100 Best Songs of the 2010s - Rolling Stone
Home Music Music Lists

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.




Geoff Robinson Photography/Shutterstock


U2, “Every Breaking Wave”

With production assists from Danger Mouse and OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, Bono and team deliver a soaring U2 anthem that harks back to the feel of the band circa Joshua Tree. The song began as a ballad the band performed on tour in 2010 and was radically transformed by Tedder four years later for Songs of Innocence. “It’s about how hard it is to give yourself completely to another person,” Bono said. If “Every Breaking Wave” also conjures Coldplay, it’s a testament to how fundamental U2 remains to the sound of mainstream rock. And the acoustic version is just as good. —W.H. 

Little Big Town

Frederick Breedon/WireImage/Getty Images


Little Big Town, “Girl Crush”

Rumor had it that some country radio stations stopped playing Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” after people complained about the homoerotic overtones of the song’s lyrics — a story that largely turned out to be a fabrication. The vocal quartet’s 2014 single, penned by Lori McKenna, Hillary Lindsey, and Liz Rose was in actuality a devastating ballad about jealousy. “I knew as soon as I heard the hook of the first chorus that we had to have this song,” Karen Fairchild told Rolling Stone. “I’d never heard a jealousy song written like this.” She gave it a searing lead vocal performance, flanked by the near-familial harmonies of bandmates Kimberly Schlapman, Jimi Westbrook, and Phillip Sweet; and the song’s production — stark by Nashville standards — needed little more than reverb-drenched guitar arpeggios, brushed drums, and delicate wisps of Hammond organ to leave a lasting mark. —J.F. 

Azealia Banks

Richard Isaac/Shutterstock


Azealia Banks, “212”

Named for the bedrock Manhattan area code, Banks’ breakout jam is a tidal wave of New York City flows over relentlessly clattering Belgian electro-house beats (basically Lazy Jay’s “Float Your Boat”), in which the MC jump-cuts from street queen to prep-school mean-girl thespian to R&B diva literally without missing a beat. Before the ascendance of Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, it crowned her the fiercest female MC alive. And it laudably did more to flex the power of the word “cunt” than any song this decade, perhaps in history. —W.H. 

Jay-Z and Kanye West



Jay-Z and Kanye West, “N****s in Paris”

In Paris on June 18th, 2012, Kanye West and Jay-Z — performing as Watch the Throne, their one-time collaborative project — stretched out the live version of their song “Niggas In Paris” from its 3:39 runtime to nearly eight minutes in front of a rapturous crowd. It was the 12th time they’d performed it that night. On an album that argued that excess is the point, this was the project’s highest high. It’s the album’s third intro, featuring a dubstep breakdown and a Will Ferrell monologue; it’s also the most purely cathartic song either rapper has ever released. It gets the people going. —B.K.


Lana Del Rey

Stephen Lovekin/Shutterstock


Lana Del Rey, “Mariners Apartment Complex”

The first taste of her revelatory Norman Fucking Rockwell! was this psychedelic-folk gem, a meta-pop collaboration with Jack Antonoff that shuffles classic rock lyrics (“kiss the sky,” “candle in the wind”) and emotions, pivoting on the lynchpin title verse of Leonard Cohen’s abjectly needy “I’m Your Man.” But Del Rey owns every word, carving out a complex sad-girl persona that’s anything but weak, rooted in Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter tradition and hip-hop ride-or-die realness, who cryptically riffs on her own life in the public eye. “They mistook my kindness for weakness/I fucked up, I know that, but Jesus/Can’t a girl just do the best she can?” she sings, her best better than ever. —W.H. 

Nicki Minaj

Jeff Daly/Invision/AP/Shutterstock


Nicki Minaj, “Beez in the Trap”

Following a directive from her label Cash Money/Young Money, “Nicki needs some rap shit,” producer Keneo delivered a track with a spartan slow-rolling boom that gave her tons of space to rock out and deliver a master class in old-school playground swagger. After a series of hits that moved her sound in a more pop-centric direction, “Beez in the Trap” was a hot back-to-basics move. “I am always in the trap,” Minaj said, adding for clarification, “Now, the trap, ladies and gentlemen, relates to anywhere where you get your money.” —J.D.

Carly Rae Jepsen



Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe”

“We liked how it turned out, but I can’t say I expected this,” said Jepsen of “Call Me Maybe,” which began as an acoustic song about overcoming your nerves and giving someone your number that eventually turned into an international Number One. The result is one of most song of the summery Songs of the Summer of all time. Bieber tweeted about it, everyone from Katy Perry to the Go-Go’s covered it, Barack Obama sang it — and it inspired a seemingly endless run of viral videos that made it a watershed in song-meme culture. Not a bad debut hit for the third runner-up in the 2007 edition of Canadian Idol.  —J.D.  

