The Top 40 Pop Songs of 2021 (40-21)

Top 40 Pop Songs of 2021Surprise! 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):

Honorable Mentions:

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


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.

NEXT: 20-1

13 thoughts on “The Top 40 Pop Songs of 2021 (40-21)

  1. Pingback: The Top 40 Pop Songs of 2021 (20-1) | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion

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  3. Pingback: Best of 2021 Masterpost | The Bias List // K-Pop Reviews & Discussion

  4. As an usual reader, i’ve always tried to guess which non-kpop songs would you regularly listen to and this top confirms my guesses!! Maybe, as kpop listeners, we tend to share some common things in our taste in general music

    PS: As a diehard Charli XCX fan, i’m glad to see you liked her


  5. YAY!! You made a lot of great pop recommendations on twitter this year so I was hoping it was leading up to a global pop list for year-end, so glad you did one!

    Also really appreciate the inclusion of songs from non-American/UK artists, particularly from the Scandinavia region. They already export lots of pop producers and songwriters, hearing songs straight from that market shows they know how to refine current trends to pop perfection.


    • Before K-pop, I was firmly ensconced in the Scandinavian music industry. In fact, the music inspired six separate trips to the region where I got to see most of my favorite bands and artists at festivals and small shows. I’ll always have a soft spot for Swedish/Danish/Finnish/Norwegian pop.


  6. Dang, you’ve been working HARD this December! I guess the fact that I hadn’t heard of any of the songs here except “Levitating” and “Good 4 You” just goes to show how genre-narrow my focus tends to be at a given point in time.


  7. Didn’t expect you’ll make a list something like this but thanks for reminding me Foxes still makes music and the song here is actually surprisingly great!


  8. Pingback: The Top 40 Pop Songs of 2021 (40-21) | Beatsway

  9. I spent all year dreading the Coldplay X BTS collaboration – I thought it would be, well, Permission to Dance, but even more treacly and maudlin.

    And instead I ended up absolutely loving My Universe!

    For all that both groups are coming from very different musical traditions, they share a love of big, unabashed earnestness. If there’s a common theme between “your dimples should be illegal, so I call you illegirl”, “been calling your name in this whole universe / (Now I need no space) I got youniverse” and the entirety of Vida La Vida, it is that Chris Martin and RM are not afraid to be silly in the name of absolute sincerity. I think they’re actually a really good tonal match.

    In particular, the cosmic motifs in the Korean lyrics in the bridge (the highlight of the song) are at once very BTS (in the tradition of Mikrokosmos, etc), very Coldplay AND fit the song perfectly.


  10. and now im just waiting for u to fall down the hyperpop rabbit hole (to be fair charli xcx already is kinda under that umbrella) *cough* pop 2 sophie (rip) slayyyter food house alice longyu gao 100 gecs so so so many more *cough*


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