Music

The best song moments of 2021

From Priyanka to Little Simz to James Blake, we thank these artists for the songs that gave us the best timestamps of the year.

From Priyanka to James Blake, we thank these artists for the songs that gave us the best moments this year

Priyanka and Kacey Musgraves bring us some of this year's best song moments with their respective tracks 'Coming Through' and 'Breadwinner.' (Courtesy of artist, Rich Fury/Getty Images; design by CBC Music)

At the end of each year, we meticulously sift through our playlists to find our favourite songs and albums, comparing one list to another and arguing endlessly. But this year, we wanted to get more specific: which moments in song are still with us as we head into 2022? 

Is there a particular lyric still floating around in our heads? A specific sax solo? A falsetto that we just can't shake? A moment that rivals those few seconds of dead silence on Alanis Morissette's "All I Really Want"?

To answer those questions, CBC Music producers got together and chose the 20 songs with a timestamp that we want everyone to know about. From Priyanka's collaboration with her fellow Canada's Drag Race contestant, Lemon, to James Blake's ode to being content, to First Aid Kit's Leonard Cohen cover, we make arguments for the best moments in song this year.


Song: "The Other Man" (Sloan cover), Mariel Buckley
Timestamp: 2:57

A queer-coded and gender non-conforming cover of one of Sloan's best songs? Yes, please. Mariel Buckley's voice is a marvel, but it's her exquisite delivery of "nature will abhor me" that makes the song her own. Buckley's tone is defiant but tinged with resignation. The way she enunciates the word "abhor" is particularly poignant, breaking the word in half and leaving it suspended for a split second so that the weight of its judgment echoes long after the song ends. — Andrea Warner 


Song: "Peaches,"Justin Bieber featuring Daniel Caesar and Giveon 
Timestamp: 1:13

I don't have a reasonable explanation for why I love Daniel Caesar's delivery of the word "Mallorca" on "Peaches" so much, I just do. Maybe it's because it's been two years since I've travelled anywhere and the Toronto R&B star's slow sigh of "Malloooorcaaaa" is enough to make me book plane tickets immediately. Maybe it's because I've never heard Mallorca said in such a manner on a song before. Either way, in that moment, Caesar's verse runs away with the song and the last things on my mind are Georgia or California; no offence to those lovely destinations Bieber name drops. — Melody Lau


Song: "Tempo," Valley
Timestamp: 2:28

After getting you all worked up with a persistent beat, this song reaches the bridge and then, true to the chorus's exhortation ("We can change the tempo"), the drums drop out and the meter is cut in half for the rest of the song. It's a woozy, guitar-filled swirl of sound that comes as a relief after the song's urgent pulse, a transition that's explained by a faint voice saying, "I think I'd like to stop dancing now and go to Denny's." It's time for some post-party poutine. — Robert Rowat


Song: "Capo," Mustafa featuring Sampha
Timestamp: 1:23 

When British singer Sampha comes in on the second verse of Mustafa's track "Capo," written about an incarcerated friend who must mourn the deaths of their other friends in solitude, there's already been an excruciating buildup. And then Sampha's voice takes flight: "And I can't let it go/ this feeling I have won't settle/ won't stop raining, we're at sea level/ and this pain is never gentle/ it anchors me into the rubble but I'm breathing fine." When Mustafa first wrote the lyrics he wasn't sure what rhythm they should take when sung, and then Sampha came and breathed life into them. The verse has never failed to reduce me to a sobbing mess. Whenever I hear it, I imagine young boys growing up in the hood, their very sidewalks turning to quicksand and trapping them in powerlessness. — Kelsey Adams


Song: "Breadwinner," Kacey Musgraves
Timestamp: 0:32

Kacey Musgraves' Star-crossed is a gentle divorce album, considering the burn-it-to-the-ground angle that fellow Texans and country musicians the Chicks took on 2020's Gaslighter, but "Breadwinner" is one of its more pointed singles. Verse by verse, over a fun, plucky sound, Musgraves tears down expectations from an energy-sucking partner. There's no better kiss-off than when Musgraves' falsetto hits a single word on nearly every line of the chorus, throwing pointed shade into her clever writing. "He wants a breadwinner/ he wants your dinner/ until he ain't hungry anymore," she sings, her lines drama-less and matter-of-fact. It's pitch-perfect. — Holly Gordon


