As we reach the halfway point of the decade, let’s take a look back at some of the best musical moments of the last five years! From alternative rock’s surprising reign to R&B’s resurgence, to pop’s continued evolution, here are the 100 best songs of the 2010s… so far!
Young singer-songwriter Jake Bugg became an instant hit thanks to his raw and earnest collection of pint-sized gems, but one of his greatest works came in the form of a layered, 4-minute ballad. “Broken” just builds and explodes in a way that is sure to induce tears on occasion, but Bugg walks away the hero for not having crossed over into “cheesy.”
099. “Love The Way You Lie”
Eminem featuring Rihanna
Eminem’s resurgence-of-sorts climaxed with this fantastic Rihanna collaboration. “Love The Way You Lie” is a fiery hip hop ballad that juxtaposes a series of emotional and hard-hitting verses with a poignant and tender chorus, and it immediately became a stand out for both artist’s catalogs and a hit people will remember for quite some time.
“Animal” was a general introduction Neon Trees, an exciting new crew of seemingly wannabe-eccentric pop-rockers, and it was undeniably awesome. The tactfully bedazzled track has all of the energy of a stadium anthem with an impenetrable candy coating that radio couldn’t resist. No matter how you slice and dice it, this is one big jolt of fun and energy.
097. “Wake Me Up”
With a revolving door of DJs dominating pop music, “Wake Me Up” announced that it was Avicii’s turn. Featuring the uncredited Aloe Blacc on vocals, the track capitalizes on folk rock’s parallel trending status, and this DJ Du Jour fused together something far more inventive and interesting than anything Guetta or Harris managed to conjure up during their reigns.
096. “On Melancholy Hill”
Damon Albarn’s virtual band, Gorillaz, have long been known for their diverse landscape of sounds and unique collaborations, but their single “On Melancholy Hill” is a soaring success for contrary reasons. The track is textbook-Albarn with an atmospheric, but straightforward production and a repetitious melody that come together to sound euphorically beautiful.
095. “All The Lovers”
Pop princess Kylie Minogue entered the 2010’s as an irrefutable icon with a career approaching almost a quarter of a century, and with the release of her hit “All The Lovers,” she thwarted any notion that she wouldn’t be able to keep up. The track is textbook-Kylie (big chorus, dancy euphoria,) but it had a freshness about it that was undeniably endearing.
094. “Express Yourself”
Diplo featuring Nicky Da B
Diplo became the first new candidate for reigning King of EDM, a revolving door that has proven to be rather contrived, that could have actually given pop music something pretty interesting. His single “Express Yourself” really has it all… a brilliant production, a counterintuitive danceable arrangement, and a sparse, but effective melody with the right amount of swag.
Coldplay has come a long way from their alternative roots, but they managed to consistently prove that they could throw together compelling stadium-sized anthems palatable for both pop and rock audiences. “Paradise” was their biggest departure from the later to the former to date, but it still managed to be a noteworthy moment in their catalog.
092. “Locked Out Of Heaven”
Bruno Mars is a different kind of pop star, and while his talents as a musician, performer, and songwriter have yet to be fully demonstrated in his material, his mega hit “Locked Out Of Heaven” came pretty damn close. The track could easily have been a relic from The Police’s vault, but when that chorus comes in, it’s clear that there just a little more to it.
091. “Master Hunter”
British singer-songwriter Laura Marling briefly swept critics and fans alike off their feet with the release of her flawless Once I Was An Eagle LP. Lead single “Master Hunter” is riddled with lyrical and sonic Dylan references, but Marling’s possessed vocals and frenzied strumming keeps this linear track feeling as alive and fresh as you could ever hope folk to sound.
Lorde was the kind of artist that history has proven to cast aside as a fleeting moment, but history doesn’t always repeat itself. “Team” not only avoided her likely sentence to One Hit Wonder-dom, but positioned her as both a lauded artist and a viable pop star. With its laidback production and infectious melody, “Team” is particularly hard to dislike.
089. “You & I”
Lady Gaga quickly built an impenetrable reputation as dance pop’s biggest force in decades coming into the 2010s, but it was clear that she had her sights set on much more. “You & I” began life as a highly-publicised piano-led ballad and ended up as a country-tinged thumper featuring Brian May on guitar, and it reigns as one of her finest moments.
