As we approach the end of 2021 and kiss another unusual and unforgettable year goodbye, here at the Insider, we thought it would be a great idea to have our favourite cowboy-hat wearing country music junkie and Nashville correspondent rank down what he thinks are some of the year’s best country singles and number one’s songs out there.
- “Heart on Fire” – Eric Church
Starting off this list, we have Eric Church’s “Heart on Fire” from the triple album Heart & Soul. With the release of that triple album, 2021 marks an ambitious year for the last year’s winner of the CMA Entertainer of the Year.
The first track and second single from Church’s latest album give listeners a good taste of the hybrid musical style of country, rock & roll, and Southern rock that fans love from the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter. For that reason, “Heart on Fire” makes it on this list. The mixture of all those music genres creates an energetic head-nodding track that will make you sing along and turn it up for whenever you want to take a drive on an empty highway. With his latest single and albums, Church knows how to keep fans’ expectations high and set their hearts on fire.
- “Sand in My Boots” – Morgan Wallen
In February of this year, up-and-coming country singer Morgan Wallen was disgraced from the public after videos of him uttering racial slurs surfaced online. Since then, Wallen’s music is still capable of attracting fans. Following Wallen’s public apology in July, his song “Sand in My Boots” from Wallen’s latest album Dangerous: The Double Album began to receive airplay time on radio stations that previously blacklisted him.
“Sand in My Boots” offers a downhearted track to listeners in contrast to Morgan Wallen’s usual party and drinking-themed songs. The sorrow lyrics and Wallen’s bittersweet vocals perfectly illustrate the heartbreaking story of a could-have-been love. Every verse packs a melancholic punch that will make readers reminisce about their love-gone-wrong experiences. Wallen did a phenomenal job in delivering such an emotional and touching song. It is why “Sand in My Boots” deserves the number nine spot on our list.
- “What’s Your Country Song” – Thomas Rhett
If you are new to country music and want to learn more about what made the genre popular in the 80s and the 90s, let Thomas Rhett’s “What’s Your Country Song” guide you through this nostalgic ride. All the direct references to past country songs make the track memorable and highly praised. In the lyrics, Rhett managed to fit in a total of 16 different classic country songs ranging from “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” by George Strait to “That Ain’t My Truck” by Rhett Akins (who is also Thomas Rhett’s own father).
Apart from all those referential lyrics, “What’s Your Country Song” is a smooth and uplifting track that will always put a smile on your face. Even if you don’t understand all the references, you can’t help but deny the nostalgia you felt listening to this lyrical masterpiece. For this reason, Thomas Rhett makes it to our number eight spot.
- “Thinking ‘Bout You” – Dustin Lynch (featuring MacKenzie Porter)
Despite being initially released last year, Dustin Lynch’s “Thinking ‘Bout You” surged in popularity when it was re-recorded with Canadian country-pop singer and actress MacKenzie Porter. “Thinking ‘Bout You” retells the story of two former lovers reminiscing about their relationship through the point of view of both parties. What makes “Thinking ‘Bout You” stand out is the happiness that carried from start to end. Lynch and Porter’s powerful duet makes this song so catchy and nostalgic. The whole concept of two former lovers being able to retell their relationship positively is such a refreshing take from all those sad breakup songs. For that reason, “Thinking ‘Bout You” is ranked number seven.
- “Make a Life, Not a Living” – Brett Kissel
It is no secret that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic gives people time to think about their lives and the future ahead of them. Canadian country singer Brett Kissel is no exception. With the release of his fifth album, What is Life?, the Alberta native shares some personal stories, morals and life lessons to listeners. Kissel’s latest number-one hit, “Make a Life, Not of Living,” does precisely that.
Co-written with fellow Canadian country singer Steven Lee Olsen, “Make a Life, Not a Living” serves as a happy reminder that being happy with what you have and not what you don’t. The song’s joyful and dance-inducing music combined with the messaging in the lyrics makes “Make a Life, Not a Living” the best uplifting song that is out there. Kissel’s upbeat vibes and messages are the reason why it is ranked number-6 on our list.
- “Never Wanted to Be That Girl” – Carly Pearce (featuring Ashley McBryde)
2021 has been an emotional rollercoaster ride for Carly Pearce. The latest member of the prestigious Grand Ole Opry and winner of this year’s CMA female vocalist released her third album, 29: Written in Stone. Pearce’s latest album was released following her divorce from singer-songwriter Michael Ray after eight months of marriage. In that album, Pearce shares some personal and gut-wrenching songs. One of them is “Never Wanted to Be That Girl.”