Song: "Wants and Needs," Drake featuring Lil Baby
Timestamp: 1:38

The last in a line of scattered mixtape drops pre-Certified Lover Boy, Drake's Scary Hours 2 EP had a few shining moments that signified something special was coming. Case in point: this track, featuring Atlanta rapper Lil Baby, whose relentless verbal parade is hands-down one of the year's most impressive rap verses. Coming off the chorus's slinky production, Lil Baby breathlessly lays into the beat while somehow managing to simultaneously pepper a handful of Drizzy song titles into his closing arguments. — Jess Huddleston


Song: "Say What You Will," James Blake
Timestamp: 3:14

On the surface, "Say What You Will" feels like a defeatist song, James Blake's ode to being content. It's full of self-deprecating lines, such as "I look OK in the magic hour, in the right light with the right amount of power," as Blake implores his detractors to say what they will about him. But then the song takes a turn, and Blake goes from being content to being, well, happy. "I can find my way," he declares. The song is such a slow build, circling around his incredibly fragile delivery of the chorus. It's on the bridge where he shows us how to not only be happy with our current situation, but how to soar in it. The beat drops out, and we're left with just his voice as it swirls upward, sounding as if it will never crescendo. As his voice begins to tremble, right when you think he's hit the top and has run out of breath, Blake hits that perfect high note. — Jesse Kinos-Goodin


Song: "All too Well" (the short film), Taylor Swift
Timestamp: 7:00 and 11:25

This epic update to Taylor Swift's original benefits from the perspective of time and offers up two of the best lyrical moments of the year. First: "And there we are again/ when nobody had to know/ you kept me like a secret/ but I kept you like an oath" is devastating, particularly if you've ever been the secret in the equation. But it's also super satisfying to see a young woman (who is ultimately OK) looking back 13 years later on an affair with an older man and recognizing in retrospect a power imbalance that was really a pattern in the making. Then Swift caustically drops this call-out: "I was never good at telling jokes/ but the punchline goes/ 'I'll get older but your lovers stay my age.'" Brava, Taylor Swift, this is the sound of catharsis. — AW

 

Song: "Throw That Back," DijahSB 
Timestamp: 0:24

DijahSB kicks off "Throw That Back" with a simple question: "What do you deserve from me?" They ask that a few times, letting the words sink in, before they come back with an absolute knockout of a response: "Not a. Gah. Damn. Thing." Both motivational and just a blast to shout along to, DijahSB is here to remind us that we owe people nothing. Instead, let's use that energy to big ourselves up. We definitely deserve that. — ML


Song: "Wasting Time," Brent Faiyaz featuring Drake and the Neptunes
Timestamp: 2:41

One of the reasons I love R&B is for the prominent basslines, and I'm always drawn to songs that innovate in that regard, such as this smooth jam from Brent Faiyaz with its gooey globs of ultra-low bass that offset his soaring vocals. But the best moment comes when Faiyaz hands things over to Drake with the line, "All I'm drinking is champagne" — not only a nod to the rapper's sobriquet, but also a great motto for 2022.  — RR


Song: "Trouble," Joy Crookes
Timestamp: 2:35

As far as songs about family drama and repetitive cycles of dysfunctional behaviour go, "Trouble" is a fun one. With a loose calypso beat and Crookes's signature, full-bodied vocals, it's a delight for the ears — though it takes a few listens to understand the toxicity of the relationship she's outlining. With percussion that inspires hip-swaying and head-nodding throughout, it's only in the last chorus that the music gets stripped back and the lyrics become the focus: "You're all that I need/ but we break every time/ birds of a feather fly together/ your trouble's the same as mine." It's here that the pathos in Crookes's voice is most purely distilled.  — KA


Song: "Venus in Heat," Jennah Barry
Timestamp: 3:03

"Venus in Heat" has the pretense of a midsummer lullaby, that gentle guitar and whisper of strings holding a rhythmic sway alongside Jennah Barry's honeyed voice. It's a song about the first few days of falling in love, which comes with some big, complicated feelings, and the flute solo in the last minute feels like a Disney interlude — a musical translation of the word "twitterpated." — HG


Song: "Sierra Nights," Kevin Abstract featuring Ryan Beatty
Timestamp: 2:40

For as long as I can remember, I have lived for a mid-song change-up. An unexpected middle eight. A curveball switch. From Franz Ferdinand's "Take me Out" to Drake's "Know Yourself" and now this 2021 banger from two alt-R&B heavy-hitters, stumbling upon an unforeseen melodic gem nestled within an already great song leaves you feeling like you've scored two for the price of one. In "Sierra Nights," Brockhampton's Kevin Abstract and singer Ryan Beatty trot alongside the West Coast bounce of the song's first half, before slowing down with a quick, twangy interlude, and revving back up into a freedom anthem of sorts. Somehow, it feels like the sound of dreams coming true — so, I highly recommend spinning it while you ponder those 2022 resolutions. — JH


