Billboard Blitz! The Best, The Worst, and the Rest of 2021 in Pop Music

Hello! Welcome back to our final day of Listmas. This one may take some explanation.

Historically, I’ve run the pop chart aspect of Listmas as a Best and Worst list broken down in two parts each to keep them from being unwieldy to both read and write. I did abbreviated lists last year in one post by explanation that the pandemic and last year’s general 2020ness had 1. Made following the Billboard weekly race feel sillier than it had ever been, and 2. a lack of mass gatherings and public events altered how I engaged with capital P Pop music which is, at its heart, a communal experience. To be transparent, these factors also made winnowing down a best and worst hits list last year kind of a grind because I knew what I thought I wanted to go with, but at the same time I didn’t want to miss anything, so there was a lot of cramming and taking in the list as a whole.

So, that’s what you’re getting this year. There’ll still be a final verdict best/worst hits list at the end, but for 2021, I’m going to run down the entire year-end Billboard Hot 100 and give my thoughts on every single song, because I don’t want to halfass this or try to muddle through it again. I found some great stuff on here I wouldn’t have listened to otherwise, and I found some truly obnoxious shit, too, that I’m going to talk about because I had to listen to it, dammit, and that’s going to count for something. Plus, this just seems more fun, we get to look at everything this way.

2021 in pop felt like a transitional but not insubstantial year. Is it strictly better than 2020? That’s hard to say with every year having its peaks and valleys, but I’ll say that this year at least felt more distinct. In Olivia Rodrigo and Lil Nas X, we even had new stars assert their presence, Doja Cat came through with a sneakily vicious year, and even Justin Bieber had a possible career-saver with Justice; it felt like there were fewer hits this year that got big off just being TikTok ephemera, as well. I’d be hard-pressed to call this year an unabashed winner with the number of holdover hits and some deeply middling efforts, but we at least had good stuff in here, too, even if we held onto it forever. Let’s sing some praises, talk some shit, and ask some questions as we dig into–eep, all 5 hours and 21 minutes–of the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 for 2021!

(Since the best/worst list will be at the bottom, let’s start at the top; there’s no drama to preserve)

List of Billboard Hot 100 chart achievements and milestones - Wikipedia

1 Dua Lipa – “Levitating”
For everything else good about the year, I knew this list was only going to generate so much excitement once I saw “Levitating” at the top (fun fact, this song never hit number one and missed it because Billboard caught on to Dua Lipa stan VPN chicanery). I don’t know. I’m on the record as a Future Nostalgia skeptic, and this song has always struck me as deeply Fine.

2. The Weeknd ft. Ariana Grande – “Save Your Tears”
Meanwhile, I’m on the record as being in the tank for After Hours. OG “Save Your Tears” is a great, just structurally solid pop song, and the version with Ariana Grande is even better. Grande’s main output post Sweetener can fairly be called a little underwritten, so hearing her on a track with a good foundation shows what she can really do.

3. The Weeknd- “Blinding Lights”
I wrote about this one last year, so I’ll use this space to highlight that the top 3 spots on this year’s chart are all from projects released as the pandemic hit. I don’t know what that says, but it says something.

4. 24kGoldn feat. Iann Diot – “Mood”
I also wrote about this one last year. Still not a fan!

5. Olivia Rodrigo – “good 4 u”
Finally, a new song! To be honest, this is probably my third-favorite of Rodrigo’s four singles on this list. Its parts never seemed to mesh to me, the production feels more “pop-punk inspired” than “pop-punk,” and overall I think it sells its teenage petulance a little too well. “I guess that therapist I found for you really helped” is a legit good burn, though.

6. Doja Cat feat. SZA – “Kiss Me More”
It isn’t the interpolation of Oliva Newton-John’s “Physical” that’s “Kiss Me More”‘s biggest earworm, it’s the second half of the lovestruck chorus that well and truly sticks in your head. This is one of those songs that just captures the giddiness of falling for someone so well, and its two performers balance each other out perfectly with SZA bringing some grace and texture to Doja’s manic highs. Also, this cover is just the most charming thing.

7. Silk Sonic – “Leave the Door Open”
There’s the impulse to bag on Silk Sonic as a too winking or too derivative soul throwback project that doesn’t live up to Bruno Mars or Anderson .Paak’s highest highs. I get that impulse, but this is plainly just a lot of fun and musically, the execution is there.

8. Olivia Rodrigo – “Drivers License”
It’s the handclaps during the verse that standout to me on “Drivers License. They’re not a prominent feature, but ballads live and die by what makes them different from each other, and the handclaps are a nice touch. This song’s good, and the anguish Rodrigo puts into “I guess you didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me” resonates; it’s a keeper.

9. Lil Nas X – “Montero (Call Me by Your Name”)
“Montero” might be Lil Na X’s most Lil Nas X creation. Under the knowingly outrageous video is a salacious torch song that’s by turns funny and reckless, but undercut by a stinger (“Call me by your name/Tell me you love my in private/Call me by your name/I don’t care if you’re lying”).

10. Justin Bieber feat. Daniel Caesar and Giveon – “Peaches”
This song is deceptive as hell. That little chorus melody makes you think “Peaches” is a much stronger creation than it actually is.

11. BTS – “Butter”
Within BTS mega-hit canon, I’m still partial to “Dynamite,” which sounded both like an event and a fully tuneful song. “Butter” sacrifices some of the latter to power the former.

12. The Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber – “Stay”
I don’t know. On one hand, this quasi-“Blinding Lights” rip is super catchy and gets the best out of both artists, but on the other, I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something going untapped within it.

13. Olivia Rodrigo – “Deja Vu”
Now this is how you incinerate somebody. Throwing “good 4 u” sarcasm at someone is one thing but smirking at how you know every move they’re pulling with someone else is a great “aint shit” tactic. Add that into what’s to my ears the best production on Sour and some great group vocals (hey, if Taylor wasn’t going release “Cruel Summer” herself), and you have my favorite Olivia Rodrigo track.

14. Ariana Grande – “Positions”
Both “Positions” and the album of the same name feel both like Ariana Grande at her most here today, gone tomorrow, and the point where she became too big to fail. Even at the 14th spot, it feels like there’s a drop between “Deja Vu” and this.

15. Ed Sheeran – “Bad Habits”
Nothing I say about this song will be as damning as how bored Ed Sheeran sounds with his own chart-chasing.

16. Glass Animals – “Heat Waves”
For whatever reason, I just can’t hang with this one. “Heat Waves” reminds me of what I didn’t like about “Feel It Still,” it’s this worst of both worlds mix of arty self-satisfaction winking at its own poppiness with trend-hopping that sounds comprised of spare parts (I swear that every mainstream alt. act has a song with this same trap drum). A total pass.

17. The Kid Laroi – “Without You”
By weird comparison, this is much worse than “Heat Waves,” but pisses me off less. The whole of it sounds weirdly close to an ’00s acoustic radio ballad, and “Can’t make a wife out of a hoe!” is already a famously bad lyric. Plus, this seems like the type of hit destined to fade away.

18. Luke Combs – “Forever After All”
“Forever After All” is a prime example of what I’ve come to call “First Dance Country,” country songs built on a cutesy little “I love you” premise (in this case, that unlike the 12 ounces in a beer or the Duracells in a Maglite, your love is proof that some things can last forever after all) and feel like they exist to soundtrack wedding first dances. And for that purpose, “Forever After All” seems fine.

