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New Year’s Eve 2020: Defining Songs of the Decade
The Best Song Each Year of the 2010s, from 2009-2019
The 2010s are finally over. Everyone rejoice! It started out pretty great, then kind of took a nosedive towards the end. But for all the promise a new decade will bring, it’s worth taking a look back at the truly iconic songs that defined the 2010s.
From the boundary-pushing pop queens that ruled the start of the decade, to the meteoric rise of EDM and music festival culture, to the emergence of underground micro-genres such as tropical house and future bass that became global trends, to the victory of hip-hop as the dominant genre towards the end of the 2010s, here are Joonbug.com’s picks for the defining song of each year of the decade, 2009-2019.
2009: Lady Gaga - “Bad Romance”
Let’s be real: though her influence has waned over the years, we were all going gaga for this lady in the early part of the 2010s, and “Bad Romance” is the reason why. Released in late 2009, “Bad Romance” single-handedly carried us into the 2010s, followed by a whirlwind of incredible singles such as “Telephone” featuring Beyoncé, “Alejandro,” and more. This is undoubtedly her best song - if you go to a Gaga concert and she doesn’t end with this song, get your money back immediately.
This was quite an experimental offer at the time, featuring influences from German industrial, techno, and new wave, and a totally wacky music video that features Gaga in some kind of futuristic bath house, getting kidnapped by supermodels and then sold to the Russian mafia. The ferocious creative energy of Alexander McQueen (RIP) is felt throughout the visual styling for the video and the single’s cover art, which went on to be one of the best-selling singles of all time.
2010: Robyn - “Dancing On My Own”
Picture this: It’s 2010 and you’re at the club. Your date ditched you and your friend left with some guy. You’re 3 and a half Long Islands in and the only thing that could make your night at the club any worse is this song. But it also makes your night so, so good. All the pain and confusion was worth it. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
Why on earth would anyone make a dance track that is this sad? Robyn took dance music and turned it on its head with this emotional club anthem. Sporting solid production, great storytelling lyrics, and a superb music video, this song also had some iconic TV placements - one on Girls with the titular characters dancing alone in their bedroom, and one on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars during a high-stakes “Lip Sync For Your Life” that left us in tears. Who knew I would spend most of my early 20s crying in the corner of the club? Thanks, Robyn. I’ll keep dancing on my own.
2011 (TIE): Nicki Minaj - “Super Bass”
Don’t lie to me. Don’t even try. When this song comes up in the club, you have no choice but to turn up. Nicki spits straight up fire in this tongue-twisting track, and somehow everyone still knows every word of this rap by heart. ”Super Bass” spawned multiple memes of people trying to replicate Nicki’s signature flow and failing miserably.
A catchy infusion of J-pop and hip-hop topped off with a chorus that will always get stuck in your head, this song is pop crack. Paired with a visually distinctive video, “Super Bass” was destined to be a hit. Not only that, we got the first hints of some of Nicki’s various alter egos (where did they go?) in some of the grr’s, growls, and other accents and affectations that only she can own. “Super Bass” not only established Nicki’s presence as a major player in the industry, but also gave us one of the best tracks of the 2010s.
2011 (TIE): Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris - “We Found Love”
Let's face it, it’s Rihanna’s world and we’re all just living in it. Rihanna has the most #1 singles of any artist this decade, bar none. She basically ruled the radio in the early 2010s, and the 2017 launch of her cosmetic brand Fenty Beauty propelled her from superstardom to megastardom.
There are so many Rihanna songs we could have put on this list. “Work”? Yas kween. “Where Have You Been,” “Diamonds,” “What’s My Name,” “Only Girl (In The World)” and more, Rihanna’s string of hits over the past decade is undeniable. “We Found Love” featuring Calvin Harris is undoubtedly the crown jewel in her arsenal of hits, an uptempo EDM track that packs a serious punch. This song pretty much solidified the EDM craze and festival culture that dominated the first half of the 2010s, and made melodic, emotional, uptempo EDM a thing.
The music video features our ‘Bad Gal Riri’ in a drug-addled, codependent relationship, which many viewers interpreted as echoing her own troubled relationship with singer Chris Brown. A montage of heated arguments and physical altercations, the video seems like more of a mini-movie than something befitting a dance track. And can we talk about that iconic moment where she vomits streamers?!