The Weeknd

Andre Csillag/Shutterstock


The Weeknd, “High for This”

This falsetto tale about a creepy man pressuring a woman into ingesting copious drugs before sex was the perfect sonic and aesthetic introduction into the narcotized, depraved, and morally bankrupt world of Abel Tesfaye. This standout from the Weeknd’s House of Balloons was a mission statement at the dawn of the decade, when R&B got darker, slower, and more sinister. For better or worse, when the Weeknd sang “Open your hand, take a glass/Don’t be scared, I’m right here” over an industrial, surging beat, he ended up being right. For nearly the entire decade, he was there along with the promethazine and codeine and molly because, in fact, many people did feel the need to “be high for this.” —C. Holmes 

Frank Ocean

Tyler Kaufman/FilmMagic via Getty Images


Frank Ocean, “Novacaine”

The debut single by the soulman of the Odd Future collective incubator is a sexy, unnerving, indelible future blues that announced the arrival of a major talent intent on forging his own path. Packing a short story’s worth of narrative into a five-minute slow jam, it name-checks Stanley Kubrick; calls out Auto-Tuned, “pitch-corrected” records with “zero emotion”; and dissects a drug-buddy hookup with an aspiring dental student the singer meets at Coachella, outing an entire generation’s numbness in the process. His fan base was broad: 50 Cent praised the song, and his response to homophobes trolling the singer was “anyone that has an issue with Frank Ocean is an idiot.” —W.H.

Katy Perry

Ken McKay/Talkback Thames/Shutterstock


Katy Perry, “Teenage Dream”

If someone were to make an exact, scientific formula for the perfect pop song, it would probably be based off of Katy Perry’s swooning romantic hit “Teenage Dream.” At the time, Perry was coming off the success of her major-label debut, One of the Boys, which seemed to establish her as one of pop’s more Warped Tour-friendly acts. On Teenage Dream and the title track in particular, she showed off bigger Top 40 ambitions. The song itself is a candy-coated dreamland of romance nostalgia, describing her lover as something right out of her teenage fantasies, and features one of the decade’s best hooks. —B.S. 

Selena Gomez

Rich Fury/Invision/AP/Shutterstock


Selena Gomez, “Bad Liar”

Gomez ditched the Disney-princess pop of her teens for the grown-up grooves of Revival in 2015, telling Rolling Stone, “I felt confident and comfortable in who I am. I felt sexy. I was aching to do stuff like that.” But this one-off single two years later was something else: a spare confession hooked to the bass line of the Talking Heads’ “Pyscho Killer,” an idea that co-writer Julia Michaels had come up with. When former-model-turned-art-world-sensation Petra Collins shot the cover image — the song title inked in lipstick on Gomez’s left thigh, a glancing reference to riot grrrl imagery of the Nineties — the transformation into an alt-pop provocateur was complete. —J.L.  

Craig Finn



Craig Finn, “God in Chicago”

Possibly the decade’s most vivid storytelling song is a hybrid of singing and spoken word, in the tradition of the Ink Spots, the Shangri-Las, Prince Buster, and the Velvet Underground. “I attempted to turn it into a more traditional song,” Finn said. But then he decided to recite lyrics. Good call. The result pairs a minor-key piano dirge and a hardbitten narrator, wearily detailing a drug run with a dead buddy’s sister that becomes a road trip, and then a heartbreaking hookup that may turn out redemptive. Or not. When the sung chorus finally lands, at 2:24 in, it’s like the sun bursting through a cloudy Midwestern sky for the first time in months. —W.H. 

Maren Morris

Erika Goldring/Getty Images


Maren Morris, “My Church”

Country songs paying tribute to other country songs are a dime a dozen, but there’s something particularly heartwarming about a bona fide country-pop crossover artist like Maren Morris singing about finding salvation in Hank Williams and Johnny Cash — and meaning every word of it. “That was the first time as a songwriter that I’ve ever been territorial about a song that I’d written,” Morris said on writing the track, which became her breakthrough hit in 2016. —C.S. 

