(Pop)Tara’s Favorites of the 2010s

UIC Radio album covers

Folks! Welcome to PopTara's edition of the top songs, albums, and artists of the 2010s. This blog is apart of the  "Favorites of the 2010s" series presented by UIC Radio's executive board, so be sure to check out the rest of our staff's picks this week!

Now, sit back, relax, and prepare to learn up the superior music of the 2010s:

Top 15 Songs of the Decade:

15.  212 – Azealia Banks ft. Lazy Jay (2014)

I’mma ruin you c*nt,” Azealia Banks sneers over playful house-beats in one her most on-brand songs, 212. This party anthem that reads you to filth pays homage to New York’s Harlem scene while also bringing in elements of vouge culture (something Banks has been doing before it was a popular trend). 212 never fails to get people moving, and also sets the tone for the controversial personality that would follow Banks all the way to the end of the decade.

14. I Like America & America Likes Me – The 1975 (2018)

I know most people would not agree with my choice of selecting this particular The 1975 song for this list given that all of their most praised songs have also been released this decade (The Sound, Robbers, Love It If We Made It). But when I hear Matty Healy scream, “I’m scared of dying, it’s fine,” I cannot help but fall into an existential crisis every time I play this song. As someone who has been in an existential crisis for most of this decade, I have a deeper appreciation for the meaning of this song. The 1975 examines the current state of American society and paints a grim picture of where we stand as we come to the end of another decade. “Kids don’t want rifles, they want Supreme / no gun required / will this help me lay down? / we’re scared of dying, it’s fine,” Healy sings in despair over experimental futuristic beats.

13. Gone – Charli XCX ft. Christine and the Queens (2019)

Charli XCX has never been an artist who plays by the rules. Her need for nonconformity in pop music has been reflected throughout her work this past decade and was really brought to life in her mental-breakdown of a song, Gone. “I feel so unstable, f***ing hate these people,” XCX exclaims over funk-pop beats and dramatic synths. Héloïse Letissier of Christine and the Queens also joins XCX in this number as the two spiral into a story of frustration and a sense of not belonging.

12. Slow Burn – Kacey Musgraves (2018)

Kacey Musgraves marked herself as a country rebel with the release of her junior album, Golden Hour. The album breaks traditional country rules by blending elements of different genres together and offering lyrics that stray away from the common tropes found in country music. Slow Burn, in particular, tells a beautiful story of accepting the fact that you do not fit in with the world around you and that you will live life however you want to. “Texas is hot, I can be cold / grandma cried when I pierced my nose / …I’m alright with a slow burn / taking my time / let the world turn,” Musgraves gently sings over acoustic guitar strums that would later be followed by a trippy drumbeat.

11. Queen – Perfume Genius (2014)

No family is safe when I sashay,” the glam-rock singer, Perfume Genius (Mike Hadreas), warns in his grimy yet glittery song, Queen. With crashing cymbals, brash tones, and snarky vocals, Perfume Genius raises the question of the decade, “Don’t you know your queen?” The song serves as a gay liberation anthem with a glowing production that makes you feel as if you’ve floated up to the gates of Heaven.

10. Yonkers – Tyler, The Creator (2011)

A new subculture of teens and young adults emerged in the early 2010s that would live on till the end of the decade — a subculture created thanks to the Odd Future (OFWGKTA) movement. Chuck Taylors and checkered Vans, skateboards, bucket hats, colored prints with stipped sleeves underneath — you guys know what kind of people I’m talking about. This particular trend and part of pop culture got its kickstart when Tyler, The Creator dropped, Yonkers, his first real release on a major label, which would lead to the rise of Odd Future and leave an unforgettable mark on the 2010s.

9. Avant Gardener – Courtney Barnett (2013)

Lyrically, Avant Gardener by Courtney Barnett serves as one of the best songs of the decade. The indie-rock singer tells a far too relatable story of what it feels like to have panic attacks and the day-by-day thoughts of someone living with an anxiety disorder. Avant Gardener also sonically and lyrically pays homage to Pulp Fiction and Uma Thurman, “I get adrenalin straight to the heart / I feel like Uma Thurman / post-overdosing kick start,” Barnett sings over funky yet hazy instrumentals.

8. Runaway – Kanye West ft. Pusha T (2010)

Let’s have a toast for the d**che bags / Let’s have a toast for the a**holes / Let’s have a toast for the scumbags,” Kanye West proudly states in his anthem, Runaway. The vast 16-note piano line that kicks off the song has become instantly recognizable in pop culture and launched the ego that would dominate West’s future public career. West has said, done, and produced a lot of unforgettable things this past decade, and Runaway falls somewhere at the top of that list.

