100 Best Songs of the 2010s - Rolling Stone
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The 100 Best Songs of the 2010s

From Robyn to Taylor to Kendrick to J Balvin to Drake — here are the greatest songs of the last 10 years

best songs of 2010s, taylor swift, bad bunny, lil nas x

Images in Illustration from Getty Images

In the 2010s, streaming gave us a granular sense of the songs people loved and the artists they wanted to hear, and even as streaming services tried to segment taste into fabricated sub-sub-genre playlists, people pursued their own interests and artists were free to follow their arrows. Our list of the decade’s best songs includes downhearted divas, country renegades, rap radicals, history-bending, feelings-sharing rock bands, and Latin-pop stars with global ambitions. It was a great decade for songs that felt like classic, summery Top 40, and musical hybrids that would’ve seemed unthinkable just 10 years ago.

RELATED: ROLLING STONE’S BEST ALBUMS OF THE DECADE LIST

 

Britney Spears

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95

Britney Spears, “How I Roll”

Left for dead in the late ‘00s, Spears bounced back in 2011 with Femme Fatale, her best album, filled with intricately fizzy tracks concocted with the assistance of Sweden’s finest technicians. “How I Roll” had it all: a bloopy bubble-pop groove, creepy heavy breathing, double-time “Iko Iko” handclap jive, random wintry piano notes, sexy Cylon backing vocals, a late-breaking organ that seemed pasted in from an old ? and the Mysterians song and much, much more. Most hearteningly, there was Spears’ coolly, resiliently imploring, “I wanna go downtown where my posse’s at/I got nine lives like a kitty cat.” It was the purr of a fighter. —J.D.

Future Islands

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94

Future Islands, “Seasons (Waiting on You)”

The song — a spare, yearning synth-pop banger that led off the fourth LP by Baltimore-via–North Carolina outfit Future Islands — didn’t exactly scream “ready for TV.” And yet there was David Letterman, rushing onstage to congratulate the band after a staggeringly intense performance of “Seasons (Waiting on You)” on a 2014 episode of the Late Show. The co-sign drew well-deserved attention to frontman Sam Herring and Co.’s knack for disguising an emotional gut punch as gauzy retro glimmer. —H.S.

A$AP Rocky

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93

A$AP Rocky, “Palace”

“Palace” remains the perfect distillation of what made A$AP Rocky such a captivating figure at the beginning of the decade. Every element of the song is excessive — the cinematic Clams Casino production, the pitched-down, chopped-and-screwed-esque chorus, the extended verse stacked with double-time flows, and Houston slang delivered by a then-unknown Harlem rapper. But in that complexity was a premonition of borderless, regionally fluid music’s dominance. Eight years later, it’s embarrassing to think of the hand-wringing that took place over whether a New York rapper could build a marketable image by mining the musical stylings of the South. Now it’s impossible to listen to rap at decade’s end and envision a world where those borders were ever important. —C. Holmes

Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd

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92

Rae Sremmurd feat. Juicy J, “Powerglide”

Mississippi brother duo Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee broke out with the ecstatic pop rap of “No Flex Zone,” and kicked things into epic high gear with songs like “Powerglide,” from their mammoth triple album, SR3MM. Over a hulking slice of luxuriantly stretched-out post-trap psychedelia, courtesy of producer Mike Will Made It, they rapped about rolling up in their slime-green Lamb with the peanut butter inside with the glazed glee of kids in a candy store — that is also a weed dispensary, a strip club, and a space ship. —J.D. 

Tove Styrke

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91

Tove Styrke, “Say My Name”

She wasn’t the most high-profile Scandinavian pop singer of the decade (heck, she wasn’t even the highest-profile Tove), but Swedish Idol also-ran/Lorde opening act Tove Styrke turned out a bunch of clever, catchy singles that should’ve lodged her amid the curated playlists of every Robyn fan alive. “Say My Name” is so blissfully unaware that it shares a title with a Destiny Child classic, as if the tune inhabits a wholly different pop universe. Crushed out and springy, “Say My Name” bounces along on a spare snatch of ukulele, with Styrke telling her lover to say her name until its worn out “like a sweater that you love,” at once playful and demanding. Truly one of the 2010s’ undiscovered pop gems. —J.D.  