Travis Scott & Drake

Prince Williams/Wireimage, RMV/Shutterstock


Travis Scott feat. Drake, “Sicko Mode”

It unfurled more like a playlist than a single: three distinct sections and three guests (six, if you count the Biggie Smalls, Dr. Luke, and Big Hawk samples) in just more than five minutes. A buzzer-busting verse from Drake — landing at 2 a.m. on the day Astroworld was set to be released — contributed to the chopped-up format, which rose from streaming to radio domination despite defying all convention. “Me and Drake been working to make something so crazy for the kids,” Scott said when “Sicko Mode” took the Number One spot from Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next.” It was an understatement. —J.L. 

Lucy Dacus



Lucy Dacus, “Night Shift”

The Virginia singer-songwriter established her bona fides on songs like “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” from her 2016 album, No Burden, moody truth-spitting indie-rock songs with a welcome sense of humor. With the six-minute “Night Shift,” Dacus displays both her gift for slow-build guitar drama as well as mic-drop one-liners like “The first time I tasted somebody else’s spit/I had a coughing fit,” pulled from her own life. “I dated this person for like five years,” she said, describing the inspiration for “Night Shift.” “To kiss anybody else — it felt really weird. It felt kind of wrong. And it wasn’t a happy or fulfilling or victorious experience.” The result was one of the decade’s truly bracing breakup songs.  —J.D. 

Billie Eilish

Olly Stabler/Shutterstock


Billie Eilish, “Bad Guy”

Eilish was singing Beatles songs at talent shows at age seven, and one of her favorite albums — Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet — was released just before her 12th birthday. Those two sides came together on this goth-trap banger with a verse-chorus-verse structure, which refuses to be pinned down musically or emotionally. Eilish is on her knees one moment, a dominating bad guy the next. “I don’t want to be in the pop world, I don’t want to be in the alternative world, or the hip-hop world, or the R&B world,” Eilish told The New York Times. “I want it to be, ‘What kind of music do you listen to?’ ‘Billie Eilish music.’ ” —J.L. 


Charles Sykes/Invision/AP/Shutterstock


Drake, “Hold On, We’re Going Home”

If the drum pattern at the top sounds a little like “Billie Jean,” there’s a reason: Drake told MTV that “Hold On” was his and producer Noah “40” Shebib’s humble attempt to channel their power as a “Quincy Jones-Michael Jackson production duo” and create a timeless track that could “be played at weddings in 10 years.” There was no rapping. This was R&B with a hip-hop mindset, and it cemented Drake’s place as the central hitmaker of the decade — his 33rd Top 10 hit brought entreaties from the Grammys to perform it at the ceremony, which he ignored. “They didn’t nominate it for anything!” he told Rolling Stone. “They’re calling me, emailing me every day to do some elaborate performance and bring them viewers, but I didn’t get a nomination.” —J.L. 

Cardi B



Cardi B, “Bodak Yellow”

The flow was borrowed from Kodak Black’s “No Flockin’,” but the transformation of stress-mode fury into feminine glamour was pure Cardi. She wrote her rhymes on a plane, listening to a beat her producer J. White had sent her. “Every bitch that I don’t like came to my head,” she said. “And I pictured me, slapping it to them.” Boasting about paying her mama’s bills and dubbing red-bottomed Louboutins “bloody shoes,” she was a trapper with a double-dutch heart. When she knocked Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” from the number-one spot — becoming the first solo female rapper to top the charts since Lauryn Hill two decades earlier — Swift sent her flowers to celebrate. —J.L. 

Harry Styles

Matt Baron/Shutterstock


Harry Styles, “Sign of the Times”

What a way to start a post-boy-band solo career: Harry Styles established his new musical start with a nearly six-minute power ballad all about the state of the world. “Sign of the Times” was both ambitious and risky: He told Rolling Stone before its release that it was written from the perspective of a mother told that she won’t survive the birth of her child and has only a few minutes to prepare that baby for the world to come. The song feels like a timeless classic from the start: A bawdy piano riff builds up into rollicking guitar riffs beneath Styles’ range-showcasing vocal delivery, which was meant for the big arena rock shows he would pull off to support his self-titled debut LP. If Styles tells you to stop your crying and have the time of your life, you do so. —B.S. 

Rihanna performs with DJ Calvin Harris

John Shearer/WireImage via Getty Images


Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris, “We Found Love”

When big-tent dance music stormed into the Top 40 early in this century, the results were sometimes messy, with hasty, ill-conceived collaborations resulting in some truly cringeworthy records. Then there were songs like “We Found Love,” which more or less instantly became modern standards. A simple synth riff from Harris reaches back to dance-floor killers from the early Nineties, while Rihanna sings with steely generosity. “I want each track to be as good as it can possibly be,” Harris said, “and that usually means me not singing on it.” —E.L. 

