There’s a compelling case to be made for the best songs of the decade being given to us by holdover voices from the ‘00s—and truly, some of those warrant inclusion. But what made the 2010s so special in music was how simultaneously disparate and unified music felt. New voices sat alongside old, competing for the top spots. Genre walls fell and were rebuilt. As we look back at the best songs of the past ten years, there’s no clear pattern beyond quality. In the words of GQ contributors past and present, these are the songs that shaped the decade.
Kanye West feat. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, & Bon Iver, “Monster” (2010)
Apologizes to Godzilla, who gets a shout-out on Jay-Z’s much-mocked verse here, but Nicki Minaj is undoubtedly the King. Flanked by Kanye West at his creative peak, and surrounded by a murderers row of hip-hop’s best, Minaj’s roaring interrogation of her bubblegum alter-ego stole the show. It’s as if the Bride of Frankenstein herself rose up with an electrifying jolt and opted to Van Helsing her competition rather than letting them treat her like a mere accessory. We’re still feeling the ripple effect.—James Grebey
Cardi B, “Bodak Yellow”
In the back half of 2018, there was no escaping Cardi B. Her boisterous, shit-talking anthem “Bodak Yellow” shattered the notion of who gets to be a top-tier rapper, and proved that new artists could make culture-gripping moments all on the virtue of quality alone. "Bodak Yellow" was a fast favorite for fans across demographics and tax brackets, and helped widen the embrace for women in rap’s current sex-positive, I-do-what-I-want movement.—Stacy-Ann Ellis
Lana Del Rey, “Video Games”
If you’ve listened to even a second of music this decade, it can seem like Lana del Rey has been many things to us over the years: sad girl supreme, flower child, American oracle. Really, she’s been those things all along, ever since her stunning debut single. “Video Games” is timeless and remains the quintessential Lana mission statement.—Colin Groundwater
Azealia Banks, “212”
There’s no better song to single out when referencing the power New York City rap had in the 2010s than this out-of-the-gate head-busting breakout. Azealia Banks’s “212” is everything music should’ve been this decade—brash, boastful, bold, and banging. We’ll always have the memories.—Brennan Carley
J Balvin, “Mi Gente”
Language comprehension isn't a prerequisite for throwing down to a good song, which is why J Balvin's global genre-bridging "Mi Gente" shines. Its clattering remix brings French DJ/producer/vocalist Willy William and the world’s biggest superstar, Beyoncé, to the same table in Balvin’s Spanish-language paradise. Regardless of the soil on which “Mi Gente” is played, regardless of the words you can or can’t decipher, you can bet we’re all still singing along, word-for-word.—S.A.E.
Kendrick Lamar, "Swimming Pools (Drank)"
One of Kendrick Lamar’s most enduring gifts is how effortlessly he produces chart-topping Trojan Horses, radio-friendly hits with not-so-hidden meanings. In 2012, he set the stage for the decade’s soon-to-come "conscious" hip-hop with "Swimming Pools (Drank)," a college party mainstay about... the perils of peer-pressure and drinking. Only Kendrick could successfully pull off such a sleight of hand on such a grand scale. And things only skyrocketed from there. —Alex Shultz
Robin Thicke feat. T.I. & Pharrell, “Blurred Lines”
It’s both shocking and predictable that we allowed Robin Thicke’s smooth ode to being a creep to become such a hit. It’s also so fitting how easily the song gets stuck in your head—regardless of whether or not you want it to be there—and that’s largely due to the drums, which a copyright infringement suit determined were cribbed from Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” (thereafter, the late Prince of Soul was posthumously given a writing credit and royalties) Like it or not, “Blurred Lines” changed the way music was made, and the way we talked about consent, drawing some hard lines for what isn’t acceptable.—J.G.
