When we checked in on the best songs of 2020 last June, the charts (and radio in particular) were dominated by The Weeknd's After Hours and Dua Lipa's Future Nostalgia -- the two big pop albums that weren't afraid to go large with their ambitions, even at the lowest, scariest point of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now it's a year later, the world is opening back up, and the charts (and radio in particular) are currently being dominated by... yep, still After Hours and Future Nostalgia.
OK, that's a little reductive: Plenty of other artists and albums have also done their part to keep the charts interesting in recent months. But it is conspicuous how the past year has seen the pop world really gravitate towards its most reliable stars, more than it has in recent years -- leaning on them not just for one smash at a time, but sometimes as many as three or four simultaneously, while they keep finding new ways to breathe life into their most recent blockbuster LPs. They've been reassuring presences during this time of turmoil, but they've also made us particularly grateful for the newer breakout artists who've showed up to push them -- including one who scored two of 2021's biggest hits and became one of the year's biggest stars, before even putting out her debut album.