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!
After a year of basically winning pop music with a handful of legendary collaborations, Pharrell Williams rounded it out with a song all to himself. “Happy” is the kind of track you can’t help but like, with a dancy groove, beckoning handclaps, and the kind of infectious melody only Pharrell could pull off. Maybe there’s no edge to it, but you’re going to have a damn good time.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs were already alt rock gods by the time they released “Sacrilege,” but this track was truly something special. Once again venturing into new territory, this uplifting anthem swirls with spacey guitars and aching vocals, but all of the sudden sideswipes us with the addition of a climactic gospel choir. The end result is undeniably goosebump-inducing.
48. “Black Skinhead”
Kanye’s ideas seemingly get crazier with each new record, but it’s safe to argue that they also get better. With “Black Skinhead,” the proof is in the pudding. His hardest hitting record yet, the track is built around a breathy loop with thundering nuances of distorted guitars and drum fills, but it’s his possessed vocal delivery and blunt lyrics that make this an amazing opus.
47. “Soldier Of Love”
As time has gone on, Sade has become more and more elusive of a group, with the gaps between albums growing wider and more unapologetic. This go around, when Soldier Of Love was released, it had been a full decade, but boy was it worth the wait. The title track and lead single, especially, solidified their importance with a commanding vigor we had yet to feel.
46. “Blurred Lines”
Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell Williams
In spite of continued controversy, “Blurred Lines” was one of the biggest moments in music thus far this decade. Setting aside a particular VMA performance, “blurry” lyrical content, and the likelihood that it took more than a little from Marvin’s “Got To Give It Up,” this Pharrell-produced masterpiece was the King of the Throwback Jams, and we’ll be listening to it forever.
And the “Little Engine That Could Award” goes to AWOLNATION’s “Sail.” This sleeper hit had a longer shelf life than anyone could have predicted, finding its way into the mainstream almost 2 years after it had come and gone from alternative rock radio. When you hear that electro buzz echoing through the plunking piano, dainty chords, and yearning vocals, it’s easy to see why.
44. “Power Trip”
J. Cole featuring Miguel
J. Cole is one of the few hip hop stars who have made a positive impact on the genre this decade. “Power Trip,” the first track lifted from his incredible Born Sinner, brings Miguel on board for little boosts of smoothness to balance out the raw grime. Cole exemplifies his ability to make something dazzling out of simplicity, and despite many distractions, he holds our attention.
43. “Diane Young”
This was a climax of sorts of Vampire Weekend, who have been inching closer and closer to an explosion of acclaim and attention since their debut. The first track lifted from their flawless Modern Vampires Of The City album, “Diane Young,” was a pint-sized throwback with a hint of rockabilly, laced with a fearless modern boost of vocal effects that somehow works.
42. “Take A Walk”
Modern synthpop-ists, Passion Pit, were already a big name by the time they unleashed “Take A Walk,” but the track had all of the energy of an eager debut. The ironically bubbly anthem, constructed around a swooning synth hook, sees lead singer Michael Angelakos step back from his piercing falsetto while still keeping his vigor intact, and we’re left with a bonafide anthem.
Justin Vernon’s Bon Iver cast a spell over alternative rock for only a brief period of time, but they have become a crucial piece to the decade’s musical mosaic. “Holocene,” the standout track from their doubly-self titled sophomore LP, is a beautiful representation of Vernon’s storytelling ability and vocal prowess, but, most importantly, his gift of capturing emotion.
40. “Lotus Flower”
Radiohead has nothing left to prove by this point in their career, so the fact that they continue to release game-changing masterpieces like The King Of Limbs only solidifies their legacy. The hypnotically simple “Lotus Flower,” in particular, is a welcomed addition to their catalog, swirling with a chillingly silky Thom Yorke vocal, further proving this band is in their own league.
Tyler, The Creator
Tyler, The Creator was undeniably one of hip hop’s most compelling figures this decade thanks largely to his charmingly offensive lyrics. “Yonkers” was his defining moment, and even despite almost entirely lacking a hook, it manages to remain amazingly memorable. Every time we’re left wondering what he’s on about, he sideswipes us with an astounding tie-in.
38. “The Wire”
It was the moment where we all knew that HAIM wasn’t a fluke of a group. “The Wire,” with a stomp as heralding as a Queen stadium show and a slight country swag for character, is a serious pop gem, albeit a rather unconventional one. There’s a familiar quirkiness about it that endears us, but it becomes clear just how impressive it was that they pulled it off.
