The Best Songs of 2021 (So Far…)

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Left to right: Saweetie, JPEGMAFIA, Aries

Feeling like 2021’s been a “slow” year for music? Need some new music to put in your rotation? Here’s a short collection of the top five songs that have been released so far this year.

Image: Genius

Porter Robinson – Musician

The most recent of several singles he’s released in anticipation of his sophomore album Nurture, “Musician” finds Porter Robinson reflecting on his status as a creator. The lyrical angle of being drawn to creation and feeling a certain calling to express yourself through the outlet of music is expressed here with passion and great tact. He contrasts the euphoric feeling he gets from his work with other lyrical passages of doubt, dodging questions either from someone close to him or himself: “Porter, this life: Isn’t it time that you grow up?” Robinson’s lyrical musings are set against a backdrop of bright synths and jittery vocal samples, creating a joyful sound palette that conveys the sense of wonder in the lyrics perfectly. It’s an exciting teaser for Nurture, already one of my most anticipated albums of 2021. The track also features writing credits from Gus Lobban and Sarah Midori Perry of Kero Kero Bonito, igniting hope of further collaboration in the future.

Image: Genius

Saweetie & Doja Cat – Best Friend

“Best Friend”, the first collaboration between Saweetie and Doja Cat, is hands down the most fun song to be released in 2021. It’s an ode to friendship, celebration, and just generally being a bad bitch. The beat finds power in simplicity, consisting of just percussion and a single guitar line. Saweetie’s opening verse is confident and hilarious, but Doja Cat steals the show by way of her bouncy flow and the eccentricity she adds to the track. The chemistry between Saweetie and Doja is this song’s x-factor. They bounce off of each other seamlessly, and their camaraderie in the song’s music video adds another layer to “Best Friend”’s buoyant attitude. It’s so endearing. Like, I really do believe they are best friends. I mean, how else could you come up with a line like “Beep beep, is that my bestie in a Tessie?”

Image: Genius

Aries – DITTO

It’s hard to exactly pin down Aries’ style. While his first album WELCOME HOME sits squarely in an emo-trap lane, his new material finds him incorporating elements of alt-rock, pop, and R&B. He’s also appeared to ditch his moody lyrical approach in favor of a brighter, more thoughtful direction. The result is an idiosyncratic sound that, combined with an excellent eye for visuals, makes him an artist to watch as he gears up for his second full-length release. This new track, “DITTO”, is the third single he’s released in the past few months. It’s anchored by some rough-around-the-edges guitar chords, a rumbling beat, and some of Aries’ most irresistible melodies to date. The sound design and attention to detail in this song is what really makes it pop. The pitch-shifted harmonies in the background and seemingly random bursts of percussion in the verses add so much color to the song, and the lead vocals are incredibly warm and layered. It’s a great summer jam that you should check out as soon as you can.

Image: Pitchfork

St. Vincent – Pay Your Way In Pain

St. Vincent is finally back after 2017’s MASSEDUCTION with the 70’s-tinged “Pay Your Way In Pain”. Easily one of the most bold releases of the year, the song is a disorienting swirl of Prince, Midnite Vultures-era Beck, and Young Americans-era David Bowie (other reviewers have pointed out how similar the cries of “Pain!” here sound to David Bowie’s 1975 track “Fame”). The track’s wild moans and vocal inflections paired with pulsating synth bass make for an incredibly visceral and urgent experience. Serving as the lead single for St. Vincent’s upcoming album Daddy’s Home, the track comes off as such a statement that it’s hard to ignore, no matter how you feel about the song. The song paired with its music video sets an immediately recognizable tone and vision – she’s now a rockstar. It’s clear what St. Vincent is shooting for, and we’ll see if she makes good on her whacked-out funk rock promises on the rest of Daddy’s Home.

Image: Genius

JPEGMAFIA – FIX URSELF!

On his most recent release, EP2!, JPEGMAFIA finds himself exploring a hazier, more melodic sound than what he’s typically known for. “FIX URSELF!” is this experiment at his best, taking some of Peggy’s trademark sardonic and biting lyricism and pairing it with one of the catchiest flows and choruses of his career (How is you tryna make it with no talent or cash?/2020, n****s out here with no clue, no plan, and no mask… Damn!). The track’s smooth beat and marching band-esque horn line are certainly outliers in the JPEGMAFIA discography, but a constant evolution and willingness to experiment are part of what makes him such a compelling creative force and one of the best artists in the underground today. Ultimately, “FIX URSELF!” is a track that’s worth checking out simply because of the way the chorus works itself into your brain and absolutely refuses to leave. It’s such an earworm. If you decide to listen to this one, I’d listen to the single version as opposed to the EP version: the EP variant cuts off 30 seconds of the original’s outro for some reason, and I find that it isn’t quite as effective without the build-up.

*Featured image: Saweetie, Teen Vogue. JPEGMAFIA, Microphone Check. Aries, Ones To Watch.

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