2011 (TIE): Adele - “Someone Like You”
Yep, we have a triple tie here. 2011 was a big year for music, ok?
I obviously wanted to focus more on clubby dance tracks (we are, after all, a party hub for everything New Year’s Eve), but this is the one ballad that made it onto the list. And boy, is it a doozie.
“Someone Like You” is the “I Will Always Love You” of our generation. It’s a terrible, horrible, wonderful breakup song about two people who just aren’t meant to be together. Adele’s vocals shine and shimmer on this track. There is a real dynamism to her voice which is able to convey intimacy in every line, even when belting it out. This gorgeous piano ballad packs a soulful, deeply emotional punch. “Someone Like You” is a grounded, no-frills record that we really needed as a reprieve from all the high-energy dance music ruling the airwaves that year. And unlike some of those dance-pop bops, “Someone Like You” will surely withstand the test of time.
2012 (TIE): Grimes - “Genesis”
It’s hard to talk about the 2010s without mentioning the blogging platform Tumblr. A lot of music - a lot, a lot of music - spewed from the gaping maw of the Internet. And from its depths, some independent artists managed to emerge victorious.
From 2012 to the middle of the decade, Grimes was Tumblr’s reigning queen. Borrowing from deep Internet trends such as seapunk and witch house, Grimes served up “Genesis,” which instantly went viral on Tumblr. The vibe of this super weird bop is hard to describe - it sort of sounds like it’s sung by disembodied ghosts tripping on mushrooms - but it’s oddly catchy. Despite its album Visions garnering tons of attention on Pitchfork and other music authorities, I still meet people who have never heard this song, which at almost 60 million views on YouTube and counting, is beyond me.
The video features Grimes and a crew of hipper-than-thou girls in schoolgirl outfits and other Tumblr-esque garb wielding swords, maces, and python snakes. There’s also an iconic cameo from L.A. rapper Brooke Candy wearing a bikini made of armor and swinging a sword around in the ocean. It’s totally, irrefutably cool. This track has an infectious bassline with atmospheric delays and incomprehensible lyrics. Are there even lyrics to this song? I don’t know. I don’t care. I just want to be in Grimes’ dream world of video game babes.
2012 (TIE): Icona Pop feat. Charli XCX - “I Love It”
“I crashed my car into the bridge, I don’t care!” If there was ever a Millennial anthem, this would be it. All in all a solid track from Swedish pop duo Icona Pop, penned by experimental pop singer Charli XCX.
The anthemic chorus paired with the layered, pitch-shifting synths of this Swedish EDM banger make you feel like you’re on a rollercoaster and you simply DGAF anymore. The economy sucks, the job market sucks, dating sucks, everything sucks and all you can do is throw your hands up in the air and shout “I don’t care! I LOVE it.” It’s sarcastic, nihilistic, self-destructive, and fun - everything Millennials are about.
“I Love It” is basically that meme with the dog drinking coffee in business attire while his house is burning down, in song format. It’s fine. This is fine. Just let it all burn.
2013: Disclosure feat. Sam Smith - “Latch”
Nobody knew who Sam Smith was before this song happened, and now he’s more or less a household name widely renowned for his vocal prowess. A lot of people thought the vocalist was a woman on first listen - but no, his voice is just that good.
In 2013, having “Latch” on your playlist was a signifier that you had good taste in music. Released in late 2012, this song didn’t really pop off until the early part of 2013. Due to its unconventional 6/8 time signature, “Latch” was initially considered too ‘weird’ to be on the radio, much less played in the clubs, but it quickly drew listeners in with its slappy beats, sparkling synths, and bass-driven chorus. Combined with Smith’s smooth vocal delivery and Disclosure’s innovative production, the romantic lyrics tend to awaken all sorts of feelings. According to one commenter on YouTube, “This song really do hit differently when you’re in love.”
2014: Taylor Swift feat. Kendrick Lamar - “Bad Blood”
“Lover” or hate her, we would be remiss not to include Taylor Swift in this list. Taylor Swift is a big deal. She’s only one of two artists of the 2010s to sell more than a million copies of an album during the first week of release multiple times - the other being Adele - and she’s the only artist in history to sell a million albums in one week four times in a row. Four times.