19. Chris Brown and Young Thug – “Go Crazy”
So, Breezy’s just making hits again, huh? That’s a shame.

20. Masked Wolf – “Astronaut in the Ocean”
The hook here is pretty strong (it went viral on Tiktok for a reason), but the verses–all po-faced, serious, talking about believing in G-O-D and not T-H-O-T, and fixated on rappity raps–made me look up if Masked Wolf was a youth pastor who got into rapping (not that I can see!)

21. Ariana Grande feat. Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion – “34 + 35”
The remix solidifies why “34 + 35” has a weird vibe: this song is not about that action. You put Doja and Megan on an Ariana Grande sex jam, and you realize how out of her depth Grande is; compared to “WAP” or “Go To Town” the single entendre of “34 +35” is like a pair of pink handcuffs trying to step to a catsuit.

22. Pop Smoke “What You Know Bout Love”
“What You Know Bout Love” sounds like Pop Smoke’s take on 50 Cent (who executive produced the late rapper’s posthumous debut)’s “Thugs need love, too” songs through a post-Drake filter, and it’s largely successful on those grounds. I’m also just thankful for this track after a particularly wobbly run on this chart.

23. Machine Gun Kelly feat. blackbear – “My Ex’s Best Friend”
Y’know, it shouldn’t work, but on some level, I can admire Machine Gun Kelly doing “3OH!3 as a toxic hookup” character acting and bringing a flailing blackbear along to make himself look better.

24. Lil Nas X feat. Jack Harlow – “INDUSTRY BABY”
This is probably Lil Nas X’s best single as a standalone song (although dude is having an absolute blast in the video). “INDUSTRY BABY” has never failed to feel like a shot in the arm between Take A Day Trip and Kanye’s production and Lil Nas X’s ability to weave in and out of it. Harlow’s feature is a take or leave, but at least his rapping is solid, this is a winner for me.

25. Billie Eilish – “Therefore I Am”
Preening, sneering Billie Eilish is one of the best Billie Eilishes, it’s one of times where she feels most herself and the most like she’s doing something better than her peers and people she’s influenced. It’s a shame more of Happier Than Ever didn’t match “Therefore I Am.”

26. Cardi B – “Up”
It’s also a shame that the biggest story attached to “Up” is a dustup over Tiktok dances and who benefits from whose creations, because “Up” is a stupidly well-constructed rap shit talker that feels too low at 26.

27. Walker Hayes – “Fancy Like”
This is exactly the type of thing that existed in 2021 that wouldn’t 2020 or even 2019: nothing in either of those years would have been willing to be as gaudy, dumb, and loud as “Fancy Like,” a song that’s actively unpleasant to listen to.

28. Bad Bunny and Jhay Cortez – “Dakiti”
Bold and brooding reggaeton that I never feel like I have anything substantial to offer for commentary, but appreciate all the same. You have to appreciate the charisma here.

29. Saweetie feat. Doja Cat – “Best Friend”
A solid outing for a still-arriving Saweetie and a currently on fire Doja Cat, kind of a bummer that (like a lot of Doja’s work) Dr. Luke’s on it.

30. Polo G – “RAPSTAR”
The all-caps title treatment works for something as extroverted as “INDUSTRY BABY” but seems puzzling for the more pensive “RAPSTAR.” On the track, Polo G raps about his success and his BMWs like it half-expects them to be gone when he wakes up tomorrow, and about treasuring his son while still being haunted by his own upbringing. That he’s able to balance all of these on a sing-song bluesy rap track featuring a ukulele is a talent.

31. Giveon – “Heartbreak Anniversary”
Soul newcomer Giveon arrived with a Drake cosign and cites Drake and Franks Ocean and Sinatra as influences, all of which are promising. On “Heartbreak Anniversary,” the first artist who comes to mind is Sam Smith at their most pedestrian, which is less so.

32. Pop Smoke feat. Lil Baby and DaBaby – “For the Night”
Posthumous releases can get woozy. Something like “What You Know Bout Love” up above probably didn’t change much with Pop Smoke’s passing, but “For the Night” feels like it was cobbled together from an unfinished demo that was reworked and had verses added after the fact.

33. Lil Tjay and 6black – “Calling My Phone”
A competently performed R&B track with delectable production from two dudes who have been around longer than I thought, not a bad track by any measure.

34. Maroon 5 feat. Megan Thee Stallion – “Beautiful Mistakes”
It isn’t until you pay attention to this song that you realize how entirely too busy this vocal melody is, like it’s afraid to sit still for more than one second. This song would be twice as good (still not great!) if it did half a much. And has any rapper sounded comfortable on a Maroon 5 single?

35. Justin Bieber feat. Chance the Rapper – “Holy”
While we’re doing questions: has any musician (non-cancellation field) sputtered out like Chance the Rapper has in the last 5-6 years? Dude was the anointed one in 2016, and now he’s slumming it on Bieber singles.

36. Lil Baby – “On Me”
Lil Baby’s up and down this list as a featured rapper, and few of his verses really miss. While “On Me” is a hectic if somewhat formless track, I consistently enjoy the way his voice here and elsewhere sounds like if you taught a guitar solo how to sing and rap.

37. Tate McRae – “You Broke Me First”
Nothing about this song–the vocoder effect on McRae’s voice, McRae’s exaggerated Spotify Sad Girl vocals, the trap production that sounds like it’s never met a rapper, how blatantly this is a wish fulfillment kiss-off–works on any level.

38. Olivia Rodrigo – “traitor”
Olivia Rodrigo muses on “drivers license” that her friends have to be tired of listening to her talk this dude, and for a song like “traitor” that aims for diaristic but comes out sort of tedious and artless, I am very much a friend of Olivia Rodrigo. I know he broke up with you, Olivia. I know he’s seeing someone else, Olivia. I’ve got precalc coming up, Olivia, can we just eat lunch?

39. Pooh Shiesty feat. Lil Durk – “Back in Blood”
The two thoughts I have here are that Pooh Shiesty being a Memphis dude explains a lot, and that if your name is that close to “poo,” you probably shouldn’t use “blood” in a song title.

40. Gabby Barrett feat. Charlie Puth – “I Hope”
Fun fact: this was shortlisted for the Worst List last year.

41. BTS – “Dynamite”
Fun fact: this made the Best List last year.

42. Moneybagg Yo – “Wockesha”
I’m showing my age here by connecting the “Wockesha” sample to Ashanti when Biggie’s “One More Chance” remix is the clear spiritual predecessor (besides, both “Foolish” and “One More Chance” are built on a DeBarge track, anyway). It’s a smart play to connect Moneybagg Yo to Biggie; both dudes are gruff but have an upbeat edge.

43. Doja Cat feat. The Weeknd – “You Right”
You know that Doja was on a run last year because “You Right,” a not bad but not especially great single that gets a profile boost from a featured artist peaking when this was recorded, is still a pleasant listen instead of totally forgettable (it’s also gotten funny in the last few weeks to compare and contrast Abel’s stance here vs. on Dawn FM).

44. Spotem Gottem feat. Pooh Shiesty – “Beat Box 2”
There’s a bunch of rap singles living in the 30s to 50s on the chart. I like “Beat Box” less than a good number of them; it’s not bad but it’s competing in a busy field.

45. Drake feat. Lil Durk – “Laugh Now Cry Later”
This holdover hit from 2020 has big “new single for the greatest hits record” energy. Strikes a decent balance between afterthought and victory lap, I can get why this hung around as long as it did.