7. Everything Is Embarrassing – Sky Ferreira (2012)

Sky Ferreira made every teenager feel less alone with the release of her quirky 80’s inspired anthem, Everything Is Embarrassing. “I’ve been hating everything / everything that could have been / Could have been my anything / now everything’s embarrassing,” Ferreira dramatically sings over dreamy beats. Perfect for blaring in your car and screaming to during the most awkward moments of your life, Everything Is Embarrassing will always remain a timeless bop.

6. Dancing On My Own – Robyn (2010)

One of the most perfect examples of sweet, sugary, well-executed bubblegum pop is Robyn’s, Dancing On My Own. Mixing elements of house and disco, the Swedish pop star gives listeners a head rush of euphoria as she sings about seeing an ex with someone new at the club. And speaking of clubs, if you have ever stepped foot in any gay club this past decade, there is a strong chance you’ve partied to this song. The glittering tempo and the story of dancing through a heartbreak always finds a way to bring people together and excite a crowd as Robyn sings lines such as, “I’m giving it my all / but I’m not the guy you’re taking home / oh I keep dancing on my own.

5.  Ribs – Lorde (2013)

As the 2010’s are rapidly coming to an end, I’m sure most of us are thinking, “Where did the time go?” And that is the big picture Lorde addresses in her cult-favorite song, Ribs. At only 16-years-old, Lorde painfully captured the fear of growing old, losing your family, and outgrowing friendships. “This dream isn’t feeling sweet / I’ve never felt more alone / It feels so scary, getting old/…you’re the only friend I need / sharing beds like little kids / laughing ’til our ribs get tough / but that will never be enough,” Lorde chimes over the ambient, droning buzz of nostalgia. Another highlight of this track is during the bridge when Lorde goes into a panicked frenzy of wanting her time and memories to last forever. Sonically, Ribs makes you want to lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling all night, and lyrically it does the same.

4. Thinkin Bout You – Frank Ocean (2012)

Being a queer man, a black queer man, was not something that held a lot of visibility back in 2012. Being a black queer man in the R&B and Hip-Hop scene in 2012 not only lacked visibility but also lacked respect. Frank Ocean ignored society’s norms that year when he released his classic R&B hit, Thinkin Bout You, a song reminiscing on the summer nights he fell in love with another man for the first time. Ocean’s flawlessly smooth vocals drip in nostalgia and glowing love as he sings, “Yes, of course I remember / how could I forget how you feel? / and though you were my first time / a new feel / It won’t ever get old.” This song launched the start of Ocean’s cult following and will always hold a special place in our hearts.

3. no tears left to cry – Ariana Grande (2018)

One year after suffering through the tragic Manchester bombing, Ariana Grande made the come back of the decade by releasing her single, no tears left to cry (NTLTC). “Ain’t got no tears left to cry / So I’m pickin’ it up / pickin’ it up / I’m lovin’ / I’m livin’ / I’m pickin’ it up,” Grande effortlessly sings. While serving 80s house-music synth triplets and gospel-range vocals, Grande reminds us that recovery, survival, and resilience will always be an option instead of musing over the past. NTLTC remains one of Grande’s most hopeful and liberating songs from her entire discography, and of the decade.

2.  Cellophane – FKA Twigs (2019)

Simply written but beautifully executed, FKA twigs presents one of the most emotionally vulnerable songs of the decade, Cellophane. As a gentle lullaby is sung over a piano that never changes key, Twigs tells a tale of a failed relationship and a broken spirit. Throughout her relationship with Robert Pattinson (whom this song is about), Twigs was publically criticized and a target of racism. After Pattinson called off the engagement, the UK singer developed a serious physical illness due to tumors, causing this to be an even tougher period of her life. But, in 2019, Twigs made a comeback with the release of her album, Magdalene, which goes into an artistic depth of her journey with heartbreak, illness, and womanhood that lead her to a place of growth and empowerment. “Didn’t I do it for you? / Why won’t I do it for you?/ Why won’t you do it for me? /…They’re watching us / They’re hating / They’re waiting / And hoping I’m not enough,” Twigs cries in Cellophane, the closing track on Magdalene.

1. Video Games – Lana Del Rey (2012)

When the harp arpeggios, church bells, and warm-honey like vocals chime in, we are instantly transported to the sweetest yet the most melancholy tale of the decade — Lana Del Rey’s Video Games. The cinematic ballad tells a crippling beautiful story of wanting nothing else in life but the simplicity of being loved. “They say that the world was built for two / only worth living if somebody is loving you / baby now you do,” Del Rey declares. Finding beauty, love, and happiness in the most simple and mundane aspects of life, Del Rey also sings, “This is all I think of / watching all our friends fall / in and out of Old Paul’s / this is my idea of fun / playing video games.” But sometimes, the love and simplicity we crave in life does not always want us back — a feeling Del Rey tries her hardest to repress in the masterpiece that is Video Games.

