From the Intercom: The 50 Best Songs of 2021
Did you think that we would still be at this point, one year later? For us here at From the Intercom, we certainly didn’t think so.
The continued feelings that we kept bottled up inside all year – the angst, the uncontrollable need to dance, the urge to feel something – are mutual feelings that we all shared, largely dictating our favorite songs of 2021. Here, you’ll find a list of sensual slow jams, time-traveling nostalgic grooves, and our experimental distortion that can take you away to another place. Most importantly, here you’ll find a damn good time.
Here’s our playlist for the Apocalypse, pt. ii. -Li-Wei Chu
Thanks to Karolyn Jaranilla, Justin Ricafort, and Jacob Ugalde for contributing. Derrek Chow designed our banner.
TOMMY PIXELS – “LOSE YOUR MIND“
If all your inner demons decided to get together and throw a party, what would it sound like?
One would imagine that it wouldn’t be too far off from the glitchy pop songs that New York-based musician TOMMY PIXELS is a master of conjuring. On “LOSE YOUR MIND,” the musician returns to his sub-two minute single format, but doesn’t waste any time throwing every tool at his disposal at this demented track.
Reeling in radioactively decaying voices, dense jibber jabber and an uncomfortably warm urgency, “LOSE YOUR MIND” is one instance where going apeshit ain’t such a bad idea. -Li-Wei Chu
adam brian paul – “TEMPLE OF THE DRAGON”
80s/90s Cantopop is an era that is massively underrated. There’s something about kitschy synth beats overlaid with familiar dreamy pop vocals that just speaks to the soul – almost like sonic comfort food.
Fusing modern elemental production with the aura of a dusty karaoke machine (the ones with the gratuitous shots of nature overlaid with blue/red lyrics, IYKYK), “TEMPLE OF THE DRAGON” is a song that hits all those right nostalgic notes. adam brian paul (Brian Yim), a musician who excels at laid-back bedroom pop, feels right at home in this time traveling track, making him the perfect ambassador for a long-gone era. -Li-Wei Chu
Joshua Ng – “Brightest in the Dark”
Of all of the music that I came across this year, I don’t think any caught my attention the way that Malmo-based musician Joshua Ng’s did. On his debut single, “Patience,” and his yet-unreleased debut EP, Ng’s strong entrance onto the indie scene was largely due to his affinity for older instruments – particularly his organ. With his vintage audio equipment and his voice’s deep timbre, a mysterious and chilly calm fills the air in each of his songs.
On “Brightest in the Dark,” the artist’s second single, Ng is a city phantom. From the shadows, the song’s narrator examines the industrial, lived-in world around him with a storybook-like cadence. It’s a track that’s gothic through and through, complete with somber horns and a bleak look into time and space. In a sea of new releases, this is one that truly lives up to its name. -Li-Wei Chu
Sam Goku – “Fusing Bubbles”
East Dimensional Riddims, the debut album from Sam Goku, is a mesmerizing collection of club and ambient tracks with Eastern influences seamlessly incorporated to the mix. “Fusing Bubbles,” the stand-out track, teeters between club and ambient — with a solid beat evoking the former while its buoyant synths and bubbling interlude around its four minute mark showcases its more ambient side. -Karolyn Jaranilla
sundial – “24”
There comes a point in your 20s where you’ll inevitably have an existential crisis. At 25, I’ve already experienced it firsthand many times over. You’ll be fine, they said after I graduated from college with no clear path forward. You’ll eventually figure it all out. But what if you don’t?
I don’t know how many people out there have these same crippling thoughts constantly swirling around in their minds, but the fact that sundial’s “24” went viral this year may suggest that I’m not the only one thinking these things. Channeling a Myspace-era electropop angst, “24” finds sundial’s Jisu Kim and Dorothy Chan charming us with painfully relatable musings on where they’re at in their life versus where they thought they would be in their life.
Bittersweet and the musical embodiment of the smiling_face_with_tear emoji, “24” is the late-bloomer’s dancefloor anthem. -Li-Wei Chu
bbno$/Rich Brian – “edamame”
For the most part, Rich Brian’s headlining Saturday set at the 2021 Head in the Clouds festival was mostly a solo affair. With a single spotlight on him, Rich Brian commanded the stage as he ran through the hits that he’s known for – crowd-friendly trap-pleasers and bouncy raps can get anyone moving. But the moment the set really popped off (like a pea, yeah, edamame) was the second he played the upbeat, heart-racing “edamame.” Suddenly, dancers in goofy edamame suits flooded the stage, thrusting and (not surprisingly) popping in a way that I still can’t get out of my mind.