Justin Bieber

Rich Fury/Invision/AP/Shutterstock


Justin Bieber, “Sorry”

Sure, it was co-produced by Skrillex, in the musical vernacular of its day.(Remember “trophouse”?) Yes, it marked a new maturity in the then 21-year-old Bieber. But even compared with the other two singles he sent to Number One in the same six-month span (“What Do You Mean?,” “Love Yourself”), “Sorry” is timeless. It wasn’t, he later clarified, an apology for the houses he once egged or cars he once drag-raced: “It was about a girl.” And like many great songs that are simply about a girl, it is coy and tender and just delicately cocky enough to give the tune’s heady pop evanescence a frisson of big-boy energy. —N.C.


Lorne Thomson/Redferns via Getty Images


Alvvays, “Archie, Marry Me”

Like many young people in the 2010s, singer Molly Rankin and guitarist Alec O’Hanley spent their twenties watching more conventional friends get engaged; unlike most, they wrote an instant indie-pop classic about it. “A lot of people ‘grow up’ and get mortgages and have big dumb weddings, and this song takes the piss out of that,” Rankin explained. With its wry references to alimony and student loans, “Archie, Marry Me” nails the satire. The funniest part? By soaking it all in sweet distortion and achingly pretty melody, the Canadian band wound up with one of the decade’s most romantic songs at the same. “I don’t want to get married,” Rankin said, “but I’m glad people can glean their own narrative from the song.” —S.V.L.


Hell Gate Media/Shutterstock


Sia, “Chandelier”

A fabulously pulse-quickening, mood-setting going-out song, star songwriter Sia’s first smash hit of her own is also a harrowing glimpse through the clouded eyes of an alcoholic. “Usually, I’m writing from a character’s point of view,” the singer, long sober, said in 2018. “Sometimes I’ll write one that I relate to. Those are the ones I don’t give away.” Her voice swooping from flatly confessional in the drink-counting prechorus (“1-2-3, 1-2-3”) to incandescent in the falsetto-spiked refrain (“I’m gonna fly like a bird through the night/Feel my tears as they dry”), Sia rewrites pop’s “party girl” archetype with astonishing empathy. —N.C.


Ricky Bassman/CSM/Shutterstock


Future, “Mask Off”

“Percocet, molly, Percocet” — or as Future calls it, breakfast. The Atlanta rap spaceman was one of the decade’s most prolific artists, not to mention one of the most unpredictable. “Mask Off” was Future at his far-out best, over Metro Boomin’s sample of a flute loop from the 1970s musical Selma. Even his collaborator Kendrick Lamar was blown away. “He’s his own genius,” Lamar raved. “Watching him come up with the melodies, that’s a whole other ballgame, to understand them sonics.” —R.S. 


Earl Gibson III/Getty Images


Miguel, “Adorn”

In the first half of the 2010s, EDM was suffocating the zeitgeist, rap was becoming the most consumed genre, and R&B artists were struggling to carve out a competitive advantage. Then Miguel released “Adorn.” The first song off his Art Dealer Chic EP series seemed ripped from another era. It’s Motown sensibilities, use of a word reserved for horny grandparents, and a slinky and stuttering self-produced beat ran against the grain. It was an honest love song in a time when love wasn’t necessarily the main musical currency. Lyrics as earnest as “These lips can’t wait to taste your skin, baby/And these eyes, I can’t wait to see your grin” were foreign. After seven years and countless wedding playlists, Miguel is still riding the wave that “Adorn” started, and the sincerity he first pushed through the static has yet to dissipate. —C.H. 


Richard Isaac/Shutterstock


Lizzo, “Truth Hurts”

Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” is an unusual song: Inspired by a tweet, Lizzo waxes poetic while sing-rapping about how iconic she is, even in the face of getting her heart stomped on. In fact, she feels sorry for the person who will no longer benefit from being in the presence of her personal excellence. Even more unusual: The song could have been a hit in 2017 when it came out, but it took a year and a half, some social media fame, TikTok, and the Netflix rom-com Someone Great for the timing to be just right. Eventually, “Truth Hurts” became Lizzo’s first big hit and helped her earn several long-overdue Grammy nominations. That DNA test she took? 100% correct. —B.S. 

