The Best Songs Of The Decade: The 2010s

Well, what a decade it's been! Here – after much debate – are the 100 greatest songs of 2010s

Can you sum up a decade in one track? Can you distil 10 years into, like, four minutes? In a way, you can. I danced, drunk and lost and badly dressed, to our Number One track as a student in my early twenties. And I danced to it, drunk, a little less lost but probably equally badly dressed, at a house party with friends I made just last year.

Some songs grow with you, and I hope you’ll find that’s the case with some of our 100 picks below.

It’s worth noting that the earliest track from this list of the best songs of the 2010s happens to be ‘Stylo’ by Gorillaz, a political funk banger that, released in the first month of the first year of the decade, warned about the harm that humanity is wreaking upon the environment. And the most recent? This year’s ‘Bad Guy’ from Billie Eilish, an eccentric alt-pop masterwork from a talented teenager with an internet connection.

We’ve come a long way, baby, and while some things haven’t changed – the planet’s still fucked, if you haven’t noticed – the biggest trend of the 2010s was doing things off your own back, giving yourself permission to be brilliant.

This list is chockablock with artists unafraid to stand apart, and if these songs are threaded through with an overarching, era-defining message, that’s perhaps it.

– Jordan Bassett, Senior Staff Writer

Words: Dhruva Balram, Jordan Bassett, Leonie Cooper, Rhian Daly, Alex Flood, El Hunt, Charlotte Krol, Sam Moore, Hannah Mylrea, Kevin EG Perry, Zoya Raza-Sheikh, Nick Reilly, Thomas Smith, Dan Stubbs, Andrew Trendell, Kyann-Sian Williams

Kendrick Lamar, ‘King Kunta’ (Top Dawg Entertainment, 2015)

Over a four-to-the-floor funk beat, Kung-Fu Kenny displays a warning to his haters and “the powers that be” – all while channelling the rebellious slave King Kunta on what is surely the grooviest song from Kendrick’s seminal 2015 album ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’. DB

Icona Pop, ‘I Love It’ (TEN, 2012)

Packed with punk attitude and the feeling that it was almost perpetually on the cusp of a massive drop, ‘I Love It’ proved to be the ultimate go-off anthem in the giddy days of summer 2012. It also became the second most iconic musical moment in Lena Dunham’s Girls (behind Robyn, obvs). RD

Black Midi, ‘bmbmbm’ (Speedy Wunderground, 2018) 

The London guitar heroes have been pinned as the form’s next great hope and, sure enough, here they showcase incredible versatility, depth and avant-garde style. Landfill indie it ain’t. DB


Paramore, ‘Hard Times’ (Fueled By Ramen, 2017)

Throwing back hard to ‘80s new wave, ‘Hard Times’ offsets sharp, punchy melodies with Hayley Williams’ dark lyrics. “All that I want is a hole in the ground,” she sings. Arriving after the band had stepped away for three years, it was a tense and brilliant comeback. EH

Bill Ryder Jones, ‘Two To Birkenhead’ (Domino, 2015) 

The cover of Bill Ryder-Jones‘West Kirby County Primary’ shows the prolific producer and former Coral member caught unawares in the bath and, on record, he’s similarly nakedly honest. ‘Two To Birkenhead’ is the album’s crowning gem, a gnarled tour around the Wirral town. EH

Sheer Mag, ‘Fan The Flames’ (Wilsuns RC/Katorga Works, 2015)

For all their retro reference points – Bee Gees disco swagger, Thin Lizzy guitarmonies – Philadelphia rockers Sheer Mag keep their focus trained firmly on the present. ‘Fan the Flames’ is a call to rally against shithead landlords, gentrification and the rich getting richer. It’s a reminder that we deserve better. EH

Queens Of The Stone Age, ‘The Way You Used To Do’ (Matador, 2017) 

Josh Homme’s schtick has always been that there’s a touch of campness to his macho swagger, and here he delightfully hams it up over a shimmying groove, purring, “My heart, a ding-a-ling, a puppet on a string / C’est la vie”. Oh, behave! JB


The Killers, ‘The Man’ (Island, 2017)

If American farming bodies weighed in on banging indie songs, The Killers’ swaggering peacock ‘The Man’ would almost definitely come stamped “USDA certified lean”. RD

Lil Nas X, ‘Old Town Road’ (Billy Ray Cyrus remix) (Columbia, 2019)

It’s the track that ran wild across the planet – and what a ride: from TikTok meme fame to global controversy (should it have been in the Billboard country chart?) to Billy Ray Cyrus co-sign in just a few months. In Lil Nas X, there was a new sheriff in town. JB

Mallrat, ‘Uninvited’ (Nettwerk, 2016)

mallrat uninvited artwork

Mallrat saw the rest of the world’s songs about blowing up the club ‘til dawn and raised them ‘Uninvited’, a painfully relatable bit of bouncy pop on which she begged, “Get me off the list”, like someone who would much rather spend her Friday on the sofa with a cuppa. Sound familiar? RD

XXXTentacion, ‘Revenge’ (Bad Vibes Forever, 2017) 

The late rapper’s toxic legacy has understandably overshadowed his contribution to music, but 20-year-old Jahseh Onfroy’s innovative combination of mumble-rap and emo set a template that American hip-hop continues to trace. On this sparse and lilting acoustic track he intoned: “I think I finally / Found a way to forgive myself.” JB


Sky Ferreira, ‘Everything Is Embarrassing’ (Polydor, 2013)

‘Everything Is Embarrassing’ was as simple as a pop song can be, but also as stunning. Its combo of isolated piano chords and snapping beats – teamed with Ferreira’s downcast vocals – created something instantly, gloomily intoxicating. RD

Arctic Monkeys, ‘The Ultracheese’ (Domino, 2018)

Where some of ‘Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino’ dwelled fully in sci-fi territory, ‘The Ultracheese’ occupied a more sepia-splashed nook. Alex Turner went full crooner, pouring lounge singer theatrics over pumping Steinway chords. RD

Chvrches, ‘The Mother We Share’ (National Anthem/Virgin EMI, 2012)

Appearing on their masterful debut ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’, this track saw Scotland’s Chvrches achieve synth-pop perfection. It’s a crystalline gem loaded with heart and hooks. AT

