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).
Don’t forget to check out songs 40-21 first!
20. Mabel – Let Them Know
File this under: club anthem trimmed of any extraneous bits. It runs on pure attitude.
19. Alan Walker x Imanbek – Sweet Dreams
Alan Walker releases too much music for me to keep up with, but this simple banger instantly captured my attention and stuck around all year long.
18. Jackson Wang – LMLY
I probably could have included this in the main K-pop countdown, but it feels distinctly separate from that industry (unlike, say… BTS’s Butter). Either way, it’s a knockout rush of moody synthpop.
17. Laura Mvula – Got Me
Everybody looked back to the 80’s this year, but few did it as convincingly as Laura Mvula. The synth-fueled chorus is such a great, funky match for her brassy vocals.
16. Robin – Sucker For That Love (ft. SAAY)
Robin’s transformation into a retro pop warrior was flawlessly executed, and Sucker For That Love is a sterling example. I feel like a broken record, but that synth is just everything.
15. Jonasu – Black Magic
Yep, another big club track. I guess I have a type? This one is also a total banger and an example of how effectively a well-constructed drop can be used.
14. Lil Nas X – Montero (Call Me By Your Name)
I was never a fan of Old Town Road, and ignorantly dismissed Lil Nas X as a novelty. Then, Montero happened and blew that perception wide open. What a massive earworm.
13. Years & Years x Galantis – Sweet Talker
Strings and dance music are a match made in heaven, and Sweet Talker‘s symphonic drop is my idea of pop nirvana. The track is relentlessly melodic and sprightly as hell.
12. Robin – Hard To Love (ft. Alex Mattson)
I’m a longtime Robin fan (his Finnish-language music is excellent), but Hard To Love brings him into a new era with energy and panache. It’s such a big-sounding track.
11. Rat City – Rather Be (ft. Isak Heim)
“Rat City” is a weird name and honestly does this amazing song a disservice. It’s the kind of disco funk I live for, thriving on an addictive bassline and building toward a head rush chorus.
10. Lil Nas X – That’s What I Want
Lil Nas X had more than proven himself by the time his album was released, but That’s What I Want feels like the track and video where everything comes together to create a superstar moment.
9. Becky Hill x David Guetta – Remember
When it comes to dance music my taste is stupidly simple. Give me a pumping beat and sky-high chorus and I’m putty in your hand. Remember excels in both regards — particularly its mammoth chorus.
8. Dua Lipa – Love Again
Future Nostalgia already feels like a greatest hits package, and I’m so glad Dua was able to squeeze out this last single. Love Again is a fully-realized pop track, anchored by that inspired “Your Woman” sample.
7. The Parity Complex – Move On Song
The fact that this is sitting at around 3,500 views on YouTube makes me weep. Move On Song is brilliant! Its chorus is absolutely cathartic, underlined by a sticky groove that captures the best of 80’s freestyle.
6. The Weeknd – Take My Breath
I’m eagerly (and impatiently) awaiting The Weeknd’s new album, especially if it echoes the style of this track. Take My Breath fuses so many of my favorite elements together, culminating in a simple wisp of a chorus.
5. Little Mix, Galantis & David Guetta – Heartbreak Anthem
I consider Rihanna and Calvin Harris’s We Found Love to be one of the finest songs of the 2010s, and Heartbreak Anthem reminds me of that emotional sound. It just builds and builds until that big, glossy beat hits.
4. Kim Petras – Future Starts Now
Though I much prefer the original extended mix, the video version of Future Starts Now captures most of its charm. This is a firecracker of a dance track — a close sister to Carly Rae Jepsen’s best work. I love when the chorus slams in full-force.
3. The Kid Laroi x Justin Bieber – Stay
I certainly wouldn’t have expected either of these artists to make my year-end countdown — let alone top three. But, Stay is the earworm of all earworms, showing the importance of great melody. That synth arpeggio feels instantly iconic to 2021. It’s a deserved mega-hit.
2. Dua Lipa – Levitating
Yeah, I know versions of this were first promoted in 2020, but 2021 was the year when (the DaBaby-free version of) Levitating truly made its mark. It’s a perfect disco pop song — the kind of track that feels formed from the ether by some primordial force. It’s trendy and timeless… a lethal combination.
1. Agnes – 24 Hours
I’ve been following Agnes since her days on Swedish Idol over a decade ago, and when last year’s excellent Fingers Crossed emerged I sat up and paid renewed attention. 24 Hours is everything I could hope for from today’s disco-revival: gritty, catchy and high on its own pummeling force.
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WOW! Didn’t expect this. I don’t listen to much music outside of K-Pop and lots of instrumental EDM but I’ve been loving ‘Hard to Love’ – lol no pun intended. I especially enjoy the post-chorus with the 80’s synths and the beautiful (arched?) melody of ‘Love’. It’s so nostalgic and gives me chills man!
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I feel like you’d probably enjoy a lot of songs on this list because it’s very dance-heavy.
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Looking back – this list is a banger. I shall be returning to it very soon. I’ve been missing out on some good music ! ! !
