What Were the Top Pop Songs of 2021?
Just as in 2020, a relentless radio-ready parade of pop, rap, and dance climbed the charts on a crossover mission. Whether it was trailblazing EDM from Lady Gaga or the continued upward trajectory of Taylor Swift, the highly eclectic top pop songs of 2021 carved up the genre borders with flare and gusto. In the end, we were happily treated to a wealth of wonderful tunes. Here are the 15 top pop songs of 2021.
- “We’re Good” by Dua Lipa
The soul-rich pipes of Dua Lipa are on full display with the success of “We’re Good,” the smash release from her 2021 album, Future Nostalgia. It’s not only the tropical tones throughout the disc that set it apart. There’s also the catchy lyrics: “We're not meant to be, like sleeping and cocaine.”
In a tell-all interview with Apple Music, the young diva explains that the song is about getting to that sweet spot of relief with a deteriorating relationship: “It’s like that clean break isn’t lacking, move on. We’re good. You can’t be upset if I move on. I can’t be upset if you move on. You know what I mean?” The track is definingly good enough to top this exclusive list.
- “Message in a Bottle” by Taylor Swift
Not to be confused with the Police’s 1979 smash of the same title, Taylor Swift (no way around not saying this) does it again – with pop proof she’s one of the iconic divas of the genre.
Her lyrics continue to surge deeper and more profound by the moment: 'Cause you could be the one that I love/I could be the one that you dream of/Message in a bottle is all I can do/Standin' here, hopin' it gets to you. Once again, Ms. Swift transcends the bubble gum counterparts of her generation.
- “Easy on Me” by Adele
Despite its 25.6 million streams, to some, “Easy on Me” was Adele’s return to the performance limelight. But for countless others, i.e., pop radio -- who continue to blast her previous hits around the clock –- she never really left.
With a ridiculously tight and inspired production, Adele proves that incomparable talent needs only a voice and a piano. Adding to its accolades, “Easy on Me” was – no surprise here - one of the most played songs of 2021.
As you can already sense, you’re in for a bounty of female artists who made this list. Each and every one deserves the praise they received as they continued to knock down hurdles making beautiful, female strides in the music business. According to chartdata.org, here – in order -- are the 15 most elite female performers ranked just last year:
Top Female Artists for 2021
- Taylor Swift
- Ariana Grande
- Olivia Rodrigo
- Dua Lipa
- Doja Cat
- Billie Eillish
- Lady Gaga
- Karol G
- Miley Cyrus
- Nicki Minaj
Women rule! No doubt about it. But let’s also not forget about the fellas who banged out sizzling hits as well. No gender war here. It’s all good on both sides of the chromosomes. That said, here are others who earned a spot on our list:
- “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” by Lil Nas X
The world first heard (and saw) “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” during an ad for DEFY LOGIC for Super Bowl LV in 2021. The campaign, from a tech company called Logitech, teased what would be one of Lil Nas X’s biggest hits to date.
The pop/rapper certainly had his work cut out for him to follow the triumphant 2019 rock/country/rap singalong “Old Town Road” with Billy Ray Cyrus (aka Miley’s dad), a single which became the longest-charting number-one song on the Billboard Hot 100.
- “The Motto” by Ava Max and Tiësto
Tiësto, aka Tijs Michiel Verwest OON, a Dutch DJ and music producer from Breda, was voted "the Greatest DJ of All Time" by Mix magazine in a 2010/2011 poll. So then. It was only a matter of time before he joined forces with an equally talented force in the form of pop sensation Ava Max.
The digitally tinkered production of A. Max’s voice didn’t detract from the track – it only enhanced it – making it one of the great EDM finds of 2021. Afterall, who doesn’t dig a party anthem about over-imbibing and excessive dancing?
- “Butter” by BTS
The Korean boy band known as BTS pounced on the pop charts in 2021 with their funky, feel good “Butter.” Good looking, 7-strong, and unfathomably manufactured down to the minutia of the minutia, BTS has found a plethora of adoration here in the States.
With a majority of lyrics in their native tongue, not everyone gets every song. But this one, in 100% English, became a catchy joy with danceable backbeats and hummable melodies. Final note: it’s not really be a BTS review without mentioning the hair. One word: Wow.
- “Up” by Cardi B
Pop’s jiggliest superstar took this super cool, pumped-up hip-“pop” hybrid all the way to number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 making Cardi B the only female rapper to top the charts with multiple solo singles.