Years & Years, ‘King’ (Polydor, 2015)

Using a whopping great pop banger as a trojan horse for sexual subversion, ‘King’ delves into a toxic relationship riddled with brief highs. EH

Alex Turner, ‘Stuck On The Puzzle’ (Domino, 2011)

Part of Alex Turner’s soundtrack for the brilliant indie movie Submarine, ‘Stuck On The Puzzle’ captured the film’s coming-of-age melodrama in a haze of lyrical romanticism and graceful organ melodies. RD

Jon Hopkins, ‘Open Eye Signal’ (Domino, 2013) 

Only Hopkins could craft eight glorious minutes of churning, propulsive techno that sounds equally at home whether you’re on the dancefloor at 4am or en route to pick up a loaf of bread and a pint of milk. KP

Robyn, ‘Call Your Girlfriend’ (Konichiwa, 2010)

A fantasy break-up letter penned to a new flame’s current partner, ‘Call Your Girlfriend’ is surely the most compassionate song ever written about a love triangle. EH

Frank Ocean, ‘Thinkin Bout You’ (Def Jam, 2012) 

The dreamy intimacy, melancholic subject matter and lithe instrumentation on ‘Thinkin About You’ was a perfect introduction to one of the decade’s most intriguing artists. DB

Future, ‘Mask Off’ (A1 / Freebandz / Epic, 2017)

future mask off artwork

Pairing stark admissions of drug use and addiction with an infectious Metro Boomin beat, Future created one of the catchiest tracks of the year and one that’s still playing out in clubs today. No wonder it’s become a cultural reference point. DB

BTS, ‘Fake Love’ (Big Hit Entertainment, 2018)

Part of BTS’ ‘Love Yourself’ series, this track’s bruised guitars and thwacking trap beats were accompanied by a big message – if you’re not true to yourself, love (for someone else or yourself) doesn’t stand a chance. RD

Anderson .Paak ft. Kendrick Lamar, ‘Tints’ (12 Tone / Aftermath / OBE, 2012)  

Feeling chilly? Listen to ‘Tints’ and you’ll be instantly transported to a vision of California where the sun always shines, as Brandon Paak Anderson and Kendrick Lamar lead the party. Take us there right now. NR

Metronomy, ‘The Look’ (Because Music, 2011) 

Never has a band captured the dichotomy of the bleak/comforting British seaside experience as sharply as Metronomy did with ‘The Look’ – haunting organ whirs aplenty. It was Devon native Joe Mount’s clever way of likening small town inertia to a relationship in a rut. CK

Phoebe Bridgers, ‘Motion Sickness’ (Dead Oceans, 2017)

This gorgeous folk-pop anthem took on new, powerful meaning when it turned out it was all about Bridgers’ mistreatment at the hands of her ex, Ryan Adams. LC

Black Keys, ‘Lonely Boy’ (Nonesuch, 2011)

The Black Keys Lonely Boy artwork

Close your eyes and stick this on, and we’ll bet you can see the wriggly dude from the music video dancing his little heart out for this gigantic, break-through hit for the Akron duo. Dirty and rifftastic, it made the pair the biggest rock band on the planet for a hot second back in 2011. TS

Skrillex, ‘Bangarang’ (Big Beat/Owsla, 2011)

It’s hard to remember quite how divisive an artist Skrillex was at the start of the decade because with ‘Bangarang’ he simply bludgeoned his critics into submission. Undoubtedly the heaviest dance song to ever be inspired by the 1991 Robin Williams movie Hook. KP

Kaytranada, ‘Lite Spots’ (XL, 2016)

Sampling Brazilian singing legend Gal Costa, the multi-talented Montréal producer transformed her ‘Pontos De Luz’ into an utterly joyful and impossible-not-to-dance-to banger for our modern times. SM

Alt-J, ‘Breezeblocks’ (Infectious, 2012) 

A yowled ode to geometry, Alt-J’s ‘Breezeblocks’ shares a wonky, lopsided charm with their album ‘An Awesome Wave’, which wooed the Mercury Prize judges. The band are still going strong today, proving the myth of ‘the Mercury curse is just that’. EH

Solange, ‘Losing You’ (Terrible Records, 2012)

Solange’s best song of the decade began with nearly a minute of handclaps and looped squeals, setting a cheery tone that couldn’t be toppled even when she sighed, “Tell me the truth boy / Am I losing you for good?RD

Rihanna, ‘We Found Love ft. Calvin Harris’ (Def Jam, 2011)

rihanna we found love artwork

Released as EDM was on the cusp of going mainstream, Rihanna’s collab with Calvin Harris was yet another example of her pushing boundaries and reaping the rewards – in this case, one gigantic, glittery banger and helping to change the sound of pop for the rest of the decade. RD

Anderson .Paak, ‘Come Down’ (ArtClub, 2016) 

.Paak sure knew how to make us boogie in the 2010s. Inspired by party-starters Parliament-Funkadelic, Talib Kweli producer Hi-Tek fulfilled .Paak’s request for “an infectious groove [and] a nasty bass line”. The charismatic singer-songwriter did the rest. You may never come down from hearing this one. SM

Confidence Man, ‘Boyfriend (Repeat)’ (Amplifire, 2016) 

‘Boyfriend (Repeat)’ showcases the simple formula behind all that’s great about this MDMA-zing Antipodean dance duo: a Balearic pulse plus horizontal attitude equals pretension-free fun for the masses. Class dismissed. AT

Kasabian, ‘Eez-Eh’ (Columbia, 2014)

“EEZ-EH! EEZ-EH!” You can hear that battle cry right now, can’t you? Chanted by 1000 rowdy lads in unison, it’s the track that launched 1000 pints. NR

Rex Orange County, ‘Loving Is Easy’ (Self-release, 2017)

Whack super-sultry Barry White into a blender with Jamie Cullum, and ‘Loving Is Easy’ is the feel-good smoothie that comes out the other side. EH

A$AP Rocky, ‘Fuckin’ Problems’ (A$AP Worldwide, 2012)

asap rocky fuckin problems artwork

Over menacing production provided by Drake’s right-hand man Noah ‘40’ Shebib, Rocky, Kendrick Lamar and Drake himself – all on the cusp of greatness at this point in the decade – tried to out-do one another on the subject of “fuckin’ problems”. (Kendrick is our winner, BTW.) SM