Ranking ‘The Bias List’ Top 40 Pop Songs
Since I don’t listen to much music outside of K-pop I’ll rank these tracks above based on first listen. I think it will be fun for myself and I’ll expose myself to new music!
1. Robin – Hard To Love (ft. Alex Mattson) [10,10,10,10 = 10/10]
2. Coldplay x BTS – My Universe [9,10,9,10 = 9.5/10]
3. Jackson Wang – LMLY [10,9,9,10 = 9.5/10]
4. The Kid Laroi x Justin Bieber – Stay [10,10,9,9 = 9.5/10]
5. The Weeknd – Moth To A Flame (with Swedish House Mafia) [10,9,9,9 = 9.25/10]
6. Foxes – Sister Ray [9,10,8,9 = 9/10]
7. Molly Sanden – Vi ska aldrig gå hem [9,9,9,9 = 9/10]
8. Dua Lipa – Levitating [9,9,9,9 = 9/10]
9. Becky Hill x David Guetta – Remember [8,9,9,9 = 8.75/10]
10. Little Mix, Galantis & David Guetta – Heartbreak Anthem [9,9,8,9 = 8.75/10]
11. Conan Gray – Overdrive [9,9,8,8 = 8.5/10]
12. Agnes – 24 Hours [9,9,8,8 = 8.5/10]
13. Kim Petras – Future Starts Now [8,9,9,8 = 8.5/10]
14. Dua Lipa – Love Again [9,9,8,8 = 8.5/10]
15. Trash – Love (After All, It’s Because Of Love) [8,9,8,9 = 8.5/10]
16. Gabry Ponte – Thunder [8,9,8,9 = 8.5/10]
17. Alan Walker x Imanbek – Sweet Dreams [8,9,8,9 = 8.5/10]
18. Lil Nas X – Montero (Call Me By Your Name) [9,9,8,8 = 8.5/10]
19. Tiësto x Ava Max – The Motto [8,9,8,9 = 8.5/10]
20. Charli XCX – New Shapes (ft. Christine and the Queens & Caroline Polachek) [8,9,8,9 = 8.5/10]
21. Darin – Can’t Stay Away [8,9,8,8 = 8.25/10]
22. Years & Years x Galantis – Sweet Talker [8,8,8,9 = 8.25/10]
23. Ed Sheeran – Shivers [9,8,8,8 = 8.25/10]
24. Jonasu – Black Magic [8,9,8,8 = 8.25/10]
25. Lil Nas X – Industry Baby (ft. Jack Harlow) [8,9,9,7 = 8.25/10]
26. The Parity Complex – Move On Song [8,9,8,8 = 8.25/10]
27. Rat City – Rather Be (ft. Isak Heim) [8,9,8,8 = 8.25/10]
28. Robin – Sucker For That Love (ft. SAAY) [8,9,8,8 = 8.25/10]
29. The Weeknd – Take My Breath [8,9,8,8 = 8.25/10]
30. Mabel – Let Them Know [8,8,8,9 = 8.25/10]
31. Ava Max – Every Time I Cry [8,9,8,8 = 8.25/10]
32. Elton John x Dua Lipa – Cold Heart; PNAU remix [8,9,8,8 = 8.25/10]
33. Doja Cat x SZA – Kiss Me More [8,9,8,7 = 8/10]
34. Little Mix – Love (Sweet Love) [9,8,8,7 = 8/10]
35. Lil Nas X – That’s What I Want [8,8,8,7 = 7.75/10]
36. Laura Mvula – Got Me [8,8,8,7 = 7.75/10]
37. Lil Nas X – Sun Goes Down [8,8,8,7 = 7.75/10]
38. Olivia Rodrigo – Good 4 U [8,8,8,6 = 7.5/10]
39. Joel Herttua – Syntinen [8,8,7,7 = 7.5/10]
40. ABBA – I Still Have Faith In You [8,9,6,5 = 7/10]
You need to get into Slayyyter! Troubled Paradise is one of the best songs of the year… it has a minute and a half long, 32-bar bridge and it *works*.
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I just listened to it and it’s such a propulsive piece of pop
I’ll be looking into his Finnish language work, but Robin’s recent English stuff has already been mind-blowing. Cutting edge pop sounds, right there! And while 24 Hours is a force of nature of a song, Love and Appreciation from that same album is my favorite, and would probably top my own 2021 year-end pop list.
Was wondering if you had any thoughts on stuff that dropped in 2020? It felt like a banner year for disco (Kylie Minogue, Roisin Murphy, Jessie Ware) and amazing throwback sounds in general (Dua Lipa, Lady Gaga) but the pandemic snuffed any chance to meaningfully promote in what felt like the best year for pop in a long time.
In any case, thanks for doing this list, I’ve added basically everything new to me to a playlist to go through later, I have complete trust in your pop recommendations 🙂
Robin’s older work is quite different (and he was much younger), but I’d start with these two for a general idea of the style:
As far as 2020, it was all about Dua, The Weeknd and Gaga for me, but I didn’t really listen to much western pop. I’m still working my way back.
Dua and Kim Petras never miss for me!
