman. And if his film discography wasn’t impressive enough, he added this absolute jam to his musical repertoire. 30/90 brings out everything great about musical soundtracks to create an absolutely euphoric musical moment. The fact that this man only learnt how to sing for a few months before this is just incredible.
2. Conan Gray – Telepath
Conan Gray, as evidenced by his many appearances on this list already, had a pretty fruitful 2021. And though I do really love each of his other songs on the list, he saved his very best for last with the 80’s infused banger, Telepath. From its consistent synthy pulse to that expansive chorus, Telepath is a piece of pop perfection and sits right next to Maniac as Conan’s strongest and most assured work yet. This would have kicked so much more ass with a retro style music video however.
1. The Kid Laroi x Justin Bieber – Stay
Arguably 2021’s defining musical moment alongside good 4 u and Industry Baby, Stay brought together two performers who I had rarely enjoyed previously to craft one of the catchiest and most memorable musical moments in recent memory. Stay at its core is disarmingly simple laying its bets on an oft repeated synth arpeggio and pulsing chorus that may initially feel like a shoulder shrug. But sometimes, all you need is a knockout melody and arrangement to create somthing special. And when all of Stay‘s elements come together, it creates the earworm to end all earworms.
0. Isaac Dunbar – comme des garçons
AKA My Favourite English Song I heard all year.
Though Isaac Dunbar’s emotive synth laden masterpiece may be ineligible for this years official list since it was released in early 2020, my 2021 would not be complete without mentioning this song. I initially discovered Isaac in early August through his fantastic mid tempo Love or the lack thereof (a song that also just missed out because of its November 2020 release date) and quickly fell down the rabbit hole. And that’s when the instantly mesmerising ascending synth line that opens the track hit me, instantly pulling me into a single that takes the best elements of all of his past efforts and mixes them into one of the most satisfying listening experiences ever.
It’s got everything I love in pop music. An engaging, synth driven backbone? Check. A soaring, melodic chorus? Check! Infinitely repeplayable? Check! A snowball effect? Double Check!!
I know I’m hyping the shit out of this song but just do yourself a favour and go have a listen. You may not love it as much as I do but if we share similar music tastes, I have no doubt that you’ll come away from this track pretty happy.