Bon Iver, ‘Holocene’ (4AD / Jagjaguwar, 2011)

Drunk on Halloween and smoking joints with his brother on a crisp Christmas night, ‘Holocene’ finds Bon Iver quietly realising that, in the general scheme of things, our pain is an insignificant dot that barely registers on the universe. On the plus side, it’s also one of his emotive vocal deliveries to date. EH

Kanye West, ‘Runaway’ (Roc-A-Fella / Def Jam, 2010)

Your problematic Uncle Tony thinks Kanye’s just a dickhead, but what Tony doesn’t realise is that Kanye kind of knows he’s a dickhead, yet loves himself anyway, so we get this: a sing-song ode to vulnerability and self-recrimination that’s also a bit boastful. What a trip! JB

The Maccabees, ‘Marks To Prove It’ (Fiction Records, 2015)

One of The Maccabees’ last ever singles, this also happened to be one of their best, opening with an almighty yell from guitarist Felix White, before tumbling through chaotic, searing guitar lines and discombobulating time changes. We were soon to lose a truly special band. RD

Calvin Harris, ‘Slide’ (Sony, 2017) 

Harris gave ‘80s-inspired boogie a facelift to soundtrack a fantasy about living loose with money. “I might / Empty my bank account / And buy that boy with a pipe,” sang Frank Ocean in a pitch-bent croon while Migos offered a dizzying display of wealth amid Harris’ feel-good grooves. CK

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, ‘Jubilee Street’ (Bad Seed Ltd, 2015)

nick cave and the bad seeds jubilee street artwork

A haunted, pensive and ultimately transformative ode to man’s desperate but devoted relationship with a sex worker in Brighton – it doesn’t get much more Nick Cave than that. AT

Cardi B, ‘Bodak Yellow’ (Atlantic, 2017)

Despite not having a hook or any of the trappings of your typical chart smash, ‘Bodak Yellow’ owned 2017 (and beyond) all thanks to Cardi B’s confident, commanding flow, which signalled the arrival of a new rap queen to bow down to. RD

Beyoncé & Jay-Z, ‘Drunk In Love’ (Parkwood / Columbia, 2013) 

The whole of Bey’s stellar incredible self-titled record drips in sensuality, and ‘Drunk in Love’ is its filthy, liquor-sipping centrepiece. EH

The Horrors, ‘Something To Remember Me By’ (Wolf Tone, 2017)

This shimmering slice of synth-pop – which New Order would have been pleased with in their heyday – declared, loud and proud, that the goths could dance. KP

Arcade Fire, ‘We Used To Wait’ (Merge, 2010)

Everyone’s down on ‘instant gratification culture’ these days, but Win Butler and co were moaning about it back in 2010, ahead of their time even as they longed for their lost childhoods with melancholy keys and an achingly wistful refrain. JB

Mark Ronson, ‘Uptown Funk ft. Bruno Mars (Sony / RCA, 2014)

Mark Ronson Bruno Mars Uptown Funk artwork

A gigantic, joy-giving earworm. There was a time when ‘Uptown Funk’ was inescapable, its froggy “doh-doh-dohs”, elastic bass slides and strutting yowls and yelps from Bruno Mars following you through bars, Ubers and the inner recesses of your mind. RD

Jamie T, ‘Zombie’ (Virgin EMI, 2014)

Jamie T returned from a five-year absence armed with ‘Zombie’, a sure-fire punk anthem that compared being in a creative rut to being a member of the undead. Luckily it also showed that its creator hadn’t lost his knack for writing something to kickstart the moshpit. RD

Blur, ‘Under The Westway’ (Parlophone, 2012)

Though many years had passed since their creative purple patch, and the world around Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon had changed, this melancholy piano ballad proved that – much like the bridge itself – their knack for public observations and stunning songwriting would stick around for another fruitful decade. TS

LCD Soundsystem, ‘I Can Change’ (DFA, 2010)

This is sentimental synth-pop at its absolute finest, as frontman James Murphy achingly faces up to his own flaws in the name of love. AT

Lady Gaga, ‘The Edge Of Glory’ (Interscope, 2011)

In a nut shell: it’s overblown, extravagant pop gold of the highest order. Eurovision walked so that ‘The Edge of Glory’ could run. EH

Nicki Minaj, ‘Super Bass’ (Young Money / Cash Money, 2011)

Nicki Minaj Super Bass artwork

Half pretty pop, half attitude-filled rap, Nicki’s most iconic track captured the feeling of falling for someone and, in typical Minaj style, favoured empowerment over sentimentality. RD

Lorde, ‘Royals’ (Virgin EMI, 2013)

Rarely do pop stars emerge with such a culture-shifting debut single. Yet that’s exactly what Lorde did on ‘Royals’, an astute antidote to the blinged out boasting of those who came before her. The track inspired the pop landscape to move on from songs about “Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece” and onto the current crop of relatable young stars such as Billie Eilish, Mallrat and Clairo, who sing about subjects that are far more tangible to their listeners. RD

Arctic Monkeys, ‘R U Mine?’ (Domino, 2012)

Before 2012, Alex Turner never really embraced the whole rock star thing. Then, ‘R U Mine’ arrived – the first taste of the ‘AM’ era – with the Arctic Monkeys frontman sporting aviator sunglasses and a gelled-up quiff. Between the single’s massive riff and Helders’ thumping drums, the band took inspiration from ‘90s West Coast hip-hop. Still, they remained resolutely British as only they could – by referencing the Thunderbirds’ HQ Tracy Island. RD

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, ‘Sacrilege’ (Interscope, 2013)

If there are two subjects rock’n’roll songwriters love above all others, it’s sex and religion. On the lead single from 2013’s ‘Mosquito’, Karen O brought the two themes neatly together by shagging a literal angel. Nick Zinner’s guitar lines invoked ‘Gimme Shelter’ by those other sex-obsessives with messiah complexes, The Rolling Stones, while the song built and built to a glorious, frenzied climax complete – as you’d expect – with their very own gospel choir. Mmm… sacrilicious. KP

Courtney Barnett, ‘Avant Gardener’ (Marathon Artists, 2013)

