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NPR Music’s 100 Best Songs of 2021

NPR Music's 100 Best Songs of 2021
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Renee Klahr/NPR
NPR Music's 100 Best Songs of 2021

Renee Klahr/NPR

“ alone here to sin. ” That entrance fee from NPR Music ‘s song of the class lies at the center of many of the stories told across these 100 tracks. possibly the crown of Cardi and Megan ‘s “ WAP ” last year signaled a transgressive sea change. possibly, after 20 months behind masks, we felt like revealing ourselves again. possibly we kept some truths concealed during awful straits, so as not to appear frivolous ( or feral ) in the face of unforgiving context. But in the songs … booties were called. Muffins were buttered. Revenge was contemplated. In other words, we could be human again, and it felt good to be back. It ‘s our sincere hope that as you make your way through our 7-hour playlist of the year ‘s 100 best songs, you ‘ll feel the lapp. If you find yourself losing steam or feeling down or wondering when things will finally turn around, feel free to skip the rest of “ All Too Well. ” ( Jk, Taylor ! ) ( Oh, and you can find our 50 Best Albums of 2021 here. ) Stream NPR Music’s 100 Best Songs of 2021:
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Taylor Swift

“All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)”


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At 22, Taylor Swift released 2012 ‘s Red and came of age in the interstices between country and pop, grief and exemption. At 31, Swift has now released Red ( Taylor ‘s Version ), revisiting some unprocessed wounds with nine years of distance, freeing her to relish an wrath she once restrained herself from expressing. With this 10-minute version of cult authoritative “ All Too Well, ” Swift extends compassion to her vulnerable new self through curse, targeted lyrics — “ And I was never good at telling jokes, but the punch line goes, ‘I ‘ll get older, but your lovers stay my age ‘ “ — and studious observations. The most mighty weapon in Swift ‘s arsenal is her ability to deploy a collective memory of her romantic life. In returning to a past relationship that left her with outsize discomfort, she bridges youthful grief with ripe perspective. New, meticulous lyric details reveal that from the inside, the highly publicized and theorized relationship in question was inadequate. The edit five-and-a-half-minute adaptation is blame-free and tied nostalgic, but the 10-minute version of “ All Too Well ” is a seethe, scorched ground calamity as Swift, rightfully so, transforms into the craze womanhood she ‘s been made out to be all along. even ampere moored as it is in Swiftian fanlore, “ All Too Well ( 10 Minute Version ) ( Taylor ‘s Version ) ( From The Vault ) ” proves itself to be Swift ‘s most authentic sung, a significant credit to her huge discography that sets the read straight once and for all. —LaTesha Harris

Rhiannon Giddens & Francesco Turrisi

“Avalon”


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The most knock-down incantations make you dance. “ Avalon, ” by american folk exploder Rhiannon Giddens and italian border-leaper Francesco Turrisi, works that kind of alchemy. Cowritten with Justin Robinson ( of Giddens ‘ erstwhile band the Carolina Chocolate Drops ), the song arises at death ‘s border : As she, Turrisi and guitarist Niwel Tsumbu lock into each others rhythm, Giddens plays the character of a graveside mourner who on the spur of the moment can glimpse the afterlife. The merely original song on Giddens and Turrisi ‘s consummate album They ‘re Calling Me Home, “ Avalon ” opens the gateway to its suite of return and homegoing songs. On its own, it ‘s a prayer beyond religion, pulsing with earthly rejoice. —Ann Powers

Anna B Savage

“Baby Grand”


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The singer Anna B Savage, these days based on the West Coast of Ireland, swoons and soars with “ Baby Grand, ” telling a deeply personal narrative of a complex relationship through a night exhausted listening to music together under a baby thousand piano. “ You rest your head on me under the baby fantastic / I am freeze, it ‘s so familiar / You ‘ve fallen asleep, I hold my own hand. ” With a voice that will probable attract any Joni Mitchell aficionado, Anna ‘s stark sound is enthralling, alluring and one-of-a-kind. —Bob Boilen

Moneybagg Yo

“Wockesha”


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Rappers have been personifying their vices as love interests since the begin of rhyme. Common used to love H.E.R. Scarface sought comfort in Mary Jane. Pac relied on his fierce “ girlfriend ” in this life of sine. There ‘s a draw to be said about men gendering animal helplessness as feminine temptation, but Moneybagg Yo takes it a step foster by giving his dependence a favored name : Wockesha is his lover, his therapist, his crutch — but by and large she ‘s the tend in his styrofoam cup. needle to say, it ‘s a toxic relationship. “ I hope I do n’t OD / she keep saying polonium ‘ me, ” Yo melodically raps over the same DeBarge sample distribution that made Biggie ‘s “ One More Chance/Stay With Me ( Remix ) ” a strike Bad Boy ballad 26 years ago. The thing is Moneybagg Yo knows his hood passion for Wockesha is debatable. But it ‘s a constant cycle of longing and being burned. “ One moment I ‘m done with you / the adjacent one I be running back, ” he confesses. “ Go your way, I go my way / but somehow we be hush attached. ” In an long time where addiction takes so many lives excessively soon, Moneybagg ‘s honesty is heartening and frightening at the lapp meter. —Rodney carmichael

