Surprise! I don’t often write about pop music outside of Korea and Japan, but I thought I’d switch things up for a day and countdown my favorite non-K-pop/J-pop tracks of the year. I’ve had a few requests for this and it might be interesting to gain some context for my music taste outside of The Bias List‘s narrow focus (spoiler: it’s a lot of dance music).
With such focus on Korea and Japan, I don’t keep up with Western pop as much as I used to. But, I made a concerted effort in 2021 to give it more attention. I’m sure I missed a ton of great tracks, but for now here’s the soundtrack to my year (with some brief commentary included):
Justin Bieber – Peaches (ft. Daniel Caesar & Giveon))
Post Malone x The Weeknd – One Right Now
Calvin Harris – By Your Side (ft. Tom Grennan)
Charli XCX – Good Ones
2021 YEAR-END MASTERPOST
40. Darin – Can’t Stay Away
Darin goes disco! That’s really all you need to know. This is such a loving homage — bright and buoyant.
39. Ed Sheeran – Shivers
An Ed Sheeran song on my countdown? I’m not usually a fan, but his foray into synth-kissed pop bore plenty of musical fruit this year. Shivers is the strongest of the three singles.
38. Gabry Ponte – Thunder (ft. Lum!x & Prezioso)
This manic dancefloor sea shanty is too weird to ignore. It’s such a mood-lifting sing-along.
37. Tiësto x Ava Max – The Motto
Built upon a gritty bass loop, The Motto‘s playful, seesawing hook never gets old.
36. Coldplay x BTS – My Universe
This pairing really shouldn’t work, but it’s impossible to resist that grand chorus and clobbering instrumental outro.
35. Ava Max – Every Time I Cry
Ava Max excels at delivering sturdy dance pop tracks. Nothing about this reinvents the wheel, but it’s so satisfying.
34. Conan Gray – Overdrive
It’s all about that wistful, yearning chorus. Overdrive was one of many standouts within 2021’s emotive synthpop trend.
33. Joel Herttua – Syntinen
This Finnish band was described to me as “Queen meets ABBA.” I can think of few things better, and Syntinen‘s theatrical energy doesn’t disappoint.
32. Elton John x Dua Lipa – Cold Heart (PNAU remix)
This is how to do a remake/remix! This powerhouse trio transforms a classic into something wholly new and fresh.
31. Lil Nas X – Sun Goes Down
Sun Goes Down is such a raw, heartbreaking track that establishes Lil Nas X as a multilayered artist with genre-bending prowess.
30. Little Mix – Love (Sweet Love)
Love (Sweet Love)‘s big, boisterous sound brings me back to the 90’s when powerful girl groups like En Vogue ruled the airwaves.
29. The Weeknd – Moth To A Flame (with Swedish House Mafia)
Swedish House Mafia are a huge touchstone for me, and they make a perfect pair with The Weeknd’s expressive vocals. Moth To A Flame is all about its slow-burn tension.
28. Foxes – Sister Ray
Surging synth arpeggios? Mammoth chorus? You know I’m sold!
27. Lil Nas X – Industry Baby (ft. Jack Harlow)
Industry Baby‘s trumpeting brass makes an appropriately huge backdrop for 2021’s most compelling voice. This is pretty much everything I love about hip-hop.
26. Olivia Rodrigo – Good 4 U
I’m loving this resurgence of catchy punk-inspired pop. I wasn’t as sold on Rodrigo’s ballads as others seemed to be, but this burst of attitude is so enjoyable.
25. ABBA – I Still Have Faith In You
Nostalgia is a powerful drug, and this song still feels like some impossible fever dream. It’s such a perfect capper for a legendary legacy.
24. Doja Cat x SZA – Kiss Me More
Bopping along my favorite chill groove of the year, Kiss Me More‘s insidious hook proved irresistible, echoed by gentle guitar and light, airy vocals.
23. Charli XCX – New Shapes (ft. Christine and the Queens & Caroline Polachek)
New Shapes teams together a trio of charismatic performers who command every moment of the prickly, snare-heavy instrumental.
22. Molly Sanden – Vi ska aldrig gå hem
Hinging on a series of repeated loops (both instrumental and vocal), Vi ska aldrig gå hem is hypnotic synth-pop with bite.
21. Trash – Love (After All, It’s Because Of Love)
This Taiwanese band merged emotional, gutsy rock melodies with a pummeling EDM-inspired drop to goosebump-inducing effect.