Sia Fuller has long remained behind the scenes as a songwriter and producer, and despite having been releasing material for almost 2 decades, began her bout of public consciousness as simply a featured act. It was spectacularly fitting that her popular solo breakthrough came in the form of the stunning “Chandelier,” possibly the best thing she’s ever touched.
36. “I Will Wait”
Mumford & Sons
Mumford & Sons have become the poster children for folk rock in the commercial setting, and, if anything, their hit “I Will Wait” proved they were up for the challenge. The track sticks to their two-dimensional sound to keep the masses happy, but beefs it up enough to feel comfortable on radio and keep critics pushing for an evolution happy. In the end, it’s just a great song.
35. “Hold On, We’re Going Home”
Drake featuring Majid Jordan
Drake has an awkward placement in hip hop and pop music that, luckily for him, leaves us believing he’s the real deal enough to keep listening. “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” wasn’t the kind of hard-hitting jam were were hoping would define him, but instead was a completely sung throwback that couldn’t have been any more perfectly executed.
34. “The Suburbs”
For anyone who grew up in suburbia, the title track to Arcade Fire’s magnificent The Suburbs is bound to feel somewhat biographical. There’s a poignant earnestness to the lyrics that feel rather hopeful when injected to the track’s folksy bounce via Win Butler’s whiney swoon. The way it all comes together feels rather effortless, but it’s far from it.
33. “Losing You”
Most would say that it isn’t easy living in the shadow of Beyoncé, but Solange Knowles clearly isn’t. Having found her own niché as alternative R&B’s fearless queen, she really made a stand for herself with the Dev Hynes-assisted True EP and its lead single “Losing You.” The groovy track is absolutely gobsmacking, due in large part to Ms. Knowles’ confident charisma.
32. “Pumped Up Kicks”
Foster The People
“Pumped Up Kicks” was somewhat of the catalyst for indie pop and alternative rock’s brief reign in the early parts of the decade. Foster The People’s debut single was a sleeper all thanks to its perfect hybrid of accessibility and eccentricity. The track is a neatly bundled, lightly-distorted, but over-simplified anthem that is particularly hard to resist.
Kanye West, Big Sean, Pusha T, and 2 Chainz
Hip hop has always thrived on collaboration, but the Kanye-curated “Mercy” featuring an ecclectic sampling of his G.O.O.D. Music crew took the concept to a whole new level. The track, built around a dazzling sample, infectious hook, series of absolutely on point verses, and a stellar mix-up from Kanye himself, really hit all of the right notes and stands as a true masterpiece.
30. “Dancing On My Own”
The brilliant Robyn has always been pop’s underdog, even despite sustaining a career that’s lasted almost 20 years. The first single lifted from her stunning trio of Body Talk mini-albums, “Dancing On My Own,” left pop music beautifully shaken up. The melody is sublime, the production is masterful, and the lyrics and poignant; what more could you ask for?
29. “Everything Is Embarrassing”
Sky Ferreira’s ever-changing career had many false starts, but it felt officially ignited when she unleashed the stunningly gorgeous “Everything Is Embarrassing.” The Dev Hynes-penned track is strikingly simple, revolving mostly around a drum loop and repetitious chord progression, giving Sky the lone challenge of bringing it all together, and she passes with flying colors.
28. “Love On Top”
“Love On Top” sees Beyoncé step into a more relaxed delivery, a stark contrast to her taut mega-hits, but, oddly enough, this feels like Bey in her element. The throwback groove provides the perfect landscape for her vocals to roam free, and she ingeniously chooses to air on the side of restraint until she unleashes into a flawlessly executed, explosive climax of key changes.
Tegan & Sara
Tegan & Sara have long been heroes in various circles, but the release of “Closer” stopped everyone dead in their tracks. This modern new wave anthem in an absolute explosion of energy that’s playfully fun and heartbreaking, similar to many an 80s pop hit. This new direction for the duo paid off in spades and we were gifted a rare irresistable, guiltless pop gem.
26. “Little Talks”
Of Monsters & Men
This surprise sleeper hit was a major victory for indie folk in the popular realm. Of Monsters & Men’s irresistible “Little Talks” had the perfect amount of pop “oomph” without ever feeling contrived; they simply made a great track. With the blaring horn hook, playful “he said, she said” vocals, and interestingly formatted refrain, there was just too much to love.
