Reviews

My Favorite Songs of the 2010s

Wow, has it been a decade already? So much has happened—not just in terms of my life, but in our musical culture. I mean, I started this decade with an iPod Nano then transitioned to the iPod Classic for several years, then they stopped selling it, and now I’m all cool and using an iPod Touch. (I literally only use it for music; this technology is wasted on me). And music streaming became huge in this decade; I spent most of it using Pandora, but finally came around to Spotify by the end. So many great music videos, new artists, old favorites, huge albums, award-winners, and one-hit wonders.

With all that in mind it’s hard to narrow down my favorite songs to just fifty! But I did it with some deep thoughts, a few prayers, and some time down nostalgia lane. Luckily, I’ve been keeping good track of my favorite annual songs since 2012, which helped. As always, I had a few rules to help me keep things orderly:

  • The songs had to be released from 2010-2019—no earlier, no later. (Sorry 2009).
  • Only one song per artist to prevent a single person from dominating the list.
  • Rather than ordering them alphabetically or by genre, we’re going chronologically. Please keep in mind this covers my high school, college, and grad school years so there’s a lot of variation.
  • I’ll provide a memory, reason, or favorite thing to explain why this song made my favorites of the decade. This is, of course, subjective; my list, my choices.

Let’s get this party started!

  1. “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry. If I had to pick one song by this artist to cover the decade, it would be this one. I remember sitting in a taqueria with my high school boyfriend feeling like this was my life; I was living the teenage dream. Plus, of her hits, it’s probably the one I still enjoy the most.
  2. “Why Don’t We Just Dance” by Josh Turner. For some reason I thought this song was older, probably because I’ve loved it since it came out. I love Turner’s deep voice, his earnest suggestion of dancing around the house, and I think it’s one of my favorite country songs.
  3. “S&M” by Rihanna. Like a lot of artists transitioning their careers, Rihanna dropped her good girl routine and stepped into something a little more risqué to show she was changing, and I really enjoyed it. The song is catchy as hell, and gave us a vision of the sex positive direction the decade was moving toward.
  4. “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele. This powerhouse had so many hits this decade, and I love so many of them. I remember being fixed to the screen when this video came out, captivated by her voice and presence, and it’s a song I love to belt in the car whenever I feel the need.
  5. “Statues” by Alexandre Desplat. I’ve also decided to include movie scores, because this was a great decade for them. While I was tempted by “Lily’s Theme” from the same film, this grand battle climax from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II won out. It reminds me of the end of that era, of the fanfiction I wrote, and how much I’ve grown as a writer since then. Plus it’s epic.
  6. “All-American Prophet” from The Book of Mormon. In my last year of high school, what would be my last year of theater really, we were obsessed with this musical. And I love how this song blends humor, history, and mythos into one and is catchy to boot. It reminds me of so many hours building sets, traveling to Nebraska for Nationals, and the friends I remember with fondness.
  7. “Skinny Love” by Birdy. Of course, not everything about this decade was happy. I struggled with loving myself and my body for a good portion of it, and this song was one of the anthems I’d listen to to amp myself into diet, you-shall-not-eat/binge mode. While I still appreciate the music, I’ve tried to move beyond the mindset.
  8. “Barton Hollow” by The Civil Wars. I remember going to Target right when their album came out and the associate had to go into the back to get it because they, for some reason, hadn’t put it on display yet. This is the band that made me love Americana and more folksy sounding music than just country. Plus it’s the song that helped me write the story that got me into grad school so I owe it for inspiration.
  9. “Yoü and I” by Lady Gaga. While I do prefer her earlier work to her later, it was still hard just picking a single song by this wonderful artist. In the end, I went for the song I love to sing, that was a little indicative of what was to come with her A Star is Born turn, and doesn’t sound quite like anything else she was doing but is still all Gaga.
  10. “Party Rock Anthem” by LMFAO featuring Lauren Bennet and Goonrock. This was a big song my senior year of high school. They played it at pep rallies and dances, but what I remember it for was the pantomime two of my classmates took to Nationals and how much it made people laugh and how hard they worked on it.
  11. “Mama’s Broken Heart” by Miranda Lambert. I heard this song for the first time right around when my high school boyfriend broke up with me—so it was perfect timing. Since then it’s been kept on replay for my singalongs and later breakup because it’s got a decent message that I can get behind and I love the way the verses build into the chorus.
