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Top 100 Songs of the 2010s

on November 11, 2019, 12:00pm
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10. St. Vincent – “Cruel” (2011)

St Vincent Strange Mercy

“How could they be casually cruel?” A great question that we still can’t answer, and probably never will. St. Vincent knows this. She knew it back in 2011, and she certainly feels it now. These are dark times, indeed, and “Cruel” gets more prescient with each passing day. Looking back, Annie Clark’s pop parable on the trials and tribulations of women is a staggering preamble to the 2010s. “You were the one waving flares in the air/ So they could see you,” she sings, “And they were the zephyr blowing past you/ Blowing fastly so they can’t see you.” Look above, look around, and perhaps look within, these zephyrs are everywhere, and their thick trails of smoke continue to pollute what little sunlight struggles to eek through. Not surprisingly, Clark has since leaned into her vitriol, the kind that comes from making such revelations as these. But this is the singer-songwriter at her most poignant, and her words aren’t just haunting, they’re crushing for all their truths. –Michael Roffman


09. LCD Soundsystem – “Dance Yrsef Clean” (2010)

LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening

 

There’s great irony laced throughout LCD Soundsystem’s career. So much of their catalog is about band leader James Murphy wrestling with his understanding of the music field at large as well as his place within it. Yet, even as he derides that “It’s the end of an era, it’s true,” he creates unstoppable dance anthems that perpetuate LCD’s status as a beloved force in music. “Dance Yrself Clean” is an exemplar of this modus operandi. Two separate songs presented as one because doing it in parts would be “pretentious,” according to Murphy. It challenges fame, friends, and Marxist industry practices with a simple solution: Dance. With the group’s usual mastery of lengthy jams with builds that release in epic style, “Dance Yrself Clean” is inescapably danceable — a true achievement of the goals laid out in the lyrics themselves. In fact, it’s so successful that there’s an indie pop dance event named after the track. Doesn’t that just make you wanna go and throw your little hands up? –Ben Kaye


08. Adele – “Rolling in the Deep” (2011)

adele 21

At the top of the 2010s, Adele sent a musical kamehaha hurtling through the cosmos to the beat of a thunderous piano and a gritty, gospel-tinged blues growl. In its merciless wake, the heartbroken found themselves empowered, the heartbreakers found themselves gutted, and Adele found herself a global superstar. The lead single off her acclaimed sophomore record, 21, “Rolling in the Deep” set music as we know it on fire. Adele would swiftly become the only artist in history to rank on rock, pop, R&B/hip-hop, dance, and Latin charts in the United States. In just 3 minutes and 48 seconds, the world laid limp at Adele’s feet in resounding emotional catharsis with little more to say than “We could have had it all.” Undeniably, “Rolling in the Deep” is the breakup song to best them all and a top track of every decade to come. –Irene Monokandilos


07. Vampire Weekend – “Diane Young” (2013)

Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City Artwork

This song has everything. Saabs, the Kennedys, government mistrust, golf, death, and (of course) arguably the best use of a vocal effect this decade has ever seen. Vampire Weekend’s third album, Modern Vampires of The City, barreled in with “Diane Young”, a homonym titled track that embodied the psyche of an entire generation of post-grads who were learning that unfortunately, their dreams might not pan out as they’d planned. Lead singer and guitarist Ezra Koenig shared in an interview, “We felt like the world didn’t need a song called ‘Dying Song’, so we started to get a vision of a woman named Diane Young and we just took it from there.” That desire to take sinking feelings of doom and gloom, while enlisting guitar pop-punk to make it buoyant, can be felt throughout the track. A testament to the time it was written, Koenig puts our generation’s woes succinctly when he rattles out over the crescendo, “Nobody knows what the future holds/ And it’s bad enough just getting old/ Live my life in self-defense/ You know I love the past, ’cause I hate suspense.” –Erica Campbell


06. Kanye West – “Power” (2010)

Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

On the cover of the single release for “Power”, the king has been deposed; Kanye West’s decapitated head, still wearing a crown and expression of shock, lays on its side on a pedestal, a sword still jutting from its side like a perverted twist on The Sword and the Stone. “Just try,” his eyes seem to say, in spite of it all. If you want it, you’re going to have to come get it.” It’s an image that’s even more apt in 2019, now that he’s fully completed his musical heel turn, than it was in 2010, when the switch was just beginning. Almost nothing’s changed about the song itself, which remains as, well, powerful as it was then. From the building blocks of three key samples (drums from Cold Grits, martial backing vocals from Continent Number 6, chorus hook and thesis from King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man”), West delivers a paranoid, braggadocio takedown of the enemies he spent the previous two years making. Old Kanye was dead, New Kanye was here, and the hip-hop world was never going to be quite the same. –Tyler Clark