Top 10 Albums of the Decade:

10. Flower Boy – Tyler, The Creator (2017)

Tyler, The Creator’s, Flower Boy, is a beautifully painted collage of songs of self-reflection. At the start of the decade, we saw the rapper playfully make tracks with Odd Future that were not meant to be taken too seriously. But in 2017, Tyler, The Creator showed a more vulnerable side to his art. Flower Boy was Tyler’s way of proving he could be a serious artist while still maintaining his goofy brand. The album goes into depth about his story of accepting his sexuality, finding his identity, and becoming more open about his insecurities. The 14-track-album plays a lot on mellow funk arrangments and features artists such as, Frank Ocean, Rex Orange County, and A$AP Rocky. Seeing Tyler’s growth from using homophobic slurs in his earlier work, to finding pride in his identity today makes it impossible to not acknowledge this album as one of the best of the decade.

Top Tracks: Boredom / See You Again / Garden Shed

9. Teenage Dream – Katy Perry  (2010)

Katy Perry’s, Teenage Dream, contains some of the best examples of perfect pop songs while also containing some hidden gems of rock-inspired anthems. With tracks that are absolutely unforgettable to this decade like California Gurls (“so hot we’ll melt your popsicle” will always be an iconic line), Teenage Dream will always contain some of Perry’s greatest work. Perry also mapped out some of the key elements to formulating a bubblegum pop songs, which would later inspire other pop girls to do the same. The fun playful album will never fail to provoke summer memories from this past decade into listener’s heads, giving it a spot on this list.

Top Tracks: Teenage Dream / California Gurls / Circle The Drain

8. Masseduction – St. Vincent (2017)

St. Vincent’s alternative album of reminiscence, Masseduction, tears into the fear of being alone and stuck with yourself. Though critics argue this is not one of Vincent’s best pieces of work, I disagree. Each song contains well-written lyrics that are perfect for when you want to be moody or angry with yourself. The griminess of the album, the storylines, the slinky vocals, and funky production makes Masseduction one of the best, and also one of the most underrated, albums of the 2010s.

Top Tracks: New York / Los Ageless / Savior

7. Melodrama – Lorde (2017)

Lorde made a major comeback with her sophomore goth-pop album, Melodrama. The album dramatically tells Lorde’s story of dealing with her first real heartbreak and turning to the big city of New York to find comfort, healing, and self-love. The album is something everyone can relate to at some point in their life making her husky words feel so raw and genuine. This masterpiece captures the exhilarating feeling of being in your 20-somethings and growing into your own self. Her haunting delivery, gleaming synths, and fluorescent tone makes Melodrama one of the most captivating albums of the decade.

Top Tracks: Sober / Hard Feelings / Homemade Dynamite

6. OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES – SOPHIE (2018)

SOPHIE brings us one of the most sophisticated pieces of production with OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES. The beat-heavy album is not one that everyone understands but is so beautiful once you do. Some songs off the album are club anthems, such as Ponyboy and Immaterial, others are chilling and haunting, such as Is It Cold In The Water? and then there are others that deal with gender and selfhood, such as Whole New World. It’s a perfectly rounded album. This album allows for freedom and nonconformity when addressing topics such as sexuality and gender while bringing awareness to the subculture of experimental PC pop music.

Top Tracks: Ponyboy / Immaterial / Faceshopping

5. Art Angels – Grimes (2015)

Grimes’s, Art Angels, is a highlight of the decade with experimental elements causing the album to fit into its entirely own subculture of pop music. Sweet vocals, punk titles, dance beats — what more could we ask for? With sinister lyrics that usually go unnoticed due to her sugary tone, her nonconventional take on pop music makes Art Angels one of the most interesting and different albums of the decade. It’s impossible to listen to this piece of work and not grin.

Top Tracks: Pin / Califonia / Flesh without Blood

4. Ultraviolence – Lana Del Rey (2014)

Haunting, depressing, and so painfully elegant is Lana Del Rey’s, Ultraviolence. Pulling in elements of rock and blues, Del Rey seductively sings about her loneliness, drugs, and tragic love. In a whirlwind of drums, guitar riffs, and some pretty dark lyrics (listen to Ultraviolence & F***ed My Way Up To The Top), it is impossible not to get lost in the world Del Rey has created for her cult-like fan base. Del Rey unapologetically pushed the boundaries again on Ultraviolence, something that the masses did not want to see, causing this to be one of the most iconic albums of the decade.

