Get us in your inbox

Search
Taylor Swift
Image: Time Out/Brian Friedman/Shutterstock

The 40 best pop songs of all time

The best pop songs of all time are groundbreaking, chart-topping, downright famous hits that’ll have you singing at the top of your lungs

Written by
Andy Kryza
Contributors
James Manning
,
Amy Smith
&
Alyssa Ammirato
Advertising

Before we dive into this list of the best pop songs of all time, we need to take a moment to define what pop music actually is. And, unfortunately, that requires a lot of caveats along with ample use of the words "technically" and "actually." Technically, indie rock and rap qualify as pop, so long as they're filled with catchy beats and memorable melodies. Actually disco and hair metal are pop because they held the zeitgeist of a decade. You could technically qualify Limp Bizkit as pop music, since it dominated airwaves alongside the Backstreet Boys. (We won't… but we could.)

One thing pop isn't is old. At its very essence, pop music and "popular" songs are of their time. And once they hit a certain vintage, they graduate to classic status. Yes, The Beatles all but defined pop, and MJ was its king. But decades on, they've moved onto a different plane of existence. 

For this updated rundown of the best pop songs of all time, we've rethought the canon and focused solely on 21st-century hits. The 40 songs on their list were all released between 2000 and 2021. We've excluded straight-up rock, alternative (whatever that means), and hip hop and focused instead on radio-friendly popular songs that will force even the stodgiest music snob to sing along if nobody's looking. 

They are the buzzy, zeitgeisty songs that define their new generations, proudly carrying on the pop traditions laid out by pop's 20th-century forebears. And once they reach a certain age, they'll fit right in on a "best songs of all time" playlist along with MJ, Madge and Prince. These are the 21st-century pop songs that stand tall among the greatest of all time. 

Listen to these songs on Amazon Music

RECOMMENDED:
🎉 The best party songs ever made
🎸 The best classic rock songs
🎤 The best karaoke songs
🎶 The best ’80s songs
🎵 The best ’90s songs

Best pop songs of all time, ranked

"Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" by Beyoncé

1. "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" by Beyoncé

The anthem of single gals everywhere, the opus made Beyhive converts out of every last hold-out. No one could resist that Queen Bey's leotard and signature dance moves, and Kanye West was right: "Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time!"

"Umbrella" by Rihanna featuring Jay-Z
Image: Def Jam

2. "Umbrella" by Rihanna featuring Jay-Z

Recently minted billionaire Rihanna has become part of pop's very DNA over the past two decades thanks to her singular persona, joy in courting controversy and, most crucially, the strength of her powerful voice. Choosing one Rihanna song for the pop hall of fame is a fool's errand, but gun to our head — likely held by Rihanna whilst asking us where her money is — the safe choice is the best. "Umbrella" not only introduced the world at large to one of pop's biggest stars, it ushered in a pop-culture dynasty, with fellow mogul Jay-Z on board to co-sign. 

Advertising
"Shake it Off" by Taylor Swift

3. "Shake it Off" by Taylor Swift

1989 marked a clean break from Swift's country roots, with the singer emerging as a pop diva for the ages on the strentgh of a front-to-back record of bangers. This lead-off single had former haters shaking their heads over their unexpected conversion into T-Swift fandom. Even if you rolled your eyes at her awkward dancing in the video, you were involuntarily grooving in your desk chair. Taylor would continue morphing her image in the wake of its success, but this is the singer at her most purely joyous.

"Toxic" by Britney Spears
Image: Jive Records

4. "Toxic" by Britney Spears

Before 2003, Britney was leaning hard into her "not that innocent" sexuality via breakout albums …Baby One More Time and Oops… I Did It Again. Here, Britney seems transformed into a vicious femme fatale, her voice soaring and dipping over a deranged synth-string arrangement that wouldn't seem out of place in a Hitchcock film, but felt absolutely alien when it hit MTV. Even now, amid the #freebritney movement and two decades removed, it's a disorienting stunner of a pop masterpiece. 

