Kyle’s Official 2021 Country Single Rankings

“Happy New Year, everyone. Here’s hoping it’s better than the last one.”

Kyle’s 2020 Pandemic Playlist, Dec. 30, 2020

“Eh…no.”

—2021’s official response

Remember late last year, when we were all saying some variation of “Bring on 2021, because there’s no possible way it could be as bad as 2020”? There was a lot of change coming on the horizon (a new president, new vaccines, a new focus of societal issues that had long been ignored), and there was even some hope that country music would finally mend its ways and become a more inclusive and interesting genre. Everything was coming back, and it was coming back better.

As we stand today, you could make a strong argument that exactly none of this promise wound up being fulfilled. We’ll talk about the non-music stuff at some point before the new year, but from a music standpoint this year felt noticeably worse than previous ones, as every song seemed to devolve into the same three instruments and the same ten buzzwords, with a continued emphasis on drawing sharp lines between “us” and “them” and drowning ourselves in both nostalgia and alcohol. Things seemed to improve at the end of the year, however, and I prefer to draw conclusions using data rather than feelings (even if said data is 100% based on feelings—such is the critic’s plight), so I crunched some numbers to find out if 2021 was really as bad as I suspected.

YearAverage Review Score
20175.65
20185.49
20195.34
20205.42
20215.18

So the short answer is that yes, 2021 was the worst year for country music as recorded here at the blog. However, 5.18 is still an average score, so my usual quote still holds as well: “In the end, the year still resembles the previous two [now five] that I’ve ranked: Some good stuff, some bad stuff, and a lot of stuff in the mushy middle.” (This also corroborates the near-zero Pulse scores we’ve been recording for the last few months.) Even a “bad” year like this one appears to have ended up being “meh” overall.

So who excelled and who floundered in this year of insurrections, virus variants, and reborn YouTube channels? It’s time to find a comfortable chair, tip our hats to Bob Kingsley, and count down the hits of the year that was. The only rules for this list are as follows:

  • A song must have been reviewed during the 2021 calendar year to be eligible.
  • Rankings are not strictly tied to my review ratings, as my opinion of a song may have changed between now and the review date.

We begin with one last salute to the best song of 2020:

2020 #1 Song: Mickey Guyton, “Black Like Me” (final rating: 10/10)

Guyton finally got her album released in 2021, but as yet another sign of how little things ended up changing, Capitol didn’t release an official single for her in 2021. So who took the top spot on our list this year?

RankingArtist, SongFinal Score
Worst 15 coming Wednesday!
#74Callista Clark, “It’s ‘Cause I Am”4/10
#73Chase Rice, “If I Were Rock & Roll”4/10
#72Jake Owen, “Best Thing Since Backroads”4/10
#71Luke Bryan, “Up”4/10
#70Riley Green, “If It Wasn’t For Trucks”4/10
#69Walker Hayes, “AA”4/10
#68Luke Bryan, “Waves”4/10
#67Dierks Bentley ft. BRELAND & HARDY, “Beers On Me”4/10
#66Tenille Arts, “Back Then, Right Now”4/10
#65Dan + Shay, “Glad You Exist”4/10
#64Lee Brice, “Soul”5/10
#63Toby Keith, “Old School”5/10
#62Lauren Alaina & Jon Pardi, “Getting Over Him”5/10
#61Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You”5/10
#60Morgan Wallen, “Sand In My Boots”5/10
#59Nate Barnes, “You Ain’t Pretty”5/10
#58Blake Shelton, “Minimum Wage”5/10
#57Dan + Shay, “Steal My Love”5/10
#56Parmalee, “Take My Name”5/10
#55Dustin Lynch ft. MacKenzie Porter, “Thinking ‘Bout You”5/10
#54Jimmie Allen & Brad Paisley, “Freedom Was A Highway”5/10
#53Keith Urban, “Wild Hearts”5/10
#52Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar”5/10
#51Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris, “Chasing After You”5/10
#50Lady A, “Like A Lady”5/10
#49Luke Combs, “Cold As You”5/10
#48Matt Stell, “That Ain’t Me No More”5/10
#47Chris Stapleton, “You Should Probably Leave”5/10
#46Clay Walker, “Need A Bar Sometimes”5/10
#45Tim McGraw, “7500 OBO”5/10
#44Dylan Scott, “New Truck”5/10
#43Jordan Davis ft. Luke Bryan, “Buy Dirt”5/10
#42Kenny Chesney, “Knowing You”5/10
#41Morgan Wade, “Wilder Days”5/10
#40Thomas Rhett, “Slow Down Summer”5/10
#39Cole Swindell & Lainey Wilson, “Never Say Never”5/10
#38Luke Combs, “Forever After All”5/10
#37Caitlyn Smith ft. Old Dominion, “I Can’t”5/10
#36Ingrid Andress & Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking”5/10
#35Tim McGraw & Tyler Hubbard, “Undivided”6/10
#34Zac Brown Band, “Same Boat”6/10
#33Kane Brown, “One Mississippi”6/10
#32Cam, “Till There’s Nothing Left”6/10
#31Brett Young, “Not Yet”6/10
#30Russell Dickerson, “Home Sweet”6/10
#29Morgan Evans, “Love Is Real”6/10
#28Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love”6/10
#27Eric Church, “Heart On Fire”6/10
#26Gabby Barrett, “Footprints On The Moon”6/10
#25Adele ft. Chris Stapleton, “Easy On Me”6/10
#24HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell”6/10
#23Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, “Shallow”6/10
#22Jason Aldean & Carrie Underwood, “If I Didn’t Love You”6/10
#21Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings”6/10
#20Brett Young, “You Didn’t”6/10
#19Darius Rucker, “My Masterpiece”6/10
#18Elle King & Miranda Lambert, “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)”6/10
#17Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)”6/10
#16Scotty McCreery, “Damn Strait”6/10
Best 15 coming Friday!

New/Returning Arrivals*: 27

*Tyler Hubbard is excluded from the count, since he appeared last year as part of Florida Georgia Line. BRELAND is included in the count despite only appearing as a featured artist.

  • Best New Artist: ????, #1
  • Worst New Artist: ????, #87

Artists Returning To The Top Ten: 2

So What Happened This Year?

Artist2020 Position2021
Mickey Guyton#1, #7No covered releases
Eric Church#2One release, #27
Ashley McBryde#3????
Tim McGraw#4Two releases, #35 and #45
Rascal Flatts#5No covered releases
Old Dominion#62.5 releases, #21, #37, and ????
Midland#8????
Randy Travis#9No covered releases
Dolly Parton#10No covered releases

Artists Returning To The Bottom Ten: 2

Top Risers:

Artist2020 Peak2021 PeakGain
????????????+93
Caroline Jones#88#17+71
HARDY#93#24+69
Scotty McCreery#78#16+62
????????????+59

Worst Fallers:

Artist2020 Peak2021 PeakGain
Tenille Arts#19#66-47
????????????-44
Jon Pardi#23#62-39
Lady A#13#50-37
Morgan Wallen#24#60-36

“Hey, this is MY spot!” Award: No winner this year.

“Hey, this is MY spot!” Honorable Mention:

Artist2020 Position2021 PositionMissed It By…
Chris Stapleton#46#471 spot