Join us as we celebrate the best music, film, and television of the decade. Today, we celebrate the 100 Best Songs of the 2010s.
Fuck it. It’s been a good decade.
I know, I know, we’re not supposed to be positive. Optimism is naivety. The world is run by fools, nothing is good, we’re all going to die before our time, etc. etc.
However, it recently dawned on me that often the most vocal doomsday preppers and preachers are those who’ve always had it good. Those who’ve had the privilege of being granted permission before they’ve even asked. The decades before this one have always been ruled by the palatable, the approachable, the keepers of the status quo.
But, in the 2010s, the outcasts and eccentrics reigned supreme. We talked about mental health and scheduled time with our therapist out loud during our daily commute. We coined the term self-care and redefined and realigned with it in a direct reaction to the #hustle culture of the early aughts. We walked in women’s marches, amplified the tenets of Black Lives Matter, and told those who misused their power that their time was up. We bolstered LGBTQ issues and legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country.
Yes. Much of this was in reaction to power structures that shouldn’t have been and are still in place. But that doesn’t mean we don’t get credit for squaring up and saying enough. We might not be where we need to be, but here’s to leveling the fuck up.
What you’re about to see is a soundtrack for those moments, songs that captured the essence of the past 10 years. Montage music for the misfits, if you will.
Through the filter of the 2010s, Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” isn’t just a dance song, but a primer on subdued defiance. Kanye’s “Power” becomes a prophetic warning. Father John Misty’s “Chateau Lobby #4” in all its dysfunction and irony can still call itself a relatable love song. Whether it’s the post-collegiate slump captured in Vampire Weekend’s “Diane Young” or the cathartic chorus detailing a triumph return to self in Florence and The Machine’s “Shake It Out”, the songs we chose not only speak to the ethos of those who wrote them, but to those who listened to them … and why.
In an attempt to collate the undeniable and entangled feelings of the last 3,650 days, we’ve pulled together the songs we leaned into during the heartbreak, political turmoil, celebration, and devastation that was the 2010s. From the hip-hop political to pop sensational, the sultry R&B to the new frontiers of rock, our favorite tracks broke down social norms, colored outside genre lines, and just did whatever the fuck they wanted, then called it art. I’d like to think that in some ways, we all spent the last decade doing that very same thing.
100. Queens of the Stone Age – “My God Is the Sun” (2013)
Queens of the Stone Age returned in 2013 after a six-year hiatus with the brilliant …Like Clockwork LP. “My God Is the Sun” was the lead single, and it brings together nearly everything QOTSA do best, from stoner metal to taut desert rock. The riff is undeniable, the rhythm section pummels with urgency in a way it hadn’t since “Songs for the Deaf”, and Josh Homme’s croon is impossibly charismatic and sexy. On an album full of sonic detours and exploration, “My God Is the Sun” is the monolithic slab of rock that connects the group’s past with their future. –Jim Shahen
99. BTS – “Fake Love” (2018)
Think about how many people haven’t heard the biggest band in the world and maybe at first you’ll grimace about the death of the monoculture. Then maybe you’ll have the epiphany that it’s a good thing for complacent, old America to play catch-up. BTS’ anti-gravity dance routines and anything-goes stylistic breadth have resulted in visionary synth-pop,hip-hop, Halsey-pop, hair metal, and double albums. The breathy anthem-ballad “Fake Love” is from the latter and helped set records for the seven-piece K-Pop juggernauts on complacent, old America’s charts. Not bad for a boy band transfixed with Jungian psychology that barely sings in English. –Dan Weiss
98. Tyler, The Creator – “EARFQUAKE” (2019)