Beyoncé doesn't make waves, she makes movements, and the effect "Formation" had on music was seismic. The Lemonade standout debunked the presumption that Bey's eyes and ears were closed to the problems of her people, and was a paean fans could blast in defiance of systematic oppression. Her on-wax nods to blackness were overt—the afros, the negro nose, the hot sauce—and audiences eager for their hero to speak up quickly drank them up..—S.A.E.
Lil Uzi Vert, “XO TOUR Llif3”
In February of 2017, Lil Uzi Vert lost two iPhones full of unreleased music during a show in Geneva. Back at the hotel that night, he decided to beat the inevitable leaker to the punch and released, among other songs, the hastily titled “XO Tour LIF3.” It would become one of the most played SoundCloud uploads ever, and perfectly embodied the reckless and rebellious spirit of the new generation of rappers he inspired.—Jordan Coley
Waka Flocka Flame, “Hard in Da Paint”
In 2010, there was a rap renaissance unfolding online, specifically around sites like DatPiff. Artists and DJs could cobble together loosies, throw them up as a mixtape, and go viral. Waka Flocka Flame and the rest of Bricksquad pioneered the movement, breaking out with aggressive Atlanta trap in reaction to the party-club stuff that was otherwise dominating the airwaves. “Hard in Da Paint” is the quintessential Flocka song, a four-minute long track filled with screaming, gun sounds, a monstrous Lex Luger beat, and some of the hardest lyrics of the decade (“When my little brother died I said FUCK school”). Flocka’s music paved the way for a new era in rap, in which ad-libs, flow, and production were more important than lyrics or technical prowess. All together now: SQUAAAAD.—Gabe Conte
Sky Ferreira, "Everything Is Embarrassing"
Released when a certain, emerging sliver of indie music had its mind fixed on the sepia-stained past, and sung by an impossibly cool, incredibly moody model, “Everything Is Embarrassing” remains totally irresistible. Its slinking, snappy melody and gated-reverb drums gave it the feel of a forgotten ‘80s jam. And the masterminds who helped Sky Ferreira achieve such perfection, Dev Hynes and Ariel Rechtshaid, went on to dictate the sound of the decade’s best left-of-center pop. Not bad for one song.—J.C.
Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris, “We Found Love”
A rollercoaster of a song with more drops than engineers could ever dream of constructing, “We Found Love” takes the best of both worlds—bubblegum pop and synth-heavy dance—and stitches them together to sublime results. Calvin Harris’s production is euphoric but controlled, each string pulled just so—it’d be pop at its manipulative finest if it didn’t sound so much like heaven.—B.C.
Earl Sweatshirt, "EARL"
In 2010, Earl Sweatshirt grabbed hip-hop by its neck while the rest of Odd Future stood around in a circle and jeered. Years later, “Earl” is difficult to revisit. It’s as gruesome today as it was then, and much of OFWGKTA’s early output has aged much worse than you’d expect. But the fact remains that a 16-year-old kid rapped circles around everybody, “put the ass in assassin,” and announced the arrival of one of the most important musical groups of the decade.—C.G.
There is no more recognizable bar, lyric, or sound, from the 2010s than the boom-clap-repeat of Avicii's "Levels." It’s become synonymous with EDM as a whole, which makes sense, given that it's almost singularly responsible for the genre's rise to mainstream. Not only did it wake a genre up, it woke the world up to a genre, too.—A.S.
Bobby Shmurda, “Hot N*gga"
With a music video that has amassed over 600 million views and a hat toss that has been memed into oblivion, “Hot N*gga” is certified internet canon. It’s also a prominent example of a narrative that would become all-too-familiar in this decade of rap—a star on the rise whose association with illicit activity gets them mired in the penal system, or often, worse.—J.C.
Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe”
In a weird way, it’s fair to call “Call Me Maybe” era Carly Rae Jepsen a one-hit wonder, because what came after feels so distinct. The enthusiastic love song, full of optimism and vulnerability, is the kind of viral lightning-escaped-a-bottle mayhem most artists only get once in a career. But Jepsen kept going, transforming herself into a critical darling and sword-wielding indie-pop icon. It’s hard to conjure up a more fitting example of a song uniting a decade-long division between blockbusters and niche, bloggy hits.—J.G.
