The past and the future had something of a tug of war over pop music in 2021. In many ways, top 40 was pushed forward this year by artists who blended sounds and styles, expanding its center to include voices from areas of the globe (or corners of society) too rarely represented in the stateside mainstream. But pop history exerted a huge gravitational force as well, whether with retro sounds from the ’70s to the ’00s coming back in vogue, or with new hits being formed from older songs getting covered, sampled, mashed up and/or entirely re-recorded.
It certainly made for a robust pop present: a year in which the best songs and biggest hits could come from seemingly anywhere, in space or in time. Whether they were reinventing what had been or reimagining what could be, here were our staff’s 100 favorite songs that we’re still pretty sure were actually from 2021. (Songs were eligible if they either were released or peaked on the Billboard charts this year.)