46. Doja Cat – “Need To Know”
I appreciate that this song is halfway to being the slowed and reverbed version of itself. Also, Doja making sex noises before rapping “Wait, I can take it/Give a fuck about what you’re wifey’s saying” is exactly why Ariana Grande is overmatched on the “34 + 35” remix.

47. Drake feat. Lil Baby – “Wants and Needs”
The official point of this chart where I thought, “Fuck, do I need to listen to more Lil Baby?” He goes absolutely ballistic here while Drake mostly stays out of the way and doesn’t embarrass himself. The extra 8 bars he crams into the end of his verse are a thrill.

48. Drake feat. Future and Young Thug – “Way 2 Sexy”
On paper, I should hate this. Drake all the way embarrasses himself and Young Thug is a complete non-entity but putting Future on a trapified “I’m Too Sexy” is one of those ideas so stupid it almost slingshots around to brilliant.

49. Kali Uchis – “Telepatía
I’ve bumped this ever since Sin Miedo dropped in late 2020, and I’m still not tired of it. I like Kali a lot, although I think her inclination to be a ~vibes artist can be a soft liability even though it’s an overall asset, so hearing her put out a fully formed song like this is great.

50. CJ – “Whoopty”
As mentioned, there’s a whole slew of rap bangers bumping shoulders in this part of the chart. “Whoopty” throws a few elbows in that jostle.

51. Internet Money and Gunna feat. Don Toliver and Nav – “Lemonade”
This hook is breezy and pleasant, but we are 10 deep in rap/R&B song run and I can feel my brain starting to run out of my ears. Song’s okay.

52. SZA – “Good Days”
This is great, I don’t know what T.D.E. is waiting on, but the new SZA album promises to be special if it sounds like “Good Days.” The production with the guitars reaching out in all directions is lush, and SZA gives an affecting performance.

53. Chris Stapleton – “Starting Over”
Your country music smoke break. While “Starting Over” isn’t really my thing, I can still appreciate it as a cozy bit of a songcraft, and Stapleton’s charm puts him head and shoulders over the Luke Combses of the world. Seems like it’d be fun to play on guitar, too.

54. Megan Thee Stallion “Body”
The downside of someone like Megan who can bang out a song in 20 minutes is that occasionally you get a song that sounds banged out in 20 minutes.

55. Taylor Swift – “Willow”
Two things. 1. On one hand, the cottage(core) industry that exists just to speculate on Taylor Swift’s sexuality can get kinda gross and invasive, but on the other, “That’s my man” sounds like comphet. 2. Like most of evermore, my reaction to “Willow” is “Hey, this hasn’t been bad, are we just about done ye–motherfucker, still a minute and a half to go?”

56. AJR – “Bang!”
There’s no way around it: I hate this song. Between the obnoxious, thrown together, circus from Hell instrumental and the “I’m having wine and pizza for dinner because I’m a Hufflepuff who adulted today!” insufferable millennial preciousness of the lyrics, this is a complete miss for me. An anthem for people whose personality consists of Friends trivia at breweries and buying Stranger Things Funko Pops at Target.

57. Luke Combs – “Better Together”
More First Dance Country! This time built on the idea that “Like a cup of coffee and sunrise” or “Coke cans and BB guns” you two go better together. This is fine if kinda schmaltzy, but my main question is, what does Luke Combs’ speaking voice sound like? I run into him year after year on these lists, and he always sounds like what someone thinks that someone on the verge of tears sounds like.

58. Yung Bleu feat. Drake – “You’re Mines Still”
There was this meme a few months ago about “male manipulator music” that boiled down to the music version of “Oh, he has a copy of Infinite Jest? Dump himmm,” and most people took it as a joke, and some didn’t, and then no one knew how serious anyone else was being, and this is all to say that whatever “male manipulator music” is, “You’re Mines Still” is definitely that.

59. DJ Khaled feat. Lil Baby and Lil Durk – “Every Chance I Get”
Despite DJ Khaled’s stock being as low as it’s ever been and this beat needing a little variety, I think “Every Chance I Get” actually works really well as some Super Saiyan powerup shit? Baby and Durk are a good fit here as performers who aren’t too big to mail it in for a DJ Khaled single, but aren’t small enough to get blown off stage by it, either.

60. Wizkid feat. Justin Bieber and Tems – “Essence”
A super tuneful and groovy number that got a profile boost from Bieber, but eh, even he’s more tolerable than not here. I was always happy when I encountered this one.

61. Ryan Hurd and Maren Morris – “Chasing After You”
I don’t know, it’s tough going for a ballad like this when your two stars don’t really have chemistry. Sort of makes the whole thing fall flat.

62. Gabby Barrett – “The Good Ones”
I saw this joke online that I can’t find again that goes something like like “Women will post a picture of their husband with the caption ‘God did something special with this one’ and it’s a picture of Greg, the human equivalent of a Toyota Camry” and it’s all I can think during this song.

63. Marshmello and The Jonas Brothers – “Leave Before You Love Me”
I started working on this list during the holiday season, so I hear in “Leave Before You Love Me” just enough of Wham!’s “Last Christmas” to throw me off.

64. Dan + Shay – “Glad You Exist”
I’d almost call this more First Dance Country, but it seems a little too tepid for even that. Let’s call it Cocktail Hour Country.

65. Justin Bieber and Benny Blanco – “Lonely”
Another holdover. “Lonely” exists in a murky space, because you don’t want to discount someone who’s been famous for almost half their life when they talk about it taking a toll on them, but at the same time “Lonely” feels unconvincingly performative, and it doesn’t square with the dude who keeps making albums after this.

66. Måneskin – “Beggin'”
I can fuck with some unlistenable shit, so when I say that making it through “Beggin'” once was a battle of wills, you know it means something.

67. Doja Cat – “Streets”
A best case scenario for vibes music in that you don’t even notice that this song (which got big when its drop was used on Tiktok) basically rides that muted guitar, trap drum, gravity-bomb bass, and a cooing vocal for its entire sensual-as-hell runtime.

68. Drake – “What’s Next”
I actually really like this song. Drake routinely tries for exactly one single per extended album cycle (last time was “Nice For What”) and it’s a lot of fun when he does, even if his higher, sing-songy flow here amounts to a Lil Uzi Vert impression.

69 (nice). Chris Young and Kane Brown – “Famous Friends”
I’ve also got a soft spot for this one. “Famous Friends” genuinely rocks as a country stomper, and the premise of shouting out your friends from back home is refreshing, plus Young and Brown come off as more sincere than not with a song that could be kinda hokey. And look, you’ve gotta take your wins where you can find them…

70. Nelly and Florida Georgia Line – “Lil Bit”
…otherwise you get shit like this.

71. Megan Thee Stallion – “Thot Shit”
This is just Megan throwing both middle fingers up for three minutes and it sounds incredible. There’s not really a miss here, “Thot Shit” is just withering and funny all the way down.

72. Roddy Ricch – “Late at Night”
This is enjoyable, I appreciate that Mustard is out here still making beats. Roddy Ricch, a guy I mostly associate with the “hey, this coronavirus thing may be for real” stretch of February and March 2020, seems to be finding his lane as an updated Bryson Tiller radio guy.

73. Ava Max – “Kings & Queens”
You could tell me this song came out at any point between 2015 and now, and I’d believe you. Wonder what Marina’s been up to lately.

