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The 50 Best Songs of 2021

Wizkid’s global-pop sunshine, Taylor’s 10-minute masterpiece, Silk Sonic’s 1970s slow jam, and much more

Rob Rusling; John Esparza; Simon Emmett; Beth Garrabrant

This year, the pop-music world felt more wide open than ever. Our list of 2021’s best songs includes a beautiful indie-pop celebration of queer love, a reggaeton star tucking into some sweet Eighties synths, a self-celebrating pop-rap smash that scandalized the American right, a Lorde track that sounds like it could’ve been a Nineties U.K. club hit, and unforgettable anthems that pushed the boundaries of K-pop, rock, and country.

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From Rolling Stone US

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Olivia Rodrigo, ‘Drivers License’

We only had to endure seven days of a pre-“Drivers License” world — our permit period — before Olivia Rodrigo arrived like a teenage comet on Jan. 8, the most stellar thing to come out of the Disney channel since Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century. We cited “Drivers License” as a best-of contender immediately, but what we didn’t expect was how long we’d hold on to it. Rodrigo spends the ballad carefully dissecting just how awful it feels to get your license after a breakup, making a 17-year-old’s heartbreak instantly relatable regardless of age. And when she calls out Becky with the good hair (“And you’re probably with that blonde girl/Who always made me doubt”), you fiercely take her side. —A.M.

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Taylor Swift, ‘All Too Well (10 Minute Version)’

Swift doubled the length of her 2012 fan-favorite album cut, adding new melodic flourishes and perspective. Whether or not Swift wrote the words “fuck the patriarchy” is beside the point: What’s most moving about this remembrance of red scarves past is the way in which Swift reworks her opus in the present day. The 10-minute version is a thirtysomething’s memory of a memory, a moving revisitation and reconsideration of some of the more sinister elements of a young twentysomething relationship that she now remembers more vividly than ever. —J.A.B.

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Wizkid feat. Tems, ‘Essence’

Wizkid’s massive international hit offered the best vision possible of our eternally shrinking world: at once local and global, intimate and universal. On it, the Nigerian singer, one of the most popular pop artists in Africa, embraced one of his country’s newest talents. Their performances are distinct yet seamless, joining together over a melange of Nineties American R&B, U.K. Afroswing, and percussive Nigerian Afrobeats. “Essence” hit the top of several U.S. charts in 2021 after it got a Justin Bieber remix this summer, but its reach was wide well before. “I want everyone to understand [the song],” said P2J, one of its producers, “but still understand the essence of the music is from Africa.” The result was a sound of status and place coalescing without the loss of identity. —M.C.