The Best Of List is always a tricky proposition. It implies that one believes themselves to be an expert in the chosen category or at least important enough that their choices matter. It is usually presented as something objective but is inherently biased to the person, their race, their class, their personal preference and on and on and on. Best Of lists are kind of scam, and yet I love them anyway because it represents (to me at least) the pinnacle of definitive opinions. To proclaim anything as “good” feels like a dangerous undertaking in 2019 when public opinion vacillates so wildly that someone the entire internet is willing to cosign one day, can be abruptly canceled the next. To proclaim anything as the “best” is to welcome a host of naysayers and sharp criticism, the kind that can make a ruin of a comments section as people take their differences and amplify them needlessly. In short, Best Of lists are messy.
So, of course, I had to make one.
Below, I’ve listed the ten best songs from this past decade. Since my love is not hierarchical, there is no numerical ranking. Enjoy!
Glad You Came, The Wanted (2011)
“And I decided you looked well on me, well on me”
One Direction stole the careers that should have rightly gone to The Wanted and I don’t feel any type of way saying that with my chest. The fact that they managed to release a hit at the same time as the dawn of 1D’s domination is a feat unto itself. The fact that this hit did not propel them into the same realms of superstardom feels like the worst kind of snub. “Glad You Came” is an enduring bop, one that could play at any club in our current, trap soaked moment and still elicit an uproarious reaction. While another group from across the pond was mansplaining our beauty, The Wanted was exulting in our company, thrilled that we deigned to give any of them the time of day. It’s simple in its conceit and cheeky in its execution. If for nothing else, they deserve to be on this list for the sneaky double entendre alone.
DE AQUÍ NO SALES, Rosalía (2017)
“Mucho más a mí me duele/ de lo que a ti te está doliendo”
If there’s anything pop music got right this decade, it’s the burgeoning widespread appreciation for Latin Music. While staples like J Balvin and Luis Fonsi have gotten their due with some thanks to key features with mega American pop stars (Beyonce and Justin Beiber, respectively), no star shines brighter than that of Rosalía, the twenty-six-year-old phenom redefining both the Flamenco tradition at her roots and the contemporary pop in which she radiates. Any song from her stunning sophomoric release, El Mal Querer, could have made it on this list, but it’s “DE AQUÍ NO SALES”, the weirdest and most raw undertaking on the album that I keep coming back to. The strength of Rosalía is not just in the inventiveness of her music but in her storytelling. In this instance, she wails from the perspective of an abusive lover, declaiming them and their excuses with a refrain that proves just as haunting in Spanish as it is in English. “Mucho más a mí me duele, de lo que a ti te está doliendo,” she sings: This hurts me more than it hurts you.
Style, Taylor Swift (2014)
“Could end in burning flames or paradise”
Sometimes it feels like I have a complicated relationship with Taylor Swift, but in truth, it’s not that complicated at all. Sometimes I like her songs. Most of the time, I don’t like her. Her fourth studio album Red meant a lot to me in high school, but her rebrand as a pop princess has mostly been a miss. There is a version of me that can ventilate on how Taylor Swift sounds better when she’s being sung by other people, but she’s not interested in coming out to play today. What I can say, even if it pains me, is that when Taylor gets it right, she gets it right. “Style” is a stunner of a pop song, tight and electrifying, the kind that digs into the picture it's painting. Since she ditched her country girl roots, Taylor singing about love has always felt hollow (her newest album, Lover, is perhaps the best example of this, a collection of dead-eyed odes that suggests that maybe Taylor waxes best about love once it’s in her rearview) but “Style” is one of the few times I believe in everything Taylor is pushing. What can I say? I like what I like.
212, Azealia Banks (2011)
“I’m a rude bitch ni**a/ what are you made up of?”
It is hard to see what Azealia Banks has become and not think about all that she could have been. When “212” dropped in 2011, it was at a time when the conversation about popular female rap began and ended with Nicki Minaj. It was a relentless declaration of a new talent, a foul-mouthed, braggadocious lesson from a woman bred in the country’s most famous high school that she was not the one to be messed with. In the years that followed, Banks would be shot in the foot by her own damn self, with a career that should have ascended to the heights of her fellow LaGuardia alum stalling as she entangled herself with petty Internet beef and vitriolic monologues that ran the gamut of alarming transphobia to plain old haterade. With all of that, however, I will never forget how I felt the first time I saw the song’s black and white music video, with a 19-year-old Banks in pigtails and dark lipstick, casually spitting some of the filthiest lyrics I’d ever heard with a wink and a smile: like I was on top of the world.
Last Hope, Paramore (2013)
“It’s not that I don’t feel the pain it’s just I’m not afraid of hurting anymore”
This list would mean nothing without an appearance from the most important band of my adolescence. I came of age this past decade and so did Paramore, a band that started as homeschoolers messing around and blew up into one of the most recognizable names in their genre. Their self-titled fourth studio album came on the heels of a messy break-up, after the Farro brothers, two founding members of the band, split after dropping several searing accusations on frontwoman Hayley Williams. The album would go on to become one of the bands biggest, achieving widespread commercial success and making a definitive statement to the rest of the world: we might be broken, but we’re still here. It’s the same theme that carries “Last Hope”, a stand-out on the album and one of my favorite songs of all time. The studio cut is fine, but it’s the live version that encapsulates the sheer emotion of the song, as Williams holds her arms out wide to a crowd of adoring fans and promises to keep on going, even as it hurts.