“edamame” is a dumb and lyrically cheesy song, but it’s a damn great party starter knows exactly what it is… and leans into the silliness hard. With Rich Brian’s popcorn flow and Canadian producer bbno$’s groan-worthy staccato wordplay, “edamame” is a deliriously fun track that guarantees to bring the house down. -Li-Wei Chu
Father Koi – “Dreamgirl”
“Dreamgirl” is what it would sound like if a robot sang you a love song.
There’s something calculated and metallic about it – maybe it’s due to the piercing strings and the looping “I’s” that lay the foundation for the track. Or perhaps it’s the unnaturally quick BPM of the lyrics, but “Dreamgirl” is somehow uncanny and addicting. Yet, there’s still a beating heart underneath the shiny veneer that allows you to make out scenes that seem less Markov-chained together and more the vision of a singular whole: memories of convenience store rooftop days, Tetris, and never-ending turnpikes grant the song a personal touch.
Father Koi (Kara Lu), whose newer tracks combine vocaloid sweetness with glistening hyperpop, revels in this futuristic sound and makes it her own. -Li-Wei Chu
Kiyomi – “Can’t Lose”
Bay Area based R&B artist Kiyomi has been making waves with her single “Can’t Lose”– which proved to be an instantly replayable hit this year. As the song begins, there’s a familiar sound that calls back to… an early 2010s Justin Bieber? No kidding.
From the devoted vocals and themes, there’s a lovesick, youthful glow worth appreciating here in the best way. There’s something totally cute and reassuring hearing, “I know that I’ve won cause I got you.” I am very excited for Kiyomi and this track shows she “Can’t Lose” our hearts.
It ain’t ever Uber til I make that call. -Justin Ricafort
Lea Thomas – “What Did the Music Sound Like”
One of my favorite discoveries this year came from Japanese American songwriter Lea Thomas, with her single and music video for “Hummingbird” getting a special shout out on the site. However, out of the wonderful tracks that comprised her latest album Mirrors to the Sun “What Did the Music Sound Like” is one of the most captivating — with placid chugging guitars, sturdy bass and Thomas’ supple vocals making for a song perfect for long drives. –Karolyn Jaranilla
BULGOGIDISCO, Bassagong – “Kimchi Soup”
You’ve probably heard somebody say “[insert any song with a passable beat here] is a great song to dance to in your living room.” Sure, there are many songs that can adequately soundtrack a quarantine dance party (as we start year three of quarantine), but BULGOLGIDISCO’s “Kimchi Soup” is certainly a track primed to queue when the party’s at its liveliest.
Charismatic bass drives an undeniable groove, but abrupt shifts in mood and tempo can catch listeners off-guard. This just makes it all the more exciting when the groove picks back up again. The frisky back and forth of BULGOGIDISCO and Bassagong makes “Kimchi Soup” as spirited and spicy as its namesake. –Karolyn Jaranilla
Hana Vu – “Everybody’s Birthday”
New year, new you? More like: new year, same old me but with the additional reminder that time is fleeting and I haven’t yet achieved everything I wanted to do. Ouch.
Hana Vu’s downtrodden “Everybody’s Birthday,” expresses that exact sentiment with her lyrics, color metaphors and her disheveled brand of indie pop. Though birthdays are supposed to be a happy time, Vu flips the script and reframes it as a cause for crisis, especially in the age of the apocalypse. As someone who also falls victim to depression on the supposed happiest day of the year, “Everybody’s Birthday” is a realistic portrayal of the 20-something existential meltdown that plagues a generation.
At least for me, I’d gladly choose this track over “Happy Birthday” any day. –Li-Wei Chu
bela – “Jjaksoe”
When you listen to bela’s Guidelines EP, angular industrial, experimental club might be two genres that you’ll think of when attempting to categorize their music.
Pinning down any one genre is futile, as bela’s exploration of Jjandans – a rhythmic concept which emphasizes changing tempo shifts – makes for a transcendent singular sound. Guidelines’ journey of sound comes to a lively climax in “Jjaksoe,” where imposing rhythms set the stage for arpeggiated organ-like and celestial synths to intertwine. “Jjaksoe” then steadily increases tempo from its midway point until it crescendos to blazing speeds, ending with a flurry of scattering beats. –Karolyn Jaranilla
Josie Man – “Cuts & Bruises”
What is it like to be in love? I’m not just talking about high school romance – what I’m thinking of is the storybook rom-com meet-cute-everything-is-perfect-let’s-have-a-montage kind of love. It’s a world where everything is gorgeous and the birds are singing and our protagonist is invincible until the third act. Though a few of us will ever experience such a pure form of romance in our lives, Josie Man’s “Cuts & Bruises” may offer us a glimpse into what that feeling may be like.