Disclosure featuring Sam Smith
Disclosure’s big international break, “Latch,” featuring additional newcomer Sam Smith, was a perfectly timed monkey wrench thrown into the contrived EDM machine. These artists clearly dared to steer clear of mindlessness and crafted a track so multi-faceted that it actually appeals to both the rock and soul crowds, and pop radio couldn’t resist it either.
24. “Thinkin Bout You”
Confidently laying atop a bed of simply a drum loop and simple synth chords with only the daintiest of nuances, Frank Ocean’s vocals are clearly in full command on his breakthrough hit, “Thinkin Bout You.” This alternative R&B ballad is a masterclass in simplicity, but the melody is so counterintuitive and intricate that it takes a proper genius to pull it off.
23. “Lightning Bolt”
Nobody would have expected by looking at this scrappy looking teen from Clifton that he would be one of the most exciting new singer-songwriters of the decade. Jake Bugg’s breakthrough track., “Lightning Bolt,” is a frenzied jolt of energy that embraces a lo-fi buzz to give his whirlwind guitar and spitfire melody the perfect amount of character leave us all gobsmacked.
22. “Some Nights”
Supergroup fun. were perfectly set up to be one hit wonders following the massive success of “We Are Young,” but no one could’ve predicted what they had in store next. The title track to their second album is a herald that indie pop rarely gets to experience. Between the forcefully layered group vocals, thundering drums, and sing-a-long hook, “Some Nights” is astounding.
Feel-good R&B truly hasn’t been this smooth and sultry since “Sexual Healing.” There’s an endearing timelessness about “Adorn,” but Miguel manages to give the sound a fresh, modern coat that seductively pulled us all in. When you add in his teasing, tongue-flicking hook and masterful control over his silky voice, this is truly a landmark track that rarely comes around.
20. “Do I Wanna Know?”
This was the singular moment where the Arctic Monkeys declared that they were on a different level altogether. The first official single lifted from their AM album, “Do I Wanna Know?” is a simple, grimy, delirious anthem that relies more on simplicity than height. With a pair of hooks playing nicely off each other, this became the perfect opportunity for the group to really show off.
19. “Someone Like You”
“Someone Like You” was not only Adele’s nail in the proverbial coffin when it comes to dominance but it was a landmark moment for vocal-driven pop. The achingly beautiful piece, featuring only a piano as accompaniment, creates an opportunity for the artist’s voice, pushed to the peak of its range, to powerfully resonate without distraction.
Janelle Monáe featuring Big Boi
Janelle Monáe is an artist with a clear perspective, and she won us over with her breakthrough track “Tightrope,” which brings OutKast’s Big Boi on board for a little help. The funky, soulful backing track provides the perfect landscape for Monáe’s charismatic, on-point vocals, and even the strange, high-pitched backing vocals. To top it all off, it’s catchy as hell.
Azealia Banks featuring Lazy Jay
Upon the first listen of “212,” we knew Azealia Banks was someone to watch. Between her outrageously vulgar lyrics, spitfire verses intricately sewn into a portion of Lazy Jay’s “Float The Boat,” and perfectly a placed anthemic climax, Banks truly put her best foot forward here and gave rap one of its most audacious, noteworthy, and downright fun moments ever.
16. “N***as In Paris”
Jay-Z and Kanye West
Easily one of the most hyped projects of the decade, Watch The Throne, continues to draw debate about whether or not Jay and Ye properly delivered on their full-length collaboration. However, there is one moment that has undeniably helped define hip hop this half-decade so far. “N***as In Paris” is so batshit crazy and sporadic that it actually works like a charm.
15. “We Used To Wait”
Arcade Fire’s seminal The Suburbs LP launched them into a new territory of importance and acclaim they greatly deserved, and while the record had countless highlights, there was one that truly resonated. “We Used To Wait” thoughtfully clunks through a series of melodies and orchestral frenzies that feels strikingly just as serene as it does unhinged and possessed.
14. “Somebody That I Used To Know”
Gotye featuring Kimbra
In a year when indie and alternative music was at its most accessible and successful, no one reaped the benefits quite like Gotye and Kimbra. “Somebody That I Used To Know” has since become the half-decade’s most guiltless one hit wonder (strangely enough, for both artists,) but with simple instrumentation and a bombastic hook, it’s no wonder it snuck through the pack.
13. “Video Games”
Lana Del Rey
Lana Del Rey’s breakthrough hit, “Video Games,” was so delicately laced in mystique that we all paid no mind to whether were entranced by a siren’s song or getting our first dose of music’s next game-changing figure. Even now, the answers are unclear, but it’s safe to say that a track this hauntingly beautiful, steered confidently by Lana’s unique vocals is far from a fluke.
