Turning 21 is one of the first milestones of adulthood. It marks the day you can officially be called an adult and the age when drinking is a legal activity. Many people look at the end of their teenage years as the day they turned 21.
As with many other things, musicians have documented this special age. Here are some of the best songs about being 21.
1. “Twenty-One” by the Cranberries
Song Year: 1994
Dolores O’Riordan had a mesmerizing voice. She sang songs about growing up and facing the world on your own that became the theme music for young people in the mid-nineties. Her tone was fierce and angry while also being soft and warm. “Twenty-One” is about leaving old dreams behind and finding new reasons to live. She wrote it on her twenty-first birthday.
2. “21 and Invincible” by Something Corporate
Song Year: 2003
This song about being 21 came from the last album released by Something Corporate. It is about that untouchable feeling a young person has when they turn 21. You feel as though you are old enough that you can no longer be told what to do but young enough that the world is your oyster. When he says he can’t wait to screw this up, he acknowledges that it may be more freedom than he is prepared for.
3. “21 Forever” by Punchline
Song Year: 2010
Punchline released this song on their sixth studio album in 2010. Instead of singing about how great it is to be young and carefree, they give a warning that choices made today will not go away as they did when you were young. The song ends with them repeatedly declaring that you cannot be 21 forever.
4. “Mama Tried” by Merle Haggard
Song Year: 1968
“Mama Tried” is not a celebratory song about turning 21. The main character of the lyrics spends his 21st birthday in jail after being sentenced to life without parole. He laments that though he was a rebellious kid, he admits that his mother tried to do her best to raise him. The song warns young people not to stop listening to the ones who love them because they get old enough to live on their own.
5. “Birthday” by Destiny’s Child
Song Year: 1998
This song was one of the first singles from Destiny’s Child's debut album. It is a fun song about a girl that wants to make her lover happy on his birthday. It is not specifically about being 21, but it is a good song for celebrating a birthday with someone special.
6. “Cheers” by Rihanna
Song Year: 2010
Everyone knows that your twenty-first birthday is mostly special because you are legally allowed to drink. This song about going out to party and drink was released on Rihanna’s fifth album. She sings about being ready to put her glass up and toast the weekend.
7. “Raise Your Glass” by Pink
Song Year: 2010
Another anthem of partying makes this list with this song from Pink’s first Greatest Hits album. The song is a celebration for the everyman or the people normally left out. It is about accepting who you are and knowing that you deserve happiness as well.
8. “I’m a Man” by Bo Diddley
Song Year: 1955
Bo Diddley is known for his blues sound. “I’m a Man” was inspired by some music from Muddy Waters. He sings about how he is 21 and a man with a lot of luck with women. Muddy Waters released a song a few years later called “Mannish Boy” that played on the lyrics and the fact that Diddley was little more than a child.
9. “What’s My Age Again” by Blink 182
Song Year: 1999
Blink 182’s third album was “Enema of the State.” It may be their most popular album. This song is about immaturity and how people never seem to grow up, regardless of age. They sing about a character stuck performing childlike pranks on people and learning nothing from the consequences.
10. “21” by The Starting Line
Song Year: 2007
Alcohol and drug addiction can be hard to overcome at any age. At the age of 21, it is especially hard since you do not have the tools it takes to recognize you have a problem. This song about being 21 is about experiencing life in a haze and a desire to get better.
11. “Twenty-One” by The Eagles
Song Year: 1973
Released on their album “Desperado,” this mellow tune is about trying to decide what to do in life. The singer is looking ahead with optimism about what his life could be. He says he has no fear but no interest in living a normal life. He wants the freedom of living on his terms until he one day decides to settle down.
12. “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” by Mary-Chapin Carpenter
Song Year: 1993
This is a song of regret, as the subject gets married when she is 21. She has children and is leading an unhappy life by the time she turns 36. She leaves her husband and heads out to start a new life. It is a song of female power as she breaks away from her sexist husband who thinks he will keep her.
13. “21 Savage” by Damier Legato
Song Year: 2022
Damier Legato is new on the rap stage. In this song, he tells us his story and takes us back to when he was 21 and savage. When he was that age, he was on the wrong path, living in the streets and doing bad things. He is now one of the world’s top recording artists.
14. “Twenty-One” by The Shirelles
Song Year: 1962
If you enjoy doo-wop music from the 50s and 60s, this one could be for you. Released on their album “Baby It’s You”, it is all about living free of worries when you are young. This was a theme for that kind of music since it was upbeat and fun.