Snail Mail

“Automate”


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few things feel more wide-open than being drink and heartbroken at a party where you ‘re this conclusion to sneaking away from your friends to text an ex-wife. Snail Mail ‘s “ Automate ” speaks to this sense as Lindsey Jordan pines for a assumed world with the person she loves while settling for a stranger. In what may be one of Jordan ‘s strongest songs lyrically, she constantly questions her thoughts, her actions and her object of affection. Her mottle mentality communicates a clarity that so many of us lack gravely : “ I guess I could n’t keep her displace out / And I ‘m like your cad, ” she sings, and belated, “ childishly I ‘m lonely when it ‘s meter to clear out the party. ” —Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis

Farruko

“Pepas”


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Imagine opening a doorway expecting a library but finding a rave. That ‘s “ Pepas ” by Farruko. The whispery first verse cursorily escalates into a raging party hymn, complete with chants, that is simultaneously reggaeton and EDM. Full disclosure, I had no theme what the sung was called or what it was about after hearing it blasted everywhere — bodega, bars, and passing cars — since June. But every time I did, I surrendered to the beat. Turns out, I understood the grant. liberally translated, the song prescribes surviving in the moment and partying like there is no tomorrow ( albeit with a little extra help oneself. ) —Nikki Birch

Carly Pearce

“29”


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One of state music ‘s great themes, and the root of its meaningful melancholy, is the fact that life goes on even after devastating passing. After you fall to pieces, albums like Carly Pearce ‘s graceful, fishy and impeccably honest disassociate album 29 : Written in Stone attests, you have to pick yourself up. The claim track, written with masters of the well-honed confession Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, is Pearce ‘s act of come clean, admitting that picture-perfect is n’t in the cards for her. few expressions of grief are this clear-headed, this self-incriminating in the name of mend. “ Let ‘s equitable call it what it was, ” Pearce sings in her lonely alto. She ‘s readying herself for the future pace. —Ann Powers

Phoebe Bridgers

“That Funny Feeling”


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once we ‘re lucky adequate to look at the pandemic in hindsight, Bo Burnham ‘s Netflix seriocomedy limited Inside will stand as one of its greatest artifacts. A time-capsule entry that captures the all right points of lockdown animation, Inside unleashed a torrent of simultaneously hilarious and powerful songs like “ That Funny Feeling, ” which captures what it might have been like had Elliott Smith attempted to rewrite “ We Did n’t Start the Fire. ” ( Sample lyric : “ Carpool Karaoke, Steve Aoki, Logan Paul / a gift shop class at the grease-gun scope, a mass shooting at the promenade. ” ) In a textbook encase of “ game acknowledge game, ” Phoebe Bridgers began covering the song about immediately ; that the song fits seamlessly into her catalogue speaks well of them both. —Stephen Thompson

Yola

“Starlight”


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Among the many explorations of what it takes and how it feels to take charge on Yola ‘s virtuosic album Stand for Myself, “ Starlight ” is the most sophisticated expose of sensuality. It ‘s a deluxe track, an divine exploration of disco-era soul and besides a thoroughly grown-up fantasy. While awaiting consummation, she savors hope itself. During the verses, she ends her long, deluxe phrases with a crafty, syncopated push, then elevates the sense of anticipation with her elaborate pitch of the hook. —Jewly Hight, WNXP

Bachelor

“Back Of My Hand”


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Melina Duterte and Ellen Kemper seem born for each early. On Doomin ‘ Sun, their introduction album as Bachelor, they ‘ve taken their respective projects Jay Som and Palehound and turned friendship into grit and affection. “ Back Of My Hand ” is a cryptic dive into creepy, extraordinary fandom. Kempner takes on the character of the stan, singe, “ I ‘m your biggest sports fan / Got your birdcall in my head / And your poster ‘s above my bed / You watch me sleepin ‘. ” The chorus is a beautiful explosion of guitar and synth, a sound that I hope is n’t just a erstwhile project. —Bob Boilen

Tinashe (feat. Jeremih)

“X”


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With 333, Tinashe ‘s second independent turn since leaving RCA in 2019, the California singer-songwriter enters her enlighten goddess era. truthful to the angel count it ‘s named after, the album explores utopia removed from reverence, and “ x, ” featuring Jeremih, leans on seductive coo and an experimental mid-tempo beat to manifest a carefree nox between the sheets. Tinashe ‘s arch outspoken delivery glides between singing and rapping as she dares, “ ten marks the topographic point, nowadays can you find it ? ” —LaTesha Harris

Pom Pom Squad

“Drunk Voicemail”


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Pom Pom Squad ‘s “ Drunk Voicemail ” is equally scathing as its grief. It resuscitates, in merely three and a half minutes, the lost art of the night and game love birdcall — or, if a ocular avail, what overlaps in the venn diagram of “ destructive relationships ” and “ alternative rock. ” “ Wan na tell you that I hate you but it ‘d be a dwell / ‘Cause I think I love you more than I am volition to try, ” Mia Berrin sings. With gnawing guitars and vocals at their wits ‘ end, “ Drunk Voicemail ” depicts person holding on to a love sol mighty, not quite fix to give it off. —Alex Ramos

