As we all kept plugging through another rollercoaster year, we've been very thankful that artists kept creating and releasing incredible music.
Here are the songs and albums that helped keep the charts running smoothly in 2021!
Rob Copsey - Editor
Single: PinkPantheress – Just For Me
I’m a sucker for artists who like to maintain a level of mystery around them, but that’s not the only reason why PinkPantheress is my favourite new artist of 2021. Her breakout track Just For Me epitomises why I’m laminating my stan card: on the one hand her jungle-inspired sound and saccharine-sweet vocals feel warmly nostalgic, while her origin story – a uni student self-producing in her bedroom and uploading to TikTok until someone took notice – is the modern rags-to-riches popstar fairytale. Yes, Just For Me is painfully short at just under 2 minutes long, but in this case it only invites heavy rotation.
Album: Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over The Country Club
Ten years after her widely acclaimed debut Born To Die, Lana continues to deliver brilliant albums at an alarmingly high rate. On the face of it her seventh record (and first of two released in 2021) Chemtrails Over The Country Club feels like a more-of-the-same affair, with Lana setting classic Americana imagery against the country’s strained darker side, touching on topics of fame, love and loneliness. However, it doesn’t take much digging (i.e the album’s entire second half) to discover a record overflowing with elegance and thoughtful autobiography that only a seasoned songwriter could make.
Martin Talbot - Chief Executive
Single: Bicep – Apricots
Mesmeric electronica from the Northern Irish duo, whose brilliant album Isles cemented them as deserving heirs to Orbital’s crown during 2021.
Album: Low – Hey What
There have been so many fantastic albums released in 2021, but this latest carnival of distortion and harmony from the Minnesota-based duo was my stand-out favourite. Taking excerpts of warped, deformed guitar parts, transforming them into percussive beats to underlie their melodies, Low are among the most fascinating artists operating in music today and Hey What was a brilliant, compelling showcase of their unhinged genius. Special mention also for Floating Points’ sublime collaboration with Pharoah Sanders, Promises, the Deewee compilation Foundations and Sault’s already deleted Nine.
Lauren Kreisler - Head of Brand & Digital
Single: The Lathums - How Beautiful Life Can Be
An uplifting post-pandemic gem written by the band, along with frontman Alex Moore’s mum Anne. It already had me at the songwriting credits tbh, but the sweetness continues within. How Beautiful Life Can Be offers up 2 minutes and 46 seconds of sheer joy, sunshine, and unpretentious simplicity. We alllll need some joy and simplicity right now, right?
The Lathums might be from Wigan (fierce sporting rivals to my neighbouring hometown Warrington), but I’m willing to look past that for a second…anyone bringing a sprinkle of The Housemartins, a pinch of The Coral and a dash of The Beautiful South to the charts in 2021 gets my vote.
It’s also impossible not to fall in love with the song’s single-take acapella video filmed in Wigan Market, with its gloriously oblivious pac-a-mac adorned locals and their wheely shopping trolleys milling in and out of shot. The Lathums’ Number 1 debut album this year was a breakthrough for new British talent, as well as a proud win for the North-West and the folk who make our towns what they are. Go on lads!
Album: Olivia Rodrigo - SOUR
“God! It’s brutal out here…”
With its grungy distortion and angsty snarl, album opener Brutal jolted me to attention. Stop the press, thank the heavens, praise the lord, run and tell your mates, good pop music - or more specifically, pop with guitars - is BACK.
From the potent power balladry of Drivers License to the cathartic Paramore-esque sing-a-long of Good 4 U, Olivia Rodrigo spent 2021 shaking up the Official Singles Chart, one massive anthem at a time. I was totally here for it.
David Murray - Digital Commercial Lead
Single: Everyone You Know – Just for the Times
This isn’t my usual genre of music, and it’s hard for me to decide what genre it is, but after hearing the song through an Instagram ad (advertising does work) I was completely hooked! Since then I have discovered and fell in love with EYK!