“Never Wanted to Be That Girl” is a duet performance from Carly Pearce and fellow country singer Ashley McBryde. The song tells the story of two women finding out that they are dating seeing the same man. As the title suggests, both women never wanted to deal with a love triangle. The song did a fantastic job portraying how it is a problem that anyone could face in life. Both Pearce and McBryde did an incredible job touching on an emotional and mature subject.
- “Somebody Like That” – Tenille Arts
2021 was a terrific year of success for Tenille Arts. With her hit single “Somebody Like That,” the Saskatchewan-born singer became the first Canadian country star to reach number-one in the United States since 2007. After listening to her hit single, it is not hard to see why.
Unlike some of Tenille Arts’ previous works, “Somebody Like That” puts a positive spin on love. Instead of focusing on breakups, “Somebody Like That” focuses on looking for long-lasting relationships. What makes “Somebody Like That” is how catchy the song is. This song will make everyone dance to its tune. To celebrate Tenille Arts’ success, “Somebody Like That” is ranked number four on our list.
- “half of my hometown” – Kelsea Ballerini (featuring Kenny Chesney)
If there is one name that every young country music fan will know and love, it is Kelsea Ballerini. The youngest member of the Grand Ole Opry won this year’s Musical Event and Video of the Year at the Country Music Association Awards with her song “half of my hometown.”
With the help of country star Kenny Chesney, Kelsea Ballerini paints her hometown in an honest and down-to-earth light. In “half of my hometown,” the two Knoxville, Tennessee natives retells the two different realities that the folks living in their birthplace. By singing about the other realities of the people of Knoxville, Ballerini does justice to her hometown in seriousness and shows a message of how it is because of those realities that make the young country-pop singer the person she is today. Kenny Chesney’s deep and smooth vocals paired with Kelsea Ballerini’s voice make “half of my hometown” such a heartwarming track.
- “If I Didn’t Love You” – Jason Aldean (featuring Carrie Underwood)
Speaking of another duet, at our number two-stop, we got “If I Didn’t Love You” by Jason Aldean and Carrie Underwood. There is so much to be said about the first single from Jason Aldean’s latest album MACON.
“If I Didn’t Love You” is a song that describes how two former lovers cannot move on from their relationship due to the attachment both parties have toward each other. And, boy, how powerful of a duet it was. Both Jason Aldean and Carrie Underwood did a mesmerizing job with their latest single. Aldean’s and Underwood’s performances are so jaw-dropping to describe. “If I Didn’t Love You” is sure to make you sing along and try to match the two country titans’ vocals. For this song, both Aldean and Underwood have been nominated at next year’s 64th Annual Grammy Awards for the Best Country Duo/Group Performance category. As a celebration of their nomination, “If I Didn’t Love You” ranks number-two on our list.
- “Forever After All” – Luke Combs
Of course, how can I not end this list without mentioning Luke Combs and his most successful song to date, “Forever After All.” Even though it topped the chart since the end of 2020, the reason why “Forever After All” makes it onto our list is because of the multiple shattered records it accomplished in 2021, such as being the highest Billboard Hot 100 debut for a male country artist.
“Forever After All” serves as a sequel to two of Luke Combs’ previous number-one singles, “Beautiful Crazy” and “Better Together.” All three songs were dedicated to his wife, Nicole, whom he married a few months before the release of “Forever After All.” In this tender and romantic love ballad, Combs remarks how, unlike tangible objects, his love and marriage to his wife will “last forever after all,” even after death.
“Forever After All” showcases Luke Combs’ exceptional talent for songwriting heavenly. You can hear Combs’s passionate effort and dedication in crafting this song. Every verse is sure to bring a tear to your eyes and goosebumps to your arms. It is no wonder why “Forever After All” is Luke Combs’ best work to this date. The music, lyrics and message are way too gorgeous not to be acknowledged. You do not have to enjoy country music to appreciate the beauty of this decade defining-song. “Forever After All” easily deserves the number-one position on our list of the best country songs of 2021 and the number-one spot on my wedding songs list.
There we have it, folks – the best country songs of 2021! I hope you agree with our rankings and take a moment to listen to all the pieces and artists on this list. As 2021 comes to an end, we can’t wait to see what Nashville and co. have to offer next year.
By Jacques Wang