One thing I thought about often during quarantine last year was how good pop culture will be once we get past all this.
Maybe that was just my way of coping and finding something to be excited about, but with the best artists on the planet doing nothing but spending time in their homes to write songs, movies, and TV pilots, I figured there’s no way we don’t come out on the other end with incredible art.
And so far in 2021, when it comes to music that’s 100 percent true. We’re just over four months into this year and there have already been three songs released that have legitimate “Song of the Year” nominee potential.
I’ve been keeping a playlist since January 1 and adding my favorite new songs often. Here’s my “Best of 2021… so far”
– Wilder Days (Morgan Wade)
– I’ve heard of Morgan Wade just from her being from southern Virginia and playing local shows people I know have been to, but this song randomly played while I was at a cookout and I sound-hounded it and ever since then I think I’ve listened to her most recent album about 50 times. Oh my gosh it’s good. It’s alt rock/country in the same vein as Elle King, Miranda Lambert, and Ashley McBryde, but still sounds like no one else who’s out right now.
I could have put about five different songs by Wade on this list (and there are quite a few on the actual playlist) because Reckless is far and away my favorite album of the year so far. But Wilder Days is the actual first single from her album, and you may start hearing it on the radio soon. It’s a love song full of pain and longing. The line “You’re scared I’m too right for you” punches straight to the heart.
– Fillin’ My Cup (Hailey Whitters & Little Big Town)
– This song was released on New Years Day, so I spent the first day of the year listening to it over and over and then listening to every other song Hailey Whitters has ever released and I gotta say, it was a perfect way to start the year.
– Teach Me How To Love (Shawn Mendes)
– I feel like Shawn Mendes is sort of overshadowed in the world of male pop stars, and he’s also definitely overshadowed by his extremely successful girlfriend, but this song is magic. It reminds me so much of his song, Lost In Japan, which was one of my favorites of 2018.
– Let Me Reintroduce Myself (Gwen Stefani)
– Listen, not that I don’t love Gwen Stefani’s shift to country. I’m happy she’s happy with Blake Shelton. But we get new Gwen Stefani pop music this year and I couldn’t be more excited.
– Drivers License (Olivia Rodrigo)
– Am I embarrassed to be the age I am and know every detail of Olivia Rodrigo’s romance with her High School Musical The Musical The Series co-star Joshua Bassett? Not even a little bit. You know why? Because HSMTMTS was very good and I greatly enjoyed it.
If you don’t know, the rundown is Olivia Rodrigo dated her HSMTMTS co-star Joshua Bassett, and he apparently left her for another Disney Channel star, Sabrina Bryan (of Girl Meets World fame, another show I enjoyed for a time I’M MATURE!).
So anyways, Rodrigo did what any great teen star does – she turned her pain into a song, and that song ended up being incredible.
– Lie Lie Lie (Joshua Bassett)
– This was Bassett’s response to Rodrigo’s song about him. As far as response songs go, this was solid. He took advantage of keeping his name in the news, and got to release his first single in the process. I mean, this song isn’t good enough to have a sketch on SNL dedicated to it, but it’s fun.
– Déjà vu (Olivia Rodrigo)
– However, Olivia’s second single is probably better than her first, and is also probably about Bassett so she’s definitely winning the breakup. This song also proves that Drivers License is good mostly because it shows there are great things coming in the future from Rodrigo. She’s clearly cut from the same cloth as Taylor Swift, because not only is she insanely talented, but she’s also very good at drumming up interest in her music by giving the songs a real world backstory with a real world villain. I promise you she will win Best New Artist at the 2022 Grammys.
– Life Rolls On (Florida Georgia Line)
– If you want a good laugh, Google why Florida Georgia Line allegedly broke up. It was one of my favorite stories last November. After you Google why they may or may not have broken up, the fact they open this song with the line “People Come and People Go” becomes even funnier.
– Lovely Day (Bill Withers)
– Was this song actually released in 1977? Yes. However, Demi Lovato did a really great version of it during Joe Biden’s inauguration, and for some reason she didn’t release the cover on Spotify, which makes me angry. So instead I’ve just been listening to the original a lot.
Side note – Maroon 5 also did an acoustic version of this song a few years ago that’s almost better than the original.
– Better Days (Ant Clemons & Justin Timberlake)
– I heard this song for the first time also during Biden’s inauguration, and I’m kind of surprised it wasn’t a bigger hit. I mean, ask Chris Stapleton how much doing an televised duet with Justin Timberlake can jumpstart a career. I really like the message behind this song though.
