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Our correspondent Abbie Martin Greenbaum has curated a highly subjective list of the 10 iconic songs that we think best define the essential essence and vibe of the year 2021.

What are the 10 best iconic songs that define the year 2021?

The year is finally about to come to an end, and… what a year it has been. Though these final few weeks may prove difficult, there is still one thing left to look forward to, as 2021 draws to a close: the “best of” lists.


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Throughout this extraordinary year, we’ve been able to rely on art, across every medium, even as the rest of the world remained uncertain. In spite of the many obstacles, 2021 was a year that produced exceptional writing, filmmaking, and music – and now we want to take a moment to honor those special creations. And how better to do that than with a list of the Best Songs of the Year?

list of the top 10 iconic songs that we think best define the essential essence, mood and vibe of the year 2021

Our take on the top 10 iconic songs that we think best define the essential essence, mood and vibe of the year 2021. Kacey Musgrave.

2021 was an unforgettable chapter in music history, and choosing only ten songs feels like an impossible task. How can we choose our favorite songs, when so many artists – including artists we haven’t heard from in decades (hello, ABBA) – graced us with incredible new songs?


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It was a challenge, but we did our best to narrow them down for you. Here are our ten favorite songs of the year. In no particular order.

Our take on the top 10 iconic songs that we think best define the essential essence, mood and vibe of the year 2021

Our take on the top 10 iconic songs that we think best define the essential essence, mood and vibe of the year 2021. Olivia Rodrigo.

top 10 best iconic songs that define the year 2021

1. Montero (Call Me By Your Name) by Lil Nas X

Named Best Song of the Year by NPR. Nominated for Song of the Year at the Grammy’s. It should come as no surprise that the catchy, queer love song from Lil Nas X has found its place on every “best songs of the year” list.  And it doesn’t hurt that the music video is as much a masterpiece as the song itself, prompting analysis fromhistorical scholars and hysterical twitter-users alike. Lil Nas X is the artist of the moment, and we can’t wait to see what’s next.

best songs of 2021

2. Nightflyer by Allison Russell

Allison Russell’s “Nightflyer” is another that you’ll see soaring to the top of every Spotify wrapped. From Russell’s gorgeous debut solo album Outside Child – which you’ll also see receiving many of the year’s accolades – this song is the one has earned itself a Grammy nomination (for Best American Roots Song) and a spot on President Obama’sFavorite Music of 2021.” Between the stunning vocals and the vivid lyrics, it’s no wonder that this song is one of the year’s most memorable.

best songs of 2021

3.Silk Chiffon (feat. Phoebe Bridgers) by MUNA

Many of the most popular songs (and movies, and books) of the year are ones that wield the almighty power of nostalgia. Makes sense, right? In a time such as this one, we’re bound to look towards the past for a window into some relief. But that’s the magical thing about Silk Chiffon – it invokes nostalgia for a time that maybe hasn’t happened yet. This delightful queer love song is joy-filled and joy-inspiring, and we hope it manifests many beautiful things to come.

best songs of 2021


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4. All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) by Taylor Swift

It’s not just that “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” broke the record  for the longest Number One song in history – it also managed to do something much more impossible. This is a song that has lived, shrouded in mythology, in the minds of Swift’s rabid fans (or “Swifties”) for nearly a decade. There was no way that when they finally heard it – ten years older than they were at the time of its inception – that it was going to live up to expectations. And yet, somehow, this is one of the best songs of the year, and likely the best that Swift has ever written.

best songs of 2021

5. Working for the Knife by Mitski

There’s no one quite like Mitski – as proven by the way the internet seemed to skip a beat on the day she released one of her first new songs since 2018’s Be the Cowboy.  The song is moody and dark and complicated, and yet a pleasure to listen to. It brings to light the artist’s inner-dilemma: the desire to create something that is somehow separated from the world’s expectations of her.

best songs of 2021

6. Meet Me At Our Spot (Live) by WILLOW and Tyler Cole

WILLOW needs no introduction. She is, of course, Willow Smith – daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. But over the last decade, her music has shown that she is growing into an icon in her own right. In 2021, as well as her fantastic new album “lately I feel EVERYTHING,” she also released a live version of the 2020 song “Meet Me At Our Spot.” This is a song by the band The Anxiety, a collaboration between her and Cole. The song’s sudden popularity goes to show the power of Tik Tok: the app thrust it into the spotlight a full year after its initial release – and we’re grateful. It’s easily one of the best of the year.


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7. Breadwinner by Kacey Musgraves

“Breadwinner” hails from Musgraves’ highly-anticipated album, “Star-Crossed” – an album that emerged following the knowledge of the singer’s 2020 divorce. The album’s many emotions seem to come to a boil in “Breadwinner,” which speaks explicitly to the experiences of a woman whose husband is unable to support her in her success.

8. Brando by Lucy Dacus

This is another song that traffics in nostalgia – but of a different kind. This is the kind of nostalgia you have when you’re looking back, years later, and you’re finally able to see the past for what it is. It’s the story of a girl who skips school to watch old movies with a guy who thinks he’s cooler than he is. (We’ve all been there.) But this is the power of nostalgia: even if the past wasn’t all that we thought it was, it’s still a little magical to look back on it. That’s the feeling of Brando.

9. Be Sweet by Japanese Breakfast

Michelle Zauner is having quite the year.  Her memoir, Crying in H Mart, was one of the best books of the year, and her song, “Be Sweet” is one of the best songs. How many people get to say that? In a year of difficulty and darkness, this is a happy, light, and yes, sweet song. She wants to “believe in something” – and so do we. This song is the one we needed this year.

10. good 4 u by Olivia Rodrigo

If we had to pick one song on this list to rule them all, well – the selection shouldn’t surprise you. 2021 was Olivia Rodrigo’s year – as proven by her five Grammy nominations, all earned when she was only eighteen years old. Her debut album, Sour, is Gen Z gold from start to finish, but it’s the angry, sad, and energized “good 4 u” that has run away with our hearts. Like all the best songs, this is one that works for both good days and bad; for screaming along with friends in the car, or for jumping around, late at night, alone in your bedroom. It’s too cool for us, and yet, it’s so relatable, it’s also not cool at all – the perfect song.

top 10 iconic songs that define the year 2021

That’s our take on the top 10 iconic songs that we think best define the essential essence, mood and vibe of the year 2021. They may not have all been our favorites – but they’re emblematic of the year that just was. What do you think, dear reader? What’s on your top 10 list for 2021?

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Abbie Martin Greenbaum grew up in New York City and currently lives in Brooklyn, where she drinks a lot of coffee and matches roommates together for a living. At Oberlin College, she studied English and Cinema, which are still two of her favorite things, along with dessert and musical theater. She believes in magic.

Abbie Martin Greenbaum

Abbie Martin Greenbaum is a writer, reader, and pop culture connoisseur, who loves storytelling, coffee, and dessert. Her work has also appeared in Playbill.