Top Tracks: Florida Kilos / Cruel World / West Coast

3. No Shape – Perfume Genius  (2017)

Perfume Genius’s senior album, No Shape, is dramatic, lush, and absolutely brilliant. This piece contains an ecstatic sound with insanely gorgeous transitions between tracks. The elegant dynamics of the albums brings you to a place that feels as if you were in the aesthetic movement, while creating a safe haven for the queer community. Perfume Genius’s vocals are sensual and silky as he sings sparkling love songs to his long-term boyfriend.

Top Tracks: Slip Away / Die 4 You / Run Me Through

2. Blonde – Frank Ocean (2016)

Frank Ocean’s sophomore album, Blonde, is clever, influential, and emotional. With hazy and distorted production and poetic lyrics, Ocean was able to create one of the most unforgettable albums of the decade. Using a fragile tone, Ocean sings about existence, morality, and loneliness. The album also consists of elements of surf rock, guitar solos, and some of the smoothest transitions ever recorded to capture the overall tone of lovesickness and the confusion of being alive. Blonde is an ageless album that will never fail to get you lost in thought and in your feelings.

Top Tracks: Self Control / Nights / Seigfried

1. Norman F***ing Rockwell! – Lana Del Rey (2019)

Landing as the best album of the decade is Lana Del Rey’s 5th studio album, Norman F***ing Rockwell! (NFR!). Co-written and produced by the iconic Jack Antonoff, Del Rey sings about love, heartbreak, climate change, hopelessness, Kanye West, and everything in between. Mirroring a 70s aesthetic with brilliant piano melodies, acoustic guitars, and angst, Del Rey somehow managed to create an album that feels larger than life. With painful ballads that instantly brings you to somber tears such as, Love Song, California, and Happiness is a Butterfly, a groovy Sublime cover of Doin’ Time, and attitude-filled anthems that are a reminder that men ain’t sh*t, such as the album titled track, Norman F***ing RockwellNFR! presents itself as a flexible but cohesive album. Throughout the decade, Del Rey has shown time and time again that she is a brilliant songwriter and story-teller, and NFR! truly solidified her a spot as not only one of the best writers of the decade but also of the century.

Top Tracks: The greatest / Happiness is a Butterfly / Cinnamon Girl

Top 5 Artists of the Decade:

5. FKA twigs

As mentioned when we were covering, Cellophane, this decade has been a tough one for FKA twigs. A painful breakup that followed not too long after getting engaged and moving in together, being racially torn apart by the media for being in a relationship with a famous white guy, surgery, tumors, and more — Twigs has been through it all. At the start of the decade, we received the fabulous debut project from Twigs, LP1LP1 came from a younger version of Twigs. It was a reflection of her happier 20’s when running around New York and embracing her sensuality and carefree spirit was her main focus. However, when life started to take major swings at the musician/dancer, we started to hear less from her. In the first few years following 2014 we received a few smaller projects from Twigs (M3LL155X is super underrated please go listen to it right now), but in 2019, we finally received Twigs’s sophomore album, Magdalene. Now in her 30’s, Twigs has had the time to process her pain and has come back stronger than ever before. While there are heartwrenching tracks on Magdalene that paints the picture of a broken relationship, other parts of this experimental album highlights the power in womanhood, using Mary Magdalene as a symbol of underappreciated women who have had to sacrifice too much for men. While Twig’s story of growth is one reason to list her as one of the top artists of the decade, you also have to consider her unbelievable dancing skills and use of opera in her art (Twigs is professionally trained in both areas). Her live shows are unlike anything any other artist this decade has done. As she combines elements from different dancing styles (voguing, tap dance, pole dancing, etc), opera, and a renaissance aesthetic, Twigs has turned her concerts into actual theatrical performances that leave the audience speechless and in tears by the end of the night. FKA twig’s story, lyrical craft, experimental sound, and dedication to the things she loves and the people she loves is something to be applauded — and she is without a doubt one of the best artists of the 2010s.

4. The 1975

Making their debut appearance as The 1975 in 2013, the band of four from the UK has done the most in terms of creating visibility for pop-rock artists. Over the decade, The 1975 has crafted some of the most beautiful pieces of work (The 1975, I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It, & A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships) while offering some of the most well thought out lyrics. Their pop enhanced rock sound inspired the scene of “edgy Tumblr girls,” a phase that had a major pop culture impact in the 2010s. The lyrical content, however, is what really makes The 1975 one of the best bands of the decade. While at times exploring heavy topics such as politics and the flaws of America, the band goes even deeper and more vulnerable when their frontman, Matty Healy, sings about his struggles with heroin addiction and mental health. The heaviness and the realness of The 1975 makes them one of the most noticeable bands of the decade as well as their lack of fear to get experimental with their sound.

