The top 100 songs of the decade
From the crypto-commercial nu-pop of SOPHIE to the viral juke of Footcrab, an eerie Fugees sample and an ill-fated cockroach, these are the tracks that defined a decade
An anthem for those amongst us unfortunate enough to date men in the age of “u up” texts and The Apps, New Rules (and its brilliantly choreographed music video) was Dua Lipa’s breakout moment, launching her into the upper reaches of the British pop milieu. It’s one of the better tropical house-influenced tracks of recent years, and as the first ever lip sync challenge on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, its place in the canon of ‘songs to chuck your boyfriend’s clothes out the window to’ is much deserved.
Tinashe ft. SchoolBoy Q
Tinashe’s is one of the most frustrating pop stories of the decade – she is an immensely talented artist who should have been a juggernaut, held back by frequent stalling by her label. Her 2014 single 2 On, with its laid-back hook, clever interpolation of Sean Paul’s We Be Burnin’, and lyrics extolling the specific, smoky pleasures of getting waved, was an early indication of just how good she is. Let’s hope the music industry catches up with her some time in the next decade.
MC Bin Laden
True Panther Sounds
Surprisingly, MC Bin Laden isn’t the most serious of baile funk artists on the scene. (He’s also not allowed in New York, go figure.) This track though, may be one of the most innovative. Made up of motorbike engine revs and a bare bones drum beat, it’s a fairly tongue in cheek, lyrically impenetrable track – it’s title has no translation in English – with Bin Laden lobbing out vague bars like “Children are the future of Brazil”. Something about the alchemy that happened when it all came together though made this track so infectious it helped create one of funk’s breakout stars.
What’s A Girl to Do
Inspector Norse aside, few dance records this decade sparked spontaneous singalongs like this rescued-from-obscurity slice of off-kilter electropop. Initially released in 2004 to minimal fanfare, Dekmantel’s 2015 reissue saw that synth melody plant itself firmly in the heads of dancers across the globe, sounding just as amazing at house parties as it did blasting from main stages at festivals from Havana to Helsinki. If you’ve ever stepped foot in a club this decade, you’ll have a fond memory or two attached to the song.
Si Estuviésemos Juntos
For as long as I can remember, reggaeton has run parallel with toxic machismo that still permeates Latinx culture. The male-dominated genre, often seen criticised for its lack of female representation and misogynistic lyrics, has begun to experience a shift in the past year. The rise of reggaeton romántico has flipped this narrative, and Bad Bunny’s Si Estuviésemos Juntos is at the forefront of this movement. A melancholy, unabashedly vulnerable love song where the narrator takes accountability for their own failures sounds so far removed from the club-ready reggaeton bangers we’re used to – but this is the new school of dembow, and Bad Bunny is its leader.
Rachel Grace Almeida
Despite the music of the mid-2010s being as revolutionary and forward-thinking as at any other point in recent memory, it’s somehow still a shock when someone steps out with a new sound that’s as singular as Lorenzo Senni’s. Ambient trance? Why didn’t we think of that?! Senni set free all the melancholic sadness, joy, longing and euphoria locked up in trance’s long-standing relationship with hoofin’ kick drums. In the process he captured the hearts and minds of anyone who had their finger even remotely near the pulse in 2014.
Lapsley (DJ Koze’s Extended Disco Version)
As much as our clubbing tendencies lean towards the underground and the murkier side of the dancefloor, sometimes you can’t beat a disco edit. DJ Koze’s rework of Laspley’s Operator is a prime example. Built around ringing phones and razor sharp strings, Operator delivers a hit of nostalgia every time it graces the club. Joyous, camp and absolutely bumping in equal measure, it’s a track so filled with warmth that even the strictest techno fans can’t resist its groove.
I’m God felt like the spiritual birth of an internet legend, and it remains a highlight among the hundreds of tracks The BasedGod has spilled out over the last 10 years. Sourced via Myspace, the Imogen Heap-sampling instrumental came from Clams Casino – a physical therapy student making beats on the side – who’d later help craft A$AP Rocky’s formative sound. The beat’s emotive fizz caused Lil B to explode with bizarre braggadocio and optimism (“Now I’m spittin’ rap shit/ Gave me somethin’ to live for”). His eccentric approach of unfiltered expression would become a key inspiration for a burgeoning collective called Odd Future.