Australia’s wittiest slacker-rock star broke out with this darkly funny, charming and whip-smart tale about ending up in an ambulance after a panic attack. Stuffed with cracking rhyming couplets such as “I’m breathing but I’m wheezing / Feel like I’m emphysemin’”, the five-minute jam session rolls along like a li-lo drifting out to sea. ‘Avant Gardener’ is a laidback tune for beach days spent rocking in a hammock, but it announced the emergence of a serious talent. AF

Christine & The Queens, ‘Tilted’ (Because Music, 2015)

christine and the queens tilted artwork

Stiflingly hot and framed by the EU referendum, the summer of 2016 was also soundtracked by ‘Tilted’. A continual fixture on the radio, it blasted for months from coffee shops, car stereos and strangers’ headphones. Christine and The Queens celebrated not fitting in. There’s more than a hint of hesitation. When she sings, “But I am actually good / Can’t help it if we’re tilted”, she’s rallying against another, hidden voice that says otherwise. She’s speaking to the same voice that LGBTQ+ people hear whispering at them constantly. ‘Tilted’ is Chris’ reminder that loving yourself anyway is an act of defiance. EH

Travis Scott, ‘Sicko Mode’ (Epic Records, 2018)

Travis Scott’s ‘Astroworld’ drew a host of A-list artists to its otherworldly party, but the Houston rapper’s team-up with Drake on ‘Sicko Mode’ provided the rocket fuel for the album’s most astronomical moment. It’s a three-part behemoth, the duo – with a little help from an uncredited Swae Lee – going back-and-forth over hard beats with nods to Biggie, Sheck Wes and Drake’s inadvisable way of managing long-haul flights (“Had me out like a light”). A crowd-slaying hip-hop classic for the 2010s and beyond. SM

The xx, ‘On Hold’ (XL, 2016)

On their first two albums, The xx existed in a fairly monochrome space. But, following Jamie xx’s solo album ‘In Colour’, ‘On Hold’ saw them swapping those hues for a palette far warmer and a little brighter. The subject matter was still melancholy – fate not having your back in your relationship as you had once thought – but there was playfulness throughout. That fun side shone through strongest in the centrepiece sample, a jittery and pitch-shifted cut from Hall & Oates’ ‘I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)’. RD

The Weeknd, ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ (XO, 2015)

‘Can’t Feel My Face’ was a bold move for The Weeknd – though not because it took risks musically. This hulking chunk of space-age disco-funk was always destined to top the charts. What’s interesting, though, is that Abel Tesfaye was openly declaring a love of the old nose candy and its effects. If you read between the lines, you also found a pop hit highlighting a very modern condition – the need to numb yourself to the onslaught of the world by any means necessary. RD

Perfume Genius, ‘Queen’ (Matador, 2014)

Mike Hadreas’ grand, gold-gilded pop rips right through you; it’s like being caught in a cranked-up wind tunnel. And ‘Queen’ is Perfume Genius’ most defiant effort to date. Ragged and beautiful, the track is a proud middle finger slung in the direction of cowardly bigots. “No family is safe, when I sashay,” he roars, his words and their delivery laced with mischief. EH

Haim, ‘Forever’ (Polydor, 2012)

haim forever artwork

If Haim hadn’t existed, someone would have had to make them up. A trio of perennially chirpy, charismatic sisters from Los Angeles who had been rocking out in a band with their parents since they were pre-teens, they were more pro than a band twice their age when they burst out of the San Fernando Valley with their debut single. It didn’t hurt that ‘Forever’ was as immediate and delicious as an In-N-Out burger, all Fleetwood Mac harmonies, crashing drum machines and one killer singalong middle-eight. LC

Gorillaz, ‘Stylo’ (Parlophone, 2010)

Damon Albarn has always been political but ‘Stylo’ was one of his – and his cartoon band’s – most pointed statements to date. A rallying cry against the impact of escalating pollution and overpopulation, ‘Stylo’ was to some degree ahead of its time in issuing stern warnings about the mistreatment of our planet. The skulking, dubby Mos Def and Bobby Womack-assisted also track heralded a new “electro-ish crack funk” (as cartoon rotter Murdoc memorably put it) sound for Gorillaz. CK

Idles, ‘Danny Nedelko’ (Partisan, 2018)

The Bristol band came along at just the right time, their righteous, boisterous anthems a soothing balm for a Britain savaged by division. This bubblegum punk track was perhaps their crowning glory, a roaring celebration of diversity and frontman Joe Talbot’s ode to his mate, a Ukrainian immigrant after whom the song is named. As Charlie Brooker once told NME:He shouts “Unity!” through gritted teeth, and there’s something very life-affirming about that.” JB

Tyler, the Creator, ‘Yonkers’ (XL, 2011)

This was very much Tyler 1.0, pre-redemption arc: a crystalline distillation of his early persona – horrorcore nightmare that’s one-part Eminem and three parts 4Chan troll. From this vantage point we can see how key Odd Future were in shaping hip-hop in the 2010s, from their self-starting independence to their taboo-busting subject matter. When ‘Yonkers’ first came out, though, all you could do was listen, agog, at the venomous self-loathing. And that’s before we even get started on that video. JB

Brockhampton, ‘Sweet’ (Question Everything / Empire, 2017) 

Brockhampton Sweet artwork

The “best boyband since One Direction had a particularly prolific year in 2017, releasing all three records from their ‘Saturation’ trilogy in rapid succession. Picking up in the middle of their swift rise to fame, ‘Sweet’ saw them try to make sense of the whirlwind. “Shouldn’t you have a real big-ass ego?” asks Matt Champion rhetorically. “No?” responds a pitched-up vocal aside. “Shouldn’t these girls be flockin’ just like seagulls?” It’s a refreshing glimpse into their wider vision. EH

Future Islands, ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ (4AD, 2014)

It took four albums before Baltimore’s Future Islands manage to bother the mainstream. But they really arrived with the aptly-titled ‘Singles’ in 2014, a record that sounded like a Greatest Hits album. The real watershed moment came when their defining Letterman performance went viral, thanks in part to frontman Samuel T Herring’s fucking nuts pissed-uncle-at-a-wedding dancing and man-possessed guttural vocals, and in part to the fact it’s a solid-gold beaut about being in love, people changing and time escaping us. AT