74. Justin Bieber – “Anyone”
Y’know, with this and “Lonely,” I think the problem is that Bieber just isn’t suited for ballads. They have a requisite earnestness that isn’t and has never been in his arsenal. Even his most contemplative tracks like “Where Are U Now?” and “What Do You Mean?” have a sense of motion that’s perfectly fitting for someone who isn’t spending too much time on one emotion.

75. Mooski – “Track Star”
A crocodile cannot stick out its tongue. That’s a true fact. Listen, this is the 75th song on this list, and it’s by a TikTok guy where the most interesting thing about him is that he was in the Marines for 4 years. You’re taking this one off, and so am I.

76. Moneybagg Yo – “Time Today”
Cards on the table, even though I don’t listen to a ton of street-level rap, I just assume any rapper I don’t know is younger than I am, so my eyes jumped out of my head when I found out that Moneybagg Yo and I share a birth year. It makes sense, though, “Time Today” has some grown dude funniness and shit talk to it, I’m a fan.

77. Megan Thee Stallion feat. DaBaby – “Cry Baby”
“Her friends and her mom hate me,” they’re not the only ones, Jonathan!

78. Mariah Carey – “All I Want For Christmas Is You”
With “AIWFCIY” living in the top 10 from November to the first week of January every year, it’s just always going to get a spot on the year-ender. Proceed.

79. Coi Leray feat. Lil Durk – “No More Parties”
I’m an easy mark for radio R&B like “No More Parties” and Coi Leray and Lil Durk play well of each other. Her hook and the ad-libs around it sound delightfully Future-y.

80. Thomas Rhett – “What’s Your Country Song?”
This is a polished and smartly made slice of First Dance Country that’s also a Country Song Talkin’ ‘Bout County Songs, so double points to Thomas Rhett for playing to the crowd.

81. Keith Urban and Pink – “One Too Many”
But admittedly I’m more partial to this offering from Keith “Wait, he’s still making hits?!” Urban and Pink. “One Too Many” is just a lot of fun in a playful, singalong kind of way, and neither Urban nor Pink try to take it too seriously, which is appreciated among the more faux-profound country on this chart (also, how did it take the universe this long to put Pink on a country song?)

82. Duncan Laurence – “Arcade”
Meanwhile, this overwrought, weepy ballad is tortuously self-serious. Laurence channeling anguish into “How many pennies in the slot?” is the second most accidentally hilarious moment on this entire chart.

83. Bad Bunny – “Yonaguni”
Bad Bunny has is high on my list of people I just need to stop funning around with and listen to, because I always really enjoy his voice. “Yonaguni” just places it front and center over this smooth as hell beat, and is aces for it.

84. Niko Moon – “Good Time”
I’ve realized it’s impossible for me to take these country trap songs seriously because the two sounds together are always going to sound like a gimmick to me.

85. Jason Aldean and Carrie Underwood – “If I Didn’t Love You”
The middle ground between “One Too Many” and “Chasing After You.”

86. Drake feat. 21 Savage and Project Pat – “Knife Talk”
The window for Drake to sound convincingly tough is already narrow, and 21 Savage slams it on his fingers as soon as he goes first on “Knife Talk.” I think people flocked to this on Certified Lover Boy by virtue of it being an actual discrete song, but outside of that, it’s kinda long.

87. Ariana Grande – “POV”
This is sweet, but there’s part of me that wonders if there isn’t a version of it that’s 5% tighter and 15% better for it.

88. Parmalee and Blanco Brown – “Just the Way”
I admire the bravery in openly declaring your love for someone by saying “I love the way it takes you forever to get ready, and that you watch the same stupid movie over and over again, and how you get passive aggressive and tell me you’re not mad when you clearly are.” It’s not for me, because I choose to love someone I actually like, but you do you.

89. The Weeknd – “Take My Breath”
A song I like that’s been absolutely ruined by the extended version and its lead-in from “How Do I Make You Love Me?” on Dawn FM.

90. Dua Lipa – “We’re Good”
OhthankGodwe’realmostthere. It’s kinda nice hearing a pop single this far down, even if it’s one I can take or leave and mostly makes me want to listen to Lana Del Rey’s cover of “Doin’ Time.”

91. Eric Church – “Hell of a View”
Eric Church and Chris Stapleton both exist in the lane of “trad-country dude who feels a little classicist to praise, but the results speak for themselves,” and I think “Hell of a View” works as well as “Starting Over” did earlier. Both are solid.

92. Brenda Lee – “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”
I can get “All I Want For Christmas Is You” charting because it’s halfway to a meme at this point. With “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” I just have to assume this is the middle ground of all Christmas music.

93. Ritt Momney – “Put Your Records On”
The original is a gem, this cover is cloyingly precious. And Ritt Momney, terrible name.

94. Billie Eilish – “Happier Than Ever”
Buried down here in the mid-90s, I feel comfortable admitting that I don’t really care for this song? It’s meandering and somewhat shapeless, like Eilish and Fineas knew they were going to have their big guitar explosion halfway through but didn’t know where to go before or after it, and the song’s melody is all over the place. It’s an intriguing experiment if nothing else.

95. Cole Swindell – “Single Saturday Night”
In which Cole Swindell sees a woman drinking a White Claw and dancing to ACDC and it changes his life. Does it feel like White Claws have gone on a longer run than you thought they would? I didn’t think they’d stick around this long. This song also feels like it should have a key change but backs away from it.

96. Lainey Wilson – “Things a Man Oughta Know”
This is a cute and clever and mostly winning song, but when Wilson sings “And yeah, I know a boy/Who gave up and got it wrong” I want so desperately for the next lines to be something like, “His name is Kyle/And he’s a project manager/Who lives on his building’s third floor/And keeps talking about getting a dog” Just go all-in on the specificity.

97. BRS Kash – “Throat Baby (Go Baby)”
BRS Kash soulfully Auto-crooning “Throat babiesss (Throat babies)/I’m tryna give’em to ya” while you can hear him almost wince at what he’s singing is the most accidentally hilarious moment on this chart.

98. Rod Wave – “Tombstone”
“Tombstone” is a great, affecting song about not having all the answers, being scared, and struggling through hard times that’s halfway to a gospel song. I really like it, and Rod Wave has an affecting, vulnerable voice, which makes hearing this sandwiched between the blowjob song and a walking cliche of beer and God a fucking out of body experience.

99. Chase Rice feat. Florida Georgia Line – “Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen”
Look, even if this song wasn’t complete ass (it is), there is such a thing as being too obvious.

100. Rauw Alejandro – “Todo de Ti”
Ending the chart with this immaculate Spanish language dance banger is everything I could want after dozens of mid-tempo and ho-hum tracks. This is my bliss.

In the interest of satisfying curiousity, here’s vaugely what the best list could have looked like:
Honorable Mention: “One Too Many”
10. “Todo de Ti”
8. “Deja Vu”
7. “Need to Know”
6. “Kiss Me More”
5. “Telepatia”
3. “What’s Next”
2. “Good Days”
1. “Save Your Tears (Remix)”

And here’s eyeballing the worst list:
Dishonorable Mention: “Way 2 Sexy”
10. “Heatwaves” / “Put Your Records On”
9. “traitor”
8. “You Broke Me First”
7. “Good Time”
6. “Go Crazy”
5. “Throat Babies”
4. “Fancy Like”
3. “Beggin'”
2. “Lil Bit”
1. “Bang!”