  12. “Bloom” by The Paper Kites. This song is a warm cup of tea on an autumn morning. It’s hopeful and melancholic at the same time, and I enjoy the use of the rhetorical questions in the chorus because “Can I be close to you?” is only a matter of distance. It’s a lovely and beautiful song that I don’t think I can ever get tired of.
  13. “My Medicine” by The Pretty Reckless. It’s safe to say this was probably my favorite rock group of the decade, and it was hard to choose just one song off their three albums and one EP. So I went for the song that I kept coming back to time and time again because of its catchy riff, Taylor Momsen’s searing vocals, and the fact it’s the first track on their debut album. I listened to that on repeat for a long time.
  14. “Maybe Someday” by Teen Hearts. In my relationship transition back in 2012/13 I need an anthem for my crushes and this fit like a glove. Like it was everything I wanted from my dating life at the time and I’m pretty sure I danced and sang it in my room way too much while thinking about whoever was my obsession of the time—Cute Boy in My English Class or That Kiwi from OkCupid. The music video is pretty cute as well.
  15. “Trouble Maker” by Trouble Maker. This is probably my favorite K-pop song to date. I love the beats, the rhythm, the way the duo’s voices work together, and the dancing in the music is hypnotic. I have some fond memories of driving around with this blasting because it’s just so damn catchy.
  16. “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen. Back when this song was constantly on the radio, I tried to use this to pick-up guys. I thought, “My name’s Karley. This could work.” It did not. Anyway, the song is the ultimate earworm and I’m happy to see another girl with my name succeed in the world.
  17. “Smother” by Daughter. In one of my first writing workshops at university, suffering from writer’s block, I used this song as inspiration and wrote a melancholy little piece that I’m still a bit fond of. I enjoy Daughter’s music because her voice is like sheets sliding against each other, a lit candle, or water lapping against a shore. It’s relaxing but sad at the same time.
  18. “Bottom of the River” by Delta Rae. This song probably has something to do with my fascination with sound isolation and unexpected noise in music nowadays. You’ve got crickets, heavy breathing, chains, and stepping to create the rhythm that builds in this haunting song that’s been on heavy rotation in my folk horror playlist.
  19. “Timekeeper” by Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. This is another song I love to sing, especially at the top of my lungs. It’s also the inspiration for a half-finished Harry Potter fanfiction about time travel that has some merit and I wish I could bring some of those ideas to my original writing. Regardless, Grace Potter’s voice is a thunderstorm.
  20. “Whore” by In This Moment. I wasn’t sure which song to pick by another female-fronted band I enjoy so I went with one of the first ones I loved. This takes me back to those first few weeks after I passed my driving test, a mixed CD loaded up with music, and blasting this song out the windows of the good old mini-van. Plus it’s just a power move.
  21. “In All My Dreams I Drown” by Jessica Lowndes and Terrance Zdunich. One of the best experiences of the decade was going to a showing of The Devil’s Carnival with my friends and getting to meet the writer and director in person. This song—from the credits—is probably my favorite from the bunch and I spent hours singing it in mock duet. We all love a dark musical.
  22. “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Wanz. The first time I heard this song I was in New Zealand; they were ahead of the game. By the time it became a hit in the US I knew all the words. By the time I was working at an actual thrift shop and they were using it in marketing, I still loved the song and was able to spin that in my favor. I’m an absolute sucker for this anthem for the secondhand life that I live and breathe.
  23. “How to Be a Heartbreaker” by Marina and the Diamonds. I wasn’t sure whether to go for an upbeat or downbeat track by one of my favorite newer pop artists here. In the end, I went for the one that I love to sing, has a fun music video, and that I listened to in the car on repeat. The lessons in the song are timeless and I hold them close to the heart on my cheek.
  24. “Drinks on Me” by Millionaires. Everyone is allowed a guilty pleasure, and this is mine. This is one of those groups that got their start on MySpace and I followed them right from their first single. Can they sing? Not really. But their lyrics are fun and their songs are perfect for getting ready for a night out or a party. This one lists a whole bunch of drinks which basically reminds me of my 21st birthday and what a hilarious, fun mess that was.
  25. “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder” by The Secret Sisters. This song was the anthem for Know the Perils, that 90+ chapter Harry Potter fanfiction that I spent almost two years working on. While it’s no longer online anymore (for various reasons), I’m glad I wrote it because it honed my skills in different ways and I loved the response it had while it was active. A few people here and there do remember it, and I appreciate that so much.