Advertising
"Rolling in the Deep" by Adele

5. "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele

The English sensation exploded to international fame with this tune, released when she was just 21 years old — though her voice carries the expertise of a woman decades older. High-reaching vocals, a bone-chilling opening note and ever-relatable subject matter of tarnished love scored Adele two Grammy Awards as fans around the world cried to the breakup anthem.

"Firework" by Katy Perry

6. "Firework" by Katy Perry

Part dance floor anthem, part inspirational power song, "Firework" was Katy Perry’s third release off 2010's Teenage Dream and a huge elevation point in her career. It won MTV’s 2011 VMA for Video of the Year and earned two Grammy nominations, and all the hoopla around Seth Rogen and James Franco’s The Interview gave it another boost of publicity in 2014.

Advertising
"ReHab" by Amy Winehouse
Image: Island Records

7. "ReHab" by Amy Winehouse

One of pop's most unlikely and tragic crossovers, Winehouse's cross-generational sing-along about the not-so-sunny world of interventions and addictions has a timeless quality thanks in large part to Mark Ronson's time-traveling production, which wisely surrounds the raven-haired singer with rusted-over doo-wop sounds. But really, it's all Amy: Her haunting, otherworldly voice delivering each "no, no, no" with the utmost precision and a universal sense of nonconformity. 

"Blinding Lights" by The Weeknd
Image: Republic

8. "Blinding Lights" by The Weeknd

The Weeknd's reign over pop has been stratospheric ever since he first dropped his cocaine-fueled "I Can't Feel My Face." But the Canadian crooner took things to a new level with "Blinding Lights," a synth-driven monster whose signature hook and soulful chorus  anaged to somehow brighten up the summer of Covid, blasting out of cars everywhere as people escaped their bubbles. More than a year later, its power has only grown. 

Advertising
"Dancing on My Own" by Robyn
Image: Konichiwa

9. "Dancing on My Own" by Robyn

Perhaps the most highly danceable breakup song of all time, Robyn's kinetic masterpiece is a front-to-back all-timer of triumph and solemnity. The Swedish megastar's pulsing synth-driven song defiantly flips the bird to any and all that would prevent you from dancing the pain away. This is pop music as a healing balm and a dance track reinvisioned as therapy.

"Hey Ya!" by Outkast
Image: Arista

10. "Hey Ya!" by Outkast

Outkast ATLien André 3000 took a break from changing the rap game for this unexpectedly sunny '60s throwback that sees the superstar hit pause as an emcee to play bandleader. In a discography of unexpected twists and turns, it was a move nobody could have seen coming from the "Ms. Jackson" and "Spottiottiedopalicious" legend, and further proof that André can do pretty much anything. Truly cooler than a polar bear's toenails. 

Advertising
"Hips Don't Lie" by Shakira featuring Wycleff Jean
Image: Epic

11. "Hips Don't Lie" by Shakira featuring Wycleff Jean

The Colombian superstar seemed fated for one-hit-wonder status outside South America after "Whenever, Whatever" came out of nowhere in the '90s. Instead, the solidified herself as a global superstar for the ages with this highly quotable, high-heat club standard that brought a Fugee along for the ride. 

"SexyBack" by Justin Timberlake
Image: Jive Records

12. "SexyBack" by Justin Timberlake

"For whoever is claiming that they are bringing sexy back, sexy never left!" certified Sexy MF Prince quipped when JT started blazing up the charts with this Timbaland-produced all-timer fusing raw sexuality and funk bonafides. Prince was, of course, right. But as far as a career reinvention goes, Timberlake's is one for the books: "SexyBack" doesn't so much close the door on the singer's ramen-haired boy-band chapter as burn it to the ground. 

Advertising
“Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen

13. “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen

This song made 2012 the year of the cheesy pickup line after Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez’s lip-sync sesh catapulted the tune onto the radio. Jepson hasn’t had as big of a hit since, but she has facilitated millions of hasty flirtations and phone number solicitations. Thanks, Carly Rae!

"Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars

14. "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars

Mars supplied the vocals for this throwback jam produced by Britain’s Ronson for the duo’s fourth collaboration. It cleaned up at the 2015 Grammys, including winning Record of the Year, and became the third most-watched video ever on YouTube. Wedding reception dance floors will never be the same again.