Alessia Cara

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90

Alessia Cara, “Here”

The sample that Alessia Cara flips on “Here” is the 1971 Isaac Hayes track “Ike’s Rap II,” once a staple of Nineties trip-hop groups like Portishead and Tricky — and, by extension, a staple of a lot of sex playlists. Cara takes a different approach to Hayes’ creeping melody, spinning it as the soundtrack for moderate social anxiety at a cool-kids’ party. But Cara isn’t merely a shrinking violet, asserting a “you do your thing, I do mine” attitude toward the cliques around her. Being an introvert has never sounded so chill. —C.S.

M.I.A.

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89

M.I.A., “Bad Girls”

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, but it would certainly help if you had M.I.A. For all that the British musician-activist has done to get experimental — and controversial — over the span of two decades, her unbeatable skill is taking the temperature of pop and getting five years ahead of the curve. “Bad Girls” predicted the dancehall/worldbeat craze that would take over radio by the late 2010s, and its provocative music video still stands out as one of the iconic visuals of the decade. —C.S.

Disclosure

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88

Disclosure feat. Sam Smith, “Latch”

2012 saw a glut of bro-step and mediocre electro-house tracks that defined what most people thought of as “EDM” in the first half of the decade. (Sidenote: Are most of these tracks danceable, or are you only supposed to jump up and down to them?) In that landscape, how did Disclosure manage to make a radio-friendly electronic song sound original? The answer: Put it in a swinging 6/8 time signature and feature a vocal from then-little-known Sam Smith. Nearly eight years later, the song is still just as weird — and weirdly addictive — as ever. And you can actually dance to it. —C.S. 

Sleigh Bells

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87

Sleigh Bells, “Rill Rill”

One of the last of the major Williamsburg indie-rock groups to make their mark on the late aughts/early 2010s, Sleigh Bells helped define the ecstatic, head-banging noise-pop sound of the decade with their Funkadelic-sampling “Rill Rill.” The Brooklyn duo made electric guitars sound fresh, visceral, and cinematic for a new generation, and the pop girls all wanted what they had on Treats. But “Rill Rill” will always be “Rill Rill,” their demon-cheerleader ode to teenage solidarity. —C.S. 

Fifth Harmony

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86

Fifth Harmony, “Work From Home”

Fifth Harmony’s 2016 smash hit with Ty Dolla $ign tested the limits of how many double entendres regarding work and labor could be packed into one three-minute song. Just in case you didn’t get the steaminess of lines like “Let’s put it into motion/I’ma give you a promotion,” the girl group’s Director X-helmed music video — starring a group of muscled, oiled-up construction workers — made sure the message rang loud and clear. —.C.S. 

FKA Twigs

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85

FKA Twigs, “2 Weeks”

FKA Twigs defined the sumptuous yet jagged electronic landscapes of 2010s R&B with her debut, LP1, and especially its standout track “Two Weeks.” The former video backup dancer managed to turn the somewhat tired idea of mixing lust with religious fervor into something wholly unique. “Higher than a motherfucker, dreaming of you as my lover,” she breathes over a beat that sounds like an alien spaceship taking off. For anyone who’d listen, Twigs was more than willing to beam them up to her celestial plane. —C.S.

Bomba Estereo

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 19: Singer Liliana Saumet of performs onstage during the 16th Latin GRAMMY Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on November 19, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by )

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84

Bomba Estereo, “Soy Yo”

Since their inception in 2005, Colombian electro-cumbia pioneers Bomba Estéreo have incited tropical mayhem on dancefloors all over the world. But their greatest rebel yell came in the form of the funky, unflinchingly feminist single “Soy Yo.” Hallmarked by a peacocking flute sample, the marching Afro-Caribbean beat is matched by sound advice from frontwoman Lilian Saumet: “When they criticize you,” she sings in Spanish, “You only say, ‘Soy yo!'” As Saumet told Vogue in 2016, “This song is especially for women…. It’s important for all of us to say, ‘This is me’; I don’t want to be treated this way, I don’t want to be a sexual object, I don’t want to be what men want me to be — I just want to accept and love myself.” —S.E. 

