When you think about how many songs come out in any given decade, it’s a miracle anyone can narrow it down to a single, simple best-of list.
But if we are to make any sense of this decade in pop music, narrow we must.
The thing you’ll find about our list of the 50 best pop, rock, country and hip-hop songs of the 2010s is that most of them were pretty huge hits. That’s to be expected. Sure, we could have thrown a bunch of obscure, too-cool-for-cool album cuts and remixes in there, but for the most part, we stuck to the cream that rose to the top. There’s a reason everyone knows these songs. Most of them really were instant classics.
As with our annual best-songs lists, we limited ourselves to one song per artist. If you want to argue that multiple songs by Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar or Kanye West should have made the cut, go for it, but that’s not what we’re here for. And yes, that made for some difficult decisions (Rolling In the Deep or Hello? Drunk In Love or Formation? All of the Lights or N---as In Paris?) that we’re still not sure we got right. Your mileage may vary.
Before we begin, a moment of silence for our honorary mentions, a.k.a. the last 10 songs we cut out: Bon Iver, Holocene; Nicki Minaj, Super Bass; Sunny Sweeney, From a Table Away; Fetty Wap, Trap Queen; Skrillex, Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites; Vampire Weekend, Harmony Hall; Idina Menzel, Let It Go; Maren Morris, My Church; Chris Stapleton, Fire Away; and Daft Punk featuring Panda Bear, Doin’ It Right.
Lists like these are made for debate, and we’ll do so well into the 2020s. Read on — and scroll to the bottom for a playlist — and let the debate begin.
50. Imagine Dragons, Radioactive: As many have pointed out, it’s a pretty empty collage of post-apocalyptic imagery. Yet if you’ve ever seen Imagine Dragons perform Radioactive live, all pounding on percussion and willing the crowd into a tidal wave of applause by the end, it’s hard to deny its sheer (radioactive) power.
49. Childish Gambino, This Is America: A better video than a song? Yeah, we’d listen to that argument. But Donald Glover’s style-switching critique of the way young black men are portrayed in the media still slaps you upside the head when that rumbling bass first drops.
48. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, Shallow: Maybe they were singing in character as A Star Is Born’s Jack and Ally, but you better believe they were singing. Especially Gaga, who really dove off the deep end.
47. Kacey Musgraves, Follow Your Arrow: From the moment she came on the scene urging listeners to “kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls, if that’s something you’re into,” it was clear Musgraves was going to be a different sort of country singer, the type who both appreciates tradition but doesn’t kowtow to it.
46. Cardi B featuring J Balvin and Bad Bunny, I Like It: Cardi B’s voice is so unique, so colorful, that even an impossibly obvious sample and hook couldn’t dim her louder-than-life personality and lyrical wit.
45. Coldplay, Magic: This was the decade when Coldplay out-U2′d U2, going full stadium in screaming color. But this sparse, understated love song from 2014′s sparse, understated Ghost Stories is refreshingly lovely, without sacrificing Coldplay’s hallmark open-heart earnestness.
44. Sam Hunt, Cop Car: Keith Urban turned it into a hit, but only Hunt could make this standout song about troublemakers in love smolder like it did.
43. Lizzo, Juice: Cast aside those DNA tests. Lizzo’s jiggly Juice is the party-starting single that kicked off her massive 2019, and is the song we haven’t been able to get out of our heads since.
42. Japandroids, No Known Drink or Drug: It’s a blast of inspiration in a three-minute punk crescendo, a street poet’s salute to “a whirlwind of a woman and a famous feeling." Put it on, and just try feeling like you can’t scale a mountain.
41. Jenny Lewis: She’s Not Me: Sometimes love doesn’t work out, and sometimes you’re the one who comes out on the losing end. Yet sometimes you know your ex is the one who really missed out, since the girl he really ended up with? She’s not you, and she doesn’t have all the complexities and multitudes you bring to the table.
40. Charli XCX, Boom Clap: Onomatopoeia never sounded as sweet as Charli’s description of a heart bursting with all the radiance and joy she brings to her live performances.
39. The 1975, Love It If We Made It: It can be jarring on first listen, from that X-rated opening line to the moment it quotes a Trump tweet (“Thank you, Kanye, very cool!”). But as a time capsule of late-2010s insanity, it’s as perfect as it gets, with an explosive chorus you can’t help but scream to.
38. Paramore, Ain’t It Fun: How do young, privileged pop-punks grow up and get real? That’s the question posed by Paramore’s re-inventive single, which doubled as the band’s own answer. It’s a burst of light and life that won a deserving Grammy for Best Rock Song.
37. Run the Jewels featuring Zach De La Rocha, Close Your Eyes and Count to F---: A blistering lyrical assault that proved Killer Mike and El-P’s anarchic hip-hop project did not land on this planet to waste anyone’s time.