In the summer of 2014, you couldn’t escape “Bad Blood.” There was simply no way around it. Taylor Swift single-handedly defined “#squadgoals” on Instagram with a video starring a slew of household names such as Selena Gomez, Kendrick Lamar, Gigi Hadid, Cara Delevigne, Lena Dunham, Zendaya, and more as a group of Kill Bill-esque assassins in an action-packed vendetta scenario. Swift let each of her squad members create their own character, which is pretty cool. The video’s ensemble cast made it a shoe-in for Video of the Year at the 2015 VMAs, and currently has over 1 billion views on YouTube.
2015: Justin Bieber - “Sorry”
In the span of a decade, Justin Bieber went from Usher’s YouTube-discovered protégé, to teen dream, to hot mess, to… kind of grown-up artist? (Then back to hot mess, but I digress.) This smooth-talking song really feels like J.B. saying “sorry” for all the crazy stuff he did in the mid-2010s.
This song cemented dancehall-inspired tropical pop as the dominant sound of the mid-2010s. Produced by Skrillex and BloodPop (hitmaker for other artists on this list, such as Lady Gaga, Charli XCX, and Grimes), the production on this track and 2015 album Purpose has a much more adult feel than his previous releases. Overall it’s an easy listen with sleek production and catchy hook, with Bieber’s vocals taking center stage. Admit it, Biebs can sang. With over 3 billion views on YouTube (yes - billion) and currently in the top 10 most viewed videos on the platform, the success of this song is no joke. Sorry.
2016: Beyoncé - “Formation”
Okay, ladies. Fresh off the heels of other feminist Beyoncé bops like “Flawless” and “Run the World (Girls)”, our queen Yoncé delivered this girl power anthem in the spring of 2016 as the lead single off her visual album, Lemonade.
“Formation,” heavily inspired by New Orleans bounce music, offers so much that is truly worthy of applause. With numerous shout-outs to the Black Lives Matter movement and calls to radical feminist action (“Okay ladies, now let’s get in formation”), the video depicts women of color as dolled-up southern belles in antebellum-inspired lewks, with Beyoncé serving side-eye on top of flooded police cars.
The highly political performance of this song at the Super Bowl resulted in much-discussed controversy. The resulting think-pieces and op-eds merely served to spotlight Beyoncé’s revisionist narrative as a victory for the artist, and the song itself was the most searched of 2016. What else is there to say? Beyoncé, Queen of America, can do no wrong.
2017 (TIE): Cardi B - Bodak Yellow
No shade, but we all know it’s true: Nicki walked so Cardi could run. As soon as this song came out, Cardi B went from being a VH1 reality star to a superstar in a matter of months, and music authority Pitchfork had no choice but to crown “Bodak Yellow” the Best Song of 2017. The music video also features a sumptuous treatment, with a Cleopatra-esque Cardi B riding around the deserts of Dubai in her “bloody shoes” and hanging out with a cheetah that was loaned to her by a local sultan. I love everything about that.
This hyped-up anthem can turn your day around like nothing else. Having a bad day? Simply put on “Bodak Yellow” and suddenly you’re on top of the world. As one YouTube commenter put it, “This song makes me want to steal money from my own wallet.” Okrrrrr!
2017 (TIE): Luis Fonsi feat. Daddy Yankee - “Despacito”
Despite how much I don’t want to do this, I know I can’t reasonably compile a list about the 2010s in music without mentioning “Despacito.” In terms of songs that went instantly viral, “Despacito” blows even 2012’s “Gangnam Style” out of the water.
This song invented Latin pop. Almost 7 billion views on YouTube. A zillion accolades. Hundreds of remixes. “The Despacito effect.” I went all the way to Europe in an attempt to flee from this song, only to find someone playing it on a violin in front of the Pantheon in Rome. It was inescapable. It was everywhere. We all know it. We all fear it. Next.
2018: Lil Nas X - “Old Town Road”
We’ve sped through several years of music on our roundup - we’re now inching closer to 2020, and the world is changing. Songs are becoming memes. Memes are becoming hits. TikTok videos are making Billboard chart history. Where am I? The Twilight Zone?