Album: Kings Of Leon – When You See Yourself
KOL are back! I’ve been a fan since their second album and just getting to hear Caleb’s voice on new tracks again, after what feels like forever, made my year! I ordered the special edition red vinyl which has lived proudly, ready to play, on my record player ever since.
Ian Wade - Freelance Writer
Single: Self Esteem - I Do This All The Time
There was no instant out-and-out biggie for me this year, with Agnes’ 24 Hours, Sworn Virgins’ Male Man, ABBA’s Don’t Stand Me Down and Pearl Charles’ Only For Tonight all staging attacks on my most-played list, but this eventually won out, and as a cheery bonus launched Self Esteem as a proper popstar.
Album: Saint Etienne - I’ve Been Trying To Tell You
It was hard to top the comfort-disco quartet (Roisin, Jessie, Dua and Kylie) of 2020, and the Etienne’s album was more about mood than choruses. However, 31 years on from their arrival it shows that Bob, Pete & Sarah still have the ability to surprise and enthrall. What a group.
Rob Poole - Commercial Manager
Song: Kanye West - Off The Grid
My Spotify Wrapped told me this was my most listened to track, so this gets the top spot by default (yes I will accept endorsements Spotify). As Kanye says “you’ve got to move differently when you’re the industry…”.
Donda was a long-awaited and needed return to form for Kanye, and Off The Grid wins out for me among a handful of other very, very good singles on the album. Intelligent, flowing lyrics backed up by heavy bass and great verses from Carti and Fivio make this an absolute winner for all long-term Kanye fans.
Album: Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
In a year that’s produced so many great albums (Sam Fender, Kanye, IDLES, Summer Walker, John Mayer & James Vincent McMorrow all narrowly miss out), I had to go with SIMBI. Little Simz just keeps on getting better with every release she puts out; Introvert and Woman are incredibly relevant and kick off the album brilliantly.
Helen Ainsley - Content & Brand Assistant
Single: Olivia Rodrigo - Drivers License
The storytelling, the rumours surrounding its background, and of course the gorgeous songwriting of the track itself makes this instantly iconic, and a perfect pop song. I'd comfortably say it's one of the most impactful songs of the year too, catapulting its singer/songwriter into total superstardom. Our lives are brighter for having Olivia Rodrigo.
Also, I have to give a special mention to Avril Lavigne's return to pop-punk, Bite Me. Belter.
Album: Lorde - Solar Power
Despite not initially being totally sold on its lead single of the same name, Solar Power turned out to be an amazing collection of songs. More chilled and slightly less angsty than Lorde's previous work, but still gloomy and meaningful in its sound and lyrical content, just like I like. California and Stoned at the Nail Salon? Art!
George Griffiths - Staff Writer
Single: Maisie Peters - John Hughes Movie
There’s a sparkling naivete laced throughout John Hughes Movie, that more than anything makes you relive your awful teenage dating years. Where you mixed Glen's vodka with Lambrini (just me?) from the bottle, attended house parties of people you didn’t know and never listened to any of your friends when they told you that boy didn’t like you back. John Hughes Movie is most effective as a window gazing back to a specific moment in time you never want to experience again. It helps that it also contains the best pop songwriting I’ve listened to in 2021. Its shimmering bridge in particular would make Taylor Swift herself proud. ‘What am I gonna say? What am I gonna do?’ Maisie wonders, ‘all of our stupid friends know that I’m here for you. Guess I misunderstood, thought you liked me too.’ Ouch.
Album: Halsey - If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
I’ve always been intrigued but never fully sold on Halsey, until she released this. Then I got it. Written during her pregnancy and produced with industrial rock pioneers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails, If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power isn’t so much an album, but the soundtrack of a horror movie. Its themes - death, love, control - speak for themselves, but the way Halsey melds the hard-edged gothic-rock production with some of her finest pop hooks (Easier Than Lying, Honey, The Tradition) is breathtaking. It’s not only the strongest, most cohesive body of work I’ve listened to this year, but a truly evolutionary record for an artist I now believe, after this, can go on to do and be anything she likes.