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

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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

 

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

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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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