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23 Thoughts on Emo Festival When We Were Young

When We Were Young Festival Shares The Perfect Emo Throwback Lineup - Paste

1. We’re doing this as 23 thoughts to honor the 23ish tracks you could squeeze on a mix CD, because that’s the kind of energy When We Were Young so eagerly wants to channel. And I want to try my hand at the format based on Larry Fitzmaurice’s Last Donut of the Night newsletter’s excellent use of such (this one in particular is very good). Now then.

2. I found out earlier this week that “Blue Monday” isn’t just a kickin’ New Order song, but is also a kind of observable thing. In 2004, a British PR company tasked a psychologist with finding the saddest day of the year, and, the analytics he ran suggested that the answer was the third Monday in January. The science is a little janky, but if you told me that the cold, dead, nothing of late mid-January was the hardest part of the year for the greatest number of people, I’d believe you.

3. And so the day after Blue Monday, when people are ready for any kind of stimulation, your social media was probably flooded with people sharing the black and purple poster for the When We Were Young, a one day emo-pop festival happening in Las Vegas in October headlined by My Chemical Romance and Paramore, with names like Bring Me the Horizon, Taking Back Sunday, The Used, The Maine, Alkaline Trio, Senses Fail, Pierce the Veil, and The All American Rejects showing up in the undercard.

4. A closer look at the poster reveals a smattering of more recent acts, including ‘10s pop-punk stalwarts (The Wonder Years, Neck Deep), heavy-eyeliner rock (Wolf Alice, PVRIS), promising newcomers (Meet Me @ the Altar, The Linda Lindas), TikTok musicians (Lil Huddy, Nessa Barrett), and Car Seat Headrest to throw off the festival’s scent of Let’s Remember Some Warped Tour Guys.

5. I can only speak anecdotally, but the marketing for When We Were Young is working like gangbusters. It’s the lone festival/show announcement I’ve seen in…years? that’s generated its own memes and discussion, let alone engagement with, for want of a better word, the normies.

6. It should be said that WWWY’s concept isn’t new. Desert Trip in October of 2016 brought a classic rock lineup of Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Roger Waters, and Neil Young to the Coachella site (it was also run by ‘chella overlords Goldenvoice). May of 2019’s Just Like Heaven festival revived late ‘00s blog rock in SoCal, and this year’s upcoming Lovers & Friends festival promises turn of the century R&B and rap (more on Just Like Heaven and Lovers & Friends later). All three were announced as one-time engagements, but sold so well that a second weekend/day was quickly added.

7. Around the same time that people were snickering at Desert Trip as “Oldchella,” “Emo Nite” went national. Emo Nites are bar parties soundtracked to ‘90s and ‘00s pop-punk and emo that were created by a pair of LA dudes, and while they started as an LA thing, they hit with people, and soon Emo Nite Brooklyn popped up, and the phenomenon got cosigns by people like Mark Hoppus and All Time Low. While I think that pop-punk/emo would have eventually become the associated rock sound with the ‘00s the same way that the ‘80s are reduced to hair metal and the ‘90s are moody, flannel grunge, having an event called “Emo Nite” where the first 100 people in line got a pin that said “SAD AS FUCK” and the creators named their marketing company (Jesus Christ) “Ride Or Cry” probably sped things along. They’re on the poster for Coachella this year.

8. All of this is to say that ‘00s emo possesses more cultural reach than you’d think it does, nostalgia festivals have proven to be a sure bet (and I suspect they’ll continue to be, particularly in a post-COVID festival landscape where regional fests with no real identity to anchor themselves to will likely wither on the vine–yes I am shading my local Bunbury in this), and someone was destined to put these two together.

9. So, let’s return to that poster for a second and get a few already very-remarked upon observations out of the way: you spend 15 seconds looking at this thing, and it becomes apparent that When We Were Young is entirely too good to be true. A graphic design student told to create a poster of their dream festival lineup for an assignment after mainlining Warped Tour compilations would have shown more restraint.

10. To wit: WWWY is allegedly a one-day festival with 3 stages and 65 bands (By comparison, Desert Trip was 6 acts, and Just Like Heaven came in at 26). Ain’t no way. 

11. WWWY is put on by LiveNation, the live music juggernaut most recently in the news as the company behind Astroworld, Travis Scott’s festival where 9 people died in a crowd surge last November. 

12. As it happens, Live Nation is also running the Lovers & Friends Festival, which is WWWY if you bump the eligibility window back a few years and run it through rap and R&B. Lauryn Hill, TLC, Ciara, Usher, Ludacris, Lil John, Ashanti, and Fyre Festival’s own Ja Rule are all slated to appear. Curiously, Lovers & Friends was announced as a Goldenvoice joint in February of 2020 for May of that year (whoops!), and that announcement caused a dust-up with some artists calling it “fake” or mentioning that “the deposit aint hit for this one yet.” It reemerged last July with “Live Nation, Snoop Dogg, and Bobby Dee Present” up top with an expected date of May 14th of this year. So far, the new L&F hasn’t caused any issues, but time will tell what actually comes of it.

13. Let’s use lucky number 13 to say that of course, there’s even odds that any major event this year goes the way of “lol COVID” anyway, so maybe this is all for naught. Then again, this is set for late October, so maybe there will be more The Nightmare Before Christmas merch present than there will be positive cases, who knows?

14. Putting WWWY at the end of October is a sign of optimism, but I wonder how open Live Nation will be to moving it back if they want to capitalize on the pop-punk wave in the mainstream lead by Travis Barker (you can’t tell me Blink-182 wasn’t approached about this thing), pop-punk character actor Machine Gun Kelly, Willow, and the (*quiet voice* deeply mid) pop-punk inspired hit from Olivia Rodrigo. As much as WWWY is a blatant nostalgia grab, I wonder if there’ll be a younger turnout in some fashion, too.

15. I know I said “the normies” up above, but it’s worth looking at the people who would actually go to WWWY. As much cultural zeitgeist as there is around this stuff, the timing here is smart in a craven fashion; when else would people who were in high school from about 2002 to 2010 look at a $250 festival ticket, travel, lodging, and spending money for Avril, Dashboard Confessional, and Hawthorne Heights, and think “well, as this year’s vacation…”?

16. Viewed one way, it’s easy to see When We Were Young as the cynical calcification of millennial nostalgia. Hell, the fucking name invokes the performative cry of “omg we’re so old” from the most annoying millennial you know (one meme I keep seeing around WWWY involves Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man, which given that WWWY is the only thing that makes No Way Home’s nostalgia-baiting look tempered, big fuckin lol). And more than that, something about WWWY feels like giving up, like retreating within the comfort of the familiar and not engaging with anything you don’t already know and just asking you if you want to remember A Day To Remember. For a generation that can already be insufferable about how the media they consume identifies them, circling the parents’ Corollas while they blare A.F.I. feels dispiriting.