Tame Impala, ‘Let It Happen’ (Fiction Records, 2015)

After building a cult following over two psych-drenched albums, Tame Impala defied expectations when they returned for album three with ‘Let It Happen’. In place of lysergic guitars were synths like neon laser beams and Kevin Parker putting his pop prowess front and centre. Just when you thought you knew where it was headed, the band’s mastermind veered off course and straight into the middle of the dancefloor, glitching, twitching and dropping a load of classical strings in the forefront. Blimey. RD

Disclosure, ‘White Noise’ (Island, 2013) 

Disclosure’s addictive dancefloor tunes felt omnipresent in 2013. ‘White Noise’, the second single from Howard and Guy Lawrence’s Number One debut album ‘Settle’, saw the brothers pair up with fellow London-based dance duo AlunaGeorge for a thrilling acid house-inspired banger about complicated love. Along with ‘Latch’ – Disclosure’s previous single, which put guest singer Sam Smith on the map – ‘White Noise’ was a surefire hit across clubs and festival tents. It still slaps seven years on. CK

Wolf Alice, ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ (Dirty Hit, 2017)

Has there ever been a song that so precisely nails the thrills and falters of new love as ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’? Over a synth loop that spun like a gently turning mirrorball, Ellie Rowsell walked us through early flirtations, anxiety-induced self-doubt, and butterfly rushes with such accuracy it felt like she’d hacked the group chat and turned your overthinking with your mates into a towering love song. RD

Justin Bieber, ‘Sorry’ (Def Jam, 2015)

Justin Bieber Sorry artwork

Snobby dismissals of Bieber’s talent were dispelled when the 20-year-old pop star apologised to the world and upped his musical game on ‘Sorry’. 2015 was riddled with tropical house music, and songs from the Canadian singer’s fourth album ‘Purpose’ featured some of the hookiest cuts imaginable. But it was ‘Sorry’, all muted dancehall beats, sunny brass blasts and Bieber’s octave-hopping plea (”Is it too late now to say sorry?”), that saw him seek redemption after a whirlwind of very public misdemeanours. CK

David Bowie, ‘Lazarus’ (ISO / Columbia, 2015) 

Look up here, I’m in Heaven,” Bowie sighed on this tender single from 2016’s ‘Blackstar’. When we first heard it, we didn’t know it would be his last – or that he knew he was saying goodbye. We just thought it was a sublime and self-referential reflection on his life’s work. But no, he was weaving his own life into art. “Ain’t that just like me?” AT

Charli XCX, ‘Boys’ (Atlantic, 2017)

Everyone knows ditching your friends to hang out with a romantic interest is a big no-no, but Charli XCX took things one step further in ‘Boys’, flaking out just to think about them. If you’re going to do that, then you need something pretty mega to make it up to your crew. So it’s lucky that she’s also a top songwriter and could pen this glittery pop song to make it all OK. RD

Kanye West, ‘Black Skinhead’ (Def Jam, 2013)  

Beginning with a vulpine howl, a snarl of bass and a thudding beat that thunders like a glam rock song by the devil, ‘Black Skinhead’ came with the full fury of a man invited to society’s top table but reminded that his colour would permanently affect how he was viewed there: “Enter the kingdom / But watch who you bring home / They see a black man with a white woman / At the top floor they gone come to kill King Kong”. ‘Black Skinhead’ is not comfortable listening, but it’s a song that delivers its message with an unignorable death punch. DS

Ariana Grande, ‘No Tears Left To Cry’ (Republic, 2018) 

Ariana Grande’s first release after the tragic terrorist attack at her Manchester concert in 2017 set the tone for her next two years. Bright and upbeat, it offered two fingers up to the world’s evils, serving them up with infectious sass. ‘No Tears Left To Cry’ reintroduced the singer as one of pop’s most resilient stars who, despite the darkness that had descended on her, was still preaching messages of hope and optimism. RD

Foals, ‘Spanish Sahara’ (Transgressive, 2010) 

Foals Spanish Sahara artwork

After working their way into the spotlight via a debut album of jerky math-rock, sweaty, chaotic house shows across the country, plus an appearance on Skins, Foals kicked off their second chapter with a change of pace. ‘Spanish Sahara’ was a bolt out of the blue from the Oxford band – a glacial, slow-building beauty that showed they could do emotional and affecting just as well as party-starters. RD

Billie Eilish, ‘Bad Guy’ (Darkroom, 2019)

‘Bad Guy’ was an absolute monster of a tune that showcased a brand new popstar and producer team (with Billie’s brother Finneas) bursting with ideas. The static crackle on Eilish’s voice as she drawled “I’m the bad guy”? The way the bass throbbed and rumbled like you were hearing it from the smoking area of a club rather than dancing under the PA? The glitchy breakdown, ominous breakdown? That iconic “Duh”? The makings of an instant classic. RD

Drake, ‘Hotline Bling’ (OVO Sound, 2015)  

The 2010s were pretty much defined by Aubrey Graham, but ‘Hotline Bling’ proved to be one of the first times when he showed us he was capable of creating a monster – in many senses of the word. On one hand, the statistics speak for themselves – Drake’s mega hit became the first song to hit 10 billion streams on Spotify. On the other, Donald Trump danced it on Saturday Night Live in an attempt to show America that he was relatable and worthy of being the people’s President. We know how that one ended. NR

Azealia Banks, ‘212’ (Self-released, 2011) 

Hearing Banks’ unstoppable signature track for the first time was like losing your virginity: fucking brilliant, a bit scary and you’d never be the same again. The booming big beat intro, the rapid-fire flow, Banks’ dead-eyed promise that “I’m-‘a ruin you, cunt” – this was a debut that never fails to raze everything in its path. It’s hard to imagine a better introduction to the world than: “What you gon’ do when I appear? W-When I premiere?” Prophetic and perfect. JB

Caribou, ‘Odessa’ (City Slang / Merge, 2010) 

If Dan Snaith’s previous decade was dominated by blissed-out psychedelic pop, then the Canadian producer came grooving into the ‘10s with some swagger. The off-kilter ‘Odessa’ – and the surrounding album ‘Swim’ – is filled with funky beats, chantable squeaks and a renewed creative direction and proved that, as EDM took a stranglehold on the charts, electronic music could still be freaky and experimental, continuing to embolden a new generation of eclectic ravers. TS