36. Drake featuring Majid Jordan, Hold On, We’re Going Home: Maybe Drake was never a rapper in the first place. He ended up popularizing a style of sing-rapping that now sounds like money in the bank, and he’s yet to sound smoother than he did on this sleek R&B love jam.
35. Disclosure featuring Sam Smith, Latch: This glossy, effervescent and deceptively jolting Europop single not only put Disclosure on the international map, but Smith, too, effectively launching two major pop careers.
34. Eric Church, Springsteen: “Funny how a melody sounds like a memory...” So many songs this decade paid literal homage to other artists, and few hit the nostalgic bullseye like the Chief’s ode to the Boss. That Church eventually decided to become country’s answer to Springsteen, switching up setlists across four-hour concerts, only heightened this single’s lasting impact.
33. The Weeknd, Can’t Feel My Face: A lot of music fans knew the Weeknd’s name and voice before this insidiously funky disco-pop Michael Jackson homage became a hit. It’s still an outlier among the darker depths of his catalog, but it’s also one of the catchiest singles anyone dropped this decade.
32. Portugal. The Man, Feel It Still: Portugal. The Man may be anarchists at heart, but a hit is a hit is a hit. And when you find yourself writing a pop song as efficient and undeniable as Feel It Still, you run with it. Don’t hold it against them that it’s appeared in every movie trailer and commercial ever since.
31. Frank Ocean, Pyramids: Few new artists created as much buzz this decade as Ocean, whose stunning 2012 debut Channel Orange luxuriated in a powerful lyrical and emotional depth captured by this yearning, glistening, 10-minute disco-funk epic.
30. Chairlift, I Belong In Your Arms: Our vote for the most underrated pop act of the 2010s goes to this Brooklyn indie duo, whose penchant for sparkling synthesizers, along with Caroline Polachek’s acrobatic voice, are all over this pulsating single. (Pro tip: The Japanese language version is even better.)
29. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Thrift Shop: The blowback Macklemore and Ryan Lewis got after their album The Heist swept the Grammys was undeserved. Thrift Shop is simply a clever, catchy jam with a killer hook. It’s kind of a novelty song, but it’s so damn frosty it’s hard to stay mad for too long.
28. Thundercat, Them Changes: Funk ain’t dead, not as long as jazz-influenced bassist Thundercat is still dropping chunky, throbbing bass lines like this one, layered with yacht-rock vocals and musicality.
27. Maggie Rogers, Light On: It’s one thing to write a moving song about being famous; it’s another to write one about becoming famous, when you’re not a star yet, and aren’t completely sure that you want to be, but know that you’re about to say goodbye to your past life forever.
26. The Black Keys, Lonely Boy: Top to bottom, the Black Keys’ Brothers is a stronger album, but the lead single from its follow-up, El Camino, is such an utter blast of a victory lap that you can’t help wiggling your be-denimed butt along.
25. Zedd featuring Foxes, Clarity: Russian-German DJ and producer Zedd is one of the 2010s’ defining soundsmiths, one whose pumping EDM anthems will forever hearken back to this decade’s festival feels. Pick the hit single of your choice; we’ll go with the ecstatic release of Clarity.
24. Dear Evan Hansen, Waving Through a Window: Ben Platt’s incredible vocal performance turned the signature song from Dear Evan Hansen into a borderline pop-crossover hit that’ll be a Broadway karaoke staple for years to come.
23. The Naked and Famous, Young Blood: This New Zealand pop outfit captured the pure joy of youth in this bubbling synth-pop single, which sounds like the soundtrack to every cinematic YouTube supercut of life lived to its absolute fullest.
22. Florida Georgia Line, Cruise: Go on, hate all you want. Hate every last song from the tailgatin', Fireball-swillin', Daisy Dukin’ bro-country movement of the 2010s. We get it. But at the same time, BABY YOU A SONG, YOU MAKE ME WANNA ROLL MY WINDOWS DOWN, AND CRUUUUUUISE...
21. The Chainsmokers featuring Halsey, Closer: No one wants to admit they like the Chainsmokers, but that’s okay. Like that tattoo on your shoulder you got back in Boulder, this melodic single is the sort of memory you can’t easily erase, largely because of the surprisingly emotional sense of place and spirit it managed to capture.
20. Robyn, Dancing On My Own: Anthems of longing are rarely this pulsing with vitality, but then, most of them aren’t performed by the ball of synth-pop electricity and confidence known as Robyn, who inspired all of us this decade to dance alone if we felt like it.
19. Future, Mask Off: Metro Boomin’s low-key beat perfectly meshes with Future’s perfectly narcoticized ode to the high life — although with Future, it’s never fully clear whether the high life really is all that high, is it?
18. M83, Midnight City: These days, pop and electronic producers think nothing of incorporating ecstatic sax solos into their work, but when Anthony Gonzalez did it on this soaring 2011 indie-pop hit, it felt a bit revolutionary in all the best ways.