Luis Fonsi feat. Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber

Invision/AP/Shutterstock, Pratik Chorge/Hindustan Times via Getty Images, Thais Llorca/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock


Luis Fonsi feat. Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber, “Despacito”

For a song that’s all about the pleasure of a slow, sensual​​ ​​advance, 2017’s “Despacito” hastened a massive historical turn in American music, demonstrating the mainstream viability of Spanish-language pop. An unlikely collab between two Puerto Rican hitmakers — pop-rock heartthrob Luis Fonsi and reggaeton kingpin Daddy Yankee — the song had already ​blitzed international pop charts and amassed millions of YouTube views prior to Bieber’s remix, which conquered Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed for 16 weeks. “What I heard is that he was in the club in Colombia and heard the song,” Yankee said. “Justin Bieber always does a great job when it comes to interpretation.” —S.E. 

Beyonce And Jay Z

Mason Poole/Invision/AP/Shutterstock


Beyoncé feat. Jay-Z, “Drunk in Love”

Future came up with the melody while working a track with producer Detail, who then brought the beat to Beyoncé for her self-titled fifth studio project, a top-secret visual album which announced her artistic independence (so secret, in fact, that Future recycled the melody on “Good Morning,” not realizing her version of it was coming). Beyoncé described the recording session as a party. “I kind of free-styled the verse,” she explained of the ode to morning-after memories of an all-nighter spent riding the “good-good” wood of her man’s “surfboard.” Her husband, Jay-Z, free-styled his part as well, unfortunately referencing Mike Tyson and Ike Turner in his vision of connubial bliss. Yet nothing could take away the power of Beyoncé celebrating her own desire, and after a Grammy performance, the track shot to Number Two. —J.L. 

Eric Church

Amy Harris/Shutterstock


Eric Church, “Springsteen”

Church was both a rebel who threw Black Sabbath riffs into his live show and a rock-ribbed traditionalist whose country narratives communicated big ideas in small stories. On this track, those two sides merged. Written on Church’s tour bus  — Church woke up banjo player Jeff Hyde to help finish the song — “Springsteen” ditched fiddles and pedal steel for the chugging sound of its namesake and unfurled the memory of a teenage love affair that had sparked at a Springsteen show, between “I’m on Fire” and “Born to Run.” All true, up to a point. “It didn’t happen with Springsteen, ironically — it happened with another artist,” Church once said. —J.L. 


Marc Broussely/Redferns via Getty Images


Grimes, “Oblivion”

With sunrise-tinted bangs and an otherworldly soprano, Canadian eccentric Claire Boucher ushered in a new era of oddball dance pop with her 2012 album, Visions. In the standout track, “Oblivion,” Boucher contemplates the perils of being a woman out after dark, over an undulating synth. “I was assaulted, and I had a really hard time engaging in any types of relationship with men,” Boucher told Spin. “I was just so terrified of men for a while.” The video shows Boucher wandering blithely around sport stadiums,​ surrounded by screaming, shirtless boys — a dream of the feminine coexisting peacefully inside a masculine domain. —S.E. 

Alabama Shakes

Gonzales Photo/Christian Hjorth/shutterstock


Alabama Shakes, “Hold On”

The Alabama Shakes’ breakthrough single was created the old-fangled way, with the band riffing on the unfinished song during a gig as singer Brittany Howard made up lyrics as she went along. With its spare groove, Howard’s elastic voice, and guitars that actually sounded like real, unprocessed instruments, the finished version didn’t sound like anything else on the airwaves. Yet what made the song endure, especially as the decade went on, was its message of hope. “I needed a lot of strength to go to work in the morning, play a show when I’d get off, get two hours of sleep, go to work again…just hoping, praying that maybe I can quit my job one day and do something that would make me happy,” Howard told RS. “You gotta believe in something to do all that.” —D.B. 


Michael Buckner/Variety/Shutterstock


Migos, “Bad and Boujee”

“We did it the trap way, not the pop way,” Offset told Rolling Stone, reflecting on the unlikely rise to Number One of this track after its nurturing in the strip clubs of Atlanta. Nearly six-minutes long, dense with inventively acrobatic rhymes about making and spending money, and underpinned by a foreboding but delicately layered beat by Metro Boomin, the song generated an inescapable Twitter meme with the first snatch of its chorus — “Rain drop, drop top” — even as it omitted any kind of hook. The feature? A yet-to-blow-up Lil Uzi Vert, making 100K rain for every 300K he puts in the safe. It’s a boys night out, and a dare to join them in the club. —N.C.