– Anyone Else But You (Anthony de la Torre & Lana Condor)
– It is not fair that Lana Condor starred in the To All The Boys I Loved Before trilogy, which had the cutest teen movie love story since 10 Things I Hate About You, and somehow Condor and her real life boyfriend are even cuter. This song is the mushiest of mush.
– Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home) (Elle King & Miranda Lambert)
– I was indifferent about Elle King when she first came to prominence a few years ago with her single Exes and Ohs. Then I saw her open up for Heart and Joan Jett (side note – best concert I’ve ever been to) and I totally got it. That rasp in her voice. She’s a rock star with a banjo. She’s incredible.
So then I saw King released a song with Miranda Lambert, my favorite person on the planet, and before I even listened I knew I would love it. Guess what, I was right. This song is so fun and also makes me sad it was released at a time when no one can go to bars.
– Polyester (Luke Dick & Miranda Lambert)
– Oh hi, another Miranda Lambert feature. The lines “look at you now, You got your first comma in your bank account, Well you made it out but you’re still in, we still remember when” guts me. Tears every time. I guess you never become too big for imposter syndrome.
– Leave The Door Open (Silk Sonic)
– I’ve already decided Silk Sonic will be my first post-pandemic concert. The group is a collaboration of Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak, and although they’ve only released one song, if every other song on the album is half as good as Leave The Door Open it’ll be a lock for Album of the Year.
– Dancing With The Devil (Demi Lovato)
– If you have any interest in the life of a young incredibly famous pop star, I strongly suggest watching the YouTube series Dancing With The Devil, which outlines Demi Lovato’s struggles with addiction and her drug overdose. I also don’t suggest watching it right before bed because it is HEAVY.
But watching that docuseries makes every line in this song hit so much harder, and makes you realize the pain Lovato obviously felt when she wrote it. Demi has some pop bangers in her repertoire, but if we’re being honest her best music is when she writes about herself and her struggles. It’s unfortunate it has to be that way, and let’s hope she’s in a place where she doesn’t have to keep writing about that stuff anymore, but I’m also glad she’s here to do so and she can hopefully help other people with similar struggles.
– I’m Not For Everyone (The Brothers Osborne)
– I love Brothers Osborne. That’s it.
– Vintage (Blu DeTiger)
– This song makes me long for the days of going to clubs and hearing music from bands I’ve never heard of and dancing in groups with strangers. Have I ever done that? No, but I miss knowing the option is available to me.
– Is It True (Tame Impala)
– I wasn’t really a big Tame Impala fan, but this song sounds like old school Daft Punk and is really fun.
– No Plans For Love (D-Nice, Ne-Yo, & Kent Jones)
– If you don’t remember, D-Nice is the DJ who used to have “Club Quarantine” at the beginning of the pandemic last year where he would go on Instagram Live and do DJ sets that literally everybody who was anybody listened to. You’d look at the comments and see Michelle Obama saying she was dancing along in her living room probably on some amazing beach somewhere. I know it made me feel a little better about quarantine knowing somewhere in the world Michelle Obama was spending her Saturday night listening to the same DJ on Instagram that I was listening to.
Anyways, D-Nice has brought that same Club Quarantine feel to this single with Ne-Yo. Maybe when you listen to it Michelle Obama is somewhere in the world listening to it too!
– MONTERO (Lil Nas X)
– The most controversial song of 2021 (so far!). I’m not going to get into the music video to this song, but I will say that Lil Nas X can write a catchy hook better than just about anyone out right now. This song will be stuck in your head for days.
It’s also truly impressive that his first single was country rap and his second is hip hop with a Spanish guitar. Also truly impressive that Lil Nas X has now released two songs, both of which were extremely controversial for very different reasons, and also huge hits, and he’s only 22 years old.
By the way, you can say all you want about the controversies behind this song, but I can guarantee it will be nominated for multiple Grammy awards.
– Woman You Got (Maddie & Tae)
– This is the type of song that five years ago would have made my eyes roll out of my head. But darn it I’m older now and I can really appreciate the sentiments behind a song telling a guy all of your flaws but also all the ways he should be thankful to be with you anyway. I’ve sang “I know you know me, but if I know me I’m gonna drive you crazy” at the top of my lungs about 500 times since I heard this.
Maddie and Tae have an incredible knack for taking country music clichés about women and turning them on their heads. I adore them for that.