Advertising
"Poker Face" by Lady Gaga
Image: Interscope

15. "Poker Face" by Lady Gaga

Gaga's entire catalogue is a celebration of individuality, allyship and letting your freak flag fly. "Poker Face" remains a bracing entry into the pop pantheon thanks to its grimy-glam melodies and abrasive vocal breaks. Plus, Gaga managed to sneak the the line "f*ck her face" into a radio mainstay without anyone noticing for years. If that's not the mark of a queen, nothing is. 

"Hollaback Girl" by Gwen Stefani

16. "Hollaback Girl" by Gwen Stefani

The cheerleader in all of us — and the spelling bee fanatics — attached to the No Doubt front woman’s solo tune like glue from the first drum beat and hand clap. We still don’t know what exactly a hollaback girl is, but we finally know how to spell banana!

Advertising
"Starships" by Nicki Minaj
Image: Young Money

17. "Starships" by Nicki Minaj

Chameleonic hip-hop queen Nicki's most sugary, hyperactive and kaleidoscopic song is a titanic explosion of energy transitioning from a catchy hook to rapid-fire rap, saccharine  melodies and undulating electronica that really does make the whole body feel elevated regardless of whether you're higher than a motherfuc*er. It's pure chaos, and it's an absolute blast.

"Royals" by Lorde
Image: Universal

18. "Royals" by Lorde

The small-town New Zealand export was only 15 when she penned this international mega-hit that spends most of its time deflating hip-hop's obsession with bling and braggadocio. It's not the kind of thing that happens a lot in pop music, which makes the incredibly sparse, intricately layered, ultra-classy "Royals" even more of a treasure. "Let me be your ruler," sang Lorde. "Yes please," replied millions.

Advertising
"Party in the U.S.A." by Miley Cyrus

19. "Party in the U.S.A." by Miley Cyrus

This song hails from a different era of Cyrus, before she transformed into a Robin Thicke-humping sexpot with a Gene Simmons tongue. This midway point between modern Miley and Hannah Montana is a ray of sing-along sunshine. Anyone who claims not to know the words (or belt them out and roll the windows down whenever the song’s on the radio) cannot be trusted.

"Bad Guy" by Billie Eilish
Image: Interscope

20. "Bad Guy" by Billie Eilish

Like fellow pop royal Lorde, Eilish was just a teen when she dropped this subversive ode to bad behavior on the pop establishment like a megaton bomb stuffed with glitter and spiders. Brother Finneas' thumping beats and spooky hooks hold the whole thing together, but it's Eilish's smoky voice — bounding between deeply unsettling and sprightly — that sells the whole ghoulish affair, cementing herself as the antithesis of squeaky-clean pop stars and scaring the ever-loving shit out of her target audience's parents along the way. 

Advertising
"Good as Hell" by Lizzo
Image: Atlantic

21. "Good as Hell" by Lizzo

An instant feel-great classic, Lizzo's "Good As Hell" is the very definition of infectious thanks to its instantly recognizable piano beat, Lizzo's forceful-yet-playful cadence and a pervasive, universal ability to make anybody within earshot strut for its entire runtime.

"Get Lucky" by Daft Punk featuring Pharrell
Image: Columbia

22. "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk featuring Pharrell

With Pharrell on vocal duties and Nile Rodgers on guitar, the helmeted Frenchmen's biggest non-Weeknd hit is a piece of wipe-clean disco so immaculately crafted you might imagine there was some algebra involved. Like all pop songs, it throbs with life, but also glows in brilliant neon that's wholly Daft Punk's.

Advertising
"Dynamite" by BTS
Image: Columbia

23. "Dynamite" by BTS

The K-Pop supergroup has taken over the world, and there seems to be no sign of stopping. You either get on the train or get run over by it. Luckily, the band's long-awaited English-language debut delivered, hijacking airwaves and talk shows with its perfectly calibrated bubblegum pop that starts at a fever pitch and manages a sustained crescendo throughout. Twenty years after NSYNC said bye bye bye, a new kingdom has raised its flag.