17. The counterpoint to the above is where I want to bring up Just Like Heaven, a festival I only remember because Ian Cohen’s writeup of attending it is a really solid piece of music writing that mocks JLH, but also empathizes with the people who go. I’m actually just gonna quote him here: “…there’s a collective sorrow [from friends who don’t follow new music] that doesn’t quite find its direction or target — they wish they had the time and energy to keep up with new music the way they used to…Once college is over, maybe your career has advanced to the point where you can’t really waste time scrolling through reviews or Metacritic or Twitter just to find ideas of what to listen to, let alone finding time to do so. Let alone deciding whether to dedicate the finite resource of your free time to new music when it’s competing with the immediate availability of literally every album you’ve ever already liked…can you blame them for wanting to spend just one day where something like Tokyo Police Club was it?” Swap out Tokyo Police Club for Dance Gavin Dance, and you get why people would go for WWWY. It’s for people who want to keep up with trends, but life gets in the way between them and like, Turnstile, so Mayday Parade it is.

18. But man, here’s a question: what’s it gotta be like for the bands playing this thing? It’s a fairly uncomplicated question for someone like My Chemical Romance, or a ready for her piece of the revival pie Avril Lavigne, but what’s it like for, say Jimmy Eat World, or an act like Bright Eyes who crossed in and out of this scene almost incidentally? Hell, what’s it going to be like for Paramore, a band who has not only made their best albums after ditching the scene, but who no longer play their biggest hit? I’ve got to imagine that most of the bands’ whose Wikipedia pages are organized in two or three increments before some becoming some version of “2014–present” are going to be at least kind of stoked to be there, but at the same time, being there probably underlines what the demand was for your 2008 album vs. your 2018 one. But that’s a lot to mull over during a “blink and you’ll miss it” set length.

19. I’m thinking of who I saw at Warped Tour 2008 and who is and isn’t playing WWWY, and the names Gym Class Heroes and Against Me! stand out. While both absences can be explained in practical terms (GCH has been inactive for about a decade just like fellow 2008 Warped alumni The Academy Is… and Sky Eats Airplane, and Against Me! seemed like they were going to rev back up and then the pandemic hit), it’s worth mulling over that WWWY is homogeneous and apolitical in a way that even Warped Tour wasn’t. Not that Warped was a haven for deep thoughts beyond what the age of consent was on this side of state lines, but hell, they’d book Against Me! or The War on Women. WWWY has 60-something acts and maybe 8ish bands that feature women, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the non-white representation capped out at Meet Me @ the Altar and maybe someone’s bassist.

20. And more than the obvious logistical snafus waiting to happen, the nostalgia overdose, Live Nation’s recent fuck-ups, and the inevitability of When We Were Young Fyre Festival-ing itself, what really gets me about this whole thing is how it steamrolls any kind of progress pop-punk and emo have made over the last decade. Steps have been taken and awareness has been raised for issues like fan safety at shows beyond just “pick someone up in the pit,” inclusive tours that aren’t just 3 or 4 bands of straight white dudes, some measure of not permitting known abusers to operate within the scene (which, it should be said that at least at a glance, no one on WWWY has any accusations against them), not comparing every band with a femme lead singer to Paramore, and songs that aren’t just about being vaguely sad or how some harlot broke up with you. While it’s possible to look at WWWY the way Cohen looked at JLH above and mused “It’s not that deep,” and give people the benefit of the doubt for holding two thoughts at once, it’s hard to not look at something like WWWY as potentially resetting the scale to zero within public consciousness.

21. If that sounds chippy, well, the other deep tissue thing that annoys me about WWWY is that look, I fuck with a lot of modern pop-punk and emo and shit, and it’s hard to not feel like a bunch of that is going to get shoved to the side in favor of “Rawr means ‘I love you’ in dinosaur XD”-core. It feels like peak crank to actually put this in words, but it is kinda grating to love like, glass beach, Pinkshift, The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, Joyce Manor, PUP, Mannequin Pussy, Foxing, awakebutstillinbed, and Proper. just to see the stuff focused around them get minimal engagement while people are jazzed that bands that they haven’t thought of in 10 years like Boys Like Girls are back.

22. Which puts me in the same boat as the When We Were Young-ers in that I’m also getting defensive and huffy because I perceive that the Things I Like are being devalued by people who don’t know any better.

23. So I don’t know, it’s well within the realm of possibility that someone will go to WWWY, have a ball, look up The Linda Lindas or MM@TA afterward, and discover a world with Action/Adventure in it and that’ll be exciting. Or maybe they’ll hear The Wonder Years rocket through 4 songs and find that oh shit, The Greatest Generation is a pop-punk all-timer about wanting to be a good person. It’s also entirely possible that they go to this thing and spill a $9 White Claw all over a Green Day tee while trying to get a video of My Chem during “I’m Not Okay (I Promise).” Or, they fly to Vegas and spend a day or two trying to recoup the ticket price at a casino because WWWY got canceled and the ticket is nonrefundable.

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The Gibby 50: My 50 Favorite Songs of 2021

Hello there! And welcome back to Listmas 2021, RAM’s end of year coverage. Today’s entry is pretty straight forward, it’s my 50 favorite songs of last year. All a song had to do to make the list was be released in 2021. Could be a pop song, could be something in the far reaches of bandcamp. Because of how we’re doing the Best and Worst pop song blog (coming sometime next week), songs that made the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 are eligible for this list, that’s a first.

The Fifty Favorite Songs portion of Listmas is always lowkey my favorite part, because it feels like the best attempt at encompassing everything that stuck with me for the year. Whereas there are plenty of albums that I listened to but weren’t truly in the running for one reason or another, virtually everything had a song or two I could pluck out and spin. Plus, truth be told, I’m exactly the kind of person who’ll listen to a song for 15 minutes in a row because I didn’t appreciate it enough (idk either, man) on that listen through. So, without further ado, here’s the alphabetical list with some light commentary, with a Spotify playlist at the end.

Action/Adventure – “Poser” The A/A EP this year was a great no-frills pop-punker, really gratifying.
The Armed – “All Futures”
Beach House – “Superstar”
Bigger Better Sun – “Some Important Things”
CHVRCHES – “How Not to Drown”
Clairo – “Amoeba”
Death From Above 1979 – “One + One” I didn’t touch last year’s DFA1979 album or the one before it, but this is a killer single.
Doja Cat – “Need To Know”
Drake – “What’s Next”
Fiddlehead – “Heart to Heart”
For Those I Love – “Birthday / The Pain”
Foxing – “If I Believed In Love” If you ever have the chance, just go into this one blind, it’ll stun you.
glass beach and Skylar Spence – “Rat Castle (Skyler Spence Remix)”
Half Waif – “Orange Blossoms”
Halsey – “You Asked For This”
Harmony Woods – “Rittenhouse” Graceful Rage is a super potent album that I’m surprised wasn’t more talked about.
Hey, Ily – “DigitalLung.EXE”
Home Is Where – “Long Distance Conjoined Twins”
In the Heights – “Champagne” I went back and forth between this and the title track and “$96,000” and “Paciencia Y Fe” and “When the Sun Goes Down” and “No Me Diga” and
Japanese Breakfast – “Kokomo, IN”
Kacey Musgraves – “cherry blossom”
Lana Del Rey – “White Dress”
Laura Stevenson – “Don’t Think About Me”
Lightning Bug – “I Lie Awake” This ranks high on my list of favorite songs of the year.
Lil Uzi Vert – “Pump Up the Jam”
Mo Troper – “Quarter Beare” Shoutout Indiecast for putting me onto Mo Troper.
Nick Lutsko – “Spirit Halloween Planet”
Olivia Rodrigo – “deja vu” It’s hard to not feel at least a little like a fraud putting Olivia Rodrigo on your music list when you’re over age like, 23, but I really like this song.
Origami Angel – “Noah Fence” Gami gang.
Parannoul – “White Ceiling”
Park Hye Jin – “i jus wanna be happy” Almost went with “Let’s Sing, Let’s Dance” here, too.
Pinkshift – “Mars”
Polo G. – “RAPSTAR” I didn’t stay on it all year, but I dug the hell out of Hall of Fame
Porter Robinson – “Musician” Cannot recommend Robinson enough if you crave extroverted, pre-“Closer” EDM pop.
Red Velvet – “Hello, Sunset”
Silk Sonic feat. Bootsy Collins and Thundercat – “After Last Night”
Smol Data – “Bitch Store” I love this song and most of Inconvenience Store for how unapologetically snippy it is.
Snail Mail – “Valentine”
St. Vincent – “My Baby Wants a Baby” A quintessentially St. Vincent track, cool because I can hear it on any of her albums.
Sweet Soul – “No Control”
Taylor Swift – “Babe (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” It’s a shame that “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault) (Jake Gyllenhaal is a War Criminal)” took up all the oxygen around the Red vault tracks, because it’s probably the like fifth best one.
Turnstile – “DON’T PLAY”
Tyler, the Creator feat. Teezo Touchdown – “RUNITUP”
The War on Drugs – “Victim”
The Weeknd – “Take My Breath” New Weeknd this Friday, that’ll be exciting.
Willow – “naive” Niche, but: did you have Willow making the year’s best Title Fight song? I didn’t.
Wolf Alice – “Smile”
The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – “Infinite Josh” The first half of this is just the most gorgeous thing.
Yves Tumor – “Jackie”

