10 Best Indie Pop, Rock, & Chill Songs of 2021

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This year, the songs we held closer were those that helped us explore ourselves in new ways. On this list is not a single desultory recording; these tracks—both in instrumentation and in letras—are compelling. The artists who created them are trying to tell us something. One of those messages? Stop talking down to yourself. You are worthy of so much more than you believe. Another taps into ancestral spirituality and asks us to move our bodies in claiming space. Similarly, “Funk Aspirin” asks us to dance fearlessly—another means of feeling liberated. 

Why these particular works qualified for a best-of is because they are of the most memorable and most impactful designs. They offer not only catharsis but instruction and guidance—resolution, even. This isn’t a condemnation of anything else being without depth: but these 10 songs are fulfilling. And that is a huge part of what makes music so important. Both the songs and order were based on the input of the Remezcla editorial team and our music writers.

10. Princesa Alba, Duda Beat – “Narcisa”

2021 didn’t lack great pop moments, yet Princesa Alba’s album besitos, cuídate proved to be one of the undisputed highlights of the year. “Narcisa” made a great example of what the Chilean singer had achieved in terms of songwriting, delivering hooks galore in a sweet yet reaffirming way. From the dembow beat to the Duda Beat guest appearance to the clever lyrics—about the fine line between self-love and egomania—every element gave the listener another excuse to keep this track on repeat. — Marcos Hassan

9. Combo Chimbita – “Babalawo”

Combo Chimbita used 2021 to fluctuate their talents between releasing new music via a string of singles and returning to their dynamic live performances across the nation. “Babalawo” served as their fourth standout release of the year that highlighted the very best elements of their branded tropical futurism. The powerful single transforms minutes of sound to the spiritual ritual of self-affirmation through the refined intersection of Caribbean rhythms that meets subtle infusions of electronic synths, alternative rock, and trap beat elements all wrapped in the hauntingly mesmerizing voice of singer Carolina Olivero. Additionally, the track was offered with an equally striking visual that reinterprets their first memories of intimate exploration with spiritual guidance, as told by the stunning display of interpretive dance led by Puerto Rican queer icon Edrimael Delgado Reyes. – Jeanette Diaz

8. Pabllo Vittar – “Zap Zum”

Pabllo Vittar has made her name in the music industry and in her most recent album, Batidão Tropical, she looks back to her roots in the northeast of Brazil. With sounds that feel traditional for those who know them but also filled with modern elements, “Zap Zum” is arguably the best song on Vittar’s latest work. The catchy melody inspired TikTok challenges and took the Brazilian internet by storm when, during the Olympics, volleyball player Douglas Souza went viral for making the tune his own theme song. After all that, it was only fair for him to be featured on the official performance video, where he can be seen introducing Vittar to us as “our diva, our queen.” — Júlia Henn

7. Cimafunk, George Clinton – “Funk Aspirin”

Any track from Cimafunk’s joyful 2021 masterpiece El Alimento could have made our year in review. But it’s the whimsical, unshakeable grooves of his George Clinton collaboration on “Funk Aspirin” that kept spinning in our heads for months. Elastic bass lines, spastic percussion, and Dr. Funkenstein’s instantly classic add lib, “But what is a booty and how will I know if I’m shaking it?,” easily cemented “Funk Aspirin” as one of the year’s best rump shakers. – Richard Villegas

6. Helado Negro – “Outside the Outside”

With Far In, his seventh album as Helado Negro, Roberto Carlos Lange gave us a hug and a gentle push to find spaces for growth and joy as we walk into the unknown. And with “Outside the Outside,” he reminded us that one beautiful tool to do so is community building. It’s an understated dance track with every sound and word intentionally in its right place, serving as Lange’s loving celebration of belonging. Its lyrics exalt the value of relationships (romantic, friendly, musical), especially the ones that make us feel we have our place in the world, our very own group of outsiders, our precious “loyal freaks.” – Cheky

5. Bomba Estéreo – “Deja”

Back in September, the beloved alternative dance group Bomba Estéreo unveiled their sixth studio album, Deja, a set of 13 tropi-electro songs rooted in eco-justice that mirror and channel the elements of fire, water, air, and earth. Its title track (co-written and arranged by comrade and fellow Colombian artist, Lido Pimienta) sheds some light on the correlation between living through a depression and one’s disconnectedness from nature. But it’s also ultimately about overcoming those dark days. “Deja” tips into up-tempo EDM territory as vocalist Li Saumet’s attestations of survival and guitarist José Castillo’s trebly, central riff cut through in a call and response-like manner. – Nayeli Portillo

4. C. Tangana, Ed Maverick – “Parteme La Cara”

After a build-up that took several years, C. Tangana finally reached international star status this 2021 with his gringo Grammy and Latin Grammy-nominated album El Madrileño—a tour de force where he showed an outstanding range partially by looking across the Atlantic. Out of the 14 album tracks, this is especially true for “Párteme La Cara,” a success in production and drama. Mexican troubadour Ed Maverik brings his folk essence to this pointillistic painting of a song, and together with Puchito, they aren’t ready to face the truth of a failed relationship they’d invested their entire selves into. Instead, they’re just grasping at something to feel, no matter if it’s real or not, so they can believe things will be fine. This is a stunningly layered take on a heartbreak that cuts deep. – Cheky

3. The Marias – “Hush”

One thing about The Marias is that you can always tell it’s them by their use of mellow and indie-pop melodies paired with their almost whispering-seductive voice. With “Hush,” The Marias continue to experiment with this distinctive soundboard, this time with a more demanding attitude on Puerto Rican María Zardoya’s ethereal, yet easy-going vocals over a pulse-like catchy and sensual melody. It’s no surprise that The Marias have been effortlessly having a great musical year— especially with this single —having performed it on their late night national television debut f to being nominated for their first Grammy in the category of “Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical” next year. This all shaped “Hush” to be one of the most memorable singles this year. – Jeanette Hernandez

2. Enyel C, Irepelusa – “Hola! (Remix)”

When lo-fi wunderkind Enyel C dropped “Hola!” last summer, it was a much-needed dose of chill during a turbulent summer. Nearly a year later, he ran it back and invited Venezuelan songstress Irepelusa to add her own special vocal charms to an already vibe-y song. If it ain’t broken don’t fix it, and the music video’s Zoom aesthetic that’s become synonymous with These Days™ was rebooted with a whole new cast, but staying just as fun and loose as before. The best chill songs work as background music therapy and as head-bopping sing-a-longs, and “Hola! (Remix)” hits the mark twice. — Juan J. Arroyo

1. Xenia Rubinos – “Did My Best”

Like an ablution in the wake of loss, Xenia Rubinos’ vocoded vocals and the deep synth strive to cleanse the soul of the things we wish we’d said or done before that person who’s no longer with us had left this realm. Whether or not they can feel us now, the healing now necessary is about us, not them. She both seeks and denies herself forgiveness, but Rubinos also reminds herself: “I did my very best for you/ For me and you.” This release felt elsewhere, separated from her established repertoire of eclectic takes on and fusions of pop, rap, rock, and electronica. But in a lot of what she’s created, empowerment is what’s steering her songwriting. And beginning to process the pain of loss most certainly also falls under finding your strength. – Jhoni Jackson