Included on this list are loud anthems played around the world; beautiful intimate ballads and underground hits that push the limits. Although the songs presented in this article are of great diversity, they all share a common thread: excellence. There is no doubt that each of the songs on this list will end up in the music history books. In no particular order, here are the 10 songs the authors of the Michigan Daily Music Beat consider the best of 2021.
— Kai Bartol, Music Rhythm Editor and Rosa Sofia Kaminski, Senior Arts Editor
“Family Bonds”, Baby Keem ft. Kendrick Lamar
“Family Ties” will undoubtedly remain one of the defining songs of our current musical era. Featuring Kendrick Lamar and Baby Keem, two of the hottest rappers, this track represents Keem’s mainstream escape and Kendrick’s new beginnings.
Unapologetic in every aspect of its production, the “family ties” radiate the confidence of two artists who fully understand its meaning. Cocky lines like Kendrick’s “Smokin’ on your top five tonight” and Keem’s “Your dream girl for me is a fan” are underpinned by the track’s downright fantastic production. The song’s jaw-dropping instrumentals include loud horns and manic 808s that flow through multiple tonal shifts, combining with Keem’s marathon-level delivery to elevate the song’s track to spectacle.
“Family ties” amplify you and make you elated. It reminds you that Keem and Kendrick run the show and proves that they will have so much more to offer in the future.
— Kai Bartol, Music Rhythm Editor
“INDUSTRY BABY “Lil Nas X ft. Jack Harlow
Lil Nas X really has a knack for controversy and writing memorable tunes. “INDUSTRY BABY” is undoubtedly one of the most catchy earworms of 2021.
Its loud and noisy horns and snares are reminiscent of marching bands and give it a triumphant sound, with an absolutely addictive hook. He’s rebellious and still has that underdog, underdog feel, despite his production value. Jack Harlow’s verse fits the song well, although his role in the music video seems a bit out of place. Lil Nas X injects humor, sex appeal and attitude into an absolutely captivating performance.
Written by YouTube commentator Salvador Rodona: “I never thought I’d see a male version of WAP.”
— Jason Zhang, Daily Arts Editor
“SWEET / I THOUGHT YOU WANT TO DANCE,” Tyler the Creator
Tyler’s longest song, The Creator’s latest album, “SWEET / I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE” exhibits a rare emotional vulnerability on an album that is otherwise defined by Tyler’s tasteful extravagance and arrogance. .
Musically, the track is upbeat with dynamic and diverse instrumentals influenced by R&B, West Coast hip hop, jazz, and reggae, but lyrically the song has a completely different tone. In the first half, Tyler talks about a romantic relationship, stating that his love is so strong “a diamond couldn’t put a dent in it”. However, in the second half, Tyler slowly expresses mixed emotions about his love, culminating in one of the best rap verses on CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST where Tyler boldly reveals that he wishes he had never met the person he fell in love with.
Despite being nearly 10 minutes long, every second of “SWEET / I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE” is memorable thanks to its captivating mix of musical styles and emotional themes. Once again, Tyler, The Creator has progressed as a musician and raised the bar for modern hip-hop.
— Jack Moeser, Daily Arts Editor
“All Too Good (10 Minute Version) (Taylor Version) (From The Vault)”, Taylor Swift
by Taylor Swift Red (Taylor’s version) broke the internet and made one of Swift’s most beloved albums one of the best albums of the year.
Certainly the most anticipated track from the re-recording was the frequently teased 10-minute version of fan favorite, “All Too Well.” While the 10-minute version stayed true to the original version in many ways, the song’s additions and overall sentiment absolutely shocked fans, completely taking the world by storm. The track became the longest song ever to chart at number one and the longest song ever performed on Saturday Night Live.
Despite the mass of the track, it really is as wonderful as everyone says. It’s a complete story, a complete relationship, in the space of one piece. The grief and memories are palpable in the lyrics, and Swift’s tender and intimate emotional revisit of a 10-year-old track is disconcerting in its cutting reality. “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)” is a beautiful trip down memory lane that will live on in our memories for a long time.
— Gigi Ciulla, Daily Arts Writer
“BIG PERSONA”, Maxo Kream ft. Tyler, the creator
The first single from weight of the world, the third studio album from Maxo Kream, this piece of frenzied southern rap, definitely fits into the sonic trend of this part of the career of Tyler, The Creator.
He stated that his last studio album, CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST, is intended to emulate the legendary Philadelphia King: Gangsta Grillz old bands. “BIG PERSONA” is no exception to this trend. The thundering horns that make up the rhythm’s main melody have become staples of Tyler’s recent production work due to their heavy use by Gangsta Grillz brain DJ Drama. However, Tyler also pays a subtle homage to Maxo’s hometown of Houston with the song’s drums, which has a slower, singsong pattern that has become a hallmark of the city’s hip-hop sound.