Sky Ferreira

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83

Sky Ferreria, “Everything Is Embarrassing”

One of the 2010s finest millennial anthems. Produced by Ariel Rechtshaid and Dev Hynes (a.k.a. Blood Orange), “Everything Is Embarrassing” was poppy but not too poppy, with Ferreira singing about a relationship gone wrong in a way that ably embodied the all-too prevalent malaise of the earlier part of the decade: “I’ve been hating everything/Everything that could have been/Could have been my anything/Now everything’s embarrassing.” Ferreira followed up the hit track with 2013’s Night Time, My Time — and we’ve been awaiting a moody-catchy follow-up ever since. —B.E. 

Lorde

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82

Lorde, “Green Light”

Lorde had already seemingly established her niche in the pop world — the precocious New Zealand teen serving up high-school subtweets like “Royals.” So it was a shock to hear Lorde find her adult voice with “Green Light.” She rages about a fickle ex who claims he loves the beach (such a damn liar!) and orders different drinks at the same bar (so rude!) over the disco-gospel piano. As Lorde said, it’s “me shouting at the universe, wanting to let go, wanting to go forward, to get the green light from life.” And did she see that green light she wanted? “Oh, my God. Yes.” —R.S. 

Nick Jonas

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81

Nick Jonas, “Jealous”

Nick Jonas restyled himself as a solo star with “Jealous,” when the Jonas Brothers effectively went on pause after Lines, Vines and Trying Times. For the Jo-est of Bros, it was his first time reaching the Top Ten without the rest of the family. “Jealous” made a glitzy sidestep into Eighties-inspired pop funk; as he explained, “It’s kind of a new-agey Lionel Richie vibe.” Nick capped off his decade by marrying Priyanka Chopra and achieving comeback glory with the Jonas Brothers’
reunion. —R.S.

Angel Olsen

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80

Angel Olsen, “Shut Up Kiss Me”

Angel Olsen had spent the better part of the decade as the lovesick queen of low-fi. But for all the sincerity that fueled 2014’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness, Olsen emerged anew from the ashes with her glitzy, no-nonsense comeback LP, My Woman. In the smoldering rock & roll highlight “Shut Up Kiss Me,” Olsen both venerates and parodies the shivering Roy Orbison effect that shaped her own brand of folk-rock romanticism. (“If I’m out of sight,” she quips operatically, “then take another look around!”) But the real kicker was the video, in which she appeared roller-skating through a sleepy suburb wearing a striking silver-tinsel wig — which triggered spit-takes from longtime fans. She told Rolling Stone in 2016, “I just didn’t have time to hire someone to do my hair all fancy!” —S.E. 

Frank Ocean

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79

Frank Ocean, “Nights”

The two-part suite at the heart of Blonde weaves tart one-liners (“Did you call me from a séance?”) and memoiristic details into the most vivid flashback on an album that’s all about memories and their meanings. The words evoke Ocean’s adolescence in Nineties New Orleans and the dislocated years that followed, but the constantly shifting musical ground — from the chiming rock chords that open the song to the druggy synth haze and world-of-echo ambience that gradually overtake it — places “Nights” somewhere out of time, deep in the mind of a free-form genius. —S.V.L.

Snail Mail

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78

Snail Mail, “Pristine”

A new kind of rock wunderkind, while growing up, Lindsay Jordan took guitar lessons from Mary Timony of the great indie-rock bands Helium and Wild Flag. Jordan arrived fully formed at 18 years old on her debut LP, Lush, and its standout, “Pristine.” “Is there any better feeling than coming clean,” she sings, as her guitar slashes and shimmers and reaches for the next epiphany. “I’ve always been a really big fan of guitar solos,” she told Rolling Stone. “It’s nice to go see bands and hear guitar solos without people throwing tomatoes.” —J.D. 

Tame Impala

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77

Tame Impala, “Let It Happen”

Eight minutes of sweet soft-serve space-pop slop from Kevin Parker, the decade’s most successful psychedelic sailor. “Let It Happen” is a tangerine-dream-weave of pie-eyed cathedral organ, throw-pillow soul stomp, and Parker’s sweetly zonked lyrical gibberish. In any other era, he might have been some gnomic prog-rock guru. But in our adventurous pop age, he’s become a go-to superproducer, collaborating with Lady Gaga and Kanye West, and getting one of his songs covered by Rihanna. —J.D. 