  26. “All Too Well” by Taylor Swift. How do you pick one song for the Artist of the Decade? She had so many hits! So many albums! In the end, I choose the song that meant the most to me, that I feel is one of her best, and that I have so many memories of. I listened to Red on my first trip to New Zealand. This is the song my best friend and I bond over constantly. This was the anthem for the end of my relationship with The Captain. It may not be happy, but it’s beautiful.
  27. “Wake Me Up” by Avicii. One of my weirdest associations with this song is that it was the last one I played on the first stereo in my Jeep before someone broke in and stole it. Other than that, I like that this song is a positive jam that pumps me up for whatever I’m facing in the day and keeps me going. It’s great for workouts or long drives, whatever I need.
  28. “Wagon Wheel” by Darius Rucker. I could not believe that this cover song was from this decade because it feels older than that. I have some nice, romantic associations with this song, but I also love that it’s catchy and does something a little different with the arrangement of the original tune. It’s a country song that I can listen to on repeat without feeling worn down by the sentimentality.
  29. “Royals” by Lorde. This was a big decade for me and New Zealand. Thanks to my Evil StepMum, I found this track relatively early compared to the rest of the US and I’ve been in love with Lorde ever since. It’s catchy and has a definite vibe to it that I enjoy on so many levels. After this, I’ve kept a closer eye on NZ’s Top 40 for those who might be making a crossover.
  30. “Bloodfest (from Mizumono)” by Brian Reitzell. Hannibal was undoubtedly one of the darkest TV shows of the decade, but it was also one of the most decadent in regards to its set design, costumes, and score. This particular one, from the season two finale, is memorable because of its length and how it works with the action on screen. Just hearing it is like watching that scene all over again, feeling the rain on your skin, feeling the hope and betrayal.
  31. “#SELFIE” by The Chainsmokers. This song is a good one for going out, but it’s also perfect for partying. I unabashedly love it, even when people were sick of it or said it was lame I didn’t care. It’s tongue-in-cheek and self-aware of its pretentiousness even as it basks in its own beauty. Great beats and a great excuse to stop and take a selfie.
  32. “Rather Be” by Clean Bandit featuring Jess Glynne. I watched the music video on repeat for a good week or two because it’s so lovely. I like Clean Bandit’s unique sound and it’s captured here immediately. You get the pop beats and the classical instruments and the featured vocals. This song lifts my mood whenever I hear it and makes me feel a little more confident no matter what’s going on.
  33. “In a Week” by Hozier featuring Karen Cowley. While it would be more obvious to put “Take Me to Church” on this list, I feel that this gothic love song is way more my style. It’s literally about two lovers buried together and rotting. Like how much more Morticia and Gomez can we get? The way the vocals harmonize is so relaxing (until you really think about what they’re singing) and it’s one of the many reasons I love Hozier. He doesn’t need to be belting to burrow his way into a person’s skull.
  34. “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars. I was in the car the first time I heard this song, and I immediately cranked up the volume and jammed. This song has so much going for it that I don’t really need to explain why it’s on this list.
  35. “Fire” by Barns Courtney. This song was one of the inspirations for one of my past projects, but I also just love how the breathing, beat, and vocals work together and give so much energy. It’s a featured track on many of my playlists, and his other track, “Glitter and Gold” is also worth a listen.
  36. “Gasoline” by Halsey. This artist dominated the second half of my decade. I listened to Badlands constantly in the shower, drove for miles to Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, and her latest singles have been soundtracks to my life. The reason I chose this track over all the others is because it’s my favorite, pure and simple. I love so many of her songs, but this is the one I hold above all the others for its sound, its lyrics, and however many fanvids I’ve seen using it.
  37. “Dime Store Cowgirl” by Kacey Musgraves. When this artist won a Grammy for Album of the Year and everyone was like “Who the hell is she?” I was like “Where have you been?” We bought her first album at a Fred Meyer in Klamath Falls on a trip to the ocean and I’ve been singing along ever since. This one is my favorite (and there’s so many) because it reminds me a little more of myself—always a country girl at heart.
