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‘PEACHES,’ JUSTIN BIEBER, featuring DANIEL CAESAR AND GIVEON: Justin Bieber was not happy with the Recording Academy last year when his ‘Changes’ album was categorised as pop rather than R’n’B. But ‘Peaches’ featuring Daniel Caesar and Giveon from this year’s ‘Justice’ album, not only doubled down on the R’n’B sound, but became one of music’s most dominant songs, debuting at No 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and topping the global charts. It’s a feel good, two-stepping record that was needed as the coronavirus pandemic still forced much of the world to stay home.
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‘DRIVERS LICENSE,’ OLIVIA RODRIGO: Anyone who’s ever had their heart broken will feel how 18-year-old Olivia Rodrigo feels on this aching Grammy-nominated hit: “You said forever, now I drive alone past your street.” The power ballad broke the Spotify record for most one-day streams for a non-holiday song and spent eight consecutive weeks at No 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also won Apple Music and MTV Video Music awards for song of the year. It reached No 1 around the world, from Australia and Denmark to Indonesia and South Africa because it is angry, hurt, frustrated, loving, tearful perfection, complete with car chime.
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‘INDUSTRY BABY,’ LIL NAS X AND JACK HARLOW: To anyone who thought ‘Old Town Road’ was all you’d be hearing from Lil Nas X, he’s got this to say: “I told you long ago on the Road/ I’ve got what you’re waiting for.” ‘Industry Baby’ was one of the biggest hits of 2021 and for good reason. The track is the 22-year-old rapper’s victory lap after having one of the most talked about music videos of the year with ‘Montero’ and having 11 songs from his new LP make Billboard’s Hot 100.
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‘HURRICANE,’ KANYE WEST, THE WEEKND AND LIL BABY: Kanye West’s ‘DONDA’ made waves with several gems, but the most standout track that created the perfect storm was ‘Hurricane,’ featuring The Weeknd and Lil Baby. With stellar production, the trio offer different perspectives of overcoming their own storms on the holy hip-hop track.
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‘SEROTONIN,’ GIRL IN RED: The opening track of the debut album from girl in red, a Norwegian alt-pop singer-songwriter, pulses along a frenetic pace that reflects the impulsive thoughts of a mind unable to rest. “Dig deep, can’t hide, from the corners of my mind,” writes Marie Ulven. “I’m terrified of what’s inside.” Written and co-produced with Billie Eilish’s brother Finneas O’Connell, the track crescendos with a pulsing beat. It’s a raw, unflinching inner look at that uncontrollable id part of our personalities.
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‘TO BE LOVED,’ ADELE: While ‘Easy On Me’ and ‘I Drink Wine’ have gotten the most attention from Adele’s ‘30,’ it’s ‘To Be Loved’ that is the underappreciated standout of the album. There’s a rawness to the track that is rare for the singer. The 33-year-old’s powerhouse vocals usually sound polished, but in ‘To Be Loved,’ her voice teeters on cracking. The song finds Adele standing on her own two feet, vulnerable but leaning into the growth that her heartbreak will bring.
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‘WE WIN,’ LIL BABY AND KIRK FRANKLIN: The Lil Baby and Kirk Franklin tandem may seem like an odd combo. Lil Baby is known for his street rap lyrics, while Franklin built his legendary career on gospel music. Despite their different musical approaches, they form a strong duo on the inspirational Just Blaze-produced ‘We Win,’ a song from the ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ soundtrack.
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‘KISS ME MORE,’ DOJA CAT featuring SZA: This blissful ‘90s disco-pop throwback with a hip-hop heart earned three Grammy nominations for record of the year, song of the year, and best pop duo/group performance. The song by Doja Cat, featuring SZA, also won an American Music Award (collaboration of the year) and an MTV Video Music Award for best collaboration. If you listen close, you’ll hear a Gwen Stefani-ish refrain but also an interpolation of Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Physical.’ But don’t work too hard, just let this steamy, smooth song wash over you.
Image Credit: Invision
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‘LAY IT ON ME,’ MICKEY GUYTON: There are so many gems on Mickey Guyton’s Grammy-nominated debut album that it’s hard to pick one, but what Guyton does with such excellence is open her heart and show empathy. ‘Lay It On Me’ is in that sweet spot of gospel and country that lets Guyton’s roof-shaking vocals soar from note to note. Written for her husband, Guyton is asking to carry his burdens and lean on her strength to carry them both through the fire.
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‘ESSENCE,’ WIZKID featuring TEMS: ‘Essence’ by afrobeat superstar WizKid, featuring Tems, was another of the year’s undeniable songs. Reaching No 1 on Billboard’s R’n’B/hip-hop airplay and the adult R&B airplay chart, the sultry, melodic duet record was crowned by many as the song of the summer.
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