And we’re done! See you for the final part of Listmas next week!
Favorite Albums of 2021
-The Gibby Fifty–Fifty Favorite Songs of the Year
-Billboard Blitz: Finding the Best and Worst of 2021’s Hits

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Ranting About Music’s16 Favorite Albums from 2021

Hello there! And welcome to Listmas 2021, our end of the year (and, whoopsie, only!) coverage of 2021 in music! Today, we start with the list of favorite albums.

The word for 2021 in music was “tentative.” For everything from shows to statement releases to trends, the year had an undercurrent of hedge betting and holding patterns: shows were back! As long as you’re vaccinated and ideally wear a mask, and hopefully the show wasn’t postponed or canceled because someone in the touring crew caught Covid. We got big releases from ‘10s stalwarts like Adele, Drake, and Taylor Swift! All of whom were pretty safe, and Taylor even rereleased a pair of her biggest albums. More recent pop phenoms like Billie Eilish and Clairo dropped new records! Both of which were furtively understated. It felt like there wasn’t any one thing to center around this year, with even lightning rods like Lil Nas X and Olivia Rodrigo feeling still a piece short of classic or new icon status.

Now, to be fair, part of this seems itself to be a pattern. Granted, decades are somewhat arbitrary measurements of time, but looking at best albums of 2011 and 2001 lists shows that for whatever reason, the ___1 year tends to be a grab bag while we figure out what this decade’s deal is. For every acclaimed classic like Is This It? or mega-seller 21, you get your respective punchlines like whokill and “oh, that” lost footnotes like Love and Theft. Maybe the allure of a musically bangin’ 2022 is cold comfort while looking at top ten lists that give prime space to no one’s favorite The War on Drugs record or didactic rap albums about introversion, but that isn’t to say that ‘21 was a complete wash, otherwise.

To that point, it was a year of pleasant surprises, as you’ll see below. I didn’t really come into this year knowing what to expect, but I was still able to find room for my favorites. Let’s start with the ones on the cusp.

16. Red Velvet – Queendom – The 6th Mini Album
15. Lil Nas X – MONTERO
14. Half Waif – Mythopoetics
13. Willow – lately I feel EVERYTHING
12. Foxing – Draw Down the Moon
11. Harmony Woods – Graceful Rage

Kacey Musgraves: star-crossed Album Review | Pitchfork

10. Kacey Musgraves – star-crossed
Divorce albums and breakup albums factored prominently into 2021, but few fired as well on all levels as star-crossed, the follow-up to country sensation Kacey Musgraves’ 2018 honeymooner Golden Hour. What star-crossed best captures is that for all their drama and heartache, the time spent after most divorces or breakups is unglamourous and unimpressed. Instead of dealing exclusively in gratifying “fuck you” flamethrowers or stately, revelatory ballads, the album trades in shiny but damaged mid-fi tunes that emphasize the “pop” in “pop country” to capture the feelings of post-split adriftness. It reminds me a lot of Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak: a falling-from-the-top record by a genre champion jettisoning most of their sonic hallmarks in favor of sad-eyed music that tempers its raw, sometimes unrepentantly bitter feelings with heavily processed vocals. The difference is that (hot take incoming) more than half of star-crossed is listenable: “cherry blossom,” “justified,” “camera roll,” and “what doesn’t kill me” are all top shelf, and with “breadwinner,” the record isn’t afraid of a “fuck you” or two. The songcraft is strong here, but I also felt drawn to star-crossed in a year laced with albums about splits. It’s a holistic welcome to heartbreak.

CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST - Tyler, The Creator | Songs, Reviews, Credits |  AllMusic

9. Tyler, the Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
In 2021, Tyler, the Creator finally clicked with me. I’ve followed Tyler since Odd Future broke through (which happened during my sophomore year of college, so it was hard not to), and while I’ve always liked his singles and appreciated him as an avatar for chaos goblin Black art kid weirdness cut with queer sensitivity, his previous work had the air of someone still figuring out all their sides. CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST is Tyler at his most realized; he makes a full-throated return to rapping and comes back with his best lines, his production is the sharpest and clearest it’s ever been, there aren’t any “just fucking around” throwaways on here, and all of the features fucking hit (shoutout Lil Wayne, putting in work between his appearance here and on Hall of Fame). Focused shit talk on “LUMBERJACK” and “JUGGERNAUT” slaps, as does the airy Southern rap vibe of “RUNITUP,” but then “SWEET/I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE” highlights the undercurrent of lament running throughout the record, and it’s just great to hear someone artistically fire on all cylinders on every song. Throw in some great MC work from DJ Drama and you’ve got a winner, this rules.

8. Passive Refraction – What We’ve Been Through
A label I follow but don’t talk a lot about is this British electronic label called Dream Catalogue. I found them a few years ago via the sorta internet famous record Birth of a New Day by 2814. They’re a fairly busy label that specializes in outré ambient/dreamscape electronica, and I enjoy this type of stuff for what I don’t know about it. What We’ve Been Through is my favorite release from the label this year. Passive Refraction’s album stands out to me because you can feel warmth and assurance in every song, it’s bright without being slight or inert, and does a great job at being soothing while still being memorable. This was my favorite relaxing listen for this year, it’s worth checking out.