Daft Punk

Zach Cordner/Invision/AP/Shutterstock


Daft Punk, “Get Lucky”

In 2013, Bangerz-era Miley twerked, Yeezus-era Kanye raged and two French guys took the edge off it all with this plush disco pastiche featuring funk wizard Nile Rogers on guitar and Pharrell Williams on the mic. “I don’t know if it’s a disco track,” Williams later hedged. “It feels a little bit more like post [disco].” And indeed, while the flawless music loops like a dancer’s elevated heartbeat, Williams replaced the Seventies-era diva wail, promising a dizzying transcendence with a modest, distinctly modern falsetto that merely hints at a little earthly relief. It’s as human as anything this brilliant robot duo ever queued up. —N.C.

Parquet Courts

David Wolff - Patrick/Redferns via Getty Images


Parquet Courts, “Stoned and Starving”

Cat-sitting for a friend, Andrew Savage of Parquet Courts decided to go on a stoned bodega crawl through Ridgewood, Queens, that became the inspiration for the decade’s premier indie-guitar banger, with the band zoning out gloriously as Savage turns “I was debating Swedish Fish, roasted peanuts, or licorice” into a rich existential riddle. Live, the band stretched the song into a tranced-out epic in the fine New York tradition of Television and the Feelies, setting the stage for a decade in which Parquet Courts proved themselves to be about much more than Nineties indie nostalgia — even if they pulled the perfect Nineties move of getting sick of playing “Stoned and Starving” once college bros started turning up at their shows to request it. —J.D. 

Willy William and J Balvin

David Becker/Getty Images


J Balvin and Willy William, “Mi Gente”

“The beautiful thing about ‘Mi Gente,’” said Balvin in 2018, “is that I wrote it in Spanish with Willy William, a producer from Paris…and it hit number one [in charts] around the world.” Colombian reggaeton star Balvin campaigned for an all-inclusive, borderless pop future, crooning about musical inclusion as William drops an infectiously forlorn synth-horn riff and rattling beat. “Mi Gente” was a smash even before its Beyoncé remix. As Balvin noted, “It wasn’t a strategy to make it bigger…. It was for the culture.” —S.E.

Bradley Cooper as Jack and Lady Gaga as Ally



Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, “Shallow”

It took just 10 seconds for “Shallow” to become one of the greatest songs in film soundtrack history. The duet was first heard in trailers for A Star Is Born, Gaga’s big debut as leading actress helmed by duet partner and co-star Bradley Cooper. The film was coming off a confusing few years for Gaga: Her past two solo albums were chart and critical duds, but she was finding herself beloved by new fans with her jazz album (Cheek to Cheek, with Tony Bennett) and Super Bowl halftime performance. But when the key change of “Shallow” hit during the trailer — “ha ah ah ah ahhhhhhh” — a superstar was reborn. The song, a critical moment for the fictional, insecure Ally (Gaga) who sings it onstage during an arena show for has-been rocker Jackson (Cooper), feels just as massive as it should during the actual film. Offscreen, it’s a testament to the type of pop drama Gaga has always been capable of delivering and that fans will continue to imitate in karaoke bars and cars for years to come. —B.S. 




Mitski, “Your Best American Girl”

For anyone who followed Mitski’s ascendance from SUNY Purchase music major at the start of the decade to indie rock’s North Star by its conclusion, it’s impossible to listen to the chorus of “Your Best American Girl” without seeing droves of young fans screaming it back at her in concert. In one fell swoop, Mitski brought headbanging Nineties rock to a new generation while skewering some of the more insidious, white-washed parts of its legacy. “I didn’t grow up in the U.S.,” Mitski Miyawaki said of the song. “It came from wanting to just fit into this very American person’s life, and simply not being able to.” —C.S. 

Billy Ray Cyrus, Lil Nas X

Frank Micelotta/Picturegroup/Shutterstock


Lil Nas X, “Old Town Road”

Created by a 19-year-old peddler of Twitter memes using a $30 web-sourced beat, popularized by TikTok users swapping street clothes for cowboy get-ups, and inscribed into history after topping the Hot 100 for a record 19 weeks, this booming two-minute ballad and its viral-engineered remixes impeccably crowned a decade of disruption, and not merely because it was extremely online. Growling lines about cheatin’ and ridin’ horses — the Nine Inch Nails sample, a spooky little banjo figure, only sounds twangy in context — and recruiting a gleefully game Billy Ray Cyrus for the remix that made it even more huge, Lil Nas X cheekily appropriated country-music tropes, and kids, in turn, rushed the barricades of mainstream pop with his burner hip-hop track. “I got bored one day and made this song,” Nas later told Rolling Stone. It was his boredom with the status quo, not just his solution to it, that spoke to a new generation. —N.C. 


