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Bob Boilen's Favorite Music of 2021 Is...

Bob Boilen at his Tiny Desk.
Bob Boilen at his Tiny Desk.

I don't watch TV shows or movies, but I fall in love easily with songs that have a good story and 2021 was a year full of gripping tales by some brilliant storytellers.

Lucy Dacus took us back to her high school and vacation bible school days on her album Home Video. Her song "Thumbs" was a painful story about revenge that was often difficult to hear, but so skillfully executed. I needed humor in 2021 too, and thankfully there was plenty to be found in songs like "Back of My Hand," a tale of over-the-top fandom by Bachelor (a collaboration between Jay Som and Palehound) Tōth's "Turn Around (Cocaine Song)" is the story of trumpeter Alex Tōth being asked to play Ave Maria at his aunt Mary's funeral but instead having his addictions overtaking him and passing out in pew. Wet Leg's "Chaise Longue" was the funniest rock song about sex in decades.

Wet Leg, a duo from the Isle of Wight who have put out just four songs – all this year – were amongst a number of new artists I fell passionately for in 2021. Olivia Rodrigo, Ada Lea, Charlie Hickey, Arooj Aftab, Aisha Badru, mehro, No-No Boy, girl in red, Orla Gartland, NEFFY (our 2021 Tiny Desk Contest winner), dodie, Joy Oladokun and Semler are some of the others that made my 2021 listening so fulfilling.

So take the songs on this playlist for a spin. There's so much to discover and share. And in a year that was so tough for artists to make a living, I urge you to support the ones you love.


1. Lucy Dacus, Home Video
2.Bachelor, Doomin' Sun
3.Steady Holiday, Take the Corners Gently
4. Olivia Rodrigo, SOUR
5. Arooj Aftab, Vulture Prince
6. Tōth, You and Me and Everything
7. Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine, A Beginner's Mind
8. Cassandra Jenkins, An Overview on Phenomenal Nature
9. Jónsi, Obsidian
10. Ada Lea, one hand on the steering wheel the other sewing a garden


1. Wet Leg, "Chaise Longue"
2. Lucy Dacus, "Thumbs"
3. Cassandra Jenkins, "Hard Drive"
4. Bachelor (Jay Som & Palehound), "Back of My Hand"
5. Olivia Rodrigo, "Brutal"
6. Tōth, "Turnaround (Cocaine Song)"
7. Arooj Aftab, "Suroor"
8. Saint Sister, "Manchester Air"
9. Aisha Badru, "Rebirth"
10. Charlie Hickey, "Ten Feet Tall"

* One song missing from streaming services is by our 2021 Tiny Desk Contest winner NEFFY. Here's "Wait Up."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

In 1988, a determined Bob Boilen started showing up on NPR's doorstep every day, looking for a way to contribute his skills in music and broadcasting to the network. His persistence paid off, and within a few weeks he was hired, on a temporary basis, to work for All Things Considered. Less than a year later, Boilen was directing the show and continued to do so for the next 18 years.