The Monkees

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76

The Monkees, “Me & Magdalena”

To create their 50th-anniversary LP Good Times!, the Monkees turned creative control over to lifelong fans of the group, like producer Adam Schlesinger and songwriters like Rivers Cuomo, Paul Weller, and Noel Gallagher. The result is, improbably enough, the greatest album of the 2010s by a Sixties band, highlighted by the achingly gorgeous love ballad “Me & Magdalena,” by Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. The voices of Michael Nesmith and Micky Dolenz blend together as perfectly as they did in the Sixties. And now with decades of wisdom and tough loss underneath their glossy exterior (beloved members Peter Tork and Davy Jones are no longer with us), they somehow mean more than ever. —A.G.

Kanye

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75

Kanye West, “Blood on the Leaves”

Nina Simone’s 1965 cover of “Strange Fruit” is a protest song against the lynching of African Americans. TNGHT’s 2016 song “R U Ready” is an instrumental trap song about nothing. C Murder’s hook “Fuck them other niggas ‘cause I’m down with my niggas,” from Snoop Dogg’s 1999 song “Down 4 my Niggas” is about, well being down for your brothers. None of these songs had anything to do with one another. Then Kanye West decided to combine the three into a sacrilegious yet infectious Auto-Tuned screed called “Blood on the Leaves.” The Yeezus standout is about a lot — molly-fueled ecstasy, the temptation of modern celebrity, posting “Bad Bitch Alert” on Instagram — but most important, it’s a monument to how much West can accomplish when he unleashes his unbridled id and ego upon the world. —C. Holmes 

Lil Uzi Vert

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74

Lil Uzi Vert, “XO Tour Llif3”

At the tail end of the 2010s, chaos reigned, thanks to an industry splintered by technology changes and a sudden rush of label prospectors eager to capitalize on a new, anarchic class of rappers unconcerned with form, subject matter, or rap sheets, but still very much concerned with money. It’s only been a few years, but the wave of rappers who emerged in 2016 and 2017 have largely already washed away. Except Lil Uzi Vert, thanks in no small part to “XO Tour Llif3.” His mutating chart-topper takes everything the young rapper is capable of — machine-gun-sputter flow, digitally unhinged singing, desperate pathos — and squeezes them together, diamond-tight. B.K. 

 

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift is scheduled to drop a new holiday song, "Christmas Tree Farm." But her cats aren't as excited about the news as she is.

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73

Taylor Swift, “Blank Space”

The sound of a pop star grabbing control of her image in the catchiest way possible. Swift spins depictions of her as a boy-crazy megalomaniac into a sweeping pop anthem. “I’ll come up with a line that I think is clever, like, ‘Darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream.’ I just pick them and put them where they fit and construct the bridge out of more lines,” Swift said. ” ‘Blank Space’ was like the culmination of all my best ones, one after the other.” —C. Hoard

Ozuna (C) Casper Magico, Nio Garcia

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72

Casper, Nio García, Darell, Nicky Jam, Bad Bunny, Ozuna, “Te Boté”

Puerto Rican MCs Nio García, Casper Mágico, and Darell dominated the island airwaves with their no-frills kiss-off track “Te Boté” (or, “I Dumped You”). And their seven-minute reggaeton jaunt upgraded to an international smash success thanks to this remix, featuring Latin-pop heavyweight champs Ozuna, Bad Bunny, and Nicky Jam. The urbano playboys take turns distilling wounded comebacks to their exes (and boasts of their next encounters). Most notable line: “Baby, life is a cycle,” sings Bad Bunny; “If it doesn’t work, I recycle.” —S.E. 

Charli XCX

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71

Charli XCX, “Boys”

All the fun of a daydreamed crush, distilled into pure pop ka-ching! “Boys” put Charli XCX into conversation with some of the previous century’s smoothest cuties, winking across the dance floor at Marvin, Ringo, Madonna, and Super Mario. But it’s best experienced as a chaser to the two album-length shots of warped club music that Charli herself released the same year. Number 1 Angel and Pop 2 sounded like the future; with “Boys,” she showed her killer instinct for right now. —S.V.L.