17. Cam, Diane: If Jolene was the woman who took another gal’s man just because she could, Diane might be that other woman. Written as an apology to the “good wife” whose husband she’s been sleeping with, it radiates with rollicking energy and a stellar vocal performance.
16. Post Malone and Swae Lee, Sunflower: Post Malone is poised to own the 2020s, and Rae Sremmurd’s hook whisperer Swae Lee might be right there beside him. Their finest moment among many may be this moving, melodic duet that deserves all the plaudits it’s gotten.
15. Katy Perry, Teenage Dream: Sometimes the simplest songs are anything but. The heart-pounding opener to Perry’s 2010 album of the same name is all about building tension yearning for release, just like young teenage love in real life.
14. Haim, The Wire: Comparisons to Wilson Phillips were inevitable (and not always unwarranted) given the stellar harmonies and impossibly snappy production on this stellar debut single, but they’ve since proved they have much more depth and staying power.
13. Azealia Banks: 212: Before she became a world-class (and often reprehensible) Twitter troll and bit player in the Elon Cinematic Muskiverse, Banks was wildly hyped Harlem hip-hop phenom, and this brash NC-17 blast of electro swagger shows why. Even after all her controversies, it holds up.
12. Carly Rae Jepsen, Run Away With Me: Carly Rae stans all have their favorites (how could this slot not go to Call Me Maybe or Cut To the Feeling!?) but as a cinematic, sweep-me-away, album-opening scene-setter, this one is an all-time classic.
11. Lorde, Royals: The New Zealand singer wrote this snappy, minimalist rebuke of materialistic pop fantasy when she was only 15, giving the world an early taste of her preternaturally evocative songwriting.
10. Gotye featuring Kimbra, Somebody That I Used to Know: When Prince presented Gotye and Kimbra with Record of the Year at the 2013 Grammys, he said upon opening the envelope, “I love this song.” Prince, as always, is not wrong; this subtly complex duet about the end of a relationship as seen from dueling viewpoints is a masterpiece.
9. Avicii, Levels: Electronic dance music had existed in America long before Levels, but the song’s rise coincided with the moment this decade when celebrity DJs overtook the pop world. Avicii’s memorable Etta James sample made Levels good enough on its own — and then Flo Rida basically turned the song into a second huge hit in Good Feeling.
8. Travis Scott, Sicko Mode: A dizzying triptych of production that still sounds unlike any other hip-hop No. 1 hit, it’s Scott at the peak of his powers, synthesizing vocal contributions from Drake, Swae Lee, Big Hawk and others into a wild ride into Astroworld.
7. Adele, Hello: There is drama, and then there is drama, and then there is the way Adele sings “Hello” at the start of this, her best single. Considering this decade also gave us Rolling in the Deep and Set Fire to the Rain, that’s high praise.
6. Walk the Moon, Shut Up and Dance. A thousand scientists working around the clock in a lab couldn’t create a more efficient, ebullient ’80s pop-rock pastiche. Nor should they try; Walk the Moon nailed it the first time around.
5. Kendrick Lamar, Alright: “We gon’ be alright” may not sound like the protest lyric of the decade, but that’s what it turned out to be, elevating Lamar’s hit into a Black Lives Matter anthem of uplift and empowerment, almost like a Lift Every Voice and Sing for the new millennium.
4. Taylor Swift, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together: Red marked the tipping point of Swift’s crossover from country to pop, and you can hear it in the most clever song she’s ever written, a track whose lyrics toy and dance with breakups (and breakup songs) with astute self-awareness.
3. Beyonce, Formation: Picking Mike Will Made It’s best beat of the decade is a tall order, but this thunderclap of stomp, twang and drumline intensity is up there. Queen Bey’s insanely quotable lyrics (Slay! Swag! Hot sauce! Red Lobster!) catapult it over the top.
2. Kanye West featuring Rihanna, All of the Lights: Everything Kanye West has ever believed himself to be came to life in this song: The stadium-sized horns, the chilling Rihanna hook, the snarl of cockiness in his voice, the insane list of uncredited cameos (Elton John, John Legend, Drake, Alicia Keys, Bon Iver, Charlie Wilson). It’s the moment King Midas figured out how to use his touch.
1. Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars, Uptown Funk: The fact that Uptown Funk was openly derivative of so many styles and artists who came before it (Prince, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, anything by Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam) is more a secret strength than a weakness. It highlights the fact that you can’t name a year in pop music history when Uptown Funk wouldn’t have been a massive international hit. In the ’50s, they would have played it next to the Isley Brothers’ Shout. In the ’70s, it would have filled dance floors like Earth, Wind and Fire. In the ’90s, it would have slid into that narrow gap between New Jack Swing and the swing and ska revivals. And in the 2010s, well, it was Uptown Freaking Funk. It is timeless, and somehow, it still sounds fresh. Julio, get the check.