12. “Swimming Pools (Drank)”
“Swimming Pools” was the proper announcement that the hip hop’s long awaited hero had finally arrived in the form of the detail-oriented, boldly earnest Kendrick Lamar. The track is a rare jolt of honesty, exemplifying Lamar’s gift for story telling and ability to take us on a journey. With lyrics this vulnerable, it really says something that the song structure steals the show here.
With a powerful punch of percussion, throbbing bass line, delicately nuanced guitar, and charismatic vocal, “Forever” is about a good of an introduction as you’re ever going to get. HAIM’s heralding debut was a flawless outline of their sound: an effortless, accessible spin on R&B-tinged rock that insists on holding the integrity of serious musicians who seriously know how to play.
Grimes’ bewitching breakthrough track, “Oblivion” is unlike anything electronica has never experienced. Between pulsing synth lines that barely intertwine, an intentional lack of structure, and an unintelligable vocal line that features only a brief hook, the fact that the end result is a coherent track is absolutely astounding. The fact that it wasn’t a fluke is borderline incomprehensible.
Kanye West featuring Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj and Bon Iver
What truly makes “Monster” a tour de force is the sheer level of brilliance individually delivered by its many components. Between Kanye’s earnest lyrics and pristine production, brief, but vital contributions from Rick Ross and Justin Vernon, one of Jay-Z’s best verses in years, and, of course, Nicki’s iconic, show-stopping performance, this is truly a cosmic track on all fronts.
08. “Lonely Boy”
The Black Keys
With just a thin sugar coating around their textbook sound, and Danger Mouse on board to twist some knobs, “Lonely Boy” became an instant, explosive force that put the Black Keys on a well-deserved new pedestal. With a deliriously addictive hook sitting comfortably atop a bed of crisp, surging guitars, the track became one of rock’s most triumphant victories this half-decade.
07. “Hold On”
The bluesy, southern-infused debut single from Alabama Shakes was an unmissable statement. “Hold On” embodied all of the components of a timeless classic without ever feeling redundant. Driven powerfully by Brittany Howard’s howling vocals that pack in the soulful bellow of Mavis Staples and resonating strength of Otis Redding, it is so damn good.
Frank Ocean’s flawlessly woven 10-minute opus has more intricate twists and turns than most artists are able to exemplify in an entire career. “Pyramids,” the centerpiece to his channel ORANGE LP, is a good two or three different songs seamlessly sewn together to detail a singular story as vast and complex as the Sistine Chapel, but he still manages to leave us begging for more.
05. “Drunk In Love”
Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z
In the midst of the chaos surrounding the stealth release of Beyoncé’s self-titled fifth album, “Drunk In Love” became one of her most noteworthy hits to date. Easily the most charismatic and compelling of her many collaborations with hubby Jay-Z since “Crazy In Love” ten years earlier, this loosely structured, seductive alternative R&B slow jam took Bey into a bold new stratosphere.
One the half-decade’s most riveting newcomers, Lorde slithered onto the scene and cunningly convinced alternative, dance, and urban radio to make her their next poster child. “Royals” became so popular in so many circles simultaneously, that, like some sort of Big Bang, Lorde became a bonafide pop star. Still, this stripped down hit never ceased to feel completely cool.
03. “Midnight City”
With electronica once again sitting at the helm of alternative rock, M83 managed to deliver the most triumphant, awe-inspiring, and powerful moment of the decade. “Midnight City” is a complex mosaic of parts that each, on their own, feel muddled and bewildering, but fuze together to create an explosion of emotion that only a cosmic track like this can consistently induce.
02. “Get Lucky”
Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers
It was a threesome that, while intriguing, didn’t look appetizing on paper. However, by enlisting an iconic dance legend/guitar god and the most important and enduring producer/collaborator of this generation, we were all simultaneously reminded how blasphemous it is not to trust the instincts of this ingenious duo. “Get Lucky” gave Daft Punk the kind of attention they’ve long deserved.
01. “Rolling In The Deep”
Adele began her unparalleled dominance this half-decade with the unavoidable “Rolling In The Deep.” This juggernaut comfortably sat across various formats, and through her chart dominance, unimaginable sales, and countless awards, this track gloriously resonated as a remarkable landmark in pop music. Despite stiff competition, no track has yet to challenge its magnificence.