Miley Cyrus was hardly the first former child star to undergo a very public sexual awakening, but with her hilariously provocative Bangerz campaign she made Britney et al seem positively Victorian. Wrecking Ball was the song at the centre of the controversy, thanks to a divisive, Terry Richardson-directed promo finding Cyrus swinging naked and licking sledgehammers suggestively. Ultimately, the furore around the visuals only distracted from the fact that at its heart, Wrecking Ball is one of the most startling love songs of the decade, with one of pop’s most compelling vocal performances.
Hard in da Paint
Waka Flocka Flame
1017 Bricksquad/Warner Brothers
Atlanta trap had been a powerful force long before the start of the decade, but Hard in da Paint was arguably the track which pummelled the sound into the global consciousness. After doing the rounds as an underground mixtape hit, it was repurposed as a single of Waka’s seminal Flockaveli album. The track’s epic orchestral menace, barked ad-libs and back-to-back quotables cemented this as an anthem, and to this day Hard in da Paint is still a not-so-secret weapon for warm-up DJs looking to galvanise a rap crowd.
Lockdown Party (DJ Sprinkles Crossfaderama)
A perfectly considered mash-up of catchy, melodious samples, this belter of a remix from Terre Thaemlitz ebbs and flows in all the right places, as the sassy, hip-shaking bassline plays just right with that relentless vocal loop (still unidentified at the time of writing) and the freeform, stuttering cuts (that’s the Crossfaderama part), resulting in one of the most low-key ecstatic house music anthems of all time. The delayed gratification of waiting nearly seven-and-a-half minutes for the kick to fully join in the fun is just the icing on the cake. Everything in its right place indeed.
Hive ft. Casey Veggies & Vince Staples
All of Earl’s disdain for the world came tumbling out in the opening line of Hive. Delivered with an apathy so intense that even the beat takes a pause after it’s delivered, that first bar set the tone for a track that remains among the former Odd Future MC’s best. Assisted by Casey Veggies and Vince Staples, both of whom are also on career-best form, the track is a fever dream made of creeping flows, vivid imagery and a doom-laden beat.
R E A L L O V E
There was a time when Factory Floor were the most exhilarating live act in the UK, performing a combustion of drumkit-powered techno, post-punk and ice cold industrial music. R E A L L O V E was one of the early singles which captured the intensity of the trio’s performances, summoning flashbacks of rave euphoria held within the white walls of an art gallery.
Raw Cuts #3
Motor City Drum Ensemble
There really are few greater pleasures out there than hearing an expertly deployed disco sample. Many, many have tried (and continue to do so), but really nailing it is actually a rare feat. Daft Punk did a good job and have made their career off the back of it, and with Raw Cuts #3, Danilo Plessow achieves a similar alchemy. Yanking the vocal from Melba Moore’s Just Another Link and laying some gently vamping Rhodes chords over a pumping drum machine rhythm is pretty much all there is to it, but it’s Plessow’s deft touch that turns this into a classic.
Oni Ayhun Records
The undisputed pinnacle of Olof Dreijer’s three-year run of self-released EPs was the nearly 12-minute-long B-side to OAR003 that felt like it could go on forever and ever – and that would be totally fine with us if it did. Knocked out between masterminding The Knife albums alongside his sister Karin, the four records made explicit a love of dance and club culture that had always permeated his work for the band. This track in particular captured something so pure and fizzing with life that it seemed to resonate instantly.
Stormzy’s greatest talent has always been presenting grime’s greatest traditions in a way that your grandparents could understand. On Shut Up he took one of the genre’s most iconic instrumentals – XTC’s Functions on the Low – and made it current once again, simultaneously paying homage to its history and gifting it a new one. Watching the video of his ‘fire in the park’ freestyle back with its playful back and forth and Big Mike’s endearing grin, it seems predetermined that Stormzy would go on to become the first grime MC to headline Glastonbury, even if his sound has transcended the world where he cut his teeth.
thank u, next
Ariana Grande’s emotional candour is probably the most exciting thing about her brand of stardom (that is, if you don’t count her head-spinning voice.) As such, thank u, next is the jewel in her musical tiara. It’s a track that resonates largely because the journey it describes played out on the public stage, but also because Grande’s vocal talent really is currently peerless. On the glossy, sparkly emoji-reminiscent thank u, next, she sings lead and back up, claiming independence and owning her narrative completely.