3. Frank Ocean

Now that we are at the end of the decade, we have a lot more queer representation in mainstream music. We have Tyler, The Creator, Kevin Abstract, Troye Sivan, and more — mostly thanks to Frank Ocean. Coming out as a bisexual man who makes R&B and Hip-Hop music was practically unheard of at the start of the decade. But in 2012, Frank Ocean braved any chance of rejection and put out his debut album, Channel ORANGEChannel ORANGE was a beautifully crafted album that told tales of Ocean’s past romances with both men and women. As one of the pioneer members of Odd Future, Ocean already had a pretty good grip on influencing followers to adopt a similar mindset as his. When Ocean publically showed comfort in his sexuality and in his masculinity, he inspired others to do the same and change the way they viewed gender and sexuality. Following Channel ORANGE, in 2016, Ocean released his sophomore album, Blonde (that we’ve already discussed on this blog). After Blonde, Ocean released his photography-based ‘zine, Boys Don’t Cry, which furthered the discussion around gender and masculinity. Today, Ocean has been releasing new singles, hosting a radio show where he highlights up-and-coming artists, and throwing club parties, PrEP , for the queer community. Given Ocean had two of the most sophisticated albums of the decade — both lyrically and sonically — and the influence he has made on the LGBTQ community, it is impossible not to call him one of the best artists of the decade, and possibly, of the century.

2. Charli XCX

Charli XCX — the pop girl whose goal in the industry is to push the boundaries as far as she can while also creating a new subgenre of futuristic pop music. While XCX has released five albums over the decade (True Romance, SUCKER, Number 1 Angel, Pop 2, & Charli), it wasn’t till 2017 that the London singer found her voice and purpose in the industry. Being a nonconforming pop artist, XCX has started to inspire the scene of sugary futuristic music that relies heavily on the PC influence of A.G. Cook. This new sound brings together a community of outcasts, misfits, and club kids who just want to have a good time. XCX brings the party with her everywhere she goes and has also done a lot to help build a platform for underrated women and queer artists. Her most recent two albums rely on tons of features including artists such as Pabllo Vittar, Kim Petras, and Brooke Candy, to help bring awareness to these names and also as an indicator of who her clique is. XCX’s dedication, influence, and ability to create such a tight-knit community of both fans and new performers makes XCX one of the most interesting artists of the decade.

1. Lana Del Rey

The vocalist of the decade. The songwriter of the decade. The most influential artist of the decade. Lana Del Rey. Starting off her career in New York as Lizzy Grant, (and then as Sparkle Jumprope Queen), singing in bars, dealing with substance dependencies, and getting into trouble — it is exhilarating to see Del Rey today as one of the most iconic figures and one of the most respected figures in the alternative pop scene. When Del Rey’s cinematic song, Video Games, went viral on Tumblr in 2012, thanks to the help of The Weeknd, a new movement of alternative pop girls was born. Later inspiring the careers of other artists such as Lorde and Billie Eilish, nobody knew at the start of the decade how impactful Del Rey would be. From her choppy homemade music videos to the way she can elegantly deliver some of the raunchiest content (“my p***y tastes like Pepsi Cola” being one of the most known examples), it is impossible not to fall in love with Del Rey’s brand of being a carefree and powerful woman. With six albums released over the decade (Born To Die, Paradise, Ultraviolence, Honeymoon, Lust For Life, & Norman F***ing Rockwell!) and a plethora of unreleased tracks, Del Rey somehow managed to make each and every album sound entirely different yet entirely cohesive at the same time. Each album pulls in influences of different genres like blues, rock, hip-hop, and jazz, and also highlights all the different ways Del Rey can manipulate her vocal range. But what really makes Del Rey the artist of the 2010s is seeing how she started off singing depressing anthems of dealing with mental health issues and addictions at the start of the decade, to now in 2019 having a happier and healthier relationship with life, and hope for a brighter tomorrow. Del Rey has gotten me through some of the roughest patches in my life over the decade, and I know I’m not alone when I say I would not be the person I am today if I had never discovered her art.

 

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My name is Tara and I put out articles for UIC Radio on whatever day I can. I’m a media communication and professional writing major at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I host a pop music show, PopTara, on UIC Radio every Wednesday from 8:30pm-10:30pm. If you want to keep up with my manic life you can follow me here:

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