The best songs of the 2010s

Michael_Angelakos_(Passion_Pit)_in_Columbus,_2015

Back when blogs still existed — including this blog — my friend Asher wrote about a musical contradiction: “If dance music should make you want to dance, it doesn’t make much sense that the best dance album of the year makes you want to do anything but move.” 

This was 2012. The album was Gossamer, Passion Pit’s second record. In 2008, Passion Pit had rocketed from dorm room novices to indie darlings because of the single “Sleepyhead.” The track is about a breakup, but that’s apparent only if you can understand the hard-to-decipher words sung in lead singer Michael Angelakos’s falsetto voice. “Sleepyhead” was part of a Manners album that, because of its emphasis on the beats and choruses, was a relatively light-hearted affair. 

Although Gossamer had a similar bounce, it was far more introspective and its lyrics far clearer. Angelakos wrote and sang about drugs, mental illness and anorexia. After a performance in spring 2012 that included songs featured on Gossamer, he told Pitchfork, “We tried as hard as we could to pretend that we were having a good time, but we were miserable.” A week before the album’s release that summer Passion Pit announced the postponement of the rest of its tour because Angelakos was seeking treatment for depression and bipolar disorder. The personal journey he undertook to create Gossamer had contributed to his illness. 

Could we dance to that music? Should we?

Passion Pit did was part of the defining sound of the 2010s: sad dance songs. A mix of authentic emo, synth, traditional pop and EDM, theses tracks were a reaction to a decade that left many of us unmoored.  

The 2010s began with the world in the midst of the worst recession since The Great Depression. They ended with us reeling from an unprecedented political divide and more aware than ever of the existential consequences of climate change.

Music news was rarely optimistic either. Taylor Swift’s feel-good rise from country star to feminist pop queen was spoiled this year by the money-grubbing decision of Big Machine Records to sell her masters to Swift nemesis Scooter Braun. Kanye West called slavery a choice. Big data has led concert tickets to rise exponentially in price. Far worse, three of hip-hop’s most promising stars died from drug overdoses, and legends like Aretha Franklin, Tom Petty and David Bowie passed away at a steady rate. 

Through the turmoil, melancholic music seemed a necessity. Pop was dominated by Soundcloud rappers inspired as much by Panic! At The Disco as Tupac. Billie Eilish, Gen-Z’s first pop idol, rose to fame with catchy songs about monsters under the bed and breaking away from lovers. Paramore, masters of edgy, aggressive pop, slowed down to release a critically-acclaimed emo LP. Angelakos came back to record two more albums with Passion Pit that again delved deep into his psyche.

One of my favorite bands, Chvrches, appeared out of nowhere in 2012 with a streamlined, moody synth-pop sound that dozens of artists have tried to replicate. At Austin City Limits last year, Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry started talking about violence in the US and Brexit in the UK and the overall grim state of the world. She said, “You’re at a music festival so you get to dance the pain away. And I’m kind of into that. That’s why we create dance-cry music, so you can figure out which way you want to go. If you want to cry, if you want to dance.”

Or, Mayberry said, you could “do both at the same time.” Dance and cry. That’s how I’ll remember the 2010s. 

Below, my top 50 songs of the decade followed by the top 20 of 2019 (click those links for Spotify playlists):

The top songs of the 2010s

50. “Fineshrine,” Purity Ring

49. “It Will Rain,” Bruno Mars

48. “Oh Maker,” Janelle Monae

47. “I Belong In Your Arms,” Chairlift

46. “Summertime Sadness,” Lana Del Rey

45. “Giorgio by Moroder,” Daft Punk

44. “Let ‘Em Say,” Lizzo, Caroline Smith

43. “Champagne Kisses,” Jessie Ware

42. “JUST LIKE WE NEVER SAID GOODBYE,” Sophie

41. “Green Light,” Lorde

40. “The Wire,” HAIM

39. “Lover,” Taylor Swift

38. “Fast Slow Disco,” St. Vincent

37. “Dreams and Nightmares,” Meek Mill

36. “Closer,” The Chainsmokers, Halsey

35. “Midnight City,” M83

34. “We Used to Wait,” Arcade Fire

33. “By My Side,” Great Good Fine Ok

32. “Black & White,” Juice WRLD

31. “Wide Awake,” Katy Perry 

30. “Some Nights,” Fun. 

29. “Right Above It,” Lil’ Wayne, Drake

28. “Die Young,” Kesha

27. “Countdown,” Beyonce

26. “About Work The Dancefloor,” Georgia 

25. “A Sky Full of Stars,” Coldplay

24. “We Found Love,” Rihanna, Calvin Harris

23. “Closer,” Tegan and Sara 

22. “Work X 2,” Annie

21. “Fuckin’ Problems,” ASAP Rocky

20. “Swimming Pools,” Kendrick Lamar

19. “You’re Not Good Enough,” Blood Orange

18. “All Night,” Icona Pop

17. “Take My Hand,” Charli XCX

16. “Clique,” GOOD Music

15. “Hotline Bling,” Drake

14. “Helena Beat,” Foster The People

13. “I’ll Be Alright,”Passion Pit

12. “Call Me Maybe,” Carly Rae Jepsen

11. “ILYSB,” LANY

10. “Runaway,” Kanye West, Pusha T

9. “Everlasting Arms,” Vampire Weekend

8. “Super Bass,” Nicki Minaj

7. “In Heaven,” Japanese Breakfast

6. “Latch,” Disclosure, Sam Smith

5. “Losing You,” Solange

4. “Everything Is Embarrassing,” Sky Ferreira 

3. “Give Yourself A Try,” The 1975

2. “Missing U,” Robyn

1. “The Mother We Share,” Chvrches

Top of 2019

20. “Rebel Girl,” Angels & Airwaves

19. “On God,” Kanye West

18. “Sweet But Psycho,” Ava Max

17. “You Were Never My Boyfriend,” Ariana and the Rose, Great Good Fine Ok

16. “Summer Girl,” HAIM

15. “Make Out With Me,” Maren Morris

14. “We Don’t Have Fun When We’re Together Anymore,” Tegan and Sara

13. “Jerusalem, New York, Berlin,” Vampire Weekend

12. “California,” Lana Del Rey

11. “Beetlejuice,” Mariah The Scientist

10. “Want You in My Room,” Carly Rae Jepsen

9. “Hey Look, Ma I Made It,” Panic! At The Disco

8. “Cheerleader,” Sir Babygirl

7. “Number One Fan,” MUNA

6. “Heaven,” Avicii 

5. “Official,” Charli XCX

4. “Pang,” Caroline Polachek

3. “Just Thought You Should Know,” Betty Who

2. “Lover,” Taylor Swift

1. “About Work The Dancefloor,” Georgia

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2 thoughts on “The best songs of the 2010s

  1. zerepelad says:

    Thank you Mark, for the introduction to CHVRCHES. Listening to them now, and like what I hear. I tend to be an oldies listener, and rarely get introduced to new music.

  2. Mark Dent says:

    Glad to see you’re enjoying Chvrches!

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