Distilled down to a saccharine three minute showcase of indie pop bliss, Josie Man absolutely nails the feeling of wistful, gushing romance between lifelong partners. “You’ll buy a ring for me some day / But when the diamonds start to fade / We’ll get a tattoo of our names / So we will always be the same / That way these things will never change,” Man softly sings, setting our hearts aflutter. “Cuts & Bruises” exists in a world where “forever and always” is an ironclad resolution, and it’s guaranteed to make the most hardened cynic believe in the power of love – even if it’s just for a moment. –Li-Wei Chu
Saweetie – “Best Friend (ft. Doja Cat)”
It’s been a banner year for Saweetie – one that found her reaching true mainstream success with “Best Friend.” Club-friendly, spunky, and instantly quotable (“Beep-beep, is that my bestie in a Tessie?” is one of the year’s most fun one-liners), “Best Friend” a song that succeeds almost on the sheer concept alone. After all, how many bangers about best friends are out there in the world?
Assisted by Doja Cat (who is also arguably riding an all time high in popularity right now), “Best Friend” soon also found remixes all across the music-making world. Remixes of the base song saw VaVa, JessB, OKENYO, JAMIE, CHANMINA etc. joining in on the fun, each one just as captivating as the original.
Besties everywhere found their calling card this year – so don’t be surprised if this becomes one of this generation’s go-to karaoke songs. –Li-Wei Chu
NAYANA IZ – “Breaking Point”
Last year, we couldn’t get enough of NAYANA IZ’s calm and collected breakout hit “TNT.” On “Breaking Point,” we see NAYANA IZ at a more contemplative state, with cinematic instrumentals and more subdued vocals exploring “the consciousness of a British-Asian woman reconciling with her past self.” –Karolyn Jaranilla
Raisa – “Someday (ft. Sam Kim)”
When international stars collaborate, the results can be either hit or miss. Sometimes it just doesn’t work – a calculated PR move that seems like an awkward fit. But others, like the collaboration between Indonesian pop singer Raisa and Korean American vocalist Sam Kim, seem like a match made in heaven.
“Someday,” the resulting song, is a slow burning R&B jam that shows off the two superstars’ buttery smooth vocals as they work out the problems in a relationship. The gold standard in Asian pop songs, the fluttering “Someday” feels at once personal and widely universal. Who knew that having such bittersweet troubles could sound so gorgeous? –Li-Wei Chu
Skirt & PUNPEE – “ODDTAXI”
This may be the first year From The Intercom included an anime opening on our list of best songs. Skirt & PUNPEE’s chillwave-esque opener to ODDTAXI is a pleasant surprise amidst a sea of intense j-rock and anime rock (at least from the anime I’ve seen).
Opening with laid back rhythm guitar and Skirt’s vocals, the track suddenly blooms with a sturdy bassline and rolling guitars, then settles into a cool sway of crooning vocals. PUNPEE’s confident rapping almost misdirects non-Japanese listeners of the lyrics’ more downcast theme (“I’m in the background / To you, I am just a garbage disposal after all”) but never dampens the overall chill vibe of the track.
If one pays close attention, the theme song weaves so well into the opening’s vibrant visuals. One notable detail features the timing of PUNPEE’s entrance in the song with the visual introduction to Yano, the eccentric porcupine antagonist who speaks almost exclusively in rap. It’s almost impossible not to bob your head to it — in fact, one may call it peak Cat Jam material.
If you haven’t watched ODDTAXI, the anthropomorphic mystery thriller which is arguably the best anime of the year, hopefully this song will convince you to dive in. –Karolyn Jaranilla
yeule – “Don’t Be So Hard On Your Own Beauty”
The second single from ambient pop artist yeule’s upcoming album Glitch Princess evokes 2000s emo pop tendencies, with subtle elements of hyperpop to make it uniquely yeule. Their subdued vocals add a tenderness as its narrator navigates their broken self image with a compassionate partner.
yeule’s reversed choreography in the corresponding music video emphasizes the song’s contorted moments (“Suddenly / Curled up / In a ball / In the bathroom floor”). -Karolyn Jaranilla
Ylona Garcia – “Don’t Go Changing”
88rising put the calamansi-light on Filipina Australian singer Ylona Garcia this year and she hit us with “Don’t Go Changing,” an epic anthem full of longing.