In “EARFQUAKE”, Tyler, the Creator promises he’s “for real this time.” From getting banned from entering the UK to rapping he’ll “stab Bruno Mars in his goddamn esophagus,” Tyler was often viewed as a callous, explosive, and jocular individual. But on IGOR, Tyler isn’t joking. Like its predecessor, Flower Boy, the album is baked in ornate production, flirting with ideas of uncertainty and a crumbling love. The first glimpse into this uncertainty is found on “EARFQUAKE”. Originally written with Justin Bieber in mind, the catchy standout single balances a mixture of off-kilter harmonies and brazen instrumentals depicting Tyler struggling to maintain his grip on his relationship, begging for some “conformation for how you feel” and trying to literally calm the “storm” by affirming “it’s [his] fault.” Taken in total, “EARFQUAKE” serves as an emblem for Tyler’s mastery and growth as not only a musician, producer and songwriter, but also as a person in general. –Samantha Small
97. Frightened Rabbit – “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” (2010)
Much of Frightened Rabbit’s music is somberly re-contextualized in the wake of frontman Scott Hutchison’s tragic death in 2018. While a song about walking into the sea to drown seems eerily close to the circumstances of his suicide, “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” is actually a beautiful analogy about finding courage in the face of uncertainty. Coming from one of the genre’s most complicated songwriters, it’s delivered as a pristine example of unfussy early-2010s indie and one of Hutchinson’s masterpieces. The track remains a stirring note of hope that will continue carrying listeners onward well after Hutchinson departed for shores unknown. –Ben Kaye
96. Pusha T – “If You Know, You Know” (2018)
Of the five albums and dozens of songs produced by Kanye West at Jackson Hole last summer, there was no beat as spicy as “If You Know You Know” and no MC as ready to eat it up. Pusha T is the preeminent craftsman of coke rap, making syllabic avalanches sound as natural as a conversation over coffee. The beat is full of bravado and humor, perfect for both punchlines and straight stunting. So much of the time, it’s both: “If you know ‘bout the carport/ The trap door’s supposed to be awkward/ If you know, you know.” The whole song is delivered this way, with half a shrug and a cocky smile. –Wren Graves
95. Katy Perry – “Firework” (2010)
Katy Perry had hit her stride by her third album, Teenage Dream. It was pop music escapism at its best, and “Firework” was the ring leader in the getaway. Sweet without being cheesy, positive without being overbearing, motivational without being condescending, it gave a whole generation of sad song lovers something to dance about. Perry did, however, want the track to be more than just something to sing along to. After dedicating the hit to the “It Gets Better” project, Perry shared the meaning of the song, saying, “A lot of times it’s only us that’s standing in the way of reaching our goals, fulfilling our destinies, being the best version of who we possibly can be, so that’s why I wrote it.” — Erica Campbell
94. Travis Scott – “Sicko Mode” (2018)
It was the track that had us out like a light. As a three-part suite from the seamless opening of Travis Scott’s third album, ASTROWORLD, it doesn’t open with Scott himself, but the uncredited surprise of Drake in a rampant back-and-forth that shook 2018. As Scott’s first No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, “Sicko Mode” also spent 30 weeks at top 10. With a screwed-up bridge featuring Swae Lee and posthumous vocals from Big Hawk, “Sicko Mode” was a captivating hit that wrapped up the two-tier Wish You Were Here tour dates with vomit-filled animation on the show’s projectors. The rage goes on. –Jaelani Turner Williams
93. Wilco – “Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)” (2011)
Never doubt Jeff Tweedy and his need for more paper. When Wilco go long, they earn it, and “One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)” is no exception. The closing track to 2011’s The Whole Love finds Tweedy wrestling with themes of mortality, religion, and closure for a good 12 minutes, churning out what feels like an indie drama in the vein of Baumbach or Anderson. Yet, while the song does feel cinematic, it’s also surprisingly sparse for the Chicago outfit, a trick they’ve been exploring all decade. It fits the source material, though, to which Tweedy keeps up an unspoken conversation between a son and his deceased, overbearing father. Devastating and beautiful. –Michael Roffman