05. M83 – “Midnight City” (2011)

m83 - hurry up, we're dreaming

If the 2010s taught us anything, it’s that we’re all looking for some kind of hope. Obama successfully campaigned on that notion in the late aughts, and that hunger certainly carried over into the following decade, metastasizing into a spiritual slogan for an entire generation. “Midnight City” fits squarely into those needs, which is why M83‘s blockbuster single so ably whisked away millennials into its synthpop carnival in 2011. It’s cotton candy for dreamers, sweetened by electronic hooks, Twitter-ready sentiments, and a saxophone solo that doubles as a stairway to heaven. By the time Anthony Gonzalez screams, “The city is my church,” you’re checked in and praying you never have to leave. Why would you want to? Anything can happen, tonight is the night, we’re going to save ourselves, we’re going to be free — redemption is near. This is pure pop escapism at its finest, but also why the genre conquered the decade: Because when reality’s a nightmare, one can only hope to dream again. –Michael Roffman


04. Lorde – “Royals” (2013)

lorde pure heroine

It’s sort of ironic that one of the best-selling pop songs of all time is the very antithesis of what the genre stands for — or at least what it used to. Instead of praising the avant-garde lifestyle of celebrities and their lavish accessories and exclusive affairs, 16-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor (bka Lorde) reminded the industry that for the rest of the 99 percent: “that kind of luxe just ain’t for us.” Overtaking longstanding pop stars like Katy Perry and Brittany Spears on the Billboard charts, Lorde’s slow tempo, finger snapping, and practically a capella anthem served as an exemplar for other whisper-like, restrained vocalists such as Billie Eilish, BANKS, and Halsey, making the expressive storytelling of austere, everyday life the new mainstream. In 2013, Lorde became the auteur of the contemporary “pop star.” Although no one anticipates a 16-year-old will start a revolution (see: Greta Thunberg), Lorde’s success suggests that perhaps we should. –Samantha Small


03. Beyoncé – “Formation” (2016)

Beyonce Lemonade

Queen Bey stopped the world yet again in 2016 when she released the first single from her sixth studio album, Lemonade. Not only was the video for “Formation” a visual masterpiece that celebrated the richness and beauty of the black experience, but it was also one of Beyoncé’s most controversial moves to date. The singer, known for her undeniable talent and universal appeal, penned an anthem that zeroed in on her heritage, culture, and womanhood. Bey’s bold and unapologetic awakening spurred everything from criticism to protests, but an unforgettable Super Bowl performance and colossal tour that very same year made “twirling on her haters” look like light work. –Candace McDuffie


02. Kendrick Lamar – “DNA.” (2017)

kendrick lamar damn stream listen download album mp3 Top 100 Songs of the 2010s

The ferocity with which Kendrick Lamar delivers his bars on “DNA.” underscores the emcee’s predisposition for lyrical drama. The song, much like the grand poetic gesture that is DAMN., examines and celebrates his black heritage and culture. The care and precision that he places on his verses are particularly accentuated on “DNA.”, his lines combining social urgency with an unrelenting energy that only K. Dot could seamlessly execute. His ability to contort and stretch words amongst the resonant tension that saturates the track is also impressive and makes it clear that Kendrick is an ambitious wordsmith who is entirely in a league of his own. –Candace McDuffie


01. Robyn – “Dancing on My Own” (2010)

Robyn - Body Talk

Pop culture will never fail you: What you love will always be there, ready to comfort you. While some may find that problematic, or even argue against it, the truth is in our own predilections. Because when there’s no shoulder to lean on, we all have our personal crutches, and all too often that’s music. Robyn cuts right to the core of that sentiment on “Dancing on My Own”. Sure, the song dances around themes of heartbreak and independence, but it’s also about, well, dancing. More to the point, it’s about the ways we cope. For her, in that moment, it’s coping through the music of the moment, and Christ is that an affecting notion — especially for the 2010s. For so many of us, we live our day-to-day by what we escape into, be it music, movies, books, whatever strikes your fancy, and we’re living in an era now where that content is infinite. All too often, though, we fail to appreciate that, mostly because it’s so routine. “Dancing on My Own” celebrates that medium by becoming the very thing it’s about, and it’s a shoulder we’ll lean on for decades to come. –Michael Roffman


Playlist

Below you can listen to the full list of songs via Spotify.

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