From Olivia Rodrigo and BTS to The Weeknd: 10 of the best tracks of 2021 so far

Other notable songs came from rockers Green Day, rapper Nas and Norwegian singer-songwriter Girl in Red

From left to right: Justin Bieber, Olivia Rodrigo, and The Weeknd have all released stellar singles in 2021. Getty Images; AP
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We're only just over halfway through 2021 and already we've heard some killer tracks come out.

With the pandemic shuttering major music venues worldwide, artists have been busy in studios producing memorable works that allow us to escape and, in some cases, comment on the present state of the world.

Here are 10 of the best tracks of 2021 so far, in order of release date.

1. 'Anyone' by Justin Bieber (January 1)

The Canadian pop star rang in the New Year with this low-key pop gem.

Full of twinkling keyboards and muted percussion, the soaring vocals and heartwarming message of resilience makes Anyone resonate during today's challenging period.

It also goes some way to make up for last year's insipid comeback single Yummy.

2. 'Drivers Licence' by Olivia Rodrigo (February 20)

Talk about an entry. American-Filipino singer Olivia Rodrigo announced herself to the world with a track as euphoric as it is emotionally devastating.

A rumination on love and betrayal, the lyricism belies her 17 years and the sweeping chorus points to a supreme vocalist with the world at her feet.

3. ‘Here Comes the Shock’ by Green Day (February 20)

After years of bloated concept albums, it's great to hear Green Day going back to basics.

Here Comes the Shock captures that youthful sound of old with strident vocals, buzzing guitars and seriously catchy hooks.

The accompanying music video, featuring a rock and roll aerobics instructor, could also be useful for a home exercise session.

4. 'Serotonin' by Girl in Red (March 3)

This breakout single by the Norwegian singer-songwriter is timely and affecting.

Co-produced by Billie Eilish collaborator and brother Finneas, the song's breezy and ethereal production disguises some of the harrowing and poignant lyrics about Girl in Red's (real name Marie Ulven Ringheim) struggles with mental health.

Where many peers went down the escapist route, Girl in Red gave us a pop song encapsulating the angst of the moment.

5. 'Better Without You' by Evanescence (March 4)

The powerful track confirms Evanescence haven't lost their mojo after a decade away.

This song is taken from the album The Bitter Truth, the first full collection of original material since 2011's self-titled album. Sole remaining founding member and singer Amy Lee still gives us chills when her operatic vocals soar over a heady mix of crunchy guitars and pummelling drums.

6. ‘Leave the Door Open’ by Silk Sonic (March 5)

Bruno Mars reportedly wrote a letter to the Grammy Awards organisers begging them to let him perform during the ceremony the debut single by new project Silk Sonic – a duo with RnB singer and drummer Anderson .Paak.

Their rendition of Leave the Door Open became one of the top performances of the night.

A wonderful melange of '70s soul and RnB, the track is as much a solid throwback as it is a modern take on golden sounds by two gifted singer-songwriters.

7. ‘Montero (Call Me by Your Name)' by Lil Nas X (March 26)

A triumph of promotion or material? Either way, Lil Nas X's latest single is one of the most discussed of the year, thanks to the limited-edition black and red Satan Shoes that accompanied its release.

With only 666 pairs available, the sold-out collection was based on some modified Nike Air Max 97s.

Nike went on to sue the shoemakers, the Brooklyn art collective MSCHF, claiming it had diluted the Nike brand.

Amid all the drama, it's easy to forget Montero (Call Me by Your Name), with its electro and Latin influences, allowed a confident Lil Nas X to stake his claim as a future star.

8. ‘Butter’ by BTS (May 21)

This is the follow-up to last year's Grammy Award-nominated Dynamite. K-pop superstars BTS's second English single Butter continues the ebullient party sounds of its predecessor.

Built upon a stomping disco beat, the track is a smooth and precise slice of pop perfection with a synth-heavy chorus guaranteed to leave a smile on your face.

9. 'Take My Breath' by The Weeknd (August 6)

Thought to be the new single of The Weeknd's next album (yet to be titled and without a release date), Take My Breath finds the Canadian musician continuing to mine the sleek '80s synth sounds he has found success with in the past.

Borrowing the riff from Donna Summer's 1977 single I Feel Love, The Weeknd once again teams up with Swedish super-producer Max Martin for another dazzling disco burner that should maintain his industry standing as one of the pop stars to beat.

10. ‘Rare’ by Nas (August 6)

“I’m in rare form,” declares Nas in the commanding lead single from critically acclaimed new album King’s Disease 2.

Indeed, rapper Nas (born Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones) sounds truly revitalised as he blends swagger with street wisdom over producer and collaborator Hit-Boy’s whizzing production.

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Updated: August 15, 2021, 1:15 PM
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