Icing on the melodious cake was her 2022 Grammy nom for Best Rap Performance. Just like her predecessors; i.e, Queen Latifah and (the sorely missed) Lauryn Hill, Cardi B brought serious flavor and energy to the rap party – and that’s why she’s featured on the top pop songs of 2021.
- “Good Ones” by Charli XCX
The sultry electronic and pop queen, Charlie XCX (sounds like S.E.X.) dropped a song that can only be described as, well, sexy. Says Wikipedia, “…It’s an electropop, dance, and synth-pop song that discusses the singer's incapacity to maintain healthy relationships.”
If you think her love affairs are short, check out the length of the song: just a bit over two minutes. The companion video, influenced by Janet Jackson and Britney Spears, is also a hot commodity. Overall, “Good Ones” puts some colorful dance and vocal talent on display in this brief, yet fun and memorable song.
Top Music Videos of 2021
Speaking of music videos, since MTV stopped playing them years ago, the artform has suffered. What was once must-see 2-4-7 TV, videos are now more a commercial enterprise. Blame short attention spans for MTV’s programming realignment.
Regardless, every artist continues to attach a promotional video with any new release(s). Some are awesome; many more are downright spectacular. According to Slant Magazine, these were the very top music videos of 2021:
- Arca, “Prada/Rakata”
- Lana Del Rey, “Chemtrails Over the Country Club”
- Doja Cat, “Streets”
- Lil Nas X, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”
- Lorde, “Fallen Fruit”
- Japanese Breakfast, “Posing in Bondage”
- Megan Thee Stallion, “Thot Shit”
- Mitski, “Working for the Knife”
- Radiohead, “If You Say the Word”
- Tyler, the Creator, “Lumberjack”
Fresh off this scorching hot list of top music videos for 2021, we find Megan Thee Stallion – strange name, great artist; one of the newer superstars hovering on the charts. MTS clocks in at number 9 on our list of top pop songs of 2021.
- “Thot Shit” by Megan Thee Stallion
Megan Thee Stallion is now a full-on, blow-up sensation. “Thot Shit,” the calling card track from her Something for Three Hotties, is packed with anger and humor. The lyrics are hardly G-Rated: I walk around the house butt-naked/And I stop at every mirror just to stare at my own posterior/I don't give a fuck who talk behind my back/'Cause the bitch knew better than to let me hear her (ah).
The artist makes a point not only with her name, but with her rough lyrics as well. At the end of the day, it was a must to add her to both lists --- including our top music videos of 2021.
- “Driver’s License” by Olivia Rodrigo
Pop princess Olivia Rodrigo breaks our hearts with this powerful ballad -- an easy selection for the top pop songs of 2021. Rumors abound that it’s about her breakup with Joshua Bassett, who apparently has moved onto another youthful catch with impressive Instragram likes. The premise of the song is simple. What can be done with a “Driver’s License”? Why, stalk your ex-lover, what else?
Seriously, the lyrics are brutally honest and touching: And I know we weren't perfect/But I've never felt this way for no one, oh/And I just can't imagine how you could be so okay now that I'm gone. The song is loaded with sad images where the final curtain of a once healthy relationship is finally realized.
- “Camera Roll” by Kacey Musgraves
From her 2021 release, Star-Crossed, “Camera Roll,” is about being in a moment (not a good one, apparently) taking selfies, then wondering down the road where those feelings came from.
It's lyrically strong, as is the case with countless Musgraves offerings: Chronological order/And nothing but torture/Scroll too far back/That's what you get/I don't wanna see 'em/But I can't delete 'em. Prophetic in an age of iPhones loaded with thousands of images - not all of which are happy ones.
- “Met Him Last Night” by Demi Lovato and Ariana Grande
“Met Him Last Night,” the ninth track from Demi Lovato’s seventh studio album, Dancing With The Devil: The Art of Starting Over, provided the perfect chance to team up with Ariana Grande. Even though it’s a Demi Lovato song, it was co-written by Grande, resulting in one of the most played songs of 2021.
The smash duet was described by Billboard Magazine as "… a dark, twisted fantasy about chilling with the devil and finding out that, well, he's kind of a funny, chill dude who might be relationship material." Plenty of references to the devil, good or otherwise. But the dual vocals on this track are purely angelic.