Lonely reverb, heavy guitar, and organ places us dancing alone at prom night as a subtle trap beat enters towards the end. This is all sent over the edge by the main event: Ylona’s impressive vocal range on a chorus you might as well get tattooed on your heart.
Ylona’s future is brighter than bright, but for now, we’re stuck belting “So don’t you go chaaaaanging,” at our karaokes and weddings. Not bad at all for nineteen years young. -Justin Ricafort
Hilang Child – “Good to be Young”
The songs on UK-based musician Hilang Child’s second album, Every Mover, are grandiose.
They’re sweeping and majestic, echoey and vast – a bold voice screaming into a canyon. But on “Good To Be Young,” the album’s first single, Hilang Child reins in that spaciness a little bit more, taming that wild sound into a sparkling pop song that radiates with warmth. “Good To Be Young” has all the cinematic flourishes that reflect the vibrancy of youth – the highs, the liberation, and everything in between. -Li-Wei Chu
BIBI – “The Weekend”
BIBI already had a strong following in her native South Korea, infusing her own taste of R&B with a badass, intensely cool vibe. BIBI’s Life is a Bi…EP is already a strong enough showcase of the musician’s talents, but it’s the singer’s addictive single “The Weekend” that launched her into the international spotlight.
“The Weekend” was everywhere towards the end of the year: boba shops, TikTok, and Asian restaurants all played a part in turning the song into an unavoidable hit. Amongst heartbeat thumps, immaculate basslines, and of course, that confidently playful BIBI attitude, “The Weekend” is a carefree bop that told the world, Yes, I’m the main character. -Li-Wei Chu
Twellly – “FREAKY”
With a sound that’s inspired by early 2000s pop and R&B, Twellly knows how to create songs that no doubt would’ve been blasting from every radio station back in the day.
“FREAKY,” one of three great singles that she released this year, hits just the right spots – from its winking sexual message to its club-ready singalong chorus. It’s a fun romp that takes me back to simpler times, but not without getting freaky with it. -Li-Wei Chu
박혜진 Park Hye Jin – “Let’s Sing Let’s Dance”
One of the best things about South Korean DJ 박혜진 Park Hye Jin is her ability to create consistently great tracks out of simple words and phrases. That sensibility has served her well, turning heady beats into dancefloor magic.
As the first single from her debut LP, Let’s Sing Let’s Dance, the title track allows 박혜진 Park Hye Jin to invite us to the club once again with a hypnotizing beat and looping lyrics that cycle through over and over again. “Let’s Sing / Let’s Dance / 이렇게 날 좋은 날엔 너와 함께 노랠 불러 (On a good day like this, I sing with you) / 이렇게 날 좋은 날에 너와 함께 춤을 춰 (Dance with you on a nice day like this)” she repeats, ad-nauseum.
For all of us bunkering down at home for another year, the mere suggestion is enough to keep us going. -Li-Wei Chu
Floating Room – “Shimanchu”
After captivating us with Tired and True EP last year, Portland-based Uchinanchu American artist Floating Room (aka Maya Stoner) returned this year with a thrilling new Shima EP.
Lead single “Shimanchu” saw Stoner reach into their heavier punk roots to channel the frustrations they’ve faced as an Okinawan person. Stoner melds plagued pasts of Okinawa and her personal experiences to fearlessly denounce all who have wronged them. There’s an undeniable power of reclamation in “Shimanchu” which can make raging in the pit all the more empowering. –Karolyn Jaranilla
thuy – “universe”
Even amongst a sea of rising R&B voices, thuy is one artist who inevitably makes her way back to the top of my playlist again and again. On the Bay Area native’s debut i hope u see this EP, there are so many great moments that showcase the singer’s ability to marry 90s/early 2000s pop R&B with her acrobatic voice (“chances” and “in my bag” are personal favorites). But it’s in the glimmering single “universe” that the singer-songwriter’s music really takes flight.
Though originally written as an ode to her dog Ollie, “universe” is a slow jam that can be applied to just about any situation where you’re falling head over heels for someone. Over a lowkey beat that really allows her ornate, breathy voice to shine, thuy has the ability to make you feel like you’re floating on cloud nine. Don’t be surprised if you see thuy making some big moves in the near future – “universe” is only just the beginning. -Li-Wei Chu
Conan Gray – “People Watching”
This year’s train of unrequited love songs continues with Conan Gray on “People Watching” but with a painfully vicarious spin. I was taken on such a ride listening to this for the first time.