Paul A Hebert/Invision/AP/Shutterstock


Lorde, “Royals”

Inspired by an old picture of Kansas City Royals slugger George Brett, and Jay-Z and Kanye’s Watch the Throne, a 15-year-old New Zealander, Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor, penned a softly swaggering ode to her own fantasies of greatness (and the mixed feelings they engender) that became a global smash, introducing one of the most unique from-nowhere pop superstars of the decade. “It was just that word,” she said of the title. “It’s really cool.” Pensive but proud, “Royals” was hushed low-fi pop rap, with Lorde mumbling her lines like a kid dreaming up poetry while distractedly staring at her phone. It was a classic dispatch from a teenage wasteland rendered in a whole new language of millennial malaise. —J.D.


Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP/Shutterstock


Drake, “Hotline Bling”

Drake (rightfully) slammed the Grammys for awarding this not-very-rappy song Best Rap Song and Best Rap/Sung Performance, wondering if they picked those categories just “because I’m black.” But in their defense, it’s a pretty great little jam. Caribbean in feel but powered by a Seventies soul sample, widely covered — the video even more widely memed — and dissected for its slut-shame-y lyrics, the song’s less a pop smash than a marvel of the internet: a user-generated triumph of the mainstream. —N.C. 

Cardi B Bad Bunny J Balvin



Cardi B feat. Bad Bunny and J Balvin, “I Like It”

Nobody ever accused Cardi B of thinking small. “I Like It” is her hugely expansive vision of hip-hop as a multicultural, worldwide block party. Cardi brings in Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny and Colombian reggaeton star J Balvin to shine on her trap groove, riding a sample from the 1967 boogaloo classic “I Like It Like That.” All her guests rise to the occasion — who else but Balvin would compare himself to Lady Gaga and Jimmy Snuka in the same verse? But Cardi runs shit like cardio, turning “I Like It” into a Number One smash. —R.S. 

Kacey Musgraves

Amy Harris/Shutterstock


Kacey Musgraves, “Follow Your Arrow”

The Texas cowgirl made her big entrance with “Follow Your Arrow,” and right from the get-go, she had her own style. Over the guitar twang, the 25-year-old Kacey serves up some homespun advice: “Make lots of noise/Kiss lots of boys/Or kiss lots of girls if that’s something you’re into.” She whipped up a fair amount of controversy, but refused to back down. “Even if they don’t agree with the girls-kissing-girls thing or even the drug reference,” Musgraves said, “I would hope that they would agree that no matter what, we all should be able to love who we want to love and live how we want to live.” She’s been following her arrow ever since. —R.S. 

Ariana Grande

Andrew Lipovsky/NBC


Ariana Grande, “Thank U, Next”

When Grande split up with SNL’s Pete Davidson after a very public whirlwind romance, the obvious thing to do was drop a tabloid-ready celebrity breakup diss track. Instead, Grande released one of the most generous breakup songs of all time — an ode to lessons learned and self-love set to a fluttery track that suggests a mind at peace already moving on to new discovery. She cycles through a list of relationship revelations, sounding light-years from the man-needing bubblegum-soul diva of only a couple of years ago. “Even almost got married/And for Pete, I’m so thankful,” she sings. Grande began work on the song in the midst of her relationship with Davidson, and she wrote several versions of the song, including one where they get married: “Then we broke up again, so we ended up going with that verse.” —J.D. 

Kanye West

Nousha Salimi/AP/Shutterstock


Kanye West, “Runaway”

Here’s what we talk about when we talk about the Old Kanye: a song, speculated to be a mea culpa for his original dust-up with Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMAs, which opens with 36 seconds of slasher-film-soundtrack-meets-piano-lesson keyboard plinks, ends with vocoder-obscured vocals and sawing strings running the length of a typical pop song, and in between, finds West sing-songing about his toxicity over an oozing bass line as a Rick James sample sneers, “Look at Ya,” and Pusha T chimes in about women caught “in the balla-nigga matrix” (Pusha T later said that West pushed him to repeatedly rewrite his verse, insisting, “‘I need more douchebag’…. He’s screaming at me, ‘More douchebag'”). Is the song a searing self-indictment in which Kanye ultimately lays waste to his own voice? An epic shrug at his endless teetering between self-awareness and self-obsession? West, for what it’s worth, explained it this way to Access Hollywood: “It’s funny — it’s like a man’s anthem, but it’s a woman’s anthem. Like, ‘Let’s have a toast with a douchebag!’” Toast or roast, it’s sad, frightening, and almost incomprehensible in its scarred beauty. —N.C. 