파란노을 (Parannoul): To See the Next Part of the Dream Album Review | Pitchfork

7. Parannoul – To See the Next Part of the Dream
“I just hope there will be more active losers like me in the world.” ends the description for To See the Next Part of the Dream on bandcamp, without a shred of irony. Rock, especially the kinda punky/kinda emo/kinda shoegaze/kinda post-rock/kinda indie strain of it Parannoul makes, has been made by charismatic people calling themselves losers for decades, but Parannoul (an artist whose real identity is literally unknown) really means that shit; TStNPofD is a concept (or not?) album about a Korean youth who wants to make a big rock record but knows full well that doing such won’t make his miserable existence any better. But he still does it, and the result is an absolutely crestfallen album that manages to sound both like shit and legitimately incredible at the same time. Drums rattle, cymbals hiss, and guitars and vocals both sound like “slowed and reverb” versions of themselves, but TStNPofD turns this ugliness into a strength, and sometimes even beauty. Nowhere is this done better than on personal Song of the Year “White Ceiling,” a ten-minute epic that builds itself up part by part until all of those parts crescendo in one of the prettiest, saddest, yet most triumphant refrains I’ve ever heard. It’s the sound of someone taking the leap and choosing to do that which they hold dear, even knowing that it is, as Parannoul puts it, a “stupid and anachronistic” dream. But whose dreams aren’t a little silly? Why should that ever stop us from the joy of their pursuit?

Glow On - Wikipedia

6. Turnstile – GLOW ON
If you’ve wondered what the swirly pink and white album cover is that you’ve seen on a bunch of lists, it’s this one, the third album by Baltimore hardcore band Turnstile. There’s plenty of smart writing already out there about this album and how it and Turnstile exist in relation to hardcore, what it means to explore the genre, and its limits, so instead of rehashing those points, I’ll simply pitch that you should listen to GLOW ON because it rocks. It rocks in the specifically extroverted, polished, big riff way that you don’t hear much of anymore: if you want to rock, your options seem to be dinosaur acts (Foo Fighters), Machine Gun Kelly pop-punk revival-core, “real rawk” radio fodder, alternative radio fodder (Glass Animals), or indie rock where the rock is sometimes only implied (The War on Drugs, Snail Mail). GLOW ON consistently goes for the head with plenty of straight-ahead rippers and songs that balance their power with texture. If “it slaps” is enough for you, you’d love this one.

I Became Birds | Home Is Where | Father/Daughter Records

5. Home Is Where – I Became Birds
It’s rad as hell when a band sounds fully formed on their debut album. So it is with Floridian emo act Home Is Where, whose record I Became Birds oscillates from folk-inflected indie to barnburner punk throat-shredders and back all within 18 minutes. The two most potent parts of the record are frontperson Brandon MacDonald’s vivid lyrics and tunefulness even during the shouting parts of the record (it’s the “Hey, Sa-maaaan-thaaaa” vocal hook that makes “Long-Distance Conjoined Twins” a kind of perfect single), and the band’s dynamism. What makes elements like the rise and fall build of “Long-Distance Conjoined Twins,” the slow burn of “Sewn Together From the Membrane of the Great Sea Cucumber,” or the out and out blast of “Assisted Harakiri” work is that the band has the chemistry born of playing a bunch together, which is less of a granted than you think it’d be these days. If you’re looking for somewhere to start, I suggest “Long-Distance Conjoined Twins” or “Assisted Harakiri”, you’ll know quickly if this is for you.

Illusory Walls | The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to  Die

4. The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – Illusory Walls
It took some doing to get my head around this one. On one hand, the first 9 songs on Illusory Walls see emo revival stalwarts TWIABP do a hard 180 from 2017’s streamlined (and underrated!) Always Foreign by scaling the songs back up and adding about 15 pounds of metalcore muscle onto their instrumentation for a record that’s fulfilling and plays well as both parts and a whole. On the other hand, how do you appraise that when the final two songs clock in at fifteen and twenty fucking minutes? That they don’t feel their length is a marvel, that both are great is even better (I’m more partial to “Infinite Josh” of the two). It becomes a matter of two things being true at once: Illusory Walls’ is powerful as a record, and then it closes with a pair of signature statements whose gravity is such that the record can’t help but feel lopsided. Which, given how trollsy this band can be, is the most TWIABP thing possible.

In The Heights (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) - Album by Lin-Manuel  Miranda | Spotify

3. In the Heights
Yeah, so amidst the punk/rock/alt/emo records at the top of this list is a musical, because I will always be at least kind of a theater kid (albeit not a ~great one–my favorite non-2021 music discovery of last year was the 1970 version of Company). Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first musical got the movie treatment this year, and after never seeking out the Broadway version, I took to this one right away. You can hear In the Heights as a Hamilton practice swing if you want, but there’s a sense of freedom here that’s absent on Miranda’s fastidious masterpiece. There really isn’t an overmatched performance here, and the arranging is top rate, just check out the opening title track or “$96,000,” a symphony of moving pieces. Character songs like “Paciencia Y Fe” and duets like “When the Sun Goes Down” or “Champagne” shine, too; I know musicals get a bum rap, but this one’s rock solid. Reminds me, I still have to fire up tick, tick…BOOM.

The Armed: ULTRAPOP Album Review | Pitchfork

2. The Armed – ULTRAPOP
The Armed may be legitimately insane. Or I’m being fucked with. You can draw either conclusion from their Stereogum interview around ULTRAPOP, which is the wildest musician interview I’ve read since this Willow and Jaden Smith piece over 7 years ago. Maybe The Armed are masterminded by a guy named Clark Huge and maybe everyone in the band decided to get super duper jacked for this album cycle, or maybe the actual band hired stunt doubles for everything and it’s just an act. If so, then ULTRAPOP is serious dedication to the bit; an album of pummeling, textured hardcore that’s surprisingly deft on its feet for how heavy and relentless it is. This one was a sleeper for me: while “All Futures,” “An Iteration,” and “Real Folk Blues” were easy to catch on the first listen, I didn’t realize until it was time to work on this list that I haven’t put ULTRAPOP down for meaningful stretches since its April release. It unsurprisingly works great as a gym record. I may not be Clark Huge’s size, but for 39 minutes, I can feel like it.

If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power - Wikipedia

1. Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
I did not expect this one.

Halsey (who uses she and they pronouns)’s historically never done much for me. She’ll have a song or two on each album I like, but it feels like there’s always a gap between how they see themselves and their album conceptually, and how the finished product actually sounds. If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power closes that gap, sounding every bit as dark, visceral, and gothic as the visuals and concepts portray. And on top of that, it has the fucking songs, too: “Easier than Lying,” “You asked for this,” “Honey,” “Bells in Santa Fe,” “1122,” and “Lilith” are all discrete, memorable pop alternative tunes (my favorite of the bunch is “You Asked For This,” which is like if someone tried to squeeze The Fragile into “1979” with My Bloody Valentine guitars).

A large contribution to IICHLIWP’s prowess is the Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross production, which marks the Nine Inch Nails duo’s first major pop music collaboration. The Rez/Ross production work gets mentioned as a point of novelty for the album, but the more I listen to it, the more I’m convinced it might be a stroke of genius? If we’ve hit the late 90s alt-phase of “what’s old is new again,” why not go straight to someone from that time? Is there a better contemporary fit for Trent Reznor, purveyor of angsty, unsubtle, psychosexually tortured melodrama than Halsey? The beauty of this collaboration is that it’s a pure synthesis of Halsey’s work with NIN’s catalogue and scoring; it’s thrilling to hear how both sides improve a song like “Lilith” or “I am not a woman, I’m a god.” And it’s done in a way where Reznor and Ross aren’t “saving” these songs from Halsey, they play to Halsey’s strengths. It’s a great work of synthesis, and my favorite record of 2021. Let’s see what the new year has for us.

But first, the rest of Listmas!
-Favorite Albums of 2021
-The Gibby Fifty: Fifty Favorite Songs of 2021
-Billboard Blitz! The Best and Worst Hits of 2021

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