Kanye West

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70

Kanye West, “Ultralight Beam”

A viral Instagram post from a Bible-thumping four-year-old, the soothing falsetto of the Dream, Kelly Price delivering a body-shaking performance, a career-defining Chance the Rapper verse, Rick Rubin and Swizz Beats production, a passionate Kirk Franklin prayer — these are the base elements of “Ultralight Beam.” The masterful introduction to 2016’s The Life of Pablo was the culmination of the 12-year journey Kanye West started on “Jesus Walks.” More than half of “Ultralight Beam” is Kanye-less, but it’s in this absence where West soars as a possessed choir director bringing out the best of his collaborators in service of a nearly six-minute opus. By the time Chance declares, “I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail,” the statement feels universal. —C. Holmes

Car Seat Headrest

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69

Car Seat Headrest, “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”

Sweater-wearing indie-rocker Will Toledo might not seem like the type to come up with a Who-size anthem, but he did just that with the enormous “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales.” His suburban basement feels as big as an arena as he builds from tightly-held verse to holler-along chorus, as if barreling through his doubts about all the drunk-driving killer whales out there to create something explosively promising and affirming. As Toledo said, “I grew up listening to pop music and so that’s what I aspire to as a musician.” —J.D.

Joanna Newsom

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68

Joanna Newsom, “Good Intentions Paving Company”

A paradigmatic Seventies Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter piano ballad, except that it was released in 2010, is seven minutes long, and gets capped with a trombone solo. The narrative never slacks, starting as a highway meditation on an awesome and troubled homeland — “Waving the flag/Feelin’ it drag” — and ending up as a lover’s pledge of allegiance. “Hello, my old country, hello. Stars are just beginning to appear,” Newsom sings in the voice of an animé warrior sprite, flush with hope and wonder that feel even more essential than when she recorded it a decade ago. —W.H. 

Icona Pop

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67

Icona Pop feat. Charli XCX, “I Love it”

Ransacking the dance floor with one of the more bumper-sticker-worthy generational salvos of the 2010s — “You’re so damn hard to please/We gotta kill this switch/You’re from the Seventies/But I’m a Nineties bitch” — the Swedish sloganeers of Icona Pop, along with collaborator Charli XCX, turned aggravation into euphoria on their breakout hit. “We like when you can listen to a song when you are happy and you can listen to it when you are sad,” Icona Pop’s Caroline Hjelt told Rolling Stone. “Sometimes we have a message in the song that might be kind of angry or sad, but the song sounds happy.” —J.D.

Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson

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66

Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk”

It started as a jam — Mars on drums, Ronson on bass, co-producer Jeff Bhasker on keys — but by the time it was over it would eat up hundreds of hours, six studios, and more than a bit of Ronson’s well-being. At one point, taking a lunch break from the 82 takes it took to nail the guitar part, he fainted. “Let’s just say I redecorated the walls in the bathroom of this nice restaurant and had to be carried out,” he told NPR. It was worth it. Stuffing a lifetime’s worth of ear candy into a shifting set of Seventies grooves that recalled Ronson’s DJ roots, “Uptown Funk” held the top of the charts for 14 weeks, kick-starting a 2010s funk revival that Mars himself and Lizzo would blow wide open. —J.L. 

 

Kanye West

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65

Kanye West, “Bound 2”

Seventy-six seconds into “On Sight,” the gleefully abrasive opener to Kanye West’s gleefully abrasive Yeezus, he says (via choral sample) that he intends to give the audience what they need, not what they want. For the next 35 minutes, he does just that, coarsening his textures into something industrial and vital and new. Then, just to prove he can, West brings the beauty back. Over a roughly looped sample of the Ponderosa Twins Plus One — with occasional interjections from Brenda Lee and Charlie Wilson — West returns to his roguish side, penning a filthy ode to his new wife at the time, Kim Kardashian West. There’s a reason we’re still paying attention to West after the decade he’s had; he’s always capable of something you never see coming. —B.K.