088. “Scary Monsters & Nice Sprites”
Somehow, the artist formerly known as Sonny Moore, made the world fall head over heals for the already-dated, particularly strange EDM movement that is dubstep, and you have to give it up for him. “Scary Monsters & Nice Sprites” is where it all began, and, to date, it remains one of the most relevant dance records released over the last decade-plus.
087. “White Noise”
Disclosure featuring AlunaGeorge
This British duo has become one of the most captivating new acts in electronic dance music this decade, scoring international hits and plenty of critical acclaim along the way. “White Noise,” featuring fellow newcomers AlunaGeorge is the perfect representation of how to pull off a dance track. Despite its striking simplicity, there is nothing “paint by numbers” about it.
086. “Under The Westway”
Despite having a couple bouts of reunion in recent years, Blur has only released a small handful of new material. “Under The Westway” is a phenomenal song in its own right, but the fact that it holds up so seamlessly next to prescious classics like “The Universal” and “This Is A Low” so many years later really speaks to their genius and status as legends.
085. “Take Care”
Drake featuring Rihanna
This Drake/Rihanna collaboration follows a rather simple formula: give RiRi a hook she can shine on, throw in a few good verses from Drake, and layer them intricately into a beautiful, over-simplified backing track. In the end, “Take Care” is one of hip hop’s finest showings in the pop-osphere, but, most important, it proved how little of a fluke Drake was.
Alterative pop can be a volatile fusion or it can be an incredible success, and Bastille’s breakthrough international super hit thankfully proved to fall into the later category. “Pompeii” is an indisputable anthem, punching hard with an almost unnerving tribal hook, thundering drums, and a New Order-esque synth bounce, but the bittersweet melody holds us captive.
Upon the release of the Diplo-produced “Climax,” it became clear that the quality of Usher’s work was on the upswing. The track gives the classic R&B slow jam a futuristic makeover and playfully experiments with the limits of restraint, (not so) ironically avoiding a climax of its own. Throw in a sultry vocal from Mr. Raymond, and feel free to serve up a masterpiece.
082. “Numbers On The Boards”
When Pusha T finally had the solo breakout we were waiting for, he not only gave us one of hip hop’s biggest stand out albums, but a track so on-point that it’s impossible to overlook. “Numbers On The Boards” is an undeniable Kanye production, but Pusha lays it all out there and captivates us in a no-frills kind of way that the genre has severely been lacking.
081. “Night By Night”
This electro funk duo have been perfecting their sound since the mid-00s, and it’s clear that the culmination of all their efforts peaked with “Night By Night.” Their danceable opus is one of the most flawlessly executed disco-throwbacks ever thanks to a properly used voice box and a pulsing bass line and sparkly guitar that Donna Summer would have killed for.
It was an uphill battle for MGMT to even consider topping their debut LP, so they played it smart by just going balls to the walls with their sophomore effort, Congratulations. While the the album takes a trippy, less synthesized approach, the title track folds in a singsongy element that feels plucked right out of ’60s psychedelica, but they pull it off.
079. “Poetic Justice”
Kendrick Lamar featuring Drake
As soon as that Janet Jackson sample kicks in, it becomes instantaneously clear that “Poetic Justice” is a masterpiece. One of Kendrick Lamar’s standout hits from his incredible debut LP is a tender ode to his need for musical honesty, and both his and collaborator Drake’s performances are absolutely stunning. This is hip hop at its most powerful.
078. “We Are Young”
fun. featuring Janelle Monáe
This was the catalyst for indie pop’s brief, but impacting reign atop the pop charts in 2012. “We Are Young” was an inescapable modern power ballad that, even despite its delirious melody and chilling production, was a bold move for the mainstream. It’s only real shortcoming was the sincere lack of featured artist Janelle Monáe, who deserved a much bigger role.
077. “Fuck You”
Cee Lo Green
Cee Lo Green has been a prominent figure in music for years as a collaborator, but with one simple phrase (that needed to be highly censored to pull off,) he landed himself one hell of a solo hit. With its throwback soul arrangement, modern production, infectious melody, and series of one-liners, it was impossible not to be drawn to this charismatic hit.
076. “We Found Love”
Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris
Rihanna’s unprecedented streak of hits came to resounding climax with the release of her Calvin Harris-collabo, “We Found Love.” This dance floor anthem not only promoted Harris to pop’s reigning EDM King, but it solidified RiRi as a modern pop legend. This track was so perfectly executed, even despite its simplicity, that it still hasn’t flown off into oblivion.
Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience was a series of hits and misses, featuring some of his most intriguing work in addition to some of his most irrelevant. “Mirrors” was the one true undeniable moment that held up to the JT classics that helped shape pop music as we know it. The uplifting semi-ballad simply feels epic, and with this particular artist, that means big things.
074. “Gun Has No Trigger”
The Dirty Projectors
Experimental rockers, The Dirty Projectors, have crafted a diverse sound that has left critics confused, yet excited, and the release of “Gun Has No Trigger” cast aside any doubt. This simple, stripped down tune is built around a simple loop, understated bass, and, most prominently, dissonant backing vocals that act as the key ingredient, and it really works.
073. “Born This Way”
No one came into the 2010s hotter than Lady Gaga. Her Born This Way may’ve cooled her off a bit, but its lead single and title track was one of the decade’s most monumental pop moments. Yes, it undeniably borrowed more than little from Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” but its empowering lyrics and textbook Gaga hooks made for something truly exciting.
072. “Young And Beautiful”
Lana Del Rey
Lifted from The Great Gatsby soundtrack, Lana Del Rey’s lush “Young and Beautiful” stuck out as one of the biggest show stoppers in pop this decade. The orchestral ballad manages to feel equally as beautiful as it does devastating, a trick Del Rey has become renowned for pulling off, but it manages to avoid the cheesiness that tends to kill these kinds of songs.
071. “Written On The Forehead”
PJ Harvey’s stunning Let England Shake LP stands out as one of the half-decade’s greatest musical achievements, and despite having countless noteworthy moments, nothing sticks out more than “Written On The Forehead.” Harvey takes on a delicate, childish vocal persona that nestles calmly in a blanket, equally emanating reflection and tragedy.
070. “Super Bass”
Nicki Minaj has easily been one of the decade’s most compelling figures, even despite her catalog consisting mostly of candy coated cheap shots, sans a handful of stellar guest verses. “Super Bass,” however, followed the formula for the perfect pop gem. Not only does her charisma come shining through, but the song is guiltlessly, euphorically memorable.
Before we were beaten to death with the reminder of just how “Fancy” she is, Iggy Azalea was a refreshing up-and-comer. “Work,” her first real breakthrough track, is a damn near perfect fusion of hip hop and electro, injected with hooks, one-liners, and a palpable confidence that you can’t help but appreciate. This was a rare modern triumph for hip hop.
068. “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win”
Beastie Boys featuring Santogold
It’s a poignant revelation that “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win” is the last single the Beastie Boys will ever release (at least as a trio,) but what a note to close on! Featured artist Santogold handles most of the vocal duties, but the track’s summery reggae vibe steals the show, hailing as one of the best backing tracks the Boys have ever laid out.
067. “Too Close”
“Too Close” becomes a success not simply for its dubstep tendencies, but for its integration of various other sounds all coated in a bit of pop. Alex Clare’s soulful, but unassuming vocals add an unlikely, but completely successful texture that brings the slightest flair of “indie” to the track to make it just cool enough to appease the critics and festival crowds.
066. “Work Out”
Despite having to walk a tightrope to pull if off, hip hop is at its most endearing when it’s loose. “Work Out” maintains the integrity of a classic track, but with a slight throwback vibe, a well-executed Paula Abdul interpolation, and the kind of hook radio begs for, the song ended up becoming the perfect candidate to unleash J. Cole into the mainstream.
Empire Of The Sun
This flamboyant Australian duo has become one of the strangely coolest acts in electro. Lifted as the first single from their sophomore LP, Ice On The Dune, “Alive” is the kind of dance anthem that a festival crowd would appreciate over the club scene. It’s a little too thought out for pop radio or clubs, but with true-to-form bursts of euphoria, you’ll be dancing every time.
James Blake created the perfect fusion of soul and electronic with his single “Retrograde,” but what makes it a standout is how few components it took to pull it off. With an almost over-simplified drum loop, delicate piano chords, and a howling synth, it’s Blake’s captivating voice that drives the track to somewhere equally as beautiful as it is mysterious.
063. “The Mother We Share”
Scottish trio CHVRCHES are strong candidates to reign as synthpop’s modern torchbearers. Their hit “The Mother We Share” is the perfect example of how keep the balance between melodic pop and indie cool. The juxtaposition of fluffy and roaring synths pairs perfectly with the memorable melody, but it’s Lauren Mayberry’s voice that keeps it quirky and sparkly.