What could have been our standard, saccharine “miss you’s” and “want you’s” turns into a third person wallflower perspective that Conan runs with to its maximum intensity. Lyrics like “That wasn’t funny but she laughed so hard she almost cried / They’re counting months they’ve been together almost forty-nine,” forces us to be the third wheel. It’s literally the “god I wish that were me” meme turned up to eleven. Few moments this year gave me goosebumps like the build up on “People Watching,” a song bursting with emotion that succeeds at all its intentions. -Justin Ricafort
juno roome – “capitol”
Can you believe that the Capitol insurrection happened in 2021? Yes, you read that correctly. Since it happened in January, the storming of the Capitol building in Washington DC has been dissected, meme’d on and documented so many times that it feels like it happened a lifetime ago.
While juno roome’s “capitol” is a swaying song that only links itself to the events of that day only by name, it’s one that reacts strongly to how far the state of the country has fallen to get to this point.
Paired with juno roome’s signature whispery, dreamy vocals, the New York-based singer turns biting lyrics into pure tonal sounds – stretching them out into enveloping melodies that channels the frustration and shock that millions of Americans felt watching the event unfold live. “capitol” is a time capsule of that moment, but it’s also a resistance song that fights back. “Kill us / We’ll keep / Walking,” juno roome sings. “We live / We live.” When future generations revisit “capitol,” hopefully they’re living in a world that proved him right. -Li-Wei Chu
88Rising, Rich Brian – “Lazy Susan (ft. Warren Hue, 21 Savage, Masiwei)”
The Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings album was the best proving cypher 88rising could have asked for, and on “Lazy Susan,” the team digs in with staying power.
Equipped with assassination flows, Rich Brian, Warren Hue, and Masiwei are the cousins you don’t want to 3-on-3 on the half-court. Accompanied by an unstoppable and dark piano loop, the trifecta cut up each of their verses with surgical precision. Ad-libs like “My whole team eat” wave up the high-octane energy from start to finish.
Huge props to Warren Hue for the wildest switch ups on the track that I couldn’t help cheering for until the plate stopped spinning. -Justin Ricafort
Luna Li – “Flower (ft. Dreamer Isioma)”
We’ve been waiting on a full-length Luna Li album for what feels like forever now, and the wait wouldn’t be that bad—if only her singles didn’t get better and kick it up a notch with every. Single. Release.
Culminating all of that magical energy that she’s known for from her previous releases, “Flower (In Full Bloom)” builds upon the track “flower” from her jams EP, turning it from a 1 minute instrumental to a nearly 4 minute track — lush with electric guitar, layered vocals, a feature by Dreamer Isioma, and even a mindblowing explosion of drum and vocals in the outro that has to be heard to be believed. The song truly feels like Luna Li is growing and blossoming, not just musically, but as an artistic force to be reckoned with. –Jacob Ugalde
Sinéad Harnett – “Take Me Away (ft. EARTHGANG)”
Sinead Harnett is an expert at singing R&B love songs that can take your breath away. In fact, her career as a vocalist is built on it – her albums Chapter One, Lessons in Love, and this year’s Ready is Always Too Late find the artist singing about every trial and tribulation that comes with falling in love with somebody. However, “Take Me Away,” the artist’s collaboration with EARTHGANG, uses love as a form of escapism from the chaotic world around them.
Featuring the singer’s signature pristine vocals and a rollicking R&B beat, “Take Me Away” finds Harnett reflecting on the appalling political state of affairs with an assist from EARTHGANG’s jittery, raspy verse. There’s a yin and yang confrontation on the track created by the two that is equally magnetic and dynamic – an energy that easily makes it one of the Ready Is Always Too Late’s standout tracks.
DACEY – “BITTER”
On DACEY’s stellar SATIN PLAYGROUND EP, lead singer Dacey Andrada and her entourage of bandmates (Justin Tecson, Joshua Akow, Nathan Chan and Marco Marin) struck gold with self-conscious, promiscuous R&B jams. But it’s on their latest single “BITTER,” where the group truly branches out.
Featuring crunchy guitars and messier indie rock flair, “BITTER” is bold and rougher around the edges – a sonic breakthrough that’s unlike anything on their debut. That’s not to mention the crushing second part of the song, where grungy instruments are traded for acoustic musings… before the song once again dives into a breakdown of epic proportions.
