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The 10 Best Songs Defining the 2010s

Here are the 10 best songs defining the 2010s picked by USA TODAY. Have you listened to all of them? If you haven’t, let’s try!

Although not all of these songs are necessarily the best of their respective years, they’re the ones that made the biggest impact on pop culture at large.

Robyn, ‘Dancing on My Own’ (2010)

Robyn - Dancing On My Own
Robyn – Dancing on my own

Empowerment pop has become a genre unto itself, with songs addressing body positivity (Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass”), self-confidence (Katy Perry’s “Firework”) and the realities of mental health (Logic’s “1-800-273-8255”). Robyn helped usher in the most recent wave with this joyous yet melancholy anthem about dancing through heartache and finding strength in solitude.

Lady Gaga, ‘Born This Way’ (2011)

Lady Gaga - Born this way
Lady Gaga – Born this way

In 2010s, Lady Gaga was surely a queen of the gay community with “Born this way”, a song that hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart years before same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide in 2015.

Carly Rae Jepsen, ‘Call Me Maybe’ (2012)

Carly Rae Jepsen - Call me maybe
Carly Rae Jepsen – Call me maybe

Plenty of so-called “novelty” songs have pervaded pop culture: Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” and Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” among them. But “Call Me Maybe” was a new breed of viral hit that didn’t have a punch line; a wholesome, flirty slice of pop euphoria that has since become a karaoke and car-ride staple. It also introduced most of us to the many charms of Jepsen, who has become a critics’ favorite with an infectious catalog of ’80s-inspired synth pop.

Beyonce, ‘Flawless’ (2013)

Beyonce - Flawless
Beyonce – Flawless

Thesis papers could be written about Beyonce’s self-titled surprise album, a remarkable feat of musical and visual artistry that’s arguably the most influential album of the past decade. But for now, we’ll zero in on the swaggering “Flawless,” a proudly feminist declaration that introduced many of us to feminist scholar Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie with a spoken-word interlude midway through the track. It also made “I woke up like this” a meme-worthy motto to live by.

Taylor Swift, ‘Shake It Off’ (2014)

Taylor Swift - Shake it off
Taylor Swift – Shake it off

“1989” lead single “Shake It Off” represents the superstar’s much-ballyhooed pivot from country to pop, launching one of the most commercially successful periods of her career so far with Top 10 hits “Style,” “Blank Space,” “Bad Blood” and “Wildest Dreams.” “1989” also spawned 2015’s top-selling world tour and earned Swift her second album of the year Grammy award, after 2008’s “Fearless.”

Rihanna, Kanye West and Paul McCartney, ‘FourFiveSeconds’ (2015)

Rihanna, Kanye West and Paul McCartney - FourFiveSeconds
Rihanna, Kanye West and Paul McCartney – FourFiveSeconds

Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” was far and away the biggest song of 2015, guaranteed to play at every wedding we attend from now until the end of time. But “FourFiveSeconds” represents a much more interesting embrace of so-called “genre-neutral” music in the mainstream: a trend recently instigated by Gotye (“Somebody That I Used to Know”) and Lorde (“Royals”) that led us to the country-trap stylings of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” this summer. Here, titans of the pop, rap and rock genres came together for a stripped-down, soulful folk song that equally showcased their strengths and managed to become a feel-good crossover hit, peaking at No. 4 on the Hot 100.

Drake featuring Wizkid and Kyla, ‘One Dance’ (2016)

Drake featuring Wizkid and Kyla - One Dance
Drake featuring Wizkid and Kyla – One Dance

Drake’s influence, for better and worse, cannot be overstated. His bloated but hits-filled “Views” helped make streams the dominant marker of an album’s success, and his viral “Hotline Bling” helped normalize President Donald Trump, when he awkwardly spoofed the song on “Saturday Night Live” in 2015. The rapper’s dancehall-indebted “One Dance” signaled a new era in more ways than one, becoming the first song in Spotify history to cross 1 billion streams.

Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber, ‘Despacito’ (2017)

Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber - Despacito
Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber – Despacito

The music industry has finally woken up to the huge audience for Latin music in the U.S., thanks in large part to this inescapable, reggaeton-flavored song of summer by Puerto Rican artists Fonsi and Yankee, which then tied Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s “One Sweet Day” for the longest-reigning No. 1 on the Hot 100 chart. Radio programmers and record-label heads have since taken notice, with pop stars such as Beyonce (J Balvin and Willy Williams’ “Mi Gente”) and Cardi B (“I Like It” featuring Bad Bunny and J Balvin) releasing Spanish-language hits.

Ariana Grande, ‘Thank U, Next’ (2018)

 Arian Grande - Thank u, next
Arian Grande – Thank u, next

A catchy, career-defining masterpiece by Grande, who came out on top after a year and a half of immense personal trauma, public scrutiny and loss. “Thank U, Next” is extraordinary in so many ways, not the least of which is its ability to launch a thousand memes (thanks in part to its nostalgia-inducing music video, which pays homage to millennial pop culture). It’s not a stretch to call it one of the bravest, most vulnerable pop hits in recent memory, as Grande takes control of her narrative and name-checks ex-boyfriends: not to be vindictive, but show genuine appreciation for the lessons they helped teach her about herself. It also shows an artist at the peak of her powers who no longer feels beholden to a dutiful album cycle, releasing “Thank U, Next” less than three months after her fourth album, “Sweetener,” simply because she felt like it.

Billie Eilish, ‘Bad Guy’ (2019)

Billie Eilish – Bad Guy

“Bad Guy” is playfully sung just above a whisper by the teen wunderkind, over a hypnotic mix of finger snaps, 808s and a throbbing trap beat. It’s a slinky, sinister, strange pop anomaly that shows the genre’s endless possibilities, and marks the arrival of a major new talent.

Here are the 10 best songs defining the 2010s. Let’s look forward to the next decade with more impressive songs in the music industry.

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