"Adore You" by Harry Styles
Image: Columbia

24. "Adore You" by Harry Styles

The former One Direction star's solo career has gone many unexpected places, no more so than on his recent, genre-hopping Fine Line. And while the funky "Watermelon Sugar" brings the double entendres, "Adore You" is Styles at his most endearing and infectious: a slow-paced, driving, and vocally transcendent instant classic in every sense. As a bonus, the surreal video finds the hearthrob enamored with a giant fish... and it's everything. 

Advertising
"No Tears Left to Cry" by Ariana Grande
Image: Republic Records

25. "No Tears Left to Cry" by Ariana Grande

Ariana's evolution from sugar-sweet pop princess to her generation's foremost chronicler of the Kama Sutra has been astonishing, if a little much for the more pearl-clutching early fans. But she hit her most universally appealing sweet spot with this 2018 bop, which ascends to the stratosphere with each repetition of "pickin' it up," her voice soaring along the way and, in turn, announcing the arrival of a formidable superstar whose talent stands taller than even her highest ponytail. 

"Drivers License" by Olivia Rodrigo
Image: Geffen

26. "Drivers License" by Olivia Rodrigo

Pop's current heir apparent exploded onto the scene with this universally gripping, emotionally ripe tale of teenage yearning: a piano ballad with a forlorn melody, a driving backbeat and some of the most bracing vocals in recent pop. Rodrigo wears her love of Taylor Swift on her sleeve, so much so that fans call her the second coming while haterss cry ripoff. For what it's worth, Swift (unlike Courtney Love) is a fan… and rumors continue to swirl about an upcoming collaboration that could rock the pop world to its core. 

Advertising
"Sorry" by Justin Bieber

27. "Sorry" by Justin Bieber

Taking a hiatus from making music to focus on growing up a little, the Biebs came back with Purpose in 2015. "Sorry," the second single from the album, was mixed by Skrillex — and in a stroke of genius and surprising modesty, he excluded himself from the music video and focused on an oft-imitated squad of dancers instead.

"Titanium" by David Guetta featuring Sia
Image: Virgin

28. "Titanium" by David Guetta featuring Sia

Empowering, escalating and full of raw power, "Titanium" is what happens when one of the world's best producers meets one of its most prolific pop writers. Fireworks. Sia may have found more success swinging from chandeliers, but as a vocalist she was never more explosive than she was on this all-timer. 

Advertising
"Happy" by Pharrell Williams
Image: Columbia Records

29. "Happy" by Pharrell Williams

Only somebody as tuned-in to the pop landscape as Williams could take a throwaway track from a Minions movie and turn it into an enduring ode to being in a great mood to rival Bobby McFerrin. Think of it like this: Three years after "Happy," Justin Timberlake tried to replicate its good vibes for Trolls. We're not talking about Justin Timberlake here. Such is the power of a Neptune using his powers for good. 

"Hotline Bling" by Drake
Image: Cash Money

30. "Hotline Bling" by Drake

Take away the mountain of memes, ignore Drake's beautiful dad dancing and this pop song would still be a winner for the ages. That delicate, trickling calypso beat effortlessly shrugs off the lover who never calls, transforming a classic tale of ghosting into an eminently danceable revenge song that everyone – ex included – would struggle to resist. No wonder it was literally inescapable for the whole of summer '15. 

Advertising
"Milkshake" by Kelis
Image: Arista

31. "Milkshake" by Kelis

Nasty, sensual, raw and wholly mysterious, Kelis's vocal gymnastics and schoolyard-adjacent boast "my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard" has given this thunderously magnetic dance-floor anthem legs. Prodded along by an all-time great Neptunes beat, it holds the unique distinction of rivaling decidedly not-pop-affiliated Daniel Day-Lewis for best milkshake quote… even though we're still not quite sure what, exactly, her milkshake is. Regardless, it's definitely better than ours. 