“Over the weekend, we can turn the world to gold”
No one has managed to pinpoint and capture the elusive and euphoric feeling of desire this decade better than Carly Rae Jepsen. Her debut single, a vibrant, sparkling, completely unforgettable synth-pop concoction served not only as an introduction to the Canadian pop-star, but as a creative thesis statement: Carley Rae Jepsen is in love with love, but she’s also in love with the journey, particularly the dizzying, unbearable joy found at its origin. “Run Away With Me” is one of her best interpretations of this phase. It starts with what is undoubtedly the best sax intro to any pop song ever and disseminates into an electric plea for her lover to whisk her away, no questions asked. It was easily the best pop song of 2015 as “Call Me Maybe” was for 2012 and whatever she deigns to bring us in the new decade will be for all eternity. All Hail!
Smack a Bitch, Rico Nasty (2018)
“You rap about an Audi too much/ because my Audi paid off bitch hush!”
There are several tomes to be written about Rico Nasty and the way she bottles and delivers black female rage. In a time when it feels that black women have more things to be mad about then they know what to do with, Rico Nasty stands as a sentry ready to give us the perfect soundtrack to rage to. She spends a little over two minutes screaming and cooing over a mosh-pit approved production by favorite collaborator Kenny Beats and the end result is a heavy-metal tinged dissection of anyone who would dare to look at you funny on a day when you are simply not the one. It’s catharsis at its finest, both a flex and a prayer of gratitude. When Rico gutturally exclaims “Oh my fucking god!” it reverberates to your very core, bidding you scream every lyric with her.
Feel No Ways, Drake (2017)
“Who is it that’s got you all gassed up?/ changing your opinion on me”
This was undoubtedly the decade of Drake. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Canadian born rapper completely changed the face of modern-day pop and there’s a reason why he’s one of the biggest stars in the world. One of Drake’s infinite powers is that of reinvention, and he’s spent the last ten years shifting from Soundcloud sad-boy to Instagram flexer to a loving father of one. But whether you prefer petty Drake or vicious Drake, singing Drake or the Drake that can’t seem to understand how a woman could do better without him, each version of himself is insanely addictive, probably because he pulls each of them off so well. There are so many songs from his catalog that could have made it on this list that you’ll probably read my choice and sublimate it with one of your own. But as it turns out that I’m a fan of singing Drake and petty Drake, the one who points the finger at his lover to mask hurt feelings, even when he’s the one that ended things.
Into You, Ariana Grande (2015)
“I’m so into you, I can barely breathe”
Ariana Grande has been stunning audiences with her soaring soprano since her days on Nickelodeon (and for some megafans, since her Broadway debut at fifteen in the Jason Robert Brown musical 13) but I have to admit, I didn’t really get it until her Dangerous Woman era when Grande finally shed the last vestiges of her Nickelodeon approved cutesy schmaltz and became a bonafide force. She cites Mariah Carey as one of her biggest influences and it’s not hard to see why. Like the megastar, Grande makes every vocal acrobatic appear effortless, floating through octaves and an enviable whistle register like it takes nothing at all. Unlike other vocal powerhouses whose every note feels as if it’s being pulled, painfully, from the depths of their souls (here’s looking at you Christina), Grande always looks (and sounds) like she’s having the time of her life. “Into You” is a masterclass of a pop vocal, my favorite of the decade, and a song that cannot be skipped no matter when it comes on.
Party, Beyonce (2011)
“I may be young but I’m ready/to give you all my love”
According to Spotify Wrapped, this is the song I listened to the most this decade which comes as no surprise. Beyonce is my favorite artist period and no matter how long or how far I stray, coming back to her discography always feels like coming home. Perhaps there are more important (Formation, ***Flawless) or flashier (Sorry, Don’t Hurt Yourself) songs in her canon this decade but it’s the track she shares with Andre 3000 that owns me, mind, body, and soul. If other songs on this list remind me of the first blush of love, then this is the song that transports me to its tail end, when I’m old and gray, surrounded by my grandchildren at the barbeque I’m throwing in the backyard of my forever home, posted up with the love of my life, both of us still acting like we’re twenty and crushing. It’s a wedding song, a party anthem, a future “y’all don’t know nothin ‘bout this” staple- I can’t think of a single stage in my life for which “Party” wouldn’t resonate. And perhaps that’s the hallmark of a truly great song: it doesn’t get old, but rather ages just as gracefully as you do, standing by your side every step of the way.
And here are some honorable mentions, because whitling this list down was hard and this decade gave us as many bangers as it did disappointments.
OOOUUU, Young M.A (2016); Supermodel, SZA (2017); Teenage Dream, Katy Perry (2010); BeFoUr, Zayn (2016); Bodak Yellow, Cardi B (2017); Bravado, Lorde (2013); Video Games, Lana Del Rey (2011); Shrike, Hozier (2018); Plain Jane, A$SAP Ferg (2017); Black Beatles, Rae Sremmurd (2016); I Don’t Like, Chief Keef (2012); Show Me Love, Mvula (2016); Big For Your Boots, Stormzy (2016); (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano, Sampha (2017); Shake It Out, Florence and the Machine (2012); Beez In the Trap; Nicki Minaj (2012); Mask Off, Future (2016); Binz, Solanage (2019); Dancing On My Own, Robyn (2010); literally anything Frank Ocean has put out ever.