One Little Indian
Blissing Me by Björk was a collaboration with serpentwithfeet and Arca, and it’s steeped in references to love in the digital age; ultimately, it’s about two people falling in love over the sharing of respective mp3s. The lilting harp strings and minimalist Arca beats aren’t a complex arrangement, but then neither are the emotions attached to the song. As the second single from the pioneering artist’s album Utopia, she crafted a mantra for the modern age, singing about the fragility of love and the ability to lose yourself in someone over exchanges across a virtual realm.
What is there to say about Todd Terje’s chugging 2012 Everest-sized endorphin injection that hasn’t already been said? Undoubtedly the most ubiquitous tune of the year to anyone who went within 100 feet of a club or festival stage, Inspector Norse managed to hit pretty much every pleasure centre we own, every single time it was heard. The melody, which in alternative universe was belted out of every pissed-up football terrace in the UK, is so gloriously simple, stupid and smart. When the fizzing bassline kicks in, it’s pure dance euphoria.
The taps aff titans took things down a notch on Opal, turning in a breaksy, glitchy, stop-starty thing of dewy-eyed beauty. Despite having been overshadowed somewhat by Four Tet’s slightly heftier remix, the Belfast duo’s original is a testament to their growth over the past decade. No longer content with trotting out hyper-effective facsimiles of mid-90s NYC house records, the pair’s debut album saw them traversing subtle territory to wonderful effect. Even on an LP full of melodious magic, the autumnal effervesce of Opal stood out.
Flawless (Remix) ft. Nicki Minaj
Parkwood Entertainment/Columbia Records
Beyoncé is a beauty and a mystery. Her talent and skill as a vocalist, dancer and auteur are matched only by her dedication to controlling the conversation. Flawless (Remix) was no exception. A gasp shot round the world as Bey snarled, “Of course some shit go down when there’s a billion dollars on the elevator” in 2014; she’d taken back the narrative, finessing a Knowles-Carter family affair into a hit so cunning you could feel Kris Jenner sweat. Nicki Minaj joined her for the remix, flaunting and taunting her goodies with bars that remain amongst her best.
RCA Records/Keep Cool Records
One of the best things about end of decade lists is that they help us not just to look back, but forward too. Motivation, the first single proper by Fifth Harmony star Normani, is a superlatively bright, bouncy bop that is steeped in a knowledge of pop and R&B history, but which also feels like the start of something wonderful. It signals Normani’s emergence as someone who, by the time these lists are next being compiled, could well be topping them.
Duck Duck Goose
While the funny, exuberant filthiness of CupcakKe’s lyrics is often the most commended aspect of her music, Duck Duck Goose is just one of many testaments to her technical prowess as a rapper. Across the track, the flow change-ups are dextrous and always propulsive, moving from soft and sexy to sharp and precise over a distorted beat with style and agility. Also, let’s be honest, if “I thought I came but I peed on the dick” isn’t a decade-best opening line then what is?
Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck) ft. Zack de la Rocha
Run the Jewels
Mass Appeal Records
After decades of individual graft, Killer Mike and El-P found wild new levels of success when they joined forces as Run the Jewels. Towing a semi-conscious, semi-street rap line, the pair have always been at their best when making songs that encourage you to run up on your boss and claim a spontaneous bonus. Close Your Eyes is the textbook example. Assisted by Zack de la Rocha, an elder on the council of anti-capitalist MCs, the track serves as a checklist for the world’s evils with global capitalism, the catholic church and the KKK all getting a dressing down in between Blade Runner references. Nuanced, it is not, but its searing energy is impossible to deny.
If counterpoint in music is the equal interdependence and independence of harmony and rhythm, Kamasi Washington’s Truth is its perfect example. A 13-minute opus of interconnected themes, with each one established in the preceding tracks on the Harmony of Difference EP. They all come together in this final number, bubbling up from the initial subdued refrain to a coruscating solo from Washington before ending on the choral ecstasy of the closing minutes. Listening to Truth is like witnessing the full gamut of emotions, a distinctly human offering in our chaotic times.
In one sense, Ryderz represents the logical conclusion of HudMo’s 4K-HD beatmaking, gnawing at its own seams in a desperate bid to cram in every ounce of triumphalism, like a Benny Hinn convention where they play the keys from Joy O’s Ellipsis over and over. That said, it just works. That Madlib-esque sample and hooky Casio lead never fail to spread a wide grin across your faces, and who hasn’t cruised around in a car full of their mates to this one?