92. A Tribe Called Quest – “We the People…” (2016)
Three minutes, two verses, one hook. That’s all it took Tribe to deliver a sprawling (and scathing) synopsis of America just nine days after Trump’s election. Q-Tip, still subscribing to the “Low End Theory”, delivers punishing production (sampling Black Sabbath) liable to punch you in the gut just as hard as their indictment on rising racism, classism, xenophobia, homophobia, gentrification, and gender inequality just to name a few discussion topics. Despite a recording hiatus of 18 years, the track is unforgettably urgent, featuring some of the most laser-precise bars of Tip and the late Phife Dawg’s career. –Christopher Thiessen
91. Rosalía – “MALEMENTE Cap.1: Augurio” (2018)
The sensation of hearing Rosalía’s earthquake of a voice for the first time is like discovering a new color. Maybe it’s because hearing the 26-year-old Spanish singer’s signature vibrato over her striking fusion of flamenco and polyrhythmic pop is the closest thing you’ve ever heard to modern-day opera. Or rather, opera that even classical haters (hi) can enjoy when stretched across piles of hand claps that gesture at Timbaland and reggaeton. Or maybe it’s the videos. “Malamente” was merely the opening battering ram that sent 2018’s astonishing El Mar Querer skyrocketing; few artists are so poised to completely revolutionize the 2020s. –Dan Weiss
90. Father John Misty – “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” (2015)
The scariest part about falling in love is being vulnerable. And that’s even scarier to someone like Josh Tillman, who consistently finds a way to wrap his most genuine sentiments in a blanket of cynicism. However, “Chateau Lobby #4” is a departure from that. Tillman uses the four-minute track to express his feelings for his wife, Emma, through hidden jokes guised in romantic declarations, most of which are incredibly specific to the development of their relationship. Although full of sharp remarks in usual FJM style, the song gradually becomes more and more intimate, eventually exploding into a bombastic horn section when Tillman realizes just how big falling in love is. –Jennifer Irving
89. Lizzo – “Juice” (2019)
The glacial guitars recall The Police. Everything else is the best disco you’ve heard in years, narrated by the world’s greatest Twitter feed: “I’m the pudding in the proof,” “I be dripping so much sauce got a bih looking like Ragu,” “No, I’m not a snack at all, baby, I’m the whole damn meal.” Then there’s the astonishing bridge about someone else’s man trying to sneak into her DMs, which resonates extra for her many plus-size followers who’ve endured being some dude’s (attempted) secret. Lizzo’s heart is the mirrorball but every facet of her is gonna shine. As they say, iconic. –Dan Weiss
88. FKA twigs – “Two Weeks” (2014)
If we could know what the sirens of Greek mythology sang to seduce sailors to their deaths, it’d probably sound close to FKA twigs’ “Two Weeks”. It evokes the feeling of a mesmerizingly horny hymn — twigs’ lush, breathy falsetto feels utterly incantatory layered over that silken drone of synth and rumbling drumbeat (courtesy of Arca and co-producer/writer Emile Haynie, respectively). While the song is a pure exaltation of female sexual prowess, the vein of tenderness in the way she makes promises like “I’ll put you first, just close your eyes and dream about it” is what makes it completely spellbinding. –Aline Dolinh
87. Snail Mail – “Pristine” (2018)
Ah, unrequited love; it’s the subject of many a teen rock tune. But not often is it so well-delivered as on Snail Mail’s “Pristine”. Lindsey Jordan wrestles with love, change, and identity, allowing us to be her diary as she scribbles and scratches notes with the solitary crunch of a guitar, her voice restrained so that no one else will overhear her insecurities or confessions of love. It’s cathartically melodramatic, hyperbolically romantic. Yet, every single time Jordan sings, “Who do you change for/ Who’s top of your world” in the crescendoing outro, we’re transported to memories of adolescent love’s hopelessness. –Christopher Thiessen
86. Ellie Goulding – “Lights” (2011)