  38. “Pity Party” by Melanie Martinez. Another one of my popular artists of the decade, I’ve played both of her albums on repeat, but it’s this track that samples Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” that combines my love of intense pop and 1960’s classics. The video is also a lot of fun with Martinez’s signature aesthetic all over the place.
  39. “Gun in My Hand” by Dorothy. This was a good decade for girls in rock, and I love the classic sound of this band. I like the slight growl in Dorothy Martin’s voice as she asks some very important questions. I love many of their songs and their album gave me confidence on my first day of grad school when I needed it most.
  40. “Guillotine” by Jon Bellion featuring Travis Mendes. Over time, my old taste for dark music has morphed into a love of dark/morbid lyrics over happy sounding beats. This sound has that in a big way as beheading is used as a metaphor for ‘losing your head’ in a relationship. There are some other cute lyrics in this song over a poppy rhythm that makes me want to jump on a bed.
  41. “Dirt on My Boots” by Jon Pardi. What I like about Pardi is that he’s relatable, even under all the country clichés. He has a nice voice and good rhythm and he seems like half the boys I know from my hometown wrapped up in a song. Out of all the songs on his California Sunrise album this is the one I can’t help but listen to when it plays.
  42. “Light of the Seven” by Ramin Djawadi. This score from the season six finale of Game of Thrones cannot be underestimated. It is a thing of deceiving beauty for the devastation and action that it creates during the ongoing scene. It is one of my favorite moments from the show, one of my favorite scores, and a testament to what was a highlight of television of the decade.
  43. “Attention” by Charlie Puth. One afternoon in Las Vegas my Evil StepMum put this song on repeat and I didn’t mind at all—literally like twenty or thirty minutes of just this song. I love the beat, the rise and fall, and the acknowledgment that sometimes when a relationship is over the person only wants you back because they need your attention.
  44. “Praying” by Kesha. This artist has had a hard decade, but through new albums, court battles, and long silences I’ve had hope that, eventually, she’ll be free to be the artist she wants. With so many wonderful songs to choose from, I went with the one that made me cry, that told her story and showed she wasn’t just an autotuned popstar, and that gives me hope for my own story as well. I’m looking forward to her new album and the future.
  45. “Rose-Colored Boy” by Paramore. One of the few bands from the early 2000s to survive into the new decade and keep my attention, Paramore has definitely changed. Not everyone likes their new sound, but I find their sad bops are just fine for me. After Laughter got me through some hard times with its upbeat rhythms and dark lyrics and this song about being able to express your emotions when the world tells you not to was just what I needed.
  46. “What’s Wrong” by PVRIS. One of my later finds was this great band that blends electropop sounds with hard rock without losing their edge. As I said earlier, I struggled a lot with body image in the 2010s, but I’ve translated some of that into my writing and started development on several projects revolving around my battle.
  47. “New Man” by Ed Sheeran. I’m comfortable saying this is my favorite male artist of the decade. I’ve listened to all his albums on repeat, including EPs and live performances. But I listened to this singular song while I was stuck in traffic for twenty minutes one time and it’s stuck with me ever since in the best way. It’s a great example of his lyricism, his vocals, and the sassiness that you don’t always see in those sappy love ballads. Plus, let’s face it, dunking on exes is more fun.
  48. “breakup with your girlfriend, i’m bored” by Ariana Grande. If you would have told me earlier in the decade that Kat from Victorious was going to be one of the biggest popstars by the end of the decade, I might have believed you if money was on the line. thank u, next was one of my albums of 2019 and helped in the initial months after my breakup, and it was also the source of plenty of midnight dance parties.
  49. “bad guy” by Billie Eilish. What I will take away most for the rise of this alternative artist is how much my sister and I bonded over her music. We both loved her album and talked about the songs. I’m hopeful for more pop songs with dark edges in the future, or songs that push the edge of what music can be.
  50. “Gassed” by Bobby Krlic. We end the best of the decade list with this score from Midsommar, my favorite horror movie of 2019. This song fit the scene it was put with so well that I can’t not think of it, and be horrified and re-traumatized. The taut bowstrings in the beginning are immediately anxiety-inducing, almost like sirens. It morphs and becomes a little more melodic before drums begin to beat as if calling you out into the wilderness. While it’s not a score I can listen to on repeat, it is one that deserves recognition.

So there you have it! Ten years and fifty songs, a decade of musical memories, and one hell of a playlist. I can’t wait to see what the 2020s will bring us for reunions, new albums, new discoveries, or songs waiting for replay.