Being 21 can mean a lot of different things: being independent, being irresponsible, or being a party animal. The age also comes with a lot of reflection about life, as evidenced by these top 21 songs about being 21 years old.
1. 21 And Invincible – Something Corporate
The title of this song is a bit tongue-in-cheek. Some people in their early twenties really do feel like they can do no wrong. But the singer of 21 And Invincible has a more pessimistic outlook that if they haven’t done anything wrong yet, it’s only a matter of time. Unfortunately, there’s some truth to that — we do all make mistakes. Hopefully, the rest of us aren’t quite as negative about it.
2. Twenty One – The Cranberries
Twenty One has long been seen as the age when a person is legally and financially independent from their parents. In this 90s song from Irish band The Cranberries, the singer looks ahead to achieving their freedom for a much sadder reason. They are yearning for the day when they can leave behind their abusive childhood home and strike out on their own.
3. Anthem – Blink-182
In the US, 21 is famously the age when you can legally buy alcohol. It is common practice for teens to befriend college-age kids who can supply them with booze. In Anthem, the singer repeatedly expresses the wish that his friends were 21 so they could hook him up with some liquor.
4. Leaves That Are Green – Paul Simon
Leaves That Are Green is about the passage of time and how our youth is gone before we realize it. But in a way, it is also meant to be a freeze-frame in time dedicated to the experiences the singer was having when he was 21 years old: “I was twenty-one when I wrote this song, I’m twenty-two now, but I won’t be for long…”
5. Galveston – Glen Campbell
Galveston was released in 1969 during the height of the Vietnam War. It follows a young soldier as he dreams about his sweetheart back home in Galveston; she was only twenty-one when he was drafted. It goes to show how young many of the draftees were and how deeply it affected their lives.
6. Pensive – Homebound
Most of us can relate to the feeling that life is leaving us behind. We have an idea that there are a number of things we should have accomplished by a certain time. Pensive is all about reflecting on one’s life at the age of 21 and already feeling like there is too much still to do.
7. Damn Rough Night – Artist Vs. Poet
For many people, turning 21 is a time to go really crazy. Damn Rough Night is about a birthday that might just go down in history — if the singer could remember anything that happened, that is. Only the barest details are coming back to them in the morning.
8. Inside of You – The Maine
Inside of You involves an obvious innuendo, but there’s also a deeper meaning. The song is about two people drinking together, both of them 21 and already feeling drunk. They each have unresolved feelings for the other, but for reasons that are never explained, they know they can’t be together. The Maine’s frontman explained that it was based on a real-life experience with a female friend who thought he was gay; meanwhile, he was too shy to tell her his real feelings.
9. 21 – Gracie Abrams
Sometimes, turning 21 isn’t all it is cracked up to be. This song by Gracie Abrams is about passing the milestone birthday in the wake of a bad breakup and thinking about your ex the whole time. The lyrics include the lines: “Hate to picture you half-drunk happy, Hate to think you went out without me.”
10. 21 – The Starting Line
Drinking makes some people introspective, which is what 21 by The Starting Line is all about. In the midst of a party, the singer is suddenly thinking about the meaning of life and what they really want out of life. They say that birthdays make you reflect and liquor brings out the truth; ideally, of course, that won’t happen in the middle of the party.
11. Bullion – Millencolin
Turning 21 really seems to be the age where people get philosophical about their purpose in life — or maybe that’s just in music. Millencolin’s Bullion was released in 1995 and is all about struggling with identity and trying to decide what your destiny is. In the meantime, there’s Nintendo to drown out the thoughts.
12. Woodchuck – Go:Audio
Have you ever had to break up with someone who is feeling the relationship way more than you are? Woodchuck is about telling someone to pump the brakes; they feel like they’re in love, but the reality is that they’re only 21 years old and they’re not ready for a big commitment.
13. Next – The Weeknd
The Weeknd’s Next was at the top of the charts when it was released in 2011. This sometimes-filthy club hit at first comes across like any old party song, but the chorus gives it away. It is actually about trying to prove yourself and make a foundation for the rest of your life, even at the tender age of 21.
14. 21 Savage – Damier Legato
Damier Legato captured attention in 2022 with his song 21 Savage, which went viral on TikTok. The song is about leading a wild life long before the age of 21, which is supposedly the age when many people cut loose. Legato explains that by the time he was 21, he was already so wild he was basically savage.
15. Mama Tried – Merle Haggard and the Strangers
Mama Tried is a sad tribute to the fact that some people never get to enjoy a carefree youth. The song, recorded in 1968, tells the story of a man who was a repeat criminal offender before he even turned 21. He celebrates his milestone birthday in prison, reflecting back on the ways that he has disappointed his mother and ruined his own life.
16. 21 – H.E.R.
Most of us were broke and in school at the age of 21, but that’s not what this song is about. H.E.R.’s 2019 track is about having money and living large while still being young enough to have no responsibilities. It probably isn’t an experience most of us can relate to, but it is still fun to sing along to this ultra-catchy club song.
17. 21 Forever – Punchline
If you love the punk rock sounds of the early 2000s, Punchline might just be your jam. 21 Forever is about the chaos of being in your early twenties, which for many people is a time of hedonism and trying to find yourself. The song urges a woman named Katie to pick herself up and grow up past her current phase because she can’t keep living her life in its chaotic present.
18. Tin Soldiers – Stiff Little Fingers
For some people, being 21 means being a party animal with no responsibilities. But for many people, it isn’t a time for self-indulgence. Tin Soldiers is about a young man who joined the military when he was only 17 years old, without really knowing what he was getting into. He thought that he would be able to get out within three years, but was forced to deploy. Now, at 21, he counts the days until he can be free again.
19. I’m a Man – Bo Diddley
Back in the mid-1950s, Bo Diddley made waves with his rhythm and blues-inspired I’m a Man. Many societies have considered 21 the official age of maturity; this song is about becoming a man and developing the confidence to go along with it. Imagine being confident enough to say a line like “All you pretty women stand in line, I’ll make love to you in an hour’s time.” If only gaining that kind of audacity was as easy as getting older.
20. Twenty-One – Eagles
For most people, life is just beginning at age 21. People don’t tend to have a family at that age or even a lot of responsibilities; it makes sense that your early twenties have come to be associated with freedom and finding yourself. The Eagles’ 1973 song is about being free to wander through life as you want, unable to imagine how it could ever get any better. Depending on your interpretation, that’s either beautiful or just a tad naive.
21. Twenty One – The Shirelles
Kids have been wanting to grow up and gain their freedom since the dawn of time. Back in 1962, The Shirelles released Twenty-One, a catchy track that’s all about wishing you were old enough to do whatever you wanted. All they want to do is party, which will lead to them meeting dates, and then eventually getting married. Then, of course, they’ll have children, and when those children grow up, they’ll tell them to wait until they’re twenty-one.
As the Head Editor at Music Grotto, Liam edits content produced from over 30 professional music/media journalists and contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
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