Big, brilliant, and euphoric is singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding’s 2011 hit, “Lights”. The British pop star delivers breathy, comforting vocals atop zesty, melodic undertones. The track feels much like being in an ethereal dream full of color, packed with a potent pounding of synth keys and a simple, yet poignant, chorus (“You show the lights that stop me turn to stone/ You shine them when I’m alone/ And so I tell myself that I’ll be strong/ And dreaming when they’re gone/ ‘Cause they’re calling, calling, calling me home”). The multi-layered tune is much like a well-crafted cocktail — flavorful and balanced. Certainly, a classic pop record to be enjoyed well beyond the first listen. — Gabrielle Pharms
85. Alabama Shakes – “Don’t Wanna Fight” (2015)
That muscular guitar riff is a great example of why Brittany Howard is one of the most interesting songwriters in rock, but the strangled scream that kicks off the song shows why she’s among the greatest rock vocalists of her generation. You can hear it in the weariness as she sings “Lying down ain’t easy” and the staccato flourishes she lends to “Why can’t I catch my breath?” It’s a breathtaking performance, full of nuance and power, sadness and anger and loss. Howard doesn’t just have more ideas than most of her peers; she has more talent to pull them off. –Wren Graves
84. Johnny Jewell – “Windswept” (2017)
On the titular track to his 2017 solo album, Johnny Jewel seemingly bottles the crushing angst and dread of the past decade. It’s a somber jazz medication that soothes as much as it bruises, losing itself in Michel Rubini synths and a jazz shuffle befit for the Peanuts gang. It was so good, in fact, that David Lynch scooped it up for his Twin Peaks revival that year, pairing the track with his iconic lead Kyle MacLachlan, whose zombified Dale Cooper/Dougie Jones watched aimlessly as uncompromising change casually drifted by him. Two years later, we’re still Dale/Dougie, clutching on to that coffee, staring off into space, and wondering with all our heart, “What year is this?” –Michael Roffman
83. Kanye West – “Black Skinhead” (2013)
Provocative, menacing, distorted, backed by Tarzan-like screams, and punctuated with “Black” spoken authoritatively throughout, Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead” drummed in the era of Yeezus. It calling out a “post-racial” America. More than just a track, it squared up to religious ridicule and scrutiny West had received from middle America, with an unpalatable and compulsive West introducing the world to the lyrics “You see a black man with a white woman/ At the top floor they gone come to kill King Kong” live on Saturday Night. “Black Skinhead” was, and is, West at his best, calling out power dynamics and bravely pushing hip-hop into sonic terrain it had never navigated before. –Erica Campbell
82. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper – “Shallow” (2018)
In crafting a list of the best songs of a decade, it’s easy to point to the lyrics we remember nine years later. But when it comes to those tunes still powering through their adolescence, we ask ourselves, “Is this simply of the moment or an enduring force?” “Shallow” incites a gut-feeling of the latter. In an increasingly shallow reality — a culture desperately clinging to the rush of a “like” or “follow,” the modern currency of validation — we all silently ache for depth. “Shallow” belongs on this list because you probably spent a lot of solo nights crying into a slice of pizza over it, sure, but also because it serves as the emotional locus of an entire generation, an anecdotal anthem for the pains of modernity. –Irene Monokandilos
81. Nicki Minaj – “Super Bass” (2010)
After a series of ballads (“Your Love”, “Moment 4 Life”, “Right Thru Me”) from her Cinderella-story debut album, Pink Friday, Nicki Minaj hit pop stardom with “Super Bass”. Backed by the melodic rasp of co-songwriter Ester Dean, the flossy track was an ode to men of all types, but especially those who made Minaj’s heart pound (or rather, boom-badoom-boom-bass). As Minaj hit No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, her mixtape heyday was merged with international notoriety. The fluorescent video for “Super Bass” was filled with male eye candy galore and a tantalizing neon lap dance that still glows nine years later. –Jaelani Turner Williams