Sworn to Secrecy Part 2
The latter half of the decade has seen Hamburg’s Helena Hauff become one of the most in-demand DJs on the planet, and for good reason. Few present day selectors make sweating in dark rooms seem like such a consistently thrilling prospect. Still, Hauff’s unswerving command of the one’s and two’s shouldn’t overshadow her regularly brilliant productions, and this belter lifted from the gloriously grimy confines of Hauff’s 2015 Werkdiscs’ released Discreet Desires, is a dungeon-dwelling slab of dank and decrepit minimal wave, coming on like Drexciya dosed up on Mogadon.
All My Love
Peder Mannerfelt & Hodge
While they came from different angles to arrive in this mutant techno scene, Hodge and Peder Mannerfelt are the perfect match. Both consistently display a knack for lurid hooks and crowd-baiting rave sensibilities – as savvy as they are sassy in their methods – so it’s little wonder they nailed it so thoroughly when they joined forces for this weapons grade breakbeat monster. Keeping the druggy FX on high alert and making something gleefully weird sound utterly potent for destroying the dance, All My Love is everything a smart banger should be.
While the R&B of the 2010s could be defined by a certain mistiness and experimentalism, some artists stayed on a more traditional track. Miguel’s 2015 record Wildheart was part of that movement. A child of Prince, Miguel’s album is an exercise in showmanship, romance, scale and storytelling. At its heart is Coffee – a soaring, cosmic ode to mornings-after – which joins the pantheon of R&B songs that find sanctity between the sheets.
Mundanity, corporeal fragility, apathy, masculinity – always masculinity – these are the things that Pissed Jeans rail against. Their hissing, gnashing punk rock has always felt like a conduit for these frustrations as a listener, and with their 2013 album Honey the band seemed to get the recipe just right for their howl to cut through. Bathroom Laughter kicks it off with a thud, and for its sheer unrelenting velocity, it deserves a place on this list.
With their second album IDLES manoeuvred their snarling cacophony to address their politicised subject matter with a straighter bat than on Brutalism. On Samaritans, they take aim at the masculine resistance to admitting weakness. Like so much of Joy as an Act of Resistance, it felt like a shock to the system, a unifying cry against disaffection. It only takes one look at their exultant Glastonbury appearance or the vast support network formed by their online fans to see how much it resonated.
In 2012, Usher was still the crown prince of R&B (OK, maybe the archduke or something), and if we’re being honest, Yeah! was still rattling around our heads a full eight years after it was released. When he decided to partner up with Diplo for his comeback single Climax, it was the pop crossover event of the year. The song is built like a swelling storm – its peaks and valleys sway with deep emotion, all with Usher’s falsetto gently soaring over the top. It’s both high drama and beautifully understated. An impressive feat for two typically bombastic artists.
There’s a reason why Cardi B is the most electric, exciting rap talent of the past few years. It’s not necessarily because she has the best bars, or the best rhymes, or even the best music – even though all of those elements are well above standard at the very least. It’s because, in a decade that saw the American Dream give its last death rasp, Cardi’s rags-to-stripper-heels-to-riches story galvanised the entire world through her brash attitude and incendiary spirit. When Bodak Yellow hit, it hit hard, and its global impact ushered in a new era of hip-hop, one where anyone could make it on their own terms.
Street Fighter Riddim
D Double E
Bluku Music/Dirtee Stank
Given his veteran status, it was perhaps surprising to note the relative dearth of recorded solo material D Double E had to his name in 2010 – taped pirate radio clips not included. Cue Street Fighter Riddim – a hefty, rave-ready, kick-punch combo of buzzsaw bass and arcade bleeps – and Double’s evolution from illicit airwaves fixture to clubland kingpin. The track continued a historic tradition of grime’s cross-pollination with video games, and coined another reload-inducing adlib (and record label name) in the form of Double’s onomatopoeic “bluku bluku,” too.
The Trilogy Tapes
A tropical house remix of the Blue Peter theme shouldn’t be anything other than terrible really, should it? By some bizarre twist of the cosmic makeup, Blue Pedro is not only great but its bouncy Italo chug and relentless shine instead represent the promised land: the redemption of dance music and its egomaniacal protagonists. Uniting practically everyone with a passing interest in club culture, with Blue Pedro Bullion somehow penned the weirdest cult hit you’re likely to hear in any decade.
Guillotine was Death Grips arrival and coronation wrapped into one. Slumped in the passenger seat, shouting and drenched in static, MC Ride announced himself as the anti-rapper of our times. Throughout the group’s career, the desire for confrontation that’s so on display on Guillotine never went away – and the bristling aggression only grew. For all the comparisons that have come since, there’s still no other act that channels the same brutal nihilism that Ride, Zach Hill and Flatlander debuted on Guillotine. Yuh!