Putting these pop Goddesses together is a no brainer success story waiting to happen. There’s nothing shocking about seeing “Met Him Last Night” rising up the charts and killing it on Spotify. However, the real fun in the music industry are the stories you don’t expect. So then, here are….
The Biggest Music Moments of 2021
Britney is Free
After an inexplicably long and torturous battle with her father, the termination of a super controversial conservatorship finally saw the light of day. The Britney-heads happily took to the streets in celebration.
The Return of ABBA
The band had a string of live dates featuring “their digital selves” as well an album of all-new material, "Voyage," their first in four decades. A household name in film and on radio, the return of the groovy foursome was a true joy for those over the age of 40.
The Beatles’ “Get Back” Documentary
Released on Disney+, "Get Back" was a huge hit at the hands of "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson. If the goal of the film was to establish a newer and younger crowd of Beatles fans, the project succeeded admirably.
Billie Eilish Sings the Theme from the Latest Bond Movie
Joining the list of legendary theme song performers such as Carly Simon, Sheena Easton, and Dusty Springfield, Billie Eilish adds her name to the enviable gig of belting out James Bond’s theme song. For this round, the tune kicked off "No Time to Die" starring Daniel Craig.
Limp Bizkit Returns to Lollapalooza
The buzzword heard all through the crowd at Lollapalooza 2021was “unexpected” when Limp Bizkit grabbed the stage. It had been a minute since Fred Durst and partners rocked this festival, or any other. Capitalizing on the momentum, the band soon dropped their sixth album, Still Sucks, their first new release in a decade.
Whittling the biggest music moments of 2021 down to a mere five events was an interesting assignment. You can imagine the scads of stories eliminated via the power of “delete.” No less of a challenge, however, was picking the best songs of the year.
That said, let’s move on with our results of the top pop songs of 2021.
- “Bite Me” by Avril Lavigne
The little girl with attitude is now an adult rocker. With a return to her pop-punk roots, Avril Lavigne’s “Bite Me” flew up the charts like a dart. The song peaked at number 63 on the Canadian Hot 100 and number 61 on the UK Singles Chart.
The angry guitar riffs and vocal intensity that defined her style came back in force with “Bite Me:” a stern message to anyone who crosses her. That’s the Avril Lavigne we’ve come to know and love since exploding on the scene at age 16.
- “I Still Have Faith in You” by ABBA
2021 saw the return of Abba to pop radio after a 40-year absence. Of course, there’s enough Abba to go around with their long-running musical and Meryl Streep-led film version of “Mama Mia!”
“I Still Have Faith in You,” the new power ballad, joins the voluminous library of hits including “Waterloo,” “Lay All Your Love on Me,” and dozens of others born in the magical 1970s.
- “Higher Power” by Coldplay
No one does arena rock like Coldplay. Songs like “The Scientist” and “Fix You” can’t go two notes without a room-full of Bic lighters flaring up. Now, from their ninth studio album -- Music of the Spheres -- we have their latest single, “Higher Power.”
Not surprisingly, the song has a companion acoustic version that plays beautifully in front of thousands of fans. Coldplay, long considered darlings of the critics, were nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance at the 64th Annual Grammys in 2022.
Clinging to our theme of the best pop songs of 2021, let’s turn back the clock to see who took home music’s biggest hardware the year before:
Grammy Awards for 2021
The culmination of all things music begins and ends with the industry’s biggest night. Here are some of the winners from the 63rd annual Grammy Awards:
- Album Of The Year Folklore by Taylor Swift
- Record Of The Year (based on performance) "Everything I Wanted" by Billie Eilish
- Song Of The Year (based on songwriting) "I Can't Breathe" by Dernst Emile II, H.E.R. & Tiara Thomas, songwriters (H.E.R.)
- Best New Artist Megan Thee Stallion
- Best Pop Duo/Group Performance "Rain On Me" by Lady Gaga with Ariana Grande
- Best Pop Vocal Album Future Nostalgia by Dua Lipa
Music fans around the world enjoyed a bevy of great songs in 2021. Top female artists such as Adele and Olivia Rodrigo rocked the radio and internet taking us all on a sensational lyrical journey. Some fresh sounds and new faces graced the charts in what turned out to be a banner collection of dance and pop music.
We now set our sights on the future -- for more of the same – or better. More colorful acts providing groundbreaking poetry and a finely tuned feast of songs ready to inspire.