“BITTER” could very well be a fork in the road for the group, since it’s a song that has it all, and (unsurprisingly) it does every part of it well. There’s no telling what direction DACEY will be choosing to head in next, but whatever it is, we’re coming along for the ride. -Li-Wei Chu
DPR LIVE, Beenzino, Hwa Sa – “Hula Hoops”
Here’s something I learned this year: do not underestimate DPR LIVE.
He’s cooler than cool while delivering “Hula Hoops” straight from this year’s IITE COOL EP. But how much can you really get out of hula hoops as a metaphor? Enough for one of the most infectious songs this year for sure. DPR LIVE lifted a lounge beat and spun an endlessly jammable track elevated by the likes of BEENZINO and HWASA, who spoils us with a heartfelt intermission that locks us in even harder.
If you haven’t heard this song once, be careful– that first listen may just loop forever. My icy hoops. -Justin Ricafort
Cha Hyun – “GACKI”
The criminally underrated electronic/rock/pop artist Cha Hyun deserves your attention, and “GACKI” will make them an artist to watch (if they aren’t already).
“GACKI’s” unconventional combination of heavy metal and drum and bass starts at 100 with a commanding guitar lead and reversing drum breaks, then takes it to 1000 at its chorus when the best and boldest of both worlds combine. One would expect two seemingly disparate and high energy genres to clash, but Hyun finds a way to compliment the theatrics of heavy metal and the fast paced rhythms of drum and bass to have them work together. Just as you start to accept this gripping meld of sound, “GACKI” ends just as abruptly as it starts, warranting repeat after repeat. –Karolyn Jaranilla
Yaeji, OHHYUK – “29”
At this point, Yaeji should be a household name. She’s come a long way from the ghostly sketches of her earlier songs, but she’s still somehow at her best when she’s collaborating with other musicians from vastly different sonic backgrounds. This year saw the DJ release the single “Year to Year” / “29” with Korean indie-pop artist OHHYUK, the latter of which is pretty well known as a frequent co-collaborator himself. Together, the two are unstoppable.
If you’re a fan of both artists, it’s easy to see where the point at which the two’s musical sensibilities intersect: Yaeji’s signature bubbling beat and OHHYUK’s ornamental R&B embellishments coincide in a way that melds together like a smooth paste. Bolder, confident, and larger than life, “29” is a bumpy, dizzying bop. -Li-Wei Chu
Alice Longyu Gao & Alice Glass – “LEGEND”
In a year filled with unexpected artist collaborations, perhaps one of the most surprising – yet fitting – was between hyperpop visionary Alice Longyu Gao and electropunk powerhouse Alice Glass.
A collaboration that started because Gao “thought a rad Alice x Alice song would be unstoppable,” “LEGEND” delivers on that promise by releasing a grisly hardcore pop song that still hasn’t left my personal rotation. It’s discordant, fierce, and brazenly scary – “LEGEND” dares anyone to challenge its sheer audacity with its in-your-face confidence. “Fuck you if you insecure / Bitch I’m fucking Alice / I know, you talking shit you embarassed / I know, you mad ‘cause I’m the raddest,” Alice shouts down.
At this point, both Alices have transcended LEGEND status and into gods. -Li-Wei Chu
Yeek – “Feels Like I’m Flying”
No song made me feel as alive and as sweaty as “Feels Like I’m Flying,” Yeek’s latest single. It’s his fastest track to date and sees Yeek speeding down the freeway, leaving it all behind and with nothing on the table.
Combined with genius couplets like “Hydro-flask get filled up when anxiety sets in / Might have to fuck around and have some alcohol mixed in,” Yeek’s soul-searching isn’t sacrificed but instead enhanced by a nonstop tempo that makes you stick your head out the car window screaming in auto-tune. I’m not saying this is the biggest, boldest dance track of the year, but that’s exactly what I’m saying. –Justin Ricafort
새소년 SE SO NEON – “자유 Jayu”
SE SO NEON have been releasing a steady stream of EPs and singles, with “NAN CHUN” swooning its way to our 50 Best Songs list last year. This year, they return to our list for the wistful yet charismatic track “Jayu”.