Epic Records/Freebandz/A1 Records
Future’s historic mid-decade run culminated with this, the track that launched a thousand flute samples. Riding high off molly, percocet and the combined success of DS2 and What a Time to Be Alive, Future hit 2017 with two albums, cementing his legacy as Atlanta’s chart-topping king. It’s not for nothing that in the same year as Bad and Boujee, HUMBLE and Magnolia, Mask Off was the track that gripped the public’s attention the most.
Hudson Mohawke and Lunice have a lot to answer for with this one. Many believe this track started EDM and is therefore responsible for the slow rot at the centre of our culture. We however, believe it to be a fucking banger, responsible for getting people to start mosh-pits at DJ shows. And for that we are truly grateful.
Mercy ft. Big Sean, Pusha T, 2 Chainz
Before streaming delivered the death blow to the idea of scarcity in music, Kanye’s GOOD Friday releases felt truly special – an unmediated line into the mind of a prolific, troubled savant. Of these free downloads, Mercy is among the finest; from the first deployment of that Fuzzy Jones sample, it has you rooted to the floor. The track’s first half is compelling enough – Pusha T, 2 Chainz and Big Sean (“Swerve!”) take it in turns to flex over a sinister beat. But what truly elevates Mercy beyond a good posse cut is the moment the floor drops away to reveal a whole new song. Are those synths a lift from the Scarface score? Is Kanye rapping about suicide doors? Is the room really melting like Dali? When will my heart rate return to normal?
If Burial was the most exciting electronic artist of the 2000s, then in the 2010s he was – at least at times – one of the most frustrating. Although there were moments of genius amongst his post-Untrue output, for the most part it felt like he was delivering a watered down version of himself, losing focus on meandering 13-minute epics that never quite reached the dizzy heights of his early work. With 2017’s Rodent, he drew sharply back into focus, cutting out the fluff for a four-minute club track built around a haunting vocal loop and off-kilter 4/4 beat.
Man Don’t Care ft. Giggs
Boy Better Know
While his brother has often flirted with the mainstream, JME has always been one of grime’s most devout MCs. His biggest track of the decade, Man Don’t Care, is a masterclass in the line the genre walks between humour and stoney-faced seriousness. “Box in the eye with the fob I use to log into my HSBC” is surely one of the strangest threats committed to record in the last 10 years. Add in a disarming verse from Giggs which references both digestive biscuits and Dragonball Z and you have an instant classic.
In 2013, Tessela’s Poly Kicks debut not only seemed to kick the dust out of Funktion Ones all over the land, but indicated that clubs were ready to embrace the breakbeat again after years of 4/4 domination. A Special Request VIP and Tessela’s own twisted 10-Ton remix (arguably an even bigger dancefloor defibrillator than the original), further boosted the record’s reach into the decade.
While Harry Agius’ studio was thoroughly productive in the first half of the decade, he started to slow down his musical output as his DJ career reached stratospheric heights. This left us hyper-attentive to any new Midland material, and Final Credits more than lived up to the scrutiny. We’re never short of disco edits, but there’s a heartfelt honesty to Aguis’ touch, especially in that cheekily emotive lead synth line, that makes this a perennial dancefloor moment, just like the name suggests.
Cash Money Records
Part of Drake’s virality over the last 10 years has come from his ability to come up with words and phrases that feel non-literal and completely new (Hotline Bling, Passionfruit, Nice for What). The concepts might be familiar but Drake, ever the master-marketeer, repackages them until they feel novel. No track demonstrates this more than Drake’s love letter to Toronto. Know Yourself’s hook – “I was runnin’ through the six with my woes” – reimagines a night in your hometown with your closest allies as a pilgrimage; a homecoming of near-biblical significance.
Chance the Rapper
Originally included as a hidden track tacked onto the back end of Pusha Man’s parodic appraisal of street hierarchies, Paranoia sees Chance drifting over a dreamlike, hallucinatory Nosaj Thing beat. But his account of the realities of life in Chicago couldn’t be more lucid. Punctured by disembodied squawks and metallic drums, his thoughts slide from gentrification, to petty street crime, to his city’s spiralling gun violence – an epidemic that had earned the Illinois metropolis the nickname ‘Chiraq’. A far cry from the pumped up machismo of the city’s other big rap exports (notably those shaping the breakout drill scene), it confirmed Chance as one of the most important new voices in the US hip-hop landscape.