Song: "Come Through," Priyanka featuring Lemon
Timestamp: 4:05

Priyanka may have won the first season of Canada's Drag Race, but it's her fifth-place sister Lemon who steals the show on "Come Through." Lemon's viral verse has since become a TikTok hit and has skyrocketed the track to almost two million streams on Spotify. But personally, my favourite way of listening to this now iconic guest feature is leaving the YouTube edited one-hour loop of it on for far too long. Lemon didn't mean to stunt, but she's stuntin' plenty on this track. — ML


Song: "Point and Kill," Little Simz featuring Obongjayar 
Timestamp: 3:11

"Point and Kill" is Little Simz's ode to her homeland, Nigeria, and is one of the standouts on her 2021 album, Sometimes I Might be Introvert, with its undeniable Afrobeat groove. The song was recorded in her living room on a whim, and that improvisational spirit permeates it. (The NPR Tiny Desk performance encapsulates that energy well.) When the jubilant trumpets come in near the tail end, they sound as if they wouldn't be out of place on a Fela Kuti record. This small nod to the king of Afrobeat is a moment I relish each time. Also, if you're listening to the album, the way it flows effortlessly into the next track, "Fear no Man," is just sublime. — KA


Song: "Suzanne" (Leonard Cohen cover), First Aid Kit
Timestamp: 0:01 + 2:13 

Covering Leonard Cohen's beloved song "Suzanne" is a gutsy move so many years after its release, but longtime fans Klara and Johanna Söderberg, a.k.a. folk duo First Aid Kit, do it stunning justice. They covered the song as part of their tribute to the Canadian legend after his death, a live show performed in Stockholm with an eight-piece band and a 20-person choir. On "Suzanne," parts of Cohen's originally delicately strummed guitar are replaced by vibraphone, first introduced as the song kicks off and then sparingly sprinkled throughout. It's a beautiful, simple tone-setting for the classic. — HG


Song: "Hot and Heavy," Lucy Dacus
Timestamp: 2:58

Edging closer to the holiday season — and possibly a trip to your hometown — you can't help but remember the times in your life when those familiar, formative streets were haunted with ghosts of your past: people who held a place in your heart, but not your reality. Outgrowing those old attachments can be bittersweet (see: Taylor Swift's "'Tis the Damn Season" for more on this), and Lucy Dacus captures those many affecting emotions on this gorgeous slice of nostalgia. The kicker is when the song rises, at 2:58, to a Springsteen-inspired piano and guitar outro that glitters as wistfully as the feelings she's putting to bed. — JH


Song: "Good 4 u," Olivia Rodrigo 
Timestamp: 2:34

This year's undeniable breakout star Olivia Rodrigo tapped into her inner pop-punk rocker on her smash single "Good 4 u." Throughout the track, she calls out her ex for moving on so carelessly without any consideration for her feelings, be it sadness (as illustrated on her other hit, "Drivers License") or sheer anger. "Good for you/ you're doin' great out there without, baby," she sings on the track's final stretches. What follows feels like a cathartic release, that extra ounce of rage that she needs to exorcise: "Like a damn sociopath!" — ML 


Song: "Body Move," Dizzy Fae
Timestamp: 2:38

Minneapolis-based singer and rapper Dizzy Fae doesn't take herself too seriously — and in fact, the video for "Body Move" is four minutes and 30 seconds straight of meme fodder. It's a high-energy dance track that's a cross between Doja Cat's quirky bars and PC Music's future-leaning production. On the second verse Fae sings in a whisper, "I just might do it again/ Imma speak it to you quiet like the Ying Yang Twins," shouting out the hip-hop duo that helped define Y2K Southern hip hop, and who are known for their hushed delivery on "Wait (The Whisper Song)." Fae's clever nod to them is refreshingly funny, and in a full-circle moment, she got them to hop on an official remix. — KA


Song: "Bunny is a Rider," Caroline Polachek
Timestamp: 0:36

Described as an "independence fantasy" by Caroline Polachek, "Bunny is a Rider" tells the story of a person (Bunny) who is unavailable, running on their own schedule. Nothing emphasizes that more than an early moment on the track when Polachek takes her time getting the word "rider" out of her mouth, punctuating the "I" as she puts that syllable on a roller-coaster ride before hopping back onto her staccato delivery. A brief respite; a moment just for herself. — ML 

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