Rihanna, ‘Work’ (Def Jam, 2016)

Rihanna Work artwork

On ‘Work’, Rihanna brought the culture of her native Caribbean to the forefront, dropping Jamaican patois over a dancehall groove and subtle lashings of steel pan. True to her influential form, it foreshadowed the rise of dancehall in mainstream pop. Her frequent collaborator Drake also cropped up for a guest verse, promising: “If you had a twin I would still choose you”. Yet it was RiRi’s unhurried, laidback cool that really stole the show. RD

Dua Lipa, ‘New Rules’ (Warner Bros, 2017)

With ‘New Rules’, Dua Lipa acknowledged the universal truth that you’re always better at handing out advice to your friends than to yourself. Like a millennial, chart-topping agony aunt, she set out the ultimate guide to the aftermath of a break-up, delivered in three easy-to-follow steps and catchy enough to repeat as a coping mantra when you’re really going through it. RD

Arcade Fire, ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’ (Merge, 2010)

Look, you know an album is proper decent when it spawns six killer singles. This was the final one from the Canadian band’s stellar third album ‘The Suburbs’ and launched the band into stunning new directions. Sounding like a banger ABBA thought might be too weird for ‘Super Trouper’, the Regine-fronted track hinted at the destination the gang would spend the remainder of the decade in: the corner of the club scaring off the other dancers. They looked and sounded absolutely fabulous, though. TS

Taylor Swift, ‘Shake It Off’ (Big Machine, 2014)

It takes a certain kind of bravery to unleash on the world a pop song as utterly joyful as ‘Shake It Off’, a track with a shameless onslaught of horns, key changes, acrobatic vocals and – yep – even a Swifty rap. But Taylor knew what she was doing with the first single of the ‘1989’ era, a song that neatly redefined her narrative and struck a claim for the title of Queen Of Pop. Before, she was the unlucky-in-love country-pop star. After, she was the zero-fucks-given maker of music you just couldn’t, well, shake off. DS

The 1975, ‘Somebody Else’ (Dirty Hit, 2016)

The 1975 love to slop on layers of irony: their 2016 record ‘I like it when you sleep…’ was riddled with self-depreciation and satirical fun-poking. In that respect, ‘Somebody Else’ was something of an outlier: atop swooning ‘80s synths, Matty Healy tipped out the messy, post-breakup contents of his brain. Here was a painful – and mostly sincere – sadbanger. “I can’t give you my soul / Because we’re never alone,” Healy sings, the eyes of tabloids inevitably peering over his shoulder. EH

Jamie xx, ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’ (Young Turks, 2015)

jamie xx I know there's gonna be good times artwork

Wrapped around a gorgeous, barbershop-style a capella vocal sample (The Persuasions’ ‘Good Times’), this jubilant mash-up of Caribbean steel drums and American soul features one of the distinctive rappers of his generation, Young Thug, and modern dancehall hero Popcaan. Their idiosyncratic vocals are surprisingly compatible, the wholesome chorus (“I know there’s gonna be good times”) offset by Thug’s bizarrely rude rhymes (“I’m-‘a ride in that pussy like a stroller”). It’s a heady concoction, all right. JB

Stormzy, ‘Shut Up’ (#Merky, 2015)

Whoever said grime was dead? When Stormzy emerged with ‘Shut Up’, he proved ‘em dead wrong. This freestyle, set atop a zippy instrumental from grime pioneers XTC, really blew up – partly due to its flawless flows and partly because of the defiant tone that Stormzy delivered it in. Was there a better putdown this decade than, “These MCs wanna talk about Lord of the Mics / You ain’t even lord of your yard?” K-SW

Foals, ‘My Number’ (Transgressive, 2012)

File this alongside ‘Common People’ and ‘Last Nite’ as an automatic and undeniable classic indie dancefloor staple. But it’s also so, so much more than that. Once the mathy and awkward outsiders of UK rock, Foals outlived their trilby-wearing landfill contemporaries and thrived to become one of Britain’s biggest and best bands. ‘My Number’ was the sound of them laying the funk on nice and thick, becoming the arena band they’d always threatened to be without losing their inherent weirdness. AT

Childish Gambino, ‘Redbone’ (Glassnote, 2016) 

Where were you when you first heard those introductory bass drum kicks, that slap bass line, that wah-ing guitar melody? Donald Glover’s bold reinvention as a 70s soul’n’funk crooner – with 2016 album ‘Awaken, My Love!’ – ultimately paid off. The Grammy-winning ‘Redbone’ was  the jewel in that eclectic record’s crown. Glover’s falsetto – which, incredibly, wasn’t pitch-shifted in the studio – rightly drew comparisons with the late, great Prince. All together now: “Dayliiight…SM

Grimes, ‘Oblivion’ (4AD, 2012)

The perfect song for a world gone wonky, Claire Boucher’s helium-powered vocals betrayed a darker side to this skittering, squelchy slab of experimental electronica. Inspired by a violent attack, the Canadian producer flipped victimisation into four minutes of empowerment. Teaming fragile, frightened lyrics (“I never walk about after dark… ‘Cause someone could break your neck / Coming up behind you”) with punchy pop beats, she removed the sting of the street harassment, taking charge of the narrative. An alt.culture star was born. LC

Skepta, ‘Shutdown’ (Boy Better Know, 2015) 

Skepta Shutdown artwork

Skepta’s ‘Shutdown’ revived grime and, with its skittish melodies, the song represented the unapologetic energy of London. Although ‘Shutdown’ went mainstream, it also made it clear that Skepta certainly remembers his roots – because, as he says: “When I run up on stage / I pick up the mic and it’s reload time”. ‘Shutdown’ became the grime anthem for all tracksuit menaces that practised what we preached. K-SW

Beyoncé, ‘Formation’

Re-emerging in 2016 with ‘Formation,’ Beyoncé empowered her beehive. Full of confidence and eloquence, this was a sassy track that brought everyone together; the sensational sounds of a marching band created a truly grand feeling, helping ‘Formation’ to forge a celebratory mood. Whether you’re celebrating yourself and your beauty – or any of your achievements – you have to echo Beyoncé: “Yeah  – I slay”. Here Bey definitely reaffirmed her place as the Queen of R&B. K-SW

Kendrick Lamar, ‘Swimming Pools’ (Top Dawg Entertainment, 2012)

Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar CREDIT: Getty Images

‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ was the breakout hit that first brought Kendrick Lamar to mainstream attention, giving the Compton rapper his biggest US hit to date and marking his first appearance on the UK charts. It was also a perfect example of one of the things that made Lamar the decade’s most compelling rap lyricist: his ability to simultaneously embrace and subvert musical clichés.