Nas

“Moments”


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Nas ‘s stopping point two projects, Kings Disease I and II, have shown that he ‘s embraced his elder statesmanship, and more importantly, with Hit-Boy at his side, he ‘s recouped dock points in the beat picking class. On “ Moments, ” his perspective is that of an master of ceremonies who ‘s had adequate success to enjoy the spoils and adequate tenure to realize that time is the invaluable commodity that he ca n’t get back : “ Like taking your first swim / Like still being a virgin / Take your train wheels off the rim / Moving in your first crib or having your first kid / Moments you ca n’t relive. ” —Bobby Carter

Will Liverman

“The Rain”


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While opera singers were sidelined during the pandemic, baritone Will Liverman made his ambition album – one devoted to Black composers. He commissioned Shawn Okpebholo to write Two Black Churches, which includes “ The rain, ” a iniquity mediation on the hideous 2015 church shooting in Charleston, S.C. With water as a recurring persona, the song reveals its trouble lento and intentionally. Midway through, Liverman ‘s velvet voice rises high to a hush falsetto as he sings “ Emanuel AME Church. ” The birdcall ends with a shower of rippling piano notes turning to lone, slowly rising chords, as if trying to keep its head above water. —Tom Huizenga

Indigo De Souza

“Way Out”


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Who has n’t yearned, at least once, for a way out ? On “ Way Out, ” North Carolina indie rocking chair Indigo de Souza weights the dim-witted titular request with boundless hypothesis, clawing aside at the ghosts and monsters of her insecure mind. “ I want to be a alight, ” she wails above jagged guitar by the conclusion, in a birdcall that distills the hard, grasping ferment of embracing emotional vulnerability. —Hazel Cills

Isaiah Rashad

“Headshots (4r Da Locals)”


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Since the spill of his mainstream debut, 2014 ‘s Cilvia Demo, Isaiah Rashad has been hyper-focused on relaying his biography lessons in the most loosen, laid-back manner possible. That includes his slip and struggles, and his self-described fixation on death and deathrate. The chorus of “ Headshots ( 4r Da Locals ) ” features Rashad crooning vulnerably alongside an uncredited female singer, while another nameless visualize wails longingly in the background ; the vocals commingle in a direction that sets Rashad up to languidly stroll through the lie of the song, while coming binding to this home infrastructure of inner conflict. wholly, it feels like Isaiah Rashad sharing his pertinent messages of growth and decision, while acknowledging he ‘s only human. —Kiana Fitzgerald

STAYC

“Stereotype”


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One of the more bracing K-pop comebacks of 2021, STAYC ‘s “ Stereotype ” addresses — with attitude — the pressures that come with being girls in the populace eye. STAYC invites listeners to look and listen past their girlfriend group structure and “ adolescent fresh ” concept ; those who follow through are met with unique voices and charismatic personalities. The path allows each penis to showcase how the foreground hits them best, while bouncing off of the other members ‘ energies. Despite their small body of work, STAYC seems about serendipitously formed — “ Stereotype, ” a song written for the group way before their debut in 2020, is proof. —Alex Ramos

Khemmis

“Avernal Gate”


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Phil Pendergast ‘s got a voice that will break your headbanging heart — his vibrato reaches beneath the airfoil of despair and rattles the senses awake. But without the compound talent and weather vulnerability of guitarist Ben Hutcherson and drummer Zach Coleman, Khemmis would not ring thus intensely. From Deceiver, “ Avernal Gate ” opens with an acoustic guitar couple that nods to Master of Puppets, a Metallica comparison not given lightly, as the seven-minute chase elaborately weaves doom-metal yearning with classic heavy metallic element riffing and soul-ripping feedback. “ Avernal Gate, ” self-conscious so far empowered, meditates on your darkest mirror image, with a blast-beaten outro that screams the forthcoming oblivion : “ Beneath the tide of cinders, I accept this is my fortune. ” —Lars Gotrich

Yuta Orisaka

“Orca”


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Charging every pulse with a rapid-fire perplex, there ‘s a common sense of urgency to “ Orca. ” As the music shifts in voice and tempo, the instruments whoop and careen recklessly through Orisaka ‘s bombastic process of reinvention. The birdcall collects in itself all the best parts of jazz — the endless creativity, the joy of exploring — to create the kind of tune that immediately catches your ear, forcing you to stop and listen. —Fi O’Reilly

UNIIQU3

“Microdosing”


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As the reigning queen of Jersey Club music, UNIIQU3 has spent the stopping point several years churning out bubbling club bangers, and “ Microdosing ” is a fast and ferocious accession to her excellent catalogue. “ Stop microdosing my love, ” UNIIQU3 sings in the chorus over a frantic beat, sweetening a demand to commit with the promise of a ceaseless high, before spitting in the verses : “ I ai n’t something you can reject. ” Cuffing temper has arrived. —Hazel Cills

    NPR’s 100 Best Songs Of 2021 
    100-81 | 80-61 | 60-41 | 40-21 | 20-1