Here, daytime and waking life in the song’s verses are lethargic and filled with dread. (“Outside feels like a jacket belonging to the past season / Everyone shivers,” “I greet the day at last / Shortly after, I fall apart”). The night, then, is a time and place to escape, finding comfort and “freedom” (Jayu in Korean) in the moon and stars. The contrasting moods are reflected in dynamic instrumentals as transitions into nighttime are accompanied by swelling strings and pianos. –Karolyn Jaranilla
Sub Urban, Bella Poarch – “INFERNO”
Of all the artists featured on this year’s EOTY lists, Bella Poarch might have the highest listens-to-singles ratio: though “INFERNO” is only the artist’s second release ever, the song already has 237 million plays on Spotify, and close to 87 million on YouTube. It’s certainly impressive, but not nearly as much as the feat that is the song “INFERNO” itself, which blends dark pop, catchy beats, haunting strings, and almost cartoonish mockeries into a delightfully wicked 2 minute punch that would make even Danny Elfman proud.
Produced by Sub Urban, the song features Poarch outlining what she would have done to her aggressors following her sexual assault, resulting in a darkly empowering tune that will make you, too, want to set everything aflame. –Jacob Ugalde
The Linda Lindas – “Oh!”
The Linda Lindas have had quite a year: in 2021 alone, they’ve gone from a viral tirade against racist, sexist, boys to getting signed by Epitaph Records, leading up to the release of their first signed single, “Oh!”.
The release was accompanied by an eclectic music video featuring the girls — Eloise, Bela, Lucia, and Mila, all Asian or Latina and aged 11-17 — in brightly saturated uniforms that are as loud as their guitars. The song itself follows in the groove of their rebellious, punk predecessors, with all their frustration and aggression exploding throughout the track and never letting go. And let’s be honest, no one knows that energy better than a group of young WOC with a microphone. –Jacob Ugalde
Wallice – “23”
Woe is the feeling of getting left behind. Woe is “23,” Wallice’s ode to arrested development, gap years, and that feeling right now that we should be somewhere else– somewhere, somehow better.
Wallice is our reliably relatable voice in a world easy to take out of context giving us the fears of “still being a loser” and inability to “wait to be all grown up and 23.” The contrasting success of this tune being both nostalgic and hopeful is what makes it so special. The transition from acceptable to irrepressible in a single song is ultimately empowering. Wallice is occupying an unapologetically humble space in indie-rock that is soothing even our most vicious FOMOs. -Justin Ricafort
Tom VR – “October”
Tom VR has been one of the most consistent producers in the last couple of years. 2020’s Acheless EP was an optimistic kaleidoscope of pure optimism. Then 2021’s Fast Track to Bliss EP and Please Keep Shimmering LP proved to be two more great works for Tom. From all of this “October” stands out as a highlight of his production prowess.
Starting out with an almost serene aura, speckles of breaks kick the song into motion. As “October” continues, a steady bassline and weightless synth lead are craftily added in. It’s easy to forget how much is going on until the song breaks at the four minute mark. There’s such a gratifying payoff when you hear everything come together again shortly after. –Karolyn Jaranilla
Yu Su – “Xiu”
Across the eight tracks and 40 minutes that make up Yu Su’s debut album, Yellow River Blue moves through a myriad of genres and is a skillful blend of Eastern and Western music influences.
Its lead track, “Xiu”, is a prime example which incorporates vibrant pipa tones with gentle drum machines along with twinkling synth leads that complement the pipa, all without overpowering that of the lute instrument. Complex arrangements like these showcase Yu Su’s highly tuned ear for sonic arrangements. –Karolyn Jaranilla
Laufey, Philharmonia Orchestra – “Let You Break My Heart Again”
Give Laufey a guitar, piano, or cello, and she’ll give you an acoustic serenade that warms your heart, soothes your soul, and leaves you longing for love. Give her an entire orchestra to play with and, well, you’ve got yourself an instant classic.
“Let You Break My Heart Again” is a standout selection from her ever-growing repertoire of original contemporary jazz standards, and with the lush strings and rich sounds of the Philharmonia Orchestra to back her up, Laufey cements her place as the jazz singer for today’s generation, so we can all feel the yearning of a hopeless romantic lost in a world of lovers. –Jacob Ugalde
Silk Sonic – “Leave The Door Open”
Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak couldn’t have picked a better name for their supergroup – Silk Sonic is maybe the only way that you could describe the smooth funk that the two have cooked up.