On first listen you might easily have mistaken this for a woozy, seductive drinking song designed to soundtrack a thousand nights out and wild parties, but if you paid full attention it soon became clear Lamar was satirising exactly that sort of vacant scene, and warning of the disastrous siren call of alcoholism. In another artist’s hands, having enough liquor to fill a swimming pool could have sounded glamorous or glorifying. Here the reality was rendered in sombre, sober tones as he reminisced on family members he watched drown in the alcohol they poured themselves: “Granddaddy had the golden flask / Backstroke every day in Chicago.”

Lamar has said the song is really about growing up with the choice whether to become a casual drinker or a drunk. On ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’, he shrugged off the peer pressure to prove he was an artist without equal. Kevin EG Perry

MIA, ‘Bad Girls’ (Interscope, 2010) 

MIA CREDIT: Zoe McConnell

If “Live fast / Die young / Bad girls do it well” wasn’t one of the finest bars of the decade, it was bettered only by the line that followed: “My chain hits my chest when I’m banging on the dashboard”.

‘Bad Girls’ was MIA at her fierce, furious best as we launched into a new decade. Here was an artist who wasn’t going to play by the rules. She was going to flip off millions at Madonna’s half-time Super Bowl show; she was going to collaborate with WikiLeaks’ highly controversial Julian Assange and she was going to swagger her way through a pan-global hip-pop track about driving cars really, really fast. Though tracks like ‘Born Free’ had seen MIA being outwardly political, ‘Bad Girls’ was all about having fun and looking like a boss while doing it.

Its Romain Gavras-directed video though added another layer to the seemingly innocuous tune. Staging a blinged-out drag race featuring niqab-wearing women and supporting Saudi Arabia’s Women to Drive Movement – they were forbidden to drive in the country until 2018 – ‘Bad Girls’ didn’t just show us an artist who was totally in the driver’s seat, but one who was also trying to make the world a more equal playing field. Leonie Cooper

Frank Ocean, ‘Pyramids’ (Def Jam, 2012) 

Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean CREDIT: Getty Images

If there was a song that captured the ingenious artistry of Frank Ocean, it’s the nine minutes and 54 seconds of ‘Pyramids’, the second single from his debut studio album ‘channel ORANGE’, which also happens to be one of the decade’s best records.

The song itself is an experience. It travels generations, centuries and millennia in its scope. Taking us back to ancient Egypt (“Send the cheetahs to the tomb”), it flies forward to imagine the ancient Egyptian Queen Cleopatra as a modern-day woman of the night in six-inch heels (“She’s working at the Pyramid tonight”). All the while, Frank’s velvet croon drapes luxuriously over the listener. Reminiscent of Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’, the 10-minute single managed to work its way through genres with numerous layered metaphors and clever wordplay. 

And, swinging confidently between R&B slow jams to club-ready synthesisers, the track’s instrumentation is also a tour de force, epitomised by the beat shift halfway through. Want a song for the cutting shapes on the dance-floor, and one for smooching – at the same time? Frank’s got you covered. Dhruva Balram

Daft Punk, ‘Get Lucky’ (Daft Life, 2014) 

Daft Punk
Daft Punk CREDIT: Getty Images

You just need to read the lines “She’s up all night ’til the sun / I’m up all night to get some” and Nile Rodgers’ iconic guitar riff and that incredible bassline will flood your mind.

‘Get Lucky’ was the ultimate summer banger. The tune transcended past the sweaty clubs it was played in and became entirely timeless. Driven by a rhythmic beat and bass melody, the slick track evolved to become a cultural marker through a single unforgettable hook: “We’re up all night to get lucky.”

Whether you love or loathe it, there’s no denying ‘Get Lucky’ struck a delicate balance between sounding uniquely new and oddly familiar – all at once – and achieved a kind of eternal playback loop, placed in our playlists and radio line ups forevermore. It’s no coincidence that the second verse has Pharrell Williams smoothly singing, “Your gift keeps on giving.”

The robots knew they had created the summer soundtrack that refused to go away. There’s a reason Scottish comedian Limmy tweets, every single year, without fail: “Check out Daft Punk‘s new single “Get Lucky” if you get the chance. Sound of the summer.” Zoya Raza-Sheikh

Kanye West, ‘Power’ (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam, 2010)

Kanye West
Kanye West CREDIT: Getty Images

“My childlike creativity, purity and honesty / Is honestly getting crowded by these grown thoughts,” Kanye rapped on the standout track from the extraordinary work of art that is ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’. It’s a key lyric that tells you everything about Kanye West and also explains that perfect title of that album, which sounds like the most incredible homework project you’ve ever encountered.

Kanye was a national disgrace at this point, having ruined Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the VMAs in 2009 (“Yo Taylor! I’m really happy for you, I’mma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time”). Even the then-President called him a “jackass”, a fact Kanye acknowledged on ‘POWER’: “They say I was the abomination of Obama’s nation / Well that’s a pretty bad way to start the conversation.”

Yet this unchained track saw him puff out his chest, take the flak and vow to honour the childlike naivety that super-charges his creativity and also makes him act like, well, a jackass. “Screams from the haters,” he mocked, “got a nice ring to it / I guess every superhero need his theme music.” His vulnerability is compelling, but Kanye’s self-belief is contagious. Jordan Bassett

Arctic Monkeys, ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ (Domino, 2013)

Alex Turner Arctic Monkeys
Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner CREDIT:

There was a running theory back in 2013 that moving to LA had fundamentally changed Alex Turner. It took just 41 seconds of ‘AM’ opener ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ for him to make it clear that rumours of the death of his Sheffield accent had been greatly exaggerated. Nobody from any of the United States of America has ever described a fear they can’t shake as sticking around like “summat’s in your teeth“.

