I was working at a music magazine where we spent several weeks in November and December trying to make a list of the best songs of the year. This is standard practice for most cultural publications, because people have a love-hate relationship with telling them what’s best, and publications that tell them these things are guaranteed to make numbers. It’s all well and good, but if there’s one thing I love more than songs, it’s these very specific moments inside of them: the hustle and bustle and weird sounds (or lack thereof) that make a song really great.
I keep a little list of these in my phone every year, and now I’m going to share the 2021 shows with you. It’s worth noting that most of these songs are top 40 because, well, that’s what I love to listen to. Sorry! I hope to include any scary nightcore remix you love next year.
Danny L. Harley’s Baby – “Bunny is a Rider” by Caroline Polachik
One of the best songs of the year also features one of the best vocals. Do you hear that little guy cooing in the background? This is the actual child of producer Danny L Harley, and I think she’s doing a great job.
“Why the FUCK you in the club when n – wildin” – “Thot Shit” by Megan Thee Stallion
The voice of the year may be Meghan going “ahh”, but it’s this line from boyfriend Bardison Fontaine that has stuck with me for so long. It features one of my favorite things, which is when the music breaks for a second so the musician can focus on the line of dialogue. He really wants to know why she’s in the cabaret.
Ambient Car Noise – Olivia Rodrigo’s “Driving License”
Right at the beginning of the song, you hear the car start up, followed by the “door open” beep and the keys ring. Rodrigo said The New York Times That the sound was recorded by her mom in her actual car, and I think that’s one of the things that takes one of the biggest hits of the year from good to great. As this list reveals, I’m a whore to real world noises that are put into music.
Opening Horns – “Industry Baby” by Lil Nas X feat. Jack Harlow
The king has arrived! This is what these trumpets refer to in the sexiest songs from Lil Nas X’s debut album Montero. Not only that, but these aren’t just computer generated trumpet sounds, but producer Nick Lee performs and layers each part of the trombone on top of one another. A win for the children’s squad everywhere.
*DING* – “Kiss Me More” by Doja Cat feat. SZA
I can hardly understand what either of these two girls are saying, but I know that every time I hear this song I sing it when SZA goes “cahkdeein witcha fen, yeah even hafmay lion onuh” *Thing* You know that… “Ding is everything.
The Big Transformation – “Happier Than Ever” Billie Eilish
When this song begins, Eilish sounds almost like Judy Garland, slowly singing on a simple guitar track, and eventually crying like a rock star on electric guitar and breaking drums. Then the music drops (one more!), the guitars come screeching, and you I feel it When Eilish growled, “I’m not talking nonsense about you on the Internet.” The best way to enjoy this very moment is to watch a live version of it, as an audience full of despised young women shouts “You made me hate this city.”
This is crazy “OOOOOOOOOOOOO” – “The Other Side” by Jasmine Sullivan
Just 15 seconds into the song Sullivan got me hooked. I wish I was locked in a room where this song is played frequently. I think this will fix a lot of my problems.
“This Bitch” – Smokin Out The Window by Bruno Mars and Anderson. Paak
I like that Bruno Mars is really using this as a gender insult. He doesn’t say “that bitch” like I am when one of my friends is acting stupid. He uses dirt, and looks great to get out of his mouth.