It’s nice to hear the two artists, who have a reputation for conveying phenomenal pain and unease in their music, celebrate their success together and have a little fun.
— Ryan Brace, Daily Arts Writer
“Breakfast at the hotel”, Bladee
Hotel Breakfast by Bladee The idiot was by far his most popular release of 2021 and is slowly becoming his most streamed track of all time on streaming services.
Despite the song’s controversy among most dedicated fans, as well as the Swedish rapper’s unstable reputation in internet music circles, there’s no denying how instantly fun and memorable “Hotel Breakfast” can be. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, but still manages to cultivate a sense of sincerity through Bladee’s ethereal yet catchy vocals. It’s melodic and unforgettable; it’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you think, it’ll make you sing, it’ll tell you a story – this is simply Bladee at its best.
And if you are a fan of hip-hop, rap or lyricism, you will not fail to see the genius, the beauty and the emotion behind one of the most incredible bars in recent memory: “I’m Bladee, she calls me Bladee-y.”
— Conor Durkin, Daily Arts Writer
“Heart Storm”, Serpentwithfeet ft. NAO
“Heart Storm” sounds exactly as its name suggests. Serpentwithfeet’s vocals pull you in like a tornado, forcing surrender, while the interval bass kicks in and out like thunder getting closer and closer. The track washes out at first, with Serpentwithfeet’s quiet vocals and repeating bass, but as it progresses it turns into a downpour. NAO enters the arena shamelessly, calling for boundless love. It’s the perfect track to play when feelings of an overwhelming crush take over.
— Katy Trame, Daily Arts Writer
“Hard Drive”, Cassandra Jenkins
This gem of a song was released in January 2021 but has been stuck in my brain all year. Jenkins’ voice is so warm and intimate that even his patchwork of barely relatable interactions with museum security guards and comforting psychics sound familiar. As she smoothly moves from spoken word to meditative refrain, Jenkins pulls together these disparate moments with strangers into a cohesive tapestry of human nature. She doesn’t try to make sense of all her experiences; instead, she lets the twists and turns of grief and healing mingle and overwhelm her.
A voice clip from the aforementioned museum security guard opens the track and reminds Jenkins that “when we lose our connection to nature, we lose our spirit, our humanity, our sense of self.” Over hazy guitar and airy saxophone swells, Jenkins invites us to browse our own hard drive of memories and linger for a moment on our humanity. She counts to three in regular intonations, reassuring the listener: “All these little pieces / One, two, three / We’ll put them back together now / Are you ready? At its core, “Hard Drive” is a beautifully beautiful delineation of feeling whole again despite the fractured struggles of the past year.
— Nora Lewis, Daily Arts Writer
“Tears in Abyss”, dynamic shroud of death
He doesn’t feel compelled to say at all that plunderphonics (otherwise known as sampling) is one of the most important innovations to be introduced in pop music and perhaps just in music in general. However, what one might actually be forced to say is that the next big innovation was realizing that other modern pop songs were perfectly suited for phonetics to plunder.
Not only is “Tears in Abyss” by the dynamic death shroud one of the best songs of the year, but it also serves as the perfect case study of this pop recycling phenomenon. Constructed from Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper” and Kelsea Ballerini’s “The way i used to,” this song achieves a level of glitch pop maximalism that seems frankly unheard of in the genre. Even so, it seems just as fair to call it vaporwave given the well-defined status of the dynamic shroud of death within the genre. Every imaginable open space is filled with a unique set of moving textures and rhythms in a way that is both repetitive and ever-changing.
This sense of morphing is most notably recognized in the way Lovato and Ballerini’s vocals are offbeat and manipulated in an off-putting yet organic way. It seems odd to call something constructed in such a gruesome way emotional, but there’s really no other way to put it. Jumping, laughing, crying, screaming – it’s all there to be unraveled.
— Drew Gadbois, Daily Arts Writer
“Spud Infinity”, Great Thief
Very often, infinity is interpreted with terror or at least trepidation. But on alternative folk band Big Thief’s “Spud Infinity,” there’s an endlessly determined joy—you can hear the resolve in every bow of the violin.
Jew’s harp bounces around like a cheerful backbone of the song, with drums and sunny guitar filling out the track. The band strikes the perfect line between depth and sheer silliness in their lyrics, inspecting our size on this earth through talk of ants, elbows and beatings. My listening experience is best when I let my imagination run wild: sometimes I imagine them playing this in the back of a van under sunny skies, sometimes around a campfire late in the night. Wherever they meet, you can feel the band’s intense connection to each other, both musically and emotionally, in the fullness with which this piece is performed. The sweet “whup!” by Adrianne Lenker at the end draws the listener into the benevolent and frenetic dance of this song.
— Rosa Sofia Kaminski, Senior Music Editor