Lyrically, the song saw Turner pining after a former flame, while (naturally) also setting his sights on seducing her once more. (Another line no American would ever have written: “Simmer down an’ pucker up.”) Matt Helders and Nick O’Malley’s falsetto backing vocals provided a gorgeous counterpoint to Turner’s voice, while Jamie Cook’s riffs weaved around them all like a leopard on the prowl. The resulting song somehow fused together the primal lurch of desert rock and the grandiose theatricality of a Bond theme, like an Aston Martin monster truck.

It became an instant fan favourite, and the Monkeys used it as their opening song throughout the ‘AM’ tour and in recent months it returned to its rightful place as the opening salvo in the band’s incendiary live show. Kevin EG Perry

The 1975, ‘Love It If We Made It’ (Dirty Hit, 2018)

Matty Healy The 1975
The 1975’s Matty Healy CREDIT: Jenn Five/NME

The world is broken. On America’s borders, families fleeing from unspeakable violence are being separated from their children. In Europe, refugees drown as they attempt to make the dangerous crossing. A portion of Little Britain grows louder every day in its venomous attitudes towards immigrants. Sometimes it feels like kindness and empathy is being squeezed out of the world – a sponge that’s being slowly wrung out.

Love It If We Made It’ is The 1975’s response. It wasn’t a protest song, but a brash, absurdist polemic that captures the age in which we live. Matty Healy screams out snippets from global news atop pent-up mechanical disco, as if yelling out Jenny Holzer truisms. Police brutality, systematic racism, the proliferation of fake news, Donald Trump’s sexism and drug-fuelled hedonism all jostle for space with snatches of meme-speak (“poison me daddy”) and Healy’s take on a possible cause of global warming: “fossil fuelling masturbation”.

A bombardment of gloom eventually makes way for strutting funk guitars while synthesised choirs burst into song. Despite the horrors referenced on this track – the death of three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, the loss of Lil Peep – it prevailed with a note of hope. “I’d love it if we made it,” Healy insists, as the tirade finally breaks into melody. Neither nihilistic nor naive, this was a bombardment of modern life. El Hunt

Lana Del Rey, ‘Video Games’ (Polydor, 2011)

Lana Del Rey
Lana Del Rey CREDIT: Getty Images

Although we didn’t know it at the time, Lana Del Rey’s debut single was a signpost for her career to come. In ‘Video Games’ and what followed, she unfailingly refused to kowtow to popular trends and built a universe around her – one filled with classic Americana typography, sleazebag men and romantic women, falling in and out of love in a vintage Hollywood dreamland.

Ironically, Del Rey wrote ‘Video Games’ when, she’s said, she’d “let go” of her musical ambitions – but the single instantly made her a hit. As she charged ahead with her singular aesthetic, she began to change pop music, her key tropes – cinematic melancholy, frostily drawled lyrics, and references to dive bars and bad girls – cropping up ever more frequently as her star ascended. The video, which flitted between moody shots of the singer and clips of skateboarders, Hollywood actresses and LA hotspots, also encapsulated Tumblr’s obsession with found-footage, predating – and perhaps helping to set – our collective obsession with the soft focus of Instagram filters.

Huge cultural significance aside, ‘Video Games’ was also an assured first step, one that many artists deeper into their careers would have killed to write. It was a timeless introduction to an artist who would go on to be one of the decade’s defining stars and foreshadowed very special things to come. Rhian Daly

Lorde, ‘Green Light’ (Republic, 2017) 

Lorde CREDIT: Dean Chalkley/NME

On her debut ‘Pure Heroine’, Lorde captured the banality of a torn-up town “with no postcode envy” – and her longing to escape it. Back then, the excess of ‘Royals’ was a distant fantasy. From here you know the story: the album turned the teenager into a global star.

And so, for her second record, Lorde turned her focus inwards. ‘Melodrama’ zoomed in on the minutiae of a house party in order to delve into heartbreak, isolation, and detachment. ‘Green Light’ – the first single to come ahead of the album – picked up near the beginning of the night. Across the room, somebody she was once inseparable from with is ordering different drinks at the same bar. What a painfully brutal metaphor. It’s sour, like chasing tequila with a slice of lemon. 

“She thinks you love the beach / You’re such a damn liar!” Lorde snarls at her ex; this is the New Zealander at her vitriolic, nuanced peak. Ultimately, though, ‘Green Light’ finds satisfaction in the shoal of gossiping sharks lingering just off-shore.

Though lost intimacy lingers like a shadow, there’s a new sound and an open road ahead: you bet that once those traffic lights change, Lorde is revving straight out of here, and into a better place. El Hunt

Robyn, ‘Dancing On My Own’ (Konichiwa, 2010)  

Robyn CREDIT: Press

Robyn’s music often holds up the dancefloor as a utopian place. As a teen, freshly signed to a major label and frequently working over in New York, the Swedish artist went to the last ever edition of the near-mythological club night Body and Soul. She was enchanted by the collective energy she found there: it was a democratic church, where everybody worshipped at the altar of house music. “It’s cool to be in your own space, dance on your own terms, in the middle of all these other people doing the same thing,” she told NME last year, looking back on that influential night out. “It’s really important.”

‘Dancing On My Own’ is a song that exists in this strobe-lit space – except, this time, it turns away from the high and faces the low: in other words, it’s about someone who’s lost and self-destructive amid the positivity. This is a crushing depiction of loneliness – it really doesn’t get more brutal than loitering in the corner of the club, watching your ex kiss someone else, after all. Clattering around in her stilettos and tripping over smashed glass, Robyn is having an absolute ‘mare here. She’s “all messed up” and “so outta line”. To make matters worse, this wasn’t a chance meeting; she deliberately tracked the pair down like a drunken Nancy Drew, knowing full well what she would find.

It’s a perfect encapsulation of heartbreak and self-sabotage, and yet those juggernaut beats and percussive clacks wrench the whole thing out of the darkness. Somehow there’s also a brief flicker of hope. “I just came to say goodbye,” Robyn decides eventually. Even if she’s chatting shite to make herself feel better, it still feels like a sliding doors moment. Crucially, we leave Robyn holding her own in the corner: thrashing out her anger, jealousy, regret, and confusion in a tightly-packed club. In a nutshell: it’s perfection. El Hunt