"Despacito" by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee
Image: Universal Latin

32. "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee

Nearly inescapable between 2017 and 2018, "Despacito" is one of those songs that became so prevalent that people mistook its ubiquity for annoyance. A few years on, however, the ultra-smooth collision of Latin pop and reggaeton has aged remarkably well from song-of-the-summer status to certifiable classic.

Advertising
"Bootylicious" by Destiny's Child
Image: Columbia

33. "Bootylicious" by Destiny's Child

Frankly, we're still not sure what "this jelly" is, and 20 years on we're still not sure we're ready for it. But what is certain is that the legendary girl group, facing the inevitablility of Beyoncé's solo ascendance, fired off one last barn-burner to usher in the '00s, and the dance floor was never the same. 

"Work It" by Missy Elliott
Image: Elektra

34. "Work It" by Missy Elliott

Missy's avante-garde approach to pop-infused hip-hop is at its best when she's got certified master Timbaland at her side, and no pairing hits with the same mix of chaotic glee, weirdness and pop sensibility as "Work It." Only an artist as nimble as Missy could take a jumbled mass of backwards-masked syllables and make it one the era's most recognizable choruses... and one of karaoke night's biggest flexes.

Advertising
"Levitating" by Dua Lipa
Image: Warner Bros.

35. "Levitating" by Dua Lipa

Dua Lipa's Future Nostalgia is full of bangers, but none are quite as instantly timeless — and out of time — as this throwback retrofuturistic jam that pulses with verve, confidence and pure joy. Once the singer reaches the punchy "yeah yeah yeah" callback, you'll be soaring with her. Go ahead and skip the DaBaby remix… Dua's got this one without his help. 

"American Boy" by Estelle featuring Kanye West
Image: Atlantic

36. "American Boy" by Estelle featuring Kanye West

Both sides of the pond get some swagger on this pulsing throwback track occupying the space between disco, hip hop and pop. Estelle's richly playful and cockney-infused vocals provide the perfect antidote to Kanye's braggadocio… no small task, given that the guy is 5-foot-7 of pure ego. Even 'Ye takes a back seat to Estelle when she's firing on all cylinders (with an assist by wil.i.am and John Legend on writing duties, natch).

Advertising
"Since U Been Gone" by Kelly Clarkson
Image: RCA

37. "Since U Been Gone" by Kelly Clarkson

Simon Cowell may have made Kelly Clarkston a celebrity, but "Since U Been Gone" made her a star. Outside American Idol viewers and the two people who watched From Justin to Kelly, this was the world's true introduction to Clarkston's mighty lung capacity, and a high point for the early-noughties pop-rock explosion. The gleeful break-up anthem comes across like a glorious cross between Avril Lavigne and "I Will Survive." Fittingly in the flat circle of the pop world, it's now regularly butchered on talent shows worldwide.

"Let Me Blow Ya Mind" by Eve featuring Gwen Stefani
Image: Ruff Ryders

38. "Let Me Blow Ya Mind" by Eve featuring Gwen Stefani

A slinky, swaggering slow jam that meets at the intersection of hip-hop and pop, Eve's biggest hit is essentially a four-minute not-so-humblebrag about career success, the kind of thing that male rappers talk about all the time but somehow drew blowback when a woman did it (see also: "WAP"). Let the haters feign their dismay. The rest of us will be out on the dance floor and soaking in the silky sass. 

Advertising
"Gangnam Style" by Psy
Image: Universal Republic

39. "Gangnam Style" by Psy

Psy's internet-breaking sendup of South Korean excess is absolutely impossible to ignore, try though you may. The first song to reach 1 billion YouTube hits, it's been parodied, homaged, remade and remixed. Yet it refuses to die. That's because, against all odds, it rips. Yes, it's a song you're ashamed to catch yourself dancing to. But guess what? It happens to all of us. 

"Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley
Image: Warner Bros. Records

40. "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley

Long before his vile worldview and accusations of abuse made it all to easy to say "Fu*k You" to Cee-Lo Green, the former Goodie Mob emcee joined forces with producer Danger Mouse to release this slick psychedelic soul curveball. Fifteen years later, it still feels gloriously alien.

Recommended

    More on Time In

      You may also like
        Advertising