062. “Ho Hey”
Folk rock has been an enduring genre in the pop realm that doesn’t saturate, but makes guest spots every so often to keep it fresh in our minds. This decade, The Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” easily holds that honor. Neither its thumping simplicity nor its sing-a-long hooks are anything new, but there’s something to be said for the worth of a straight forward, great track.
061. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”
There has “never ever ever” been a country crossover artist quite as monumental as Taylor Swift. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” was a litmus test of “T.Swift: The Full-Fledged Pop Star,” and the payoff was huge. The track, cowritten with legendary hit maker Max Martin, still has that country swag, but it was truly a glorious pop moment.
[Remember when Taylor Swift removed all of her music from Spotify?]
060. “Stay With Me”
Midway through the decade, it’s safe to say that Sam Smith is one of the most exciting new figures in pop music. His soulful voice, which sits comfortably atop anything from EDM to gospel-tinged ballads, landed him a handful of international hits including the incredible “Stay With Me.” The steady ballad isn’t particularly dynamic, but it’s captivating.
059. “Safe & Sound”
This is the kind of track that should never have worked. With melodic verses that shamelessly avoids expanding into an explosive chorus laid casually on a bed of pulsing synths and oddly placed horns, “Safe & Sound” is paradoxically both a laidback jam and a full on party anthem. It’s appeal is so widespread that it’s no wonder every format picked it up.
058. “R U Mine?”
Released over a full year before its parent album, the incredible AM, “R U Mine?” was a landmark moment for the Arctic Monkeys. The single injects a focused confidence into their sound that, ironically enough, lyrically tackles uncertainty. Between the wall of guitars, slightly syncopated melody, and overall controlled frenzy, this is a timeless, bonafide rock anthem.
057. “Yet Again”
This was one of indie rock’s most stunningly beautiful moments of the decade. “Yet Again” is an intricately crafted, yet strikingly vulnerable track that ebbs and flows seamlessly through its verses and choruses, held together by Ed Droste’s pining vocals and delicately nuanced guitar parts. It somehow makes sense that it climaxes in a distorted frenzy.
056. “Kiss Land”
The Weeknd has been one of the most elusive new artists of the decade, releasing a random trilogy of well received mix tapes and a debut album that solidified his noteworthy presence. The title track and debut single from the Kiss Land LP was truly his climax. The 7 and a half minute track has many facets definitive of both his sound and talent, and it never gets old.
055. “All Of The Lights”
Kanye West featuring Rihanna
Although Rihanna is the only featured artist named on the epic “All Of The Lights,” the track features more than a dozen voices ranging from Elton John to Drake. The song becomes a “Hip Hopera” of sorts, with Kanye starring as the troubled protagonist. Despite bordering on flying off the hinges at any given moment, it holds together beautifully.
Arcade Fire seemingly had nothing left to prove by the time they got to their fourth studio album, but it was clear they thought otherwise. “Reflektor,” the album’s first single and title track, just kind of makes sense. It’s a 7 and a half minute epic that never quite overstays its welcome, and to top it all off, features a brief, but impacting guest spot from David Bowie.
It’s really saying something that one of not only Beyoncé’s best, one of the decade’s best tracks, doesn’t even rank amongst her biggest hits. “Countdown” was almost completely tucked away in her catalog, but fans and critics alike couldn’t resist its spunky, hook-laced chaotic beauty that exemplifies Bey’s uncanny ability to steer confusion into pure gold.
052. “Gold On The Ceiling”
The Black Keys
“Gold On The Ceiling” wasn’t El Camino’s standout opus, but it certainly was its focal point. There is an undeniable timelessness about the song, referencing everything from glam rock to “Spirit In The Sky.” Between its thundering swag, buzzing organ, uplifting handclaps, and unforgettable melody, “Gold On The Ceiling” is a proper rock and roll tidal wave.
051. “I Love It”
Icona Pop featuring Charli XCX
Probably the most in-your-face pop moment of the decade, Icona Pop’s “I Love It” is both one of the decade’s best One Hit Wonders and one of its most enduring party anthems. Written by Charli XCX (who gets a “feature” credit,) the duo’s playfully menacing unison vocals delicately inject a boost of energy into this anthemic tour de force that no one could resist.