15. “Running On Empty” by Jackson Browne
Famous people do not have the same experiences as everyone else. This song by Jackson Browne is about living his life on the road as a musician. He was close to 30 when he released this song, but he traveled a long time to make a name for himself.
16. “Pensive” by Homebound
Song Year: 2016
Homebound released this song on their “The Mould You Build Yourself Around” album. It is a dark and vulnerable song about reaching an age where you thought you would have accomplished more. Everyone has had feelings of regret and missed opportunities. They almost put you through a midlife crisis at a young age, and songs like this help many people process them.
17. “21” by Gracie Abrams
Song Year: 2020
Who hasn’t had a birthday after a bad breakup? This song about being 21, from Gracie Abrams's album “Minor” is full of regret after the singer breaks up with their lover. She says how much she misses them but knows that they will be happier without her.
18. “21” by H.E.R.
Song Year: 2020
This slow hip-hop song lulls you into a feeling of remorse and introspection. It was released on the “I Used to Know Her” album and is all about the journey to figure out who they are. The slow rhythm will find you easing into this one again and again.
19. “Captain Jack” by Billy Joel
Song Year: 1973
This is another song that shows the dark road some young people choose. “Captain Jack” was released on his “Piano Man” album. It is about a young man taking a journey into drugs and addiction. Joel has said that Captain Jack represents any drug people use to escape.
20. “Chapter Six” by Kendrick Lamar
Song Year: 2011
Many people who wrote the songs on this list are introspective as they look at what they have accomplished. It is common to reach 21 and wonder if you have done enough. This song by Kendrick Lamar reflects on his life and career.
21. “Tin Soldiers” by Stiff Little Fingers
Song Year: 1980
Throughout the 60s and 70s, many young men who were 21 went to fight in the Vietnam War. Some volunteered to go, while others were forced. This song from the “Nobody’s Heroes” album looks at young men who signed up to go. Whether the song has a positive message will depend on your politics.
22. “Galveston” by Glen Campbell
Song Year: 1969
This song was written at the height of the war when many people left their loved ones to fight. Many singers were writing songs about it as well. Glen Campbell wrote this song about a man who left his lover and his family behind to fight in the war. It was part of the album by the same name and won the CMA award for single of the year.
23. “Leaves That Are Green” by Simon and Garfunkel
Song Year: 1966
A lot of songs by Simon and Garfunkel are melancholy and evoke feelings of introspection and sadness. This song from the “Sounds of Silence” album is about the passage of time and how quickly it goes. He talks about not being 21 for long and that the leaves are green, but soon they turn brown. It is important to live life for today since tomorrow will be gone sooner than we think.
24. “Don’t Throw Out My Legos” by AJR
Song Year: 2019
One thing almost all of us do when we grow up is move out of our parent's house. That can be one of the scariest things any of us ever do. Leaving the nest can be terrifying; the singer knows it. He asks what he will do if he cannot let go and has to return. He doesn’t want to lose his Legos.
25. “20 Something” by SZA
Song Year: 2017
This is another song about experiencing a breakup in your 20s. Ending a relationship can feel like the end of the world to many people. This song was released by SZA for their “Ctrl” album and is about the feeling of being stuck in their 20s because they can’t move on.
26. “Roar” by Katy Perry
Song Year: 2013
This is not specifically a song about being 21, but the empowerment that comes through gives that feeling of hope. When you’ve had enough of being treated like you are worthless and you want to take on the world, that’s when you have the eye of the tiger. Putting this at the end of a twenty-first birthday party playlist would be a good idea.
27. “The One” by Taylor Swift
Song Year: 2020
When you leave behind your childhood and move on to being an adult, it is both sad and exciting. There is the happiness of knowing you are going to have a lot of new experiences while also missing the safety of being a kid. Taylor Swift released this song for her “Folklore” album. In it, she is catching up with an old friend and telling them all the new things she is doing as she leaves her old life behind.
Top Songs About Being 21, Final Thoughts
Everyone transitions from a teenager with nothing but the lessons learned in childhood. You have not experienced your life at that point. Moving into your 20s brings some wisdom, but there is still much more you have to learn and experience. You are overlooking the future, which can be full of hope and optimism. But it can also have plenty of fear, as many artists on this list have shown.