LCD Soundsystem, “Dance Yrself Clean”
A nine-minute James Murphy song split into two distinct parts, the first not giving way to arm-flailing ecstasy until halfway through? A hard sell on paper, but the easiest pill to swallow on first listen, LCD Soundsystem capture joy and the feeling of time slipping out from under you when you’re right where you’re meant to me with “Dance Yrself Clean,” the decade’s best album-opener. It’s the song, and LP, that launched a bloggy favorite to headlining Madison Square Garden. It’s what we all deserved.—B.C.
Jamie xx, “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”
The British producer Jamie xx found a killer sample (by The Persuasions), slid Popcaan’s exuberance atop his luxurious, feel-good production, and pushed Young Thug to send in his best, most outlandish rhymes about sex and Speed Racer. “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” is genre-bending nirvana that towers over the sum of its disparate pieces.—J.G.
2NE1, "I Am The Best"
No genre had a better showing this decade than K-pop, a force so massive that it constantly tops worldwide charts and makes global superstars of its players. BTS and BLACKPINK dominated in recent years, but 2NE1 kicked down that door with “I Am The Best,” a barnstormer of a rap-pop-EDM hybrid that shows the full force of a group at their most powerful.—B.C.
Skrillex, “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites”
“Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites”, the title track from Skrillex’s first EP, hit at the perfect time, in the perfect place. As electronic dance music was being bastardized into whatever Pitbull felt like making, Skrillex’s hyper-loud and aggressive production balanced the scales. “Scary Monsters” is absurdly fast and frantic, ricocheting between drum and bass to speaker-rattling dubstep. The genius (and much parodied) choice to sample a viral YouTube video right before the song’s drop was always the point—Skrillex’s music sounded exactly like the internet come to life.—G.C.
“Versace” was the trap trio Migos’s splashy introduction to the greater, non-Atlanta world, and it spread their signature triplet flow that soon dominated rap. The song’s eventual remix was also one of the first instances of the symbiotic relationships Drake would soon form with emerging talent, wringing the group for their trendy cachet and granting them wider exposure in return.—J.C.
Zedd, GREY, & Maren Morris, “The Middle”
Never has Frankenstein’s monster looked so goddamned pretty. The story of “The Middle” is well-known by now: a big group of producers and songwriters came together to craft, piece by piece, via DropBox and iMessage, pop’s most glittering smash, before casting a net wide and far for a female vocalist, recording and ditching tons of big names along the way. But when they found Maren Morris, magic happened.—B.C.
LiL Nas X, “Old Town Road”
We’ll remember “Old Town Road” will as the greatest display of pop culture terraforming to have ever occurred. Was it a meme? A country song? A trap song? A Country Trap Song? All of the above? For 19 weeks straight, Lil Nas X bent the Billboard charts and the world to the will of his own Yeehawing, viral-tweeting agenda. Frankly, we were all better for it.—J.C.
Bon Iver, "Holocene"
Justin Vernon has always been at his best at his most precious, and no song from his sophomore album, Bon Iver, stands the test of time quite like “Holocene.” Plucked strings, a xylophone, and something like a maraca jitters as the backdrop to a bellowing Vernon. "Holocene" is a love song dedicated to the passage of time: how it washes away the pain, the mistakes in its grandness, and how far a little perspective—seeing for miles, miles, miles—can go.—Cam Wolf
From Beyoncé to Taylor Swift, from SOPHIE to Tame Impala, these are the records from the decade that changed music.
As the decade comes to a close, Kyle McGovern presents a ranking of the films that defined a tumultuous time for the Academy.
From Breaking Bad to RuPaul's Drag Race, the small screen saw some of its sharpest-ever programming over the last decade.
The future of cinema has never looked brighter.
Originally Appeared on GQ