A music year in review: the 12 best songs of 2021

By Doris Daga

Photo: Getty

From Tiktok trends to the Eurovision song contest, Vogue Scandinavia's Music Expert Doris Daga rounds up the top songs from this past year.

It is easy to sound like a broken record when reflecting over the year that is 2021. As these 12 months comes to a close, and the future is looking, to be completely honest, as grim as the beginning of this pandemic, I have found myself turning to music more than ever.


Pop has come to serve a greater purpose than to bring 3 minutes and 30 seconds of escape. Timbaland, early two-thousands Justin Timberlake and Gwen Stefani, Måneskin, Boney M., Tina Turner, The Weeknd, and even the Macarena have been some of my most played songs this year. All bound together by their incredible ability to make you feel good. Not only about yourself, but about the world. Come what may, chances are Nelly Furtado’s Promiscuous is going to make whatever situation astronomically better.

This year, I have found one quite unpredictable emotion to be the overarching theme in music: joy. A feeling that has been enormously unrepresented in the past few years, happiness is back in business in music. Further, TikTok – with its ability to help break out new artists in a matter of days – has once again democratised music, letting the people pick and choose what songs they want to succeed on the radio on a global scale.

As we begin to turn the page to the year 2022 with a hopeful note, we look back on the 12 songs that have made our days a little brighter. These songs have captured the human spirit in ways that are unique to this strange situation we all find ourselves in — a sonic time capsule.

Olivia Rodrigo: Driver's license

It is rare to be able to witness a debut as strong as Olivia Rodrigo’s driver's license in January of 2021, kicking off the year with the most memorable song of these past 12 months. Capturing the essence of an entire generation’s perception of youth, anxiety, and teen love — all in a blue and purple tint — Ms Rodrigo set herself on the map as one of the 21st century’s most prolific songwriters and storytellers. Set to sweep the 2022 Grammy’s, she deserves every award handed to her.

Pink Pantheress: Pain

A true product of the TikTok craze, PinkPantheress has been one of the major sound waves fusing with our brainwaves this year. Pain is maybe the most well-known track from her debut album to hell with it, this is definitely the frontier of pop music. Inspired by drum and bass, 90s club music, nothing is more exciting than an artist that surprises you at every turn, with a reinvented sound, lyrics, and a voice that is truly unique to the digital meets analog world.

The Weeknd: Take My Breath

We have declared our love for the Weeknd and his incredible sunglass choices before, but Take My Breath, from his upcoming album, is one of the best pop songs of this year. The ability to capture a retro sound without it sounding gimmicky is no easy feat, and yet it comes amazingly easy to Abel Tesfaye. I imagine playing this on a cassette in a vintage convertible red Mercedes, driving down the streets in 1980s Miami. More realistically though, once we finally get to return to the dance floors, this is the song I will be requesting the most.

Charlie XCX: Good Ones

Good Ones was in the top three of my Spotify wrapped this year (after The Way I Are and Promiscuous by Timbaland and Nelly Furtado, respectively). The pop anthem for Sad Girl Energy in 2021 is the exact reason why Charli XCX summed up this year. Good Ones is a track you can dance, cry, and scream at the top of your lungs to at the imaginary light-up dance floor we all wished we attended this year. Clocking in at 2 minutes and 16 seconds, this record is definitely, one of the good ones.

Doja Cat: Need to Know

The intergalactic appeal of Doja Cat is pop escapism at its very best. An upbeat track layered with hilariously extravagant lyrics and a catchier-than-catchy hook, it is no question that Tiktok made this song stratospheric. Need to Know is sure to be stuck in our hearts for longer than the year of two thousand and twenty-one.

Cy: My Name Next to Yours

Cy’s debut with her EP Ugh! took Sweden by storm this year, specifically with her first single My Name Next To Yours. A record that is heartbreakingly honest and raw about the betrayal of her best friend and her ex, this is a diary entry that we can’t stop listening to. With a Swedish affinity for melody, Cy is one of the bright young things to keep an eye out for in 2022.

girl in red: Serotonin

I remember the first time I heard girl in red’s single Serotonin in April of 2021. Since then, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. The track is the perfect combination of 90s indie-rock roots combined with cherry-picked dubstep sounds (I had never heard of that before either). girl in red is able to handle conversations surrounding mental health, youth, and sexuality like no other. This 22-year-old Norwegian is at the frontier of the new generation of stars set to take over pop.

beabadobee: Last Day on Earth

beabadobee makes the end of the world sound like a good time — or at least not something to panic over. Written by the artist as well as Matty Healy and George Daniel from the 1975, it is clear that she is crowned the heir of the next indie-pop craze. As the 2014 Tumblr aesthetic is beginning to return due to its romanticization on Tik Tok, beabadobee reminds me of the grip the Arctic Monkeys held over us, and we’re here for it.

Kali Uchis: telepatía

Another song chosen by the people, Kali Uchis’ telepatía is another Tiktok viral song to hit the mainstream- and it’s clear why. With over 500 million streams on Spotify alone, this 2-minute forty-second Spanish and English dream-like record is the sonic equivalent to your favourite comfort movie. Uchis vocals are layered, soft, and easy to sing along to — a 21st-century lullaby.

Conan Gray: Telepath

Written by Norwegian Caroline Ailin, Swedish Ilya Salmanzadeh, and American Julia Michaels — with Gray himself of course—Telepath is one of the best that pop had to offer this year. With irresistible melodies, genius lyrics, this is what I imagine Tears for Fears would release if they were an indie synth band in the 21st century. The writers have even let us have an open space to sing along to the riff at the end of each chorus. It’s sweet, sour, sad, bitter, and euphoric in a perfect whirlwind of emotions. When Conan Gray comes to Scandinavia in May of this year, you can expect me to be standing in the first row.

SZA: I Hate U

What started as a throw-away demo on Soundcloud turned into a massive Tiktok trend, and now it’s the biggest song of the moment. If you haven’t had “and if you wonder if I hate you? I do” stuck in your head at least once these past couple of months, you have been living under some kind of rock. I Hate U is the perfect alternative R&B song, a sweet sound with a darker message. SZA is time and time again letting us know that she’s in it to win it, and with this Gen-Z approved hit, we’re going into 2022 with I Hate U on our brains.

Måneskin: Zitti e Buoni

Maybe the most surprising hit of this year, Måneskin is the dark horse of music this year. The first big act to come out of the Eurovision song contest since ABBA in 1974, this glam-rock quartet has taken over not only music but also fashion with their over-the-top gender-bending style. Their single Zitti e Buoni which got them their win is maybe the only song in Italian to ever hit the mainstream. It’s rock and roll, a little tongue in cheek, but mostly, an incredibly good time.

Listen to Vogue Scandinavia's 12 best songs of 2021: