For the second year in a row, the shutdown and stop/start reopening of the global dance scene made us consider the function of dance music itself.
Certainly the genre’s most traditional mode of consumption is through massive speakers at clubs and festivals, and — finally — that did type of consumption did happen this year, as venues cautiously welcomed back fans after going dark during the pandemic. Despite this return of live music, the fact remained that during much of 2021, gathering en masse was still often taboo — an existential challenge that persists as we once again survey shutdowns with the rise of COVID-19 infection rates. For many in the dance scene, the question remained: what was music intended to make large groups of people dance together really for, when that music cannot be played in its natural habitat?
In 2021, this question was answered in a thousand ways: the energetic lift you felt when blasting a new track through your headphones, the sense of joy inherent in playing music really loud in your car, the connection you felt when passing a song to your friends, those moments during your work-from-home day when you realized you were nodding your head to the beat. While the function of dance music in 2021 was largely personal, the freedom and catharsis inherent to this genre remained available, even if we were dancing on our own.
Here are Billboard‘s picks for the 40 best dance/electronic songs of 2021, presented in alphabetical order by artist.