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My top pop songs of 2021 ... and the most disappointing track

A split image of a woman posing in a skeleton costume and another woman posing in a silver dress.
A diptych of Phoebe Bridgers and Taylor Swift.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times; JMEnternational for BRIT Awards/Getty Images)

2021 was a weird year — but luckily, there was no shortage of good pop music to celebrate the highs and cope with the lows of the last 12 months.

While concerts have sadly not quite returned in full force, there were still plenty of solid releases, including full-length debuts, collaboration tracks and re-recordings of old favorites. (Plus: a much-anticipated return that felt like a betrayal.)

Before 2021 ends, queue up these three tracks — and skip the last one.

“Hush” by The Marías (Still Woozy Remix)

Release date: Sept. 16, 2021
Genre: Indie pop
Track length: 3:02 minutes
Spotify streams: 6.7 million

Two debut albums — The Marías’ “CINEMA” and Still Woozy’s “If This Isn’t Fun, I Don’t Know What Is” — are my top releases of 2021. But how do you pick a favorite tune from no-skip track lists? Solution: Bring both artists together on the same song.

Four months after its original May 2021 release, music duo The Marías teamed up with Still Woozy (aka singer-songwriter Sven Eric Gamsky) for a remix of one of their most popular songs, “Hush.”

The result is an indie masterpiece that pairs The Marías’ haunting, psychedelic vibes with Still Woozy’s groovy, upbeat approach. Neither artists’ sound is compromised; breathy vocals, plucky guitar picking, delicate piano, bold drums ... it all comes together on a hypnotizing track that’s both calming and energizing.

“Silk Chiffon” by MUNA (feat. Phoebe Bridgers)

Phoebe Bridgers wears a skeleton-themed outfit.
Phoebe Bridgers wears a skeleton-themed outfit from Thom Browne with Ashley Zhang jewelry on the red carpet at the 63rd Grammy Awards.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Release date: Sept. 7, 2021
Genre: Electropop
Track length: 3:26 minutes
Spotify streams: 12.6 million

Want a song to cure your depression? Have I got the thing for you!

MUNA’s viral single “Silk Chiffon” is the perfect pop bop: full of beautiful harmonies, powerful guitar playing, and catchy hooks. For the song, the three-woman band teamed up with singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers, who actually signed MUNA to her label Saddest Factory Records back in May.

I’d never heard of MUNA; I came across the single as a die-hard Bridgers fan. Admittedly, I was weary about the collab ... an upbeat pop song featuring the queen of gloom? But somehow, it works, and the artists are able to meet in the middle of their different musical energies. I do think there is a bit of irony bleeding through this song — I don’t quite buy Bridgers believing “life’s so fun” in her miniskirt and rollerblades — but either way, I’d say it’s an elevated approach to a cheesy, happy-go-lucky song that still has a lot of musical and lyrical talent behind it.

“All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” by Taylor Swift

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 13: Talyor Swift performs onstage during iHeartRadio's Z100 Jingle Ball 2019
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 13: Talyor Swift performs onstage during iHeartRadio’s Z100 Jingle Ball 2019 at Madison Square Garden on December 13, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Manny Carabel/Getty Images)
(Manny Carabel/Getty Images)

Release date: Nov. 12, 2021
Genre: Country pop (though that’s debatable)
Track length: 10:13 minutes
Spotify streams: 159.8 million

Only Taylor Swift could release a chart-topping song that’s over 10 minutes long.

The extended version of her song “All Too Well” is featured on the rerecording of “Red,” originally released in 2012. I was a college freshman when the album came out — very much in the “happy, free, confused and lonely” phase of my life, which included mourning my high school breakup ... partially with the help of the bridge of “All Too Well.” And this rerecording shattered my 18-year-old heart all over again.

In the rerecording, Swift proves how much her vocal range and production prowess have improved over the last decade, and you can hear the emotion oozing from her words — both the original lyrics and new additions, like the heartbreaking “But all I felt was shame and you held my lifeless frame” — even more strongly than the first time around. It’s an understatement to say I’m obsessed with the new version; I even use it as a metric of time, e.g. “I’m on my way, be there in two-and-a-half ‘All-Too-Wells.’”

And my least favorite ...

“Solar Power” by Lorde

Release date: June 11, 2021
Sub genre: Electropop
Track length: 3:12
Spotify streams: 89.9 million

There were a lot of outstanding releases this year. “Solar Power” by Lorde wasn’t one of them.

After waiting four years for new music from Lorde — her 2013 debut album “Pure Heroine” was a breath of fresh air in the pop world, and her sophomore album “Melodrama” from 2017 is an absolute masterpiece — her third album’s first single “Solar Power” felt like a slap in the face.

Unlike Bridgers’ subtle dip into more upbeat territory, Lorde’s single — which was mirrored on the rest of the album of the same name — felt like a complete departure from her original sound. Every time I listen to it (or worse, watch the music video) I feel like I’m being dragged into a New Agey church service or retreat. Gone are her heartbreaking melodies and piano solos; her previously sophisticated lyrics turning shallow and stale, seemingly catching up to her age.

I get that artists like to experiment and rebrand, but this was just too much, especially after such a long silence. When I’m turning to you in my time of need, Lorde, I want darkness and drama ... not rainbows and flower crowns. Please hear our pleas and give us what we want for the fourth album — and please don’t make us wait four more years for it.


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