Taylor Swift

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutterstock


Taylor Swift, “All Too Well”

Chromed-out Max Martin singles like “22” made more noise at first, but real fans know the heart of Red is this subtly devastating ballad. “All Too Well” is about a relationship that’s long over, except in Swift’s memory, where it burns on in piercing clarity — and in her ex’s dresser, where he keeps the borrowed scarf he can’t bring himself to return. The disappointment in her voice is still fresh as she thinks about the sweet-talking guy who turned out to be “so casually cruel in the name of being honest.” (She freestyled that line, her favorite on the album, while soundchecking for a concert: “I was just playing these chords over and over onstage and my band joined in and I went on a rant.”) Tabloids quickly identified the scarf thief in question as Jake Gyllenhaal, but the brilliance of “All Too Well” is in how it makes you feel like you were right there with her, too. —S.V.L.


The shortlists for the 92nd Academy Awards have been announced, including the categories of Best Original Song and Best Original Score.

Andrew White/Invision/AP/Shutterstock


Beyoncé, “Formation”

None of Beyoncé’s many hits embodied her unrivaled cultural power in the 2010s better than “Formation,” a stylish song-of-myself flex that was also a rallying cry for millions. Celebrating her roots in Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas, she recentered the black experience in the Deep South as a source of pride; with a single horny couplet, she forever changed the meaning of date night at Red Lobster. The genius of “Formation” — especially taken in conjunction with the striking imagery of its music video and Super Bowl performance — is in its bold tangling of the personal and the political, wrapping the tragedy of Katrina in the glamor of a Givenchy gown and daring you to call it a contradiction. Naturally, there were those who missed the point, but Beyoncé wasn’t concerned. “I’m an artist,” she said, “and I think the most powerful art is usually misunderstood.” —S.V.L.


Peter Kramer/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images


Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”

Freshly hurt by the end of her relationship with an older photographer, Adele walked into producer Paul Epworth’s northwest London studio and made the greatest breakup song of the 2010s. “I never get angry, but I was ready to murder,” she later recalled. You can hear it in her voice, an all-time performance whose roaring fury is downright biblical. “Rolling in the Deep” made Adele a superstar and proved that classic gospel-blues fundamentals could still conquer the world. “Carole King is the last person [before Adele] who wrote the kind of lyrics women immediately could relate to,” marveled Aretha Franklin. “I love to hear a schoolgirl on the school bus yellin’, ‘We coulda had it all!'” —S.V.L.

Kendrick Lamar

Josh Brasted/WireImage


Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”

“As a kid from Compton, you can get all the success in the world and still question your worth,” Kendrick Lamar told RS in 2015. In the most lasting single from his era-defining masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly, he dramatizes that inner conflict in vivid, immediate terms. “Alls my life, I had to fight,” he begins, quoting Alice Walker’s The Color Purple to evoke generations of inherited trauma. By the time Pharrell’s buoyant production kicks in, Kendrick has found reason to believe: “If God got us, then we gon’ be alright.” In the context of the album’s complex emotional journey, it’s a moment of cautious optimism. Once “Alright” reached the world, it became something more: an anthem for a new civil rights movement, its chorus chanted at countless Black Lives Matter protests across America. —S.V.L. 


LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 17: performs on stage during the third day of Lovebox at Victoria Park on July 17, 2011 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by )

Gus Stewart/Redferns


Robyn, “Dancing on My Own”

“I’m right over here, why can’t you see me?” Robyn might as well have been singing to U.S. pop audiences in the 2000s, who mostly ignored her as she spent years refining her bright, fizzy synth-pop sound to perfection. Then came “Dancing on My Own,” the killer single that elevated her to something approaching voice-of-a-generation status among America’s burned-out youth. Written and produced with fellow Swedish ace Patrik Berger, it’s a relatable hit of heartbreak at the club, with a chaser of empowering uplift — exactly the disco anthem we needed in the long hangover of the subprime-mortgage crisis. And while she’s no torch-song diva, Robyn sang the hell out of this one, sounding as warm and human as the precision-engineered track isn’t. “Dancing on My Own” just kept building as the 2010s went on, soundtracking a memorable scene in HBO’s Girls and countless karaoke nights across the nation. “All the big pop acts that I’ve been into over the years — whether it’s ABBA or Prince — managed to combine amazing melodies and honest human emotion,” Robyn told one interviewer. “But coming out of the super-super-commercial pop industry in the Nineties, maybe people forgot about the fact that pop music can do both of those things.” —S.V.L. 

Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.