Our non k-pop tastes could not be further apart but I suspected as much. I like only one song out of the 40 (Charli/Christine/Caroline collab) and recognise like 3 songs in total (didn’t find Montero as great as everyone was hyping it up to be, idk why). But that’s on me since I don’t really keep up with general pop music as much as other genres.
My personal top 10 (included genre brackets to describe as best I can):
1. SeeYouSpaceCowboy & If I Die First – bloodstainedeyes (emo revival)
2. Sleep Token – The Love You Want (art-pop/alternative r&b/djent)
3. Spiritbox – Hurt You (metalcore/djent)
4. Squid – Narrator (post-punk/experimental rock)
5. Lana Del Rey – White Dress (singer-songwriter) (probably doesn’t need describing lmao)
6. Bad Omens – What do you want from me? (industrial synthwave)
7. Every Time I Die – Post-Boredom (metalcore/southern rock)
8. Bring Me The Horizon – Die4u (emo-pop)
9. Meet Me @ The Altar – Hit Like A Girl (pop-punk)
10. Turnstile – Blackout (post-hardcore/melodic hardcore)
Fun fact: despite my enjoying this year a lot, my most listened to album of 2021 was released in 2020 (Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible by Enter Shikari). But the year has felt like 5 years put together so I’m allowing it 🙂
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Great feature! A lot of solid choices and a handful of new discoveries for me. My personal list would be major chunks of the Slayyyter and Danny L Harle albums, with Edamame by bbno$ at the very top!
I haven’t listened to much besides Kpop, fellow travelers and a little metal (Enslaved is always great). But even I dug Little Nas X. Nice to see there are some newer Robyn songs out there to check out.
This countdown way so good, i’ve made a spotify playlist from it. Thanks for all those suggestions
It’s my pleasure!
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This list will likely give me some good recs. Been meaning to get into more western pop. I’ve only heard the super mainstream stuff on the list, but I loved Take My Breath and Stay is pretty good so those will my tops for the year I suppose.
Outside of kpop, I mainly listen to rap so I’d say my SOTY issss…I Don’t Wanna Die Anymore by G Herbo.
Wait nvm Bloody Canvas by Polo G
Hey nick I this song wasn’t released this year
But i really wanna hear your thoughts
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DEFINITELY one of my 2020 favorites! That whole album is good, actually. I love that she got Billy Idol and Joan Jett on it.
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I was about to recommend this!! I knew Nick would dig this
lil nas x is my top non-kpop artist this year rn, glad he’s on this list
Loved to see this list, even if we disagree a good deal! Love some of the underrated tracks here, I guess we both love some Robin!
Just wanted to add an unpromoted funk-EDM track I think you may like here:
PS: Wasn’t Golden released in 2019, getting an MV in 2020?
lol yes… shows how much I keep up with western pop!
And, that song is fantastic! Thanks for sharing.
This song is so ebullient!!
Love that you actually went and did this feature! Since getting into K-pop it’s kind of sucked all my attention as far as music is concerned, and I would like to try to keep up with non K-pop music again. I think we have similar tastes in Western pop, so I’ll try to check out all the ones here that I haven’t heard – though I share a lot of favourites with your list: Levitating (the massive single I knew it would become the moment I heard it in the album), Stay, Take My Breath, Love Again, LMLY, Kiss Me More, good 4 u, and Industry Baby.
These are all great songs and Lil nas x blew me away this year and also take my breath is spectacular along with moth to a flame. Anyways, Troye Sivan’s ep from last year ‘in a dream’ is so cool with such hazy electronics and a great groove.
I’ve always liked alt-pop but this year I’ve been listening to a lot of rock and softcore metal too.
Very retro heavy, which fits very well as to what your tastes in kpop too. Levitating is probably one of the most played pop songs this year for me, nice to see it gets nods here.
I don’t watch western music as much but here’s some that i thought were a standout this year.
Little Simz – Introvert (Hip hop with lots of orchestra string)
Silk Sonic – Smokin out the window
Tyler, the creator – Lumberjack
Bbno$, Rich brian – Edamame
2021 was one of the best pop years in a long time
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I didn’t think I’d ever see Lil Nas X featured on this blog, but I knew I liked you for a reason!
I embarrassingly think I have heard MAYBE 10 songs from this list, which shows how bad I am at keeping up with Western artists nowadays. I’ll have to check out the rest because I have a feeling our non-kpop tastes are fairly similar!
I only recognise maybe 2 or 3 songs from this list so I’ll have to check these out. My taste in western music is quite different but this year I’ve just been rediscovering all the South Asian music from my childhood so I didn’t listen to many kpop or western releases.
Hey Nick, The Weeknd’s album, Dawn FM is already out! I just knew it today.
Love Gasoline. It reminds me of Depeche Mode 😀
Oh yes, I’ve been listening to it a lot since Friday! It’s very good! I love the opening suite of songs, and Less Than Zero is gorgeous.
You’re right. It’s really *very* good. Can’t believe Abel came up with a synthwave/disco type of concept album and made it work. This is probably my non-Kpop album of the year already, lols.