Sensuality drips, nay, oozes from every track on their debut album An Evening With Silk Sonic, but on “Leave The Door Open” the duo shifts their voluptuous charisma into overdrive. Every single word delivered here is pure panty-dropping, shirt-ripping romance, courtesy of Mars’ and Paak’s silver tongued charm. The audio equivalent of heart-melting razzle-dazzle, “Leave The Door Open” is a private late night (babymaking?) engagement come to life. -Li-Wei Chu
beabadoobee – “Last Day On Earth”
“Last Day On Earth” hits different in the pandemic age, but it’s a solid reminder that no matter how much the world burns, you cannot stop the feeling of a teenage dream.
beabadoobee’s Our Extended Play EP was a welcome surprise this year that may just be as 90s as it gets. “Last Day On Earth’s” catchy and constant “yeahs” and “shoop doops” all behind a glitzy guitar melody are as comfortable in a coming-of-age film as they are in a Gap commercial. As history turns through the 2020s, beabadoobee has signed this carefree tune into the pages. -Justin Ricafort
Joy Crookes – “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now”
Joy Crookes got us with the confident main character energy on “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now,” off her debut album “Skin.” The Bangladeshi-Irish singer is set to dominate our souls without losing an ounce of introspection.
Combined with a persistent bassline and a stellar soul-driven chorus, “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” features lyrics of political self-analysis, actively questioning how we can authentically exist “retweeting picket signs” to cope with a “dopamine tuition” none of us can reasonably pay off. It would be a shame to miss the message of a song that critiques the moral performances we put on. As imperfect as we all are, we should still be down for trying. -Justin Ricafort
boylife – “superpretty”
Let’s get one thing clear: boylife (Ryan Yoo)’s gelato is best heard straight through, full stop. But if you were hard-pressed for time and only had three minutes to spare, “superpretty” might be the best standalone single of the bunch.
Within the context of the album, “superpretty” finds boylife at the highest of highs – the peak of the mountain. There’s an instrumental invincibility here that makes the song feel like it’s too big to fail. From its violently distorted production to mention of Yoo’s towering insecurities, “superpretty” expertly blends chest-out puffed up confidence with nosediving anxiety that’s hard to keep up with. “Bitch I’m a star / And I’m super, superpretty,” Yoo triumphantly yells, before hitting us with oxymorons that leave us with bitter food for thought (“Young and colored in America / Got a couple things I need to say / No, you’d never love me as I am / America, I wanna bury ya,” “Big smile when I lose a friend”).
It’s hard to know whether we’re meant to laugh, to cry, or to shriek alongside the track. On its singular power alone, “superpretty” is a polarizing, queasy single that holds the mirror up to your face and dares you to look into it. –Li-Wei Chu
Sarah Kinsley – “The King”
Though singer-songwriter Sarah Kinsley has been releasing great songs long before her breakthrough The King EP this year, it wasn’t until the EP’s title track deservedly went viral that she truly commanded the national spotlight.
“The King,” a sweeping indie pop ballad, is absolutely mesmerizing. There’s sparks here that fly where lightning has struck, largely helped by Kinsley’s swirling storm of piano keys and a gorgeously versatile voice that does wonders. It’s a song that’s an instant classic, comparable to Sara Bareilles’ “Love Song” or Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles,” and it’s one that will easily live in the minds of all those who hear it.
Topped with a truly triumphant chorus (Kinsley’s delivery of “I wanna be the king” has one of the most impressive deliveries this year) whose power alone can topple skyscrapers, “The King” stole all our hearts this year – and made us fall in love all over again. –Li-Wei Chu
Ginger Root – “Loretta”
What do you get when you cross Ginger Root’s head-bopping aggressive elevator soul with the blushing summer funk of Japanese city pop? As it turns out, pure musical bliss.
On “Loretta” and all over Ginger Root’s excellent City Slicker EP, the Southern California native takes a detour to 80s Japan and delivers the musical goods right to your ears. It’s astonishing to pin down what exactly he’s achieved on the track: the laid-back breezy vibes, the sick-ass instrumental solos, the catchy title character’s name, the confident Tatsuro Yamashita-like conducting. From the instant you hit play, you’ll be transported into another dimension, where the sky is always blue, the sunshine never stops, and the city is a paradise. –Li-Wei Chu
Olivia Rodrigo – “driver’s license”
From the moment that open car door sound hit our ears, there was no turning back. Olivia Rodrigo’s “drivers license” got everyone and their mother to the suburbs for a good old fashioned break-up song.
Olivia’s confessional vulnerability is infused on every moment on the track, starting with a breathless intro that crescendos into a breathtaking, bittersweet peak. A song this big is enough by itself, but it also manages to send us off with the lingering, complicated nuance of still loving those that have broken our hearts.
After many, many months of polarization, it was nice to be united (even if just for one second!) under an amazing song from a new artist. -Justin Ricafort