I’m not sure if this song is good because it’s a viral meme, or if it’s a viral meme because it’s good. The lines are all kind of starting to blur together in this brave new world. “Old Town Road” starts off with a moody Nine Inch Nails sample and progresses into a kind of cheesy, twangy hook about horses and stuff, and it somehow managed to break Billboard records previously held by Mariah Carey.
Despite its humble beginnings as an Internet sensation, this is the song that spawned a thousand remixes in a calculated effort by industry big-wigs to keep its momentum on the charts, which kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth. That said, it was created by an unsigned black LGBT artist, which is pretty awesome. The fact that he came out of nowhere and managed to break long-standing records by established artists as well as collect millions of dollars in revenue in just a short matter of months is nothing short of extraordinary, and definitely a sign that times are a-changin’. Lil Nas X’s mind-boggling rise to prominence might actually be de rigueur in the 2020s, and the “overnight Internet sensation turned major label machine” nature of this track makes it a perfect way to round off the decade.
2019: Ariana Grande - “thank u, next”
The latter part of the 2010s was a very difficult time for Ariana Grande. From the death of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller, to a highly publicized split with fiancé Pete Davidson, and a terrible tragedy at her concert in Manchester, it’s almost astounding to think that she’s still able to make music at all. She could have gone full Britney meltdown, but instead she continues to gift us with absolute bops.
Despite the tragedies she’s experienced, Grande’s songs aren’t sappy or self-pitying; they’re empowering. And that’s why this song is so great: it’s about taking the hurt and the pain from the past and realizing that it was all a life lesson, and those experiences give you the strength to pick up and move on. That’s a really powerful message wrapped up into a catchy, 3 minute pop song. Yes, that message is served up in a kind of girly, cheeky, frivolous package, but that’s part of its charm - and what makes it so easily digestible. “Thank you, next.” It’s graciously empowering and dismissively terse at the same time. The ultimate breakup anthem.
BONUS! 2019: Lizzo - “Truth Hurts”
Despite my best efforts to wrap this at a Top 15, I couldn’t in good conscience ignore the incredible force that is Lizzo.
This song was initially released in 2017, but quickly became the sleeper hit of 2019 after gaining popularity on TikTok and reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100. At four weeks at the top, it’s the longest number one rap single by a female solo artist, beating out another song in this list - Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow.”
“Truth Hurts” is an unapologetically feel-good song, and the video shows Lizzo marrying herself in a grand gesture of self-love. Armed with a body-positive message that’s impossible to ignore, Lizzo has totally won us over with her undeniable charisma and unabashed confidence. She received a standing ovation at the BET Awards, a nomination for Best New Artist at the MTV VMAs, and now she’s starring alongside J-Lo and Cardi B in Hustlers. Lizzo’s cheeky smile on the single cover is kind of like the silver lining around a year otherwise mired by controversy and a dark political mood. “Truth Hurts” gives us just a little bit of hope for the future. Thanks, Liz.
Honorable Mentions (Top 40 Roundoff)
Avicii - “Levels” (2011)
M83 - “Midnight City” (2011)
Azealia Banks - “212” (2011)
PSY - “Gangnam Style” (2012)
Lana Del Rey - “Video Games” (2012)
Kanye West feat. Big Sean, Pusha T, 2 Chainz - “Mercy” (2012)
Katy Perry - “Dark Horse” (2013)
Miley Cyrus - “Wrecking Ball” (2013)
Lorde - “Royals” (2013)
Sia - “Chandelier” (2014)
Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX - “Fancy” (2014)
FKA twigs - “Two Weeks” (2014)
SOPHIE - “Bipp” (2015)
The Weeknd - “Can’t Feel My Face” (2015)
Major Lazer & DJ Snake feat. MØ - “Lean On” (2015)
Fetty Wap - “Trap Queen” (2015)
Bjork - “Stonemilker” (2015)
Drake - “Hotline Bling” (2016)
The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey - “Closer” (2016)
David Bowie - “Blackstar” (2016)
Lil Peep - “Crybaby” (2016)
Migos - “Bad and Boujee” (2017)
Childish Gambino - “This is America” (2018)
Billie Eilish - “Bad Guy” (2019)
Be sure to check out our Spotify Playlist to live the 2010s all over again. And if you really want to end the decade the right way, check out some of our New Year's Eve parties with tickets on sale now.