 

Adele

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64

Adele, “Someone Like You”

“When I was writing it I was feeling pretty miserable and pretty lonely, which I guess kind of contradicts ‘Rolling in the Deep,’ ” Adele said of this soaring, desolate piano ballad, co-authored with Minnesota alt-rock songwriter Dan Wilson. Its combination of overpowering vocal firepower and emotional vulnerability is peak Adele, and it remains one of her most jaw-dropping performances, topping charts around the globe. —J.D.   

Nelly (C) performs onstage with Brian Kelley (L) and Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line

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63

Florida Georgia Line feat. Nelly, “Cruise (Remix)”

It was the song that dropped a thousand tailgates. For better or worse, Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” started the bro-country movement and spawned so many imitators. It’s easy to hear why: The track is a monster jam, produced within an inch of its undeniably perfect life by Joey Moi. There are manufactured drumbeats, a looped banjo, and bad grammar (“Baby, you a song!”), and together it all signaled something different for country music. FGL’s Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley delivered the goods on their own, but “Cruise” exploded when Nelly got onboard for a crossover remix. This isn’t country music — this is lightning in a bottle. —J.H.

Miley Cyrus

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62

Miley Cyrus, “We Can’t Stop”

For a song about partying all night (’til we see the sunlight, all right!), “We Can’t Stop” is awfully sad. The slow-rolling piano, the half-hearted drug references, the down-shifted vocals insisting “we can do what we want” — the more you listen to it, the more it starts to sound like “It’s My Party” with the crying demoted to subtext. Which makes sense, since Cyrus’ Bangerz era was the cresting peak of a no-fuck-giving, hella-meaningless wave of American pop. A few years later, she renounced all that, but she got it right the first time: “We Can’t Stop,” in all its nihilistic glory, nailed something about the soul of the 2010s. —S.V.L.

Camila Cabello

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61

Camila Cabello, “Never Be the Same”

There’s an argument to be made that what separates the truly great pop stars from the merely OK is the ability to make a hit out of an unremarkable song. Whatever you want to call that quality, Camila Cabello’s got it for days. Gliding effortlessly from raspy real-talk to dizzy falsetto, she goes all-in on the story of a love that’s like drugs, one she couldn’t give up if she tried, yada yada. You’ve heard a million songs like this before, and for the three minutes and 47 seconds that Cabello is singing, you forget them all. —S.V.L.

 

Rihanna

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60

Rihanna, “Diamonds”

Most of her Top 40 peers would have sounded absurd singing this full-throated celebration of true love and starry skies, but Rihanna made it sound like scripture. (Just for fun, take a moment to imagine Taylor Swift or Katy Perry getting away with “Palms rise to the universe as we moonshine and molly.”) Rihanna’s at her most radiant here, stretching out vowels like psychedelic taffy — “So shiiiine briiiiiight, toniiiiiiiiight, you and IIIIIIIIIIIII . . .” — over majestic Scandinavian synths. Hit singles come and go, but “Diamonds” is forever. —S.V.L.

Lady Gaga

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59

Lady Gaga, “Edge of Glory”

Plenty of young rock dreamers over the years have tried their best to summon a little of that old E Street magic, with most of them learning that some things are easier born than run. Leave it to Lady Gaga to outdo them all by getting Clarence Clemons himself to play a sax solo on her single. (“She was like, ‘Big Man!’” he recalled of their late-night studio session. “I was like, ‘Holy shit, man. Damn!’”) That flex was evidence of how firm her grasp of pop’s past, present, and future was in 2011 — but so is the rest of the song, a disco-rock-EDM cheeseball anthem for the ages. —S.V.L.

Taylor Swift

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58

Taylor Swift, “New Romantics”

One of pop’s greatest crimes? Taylor Swift making “New Romantics” a bonus track on 1989 instead of its lead single. This massive, nostalgic, empowering manifesto feels like the album’s actual thesis: Here’s a mid-twenties oft-heartbroken but still hopeless romantic who has had her life under a microscope since she was a teen finding power and even freedom in the pain. It’s the type of relieving dance-floor soul purge that the best pop can be, even when you’re at your worst. “New Romantics” is Swift inviting the world to cry mascara tears in the bathroom right beside her. —B.S. 

One Direction

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57

One Direction, “Story of My Life”

When Zayn Malik peevishly asked, “Would you listen to One Direction at a party with your girl? I wouldn’t” — the 2010s equivalent of Lennon’s “granny music” dig at McCartney — this big, juicy, soft-rock ballad by his former band is probably one of the songs he had in mind. The thing is, like the Beatles before them, 1D had an uncommon knack for finding new sparks in old clichés. The boys sing the sad-schmuck confessions in “Story of My Life” so well you believe every word. Even Zayn’s. —S.V.L.

David Bowie

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56

David Bowie, “I Can’t Give Everything Away”

Blackstar is full of reminders of Bowie’s ceaseless creative hunger — even in his final act, he was still racing forward into free jazz and art rap. As impressive as that is, though, the album ends with an even stronger jolt from the past. The harmonica part from “A New Career in a New Town” is wailing away across nearly 40 years and an ocean, and Bowie is in a melancholy mood. “I know something’s very wrong/The pulse returns, the prodigal son,” he sings, offering hints of autobiography but no more. One story is ending, another only beginning to echo through infinite space. —S.V.L.

Haim

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55

Haim, “The Wire”

Everyone was looking back to Fleetwood Mac this decade, from country stars to indie rockers. The Haim sisters really showed off their California retro scholarship with the miraculously catchy fourth single from their 2013 debut, Days Are Gone, mixing a steadily rolling Christine McVie-style tune with some country-pop crunch à la the Eagles’ “Heartache Tonight” and throwing in a little neon-synth glitter and R&B skitter so the historical repackaging feels subtle and fresh. —J.D. 

Drake

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54

Drake, “Nice for What”

Drake used to be synonymous with sullen, horny-bro feelings, but by a few years into the decade even he was tired of the schtick. His evolution peaked with “Nice for What,” a streaming smash that showcased another Drizzy entirely. Here he’s the most exuberantly supportive dude at the party, showering every woman he sees with compliments — genuine ones, too! — over an irresistible Murda Beatz groove that somehow triangulates Lauryn Hill’s miseducation and Big Freedia’s NOLA bounce. —S.V.L. 

Courtney Barnett

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53

Courtney Barnett, “Avant Gardener”

On the 100-degree day she looked out her window in Melbourne, Australia, and decided to clean up her backyard before the neighbors concluded she and her girlfriend were running a meth lab, Barnett was running her own label out of her bedroom and working as a bartender. The indie-rock talking blues she wrote about it would change all that. Her account of an ordinary day where first it’s a struggle to get out of bed and then a struggle to keep breathing is juiced by one bit of fiction — her asthma attack wasn’t solved by a Pulp Fiction-like adrenaline shot to the heart — as well as her extraordinary outside-the-lines guitar noise. More than a million YouTube views later, she’d booked a spot on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and a Coachella gig. —J.L. 

The Black Keys

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52

The Black Keys, “Everlasting Light”

Dan Auerbach’s squealing falsetto sounds like he’s delirious in a jail cell of his own lust, as Patrick Carney wallops his drum like Tony Soprano beating a man to death. But the groove is all T-Rex Electric Warrior glam, beefed up with help from co-producer Danger Mouse and the strange-magic acoustics of Muscle Shoals Studios, where Wilson Pickett recorded “Mustang Sally,” the Stones’ cut “Wild Horses,” the Staples Singers did “I’ll Take You There,” and Aretha did “I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You)” — an impressive history of carnal-spiritual desire that the song admirably continues. —W.H. 

Tove Lo

Owen Sweeney/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

51

Tove Lo, “Habits (Stay High)”

Right on the cusp of depressive pop becoming the norm during the latter half of the decade, Swedish singer-songwriter Tove Lo scored an international hit with “Habits (Stay High),” chronicling the various vices of the 26-year-old trying to get over a breakup. “I like to compare things to [being high] because that’s what everyone’s always chasing, at least I’m that way. I can’t live just being content,” she told Rolling Stone in 2014, foreshadowing a darker era of pop to come. —C.S.

 

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