Wakin on a Pretty Day
Most truly great songs are made for the night time, so it’s always nice to find the ones which aren’t. 2013’s Wakin on a Pretty Day was one of those songs. You don’t have to listen to the lyrics to realise it’s made for mornings. That textural acoustic guitar lick; the warm chords and Vile’s easy vocal; the way the wah wah noodles around in a loop like a Windows 98 screensaver. Another artist attempting the same feat might stumble into unbearably twee territory, but Vile managed something timeless: a song that feels like the sun on your back.
Awful Records/Ninja Tune
When it comes to self-fulfilling prophecies, they don’t get more spot on than the chorus of Fruit, the best song from Abra’s 2015 LP Rose. “Don’t listen to a word they say/ I’m in your head like everyday,” she coos in a voice that, in another life, lives atop the Billboard charts. As its lyrics promise, the hook is an unshakeable earworm, though Fruit’s lo-fi, creeping quality demonstrates Abra’s prodigious skill as a creator of pop that’s just left-of-centre and much better for it.
Let It Happen
On 2015’s Currents, Kevin Parker’s Tame Impala reached a new zenith, and Let It Happen, the album’s opener, set the tone for the masterpiece that was to come. The track sees Parker, having moved the project’s focus from guitars to keyboards, making the case for both self-acceptance and acceptance of the world around us, in amongst a soundscape so rich and lush you feel you could sink your hands into it. Rarely has the act of surrendering the will been rendered so vividly.
Can't Do Without You
In an interview around the release of his fourth LP as Caribou, Our Love, Dan Snaith told Crack Magazine that this was the first time he’d ever considered his audience during the writing process, explaining, “The goal now is to be warm and generous.” That shift was abundantly clear in the record’s extraordinarily open-hearted lead single. Building from a looping vocal sample and shuffling beats, it takes a minute and a half for the first phase of the song to kick in, but when it does it’s utterly glorious, like the sun breaking through the clouds.
Seasons (Waiting on You)
It’s difficult to divorce Seasons (Waiting on You) from its context as the punt that reversed the perennial underdogs’ fortunes, propelling them to viral fame via Letterman. Certainly, that narrative adds to the song’s romance, but to give Samuel T Herring’s hip-swivelling all the credit chronically undersells the Baltimore trio’s songwriting. From the moment the synths first lurch in, Future Islands take possession of your heart, the lived-in grit of Herring’s growl only making the song’s lyrics about man’s inability to change all the more pertinent. An unabashedly emotive masterstroke.
To the Moon and Back
Rabid Records/Mute Records
“Hey, remember me? I’ve been busy working like crazy” – and just like that, we were reintroduced to Karin Dreijer’s Fever Ray project after an eight-year break. As far as comeback singles go, To the Moon and Back was a shock to the system-capital-S, a lascivious and pleasure-principled slice of off-kilter synth pop that embraced kink and queerness. As both one half of The Knife and as Fever Ray, Dreijer has dedicated her career to reshaping radical politics into the dimensions of danceable electronic music – but never had the results sounded quite this liberated.
Venezuelan producer Alejandra Ghersi – aka Arca – has always existed in her own unique pocket of electronic music. Her productions feel as fluid as they do rigid; industrial clanks and sharp sounds blending with ambient synths and the otherworldly pop sensibilities that she picked up from longtime collaborator Björk. But when she released Piel, the first single off her 2017 self-titled album, this preset dissolved. For the first time her voice took centre stage, raw and unmanipulated. The four-minute track, carried by a dramatic, foreboding drone so tense that it could snap at any given moment, marked a new trajectory for one of the most singular artists of our time.
Rachel Grace Almeida
True Love Waits
Much like dusting off the photos of old lovers or partners, True Love Waits re-emerged like a surprise repurposing of an old feeling, the undimmed potency of its power taking you by surprise. What sounds like the merciless ticking of a clock in the background adds weight to Yorke’s pleas of “don’t leave”, the awful undertones of loneliness and separation a reminder we simply don’t always have time.
True Panther Sounds/XL Recordings
A hijinks odyssey through the early hours, Dum Surfer even transforms a 3am takeaway into something special. The track hits early in King Krule’s third and fullest album, The OOZ, and captures Archy Marshall’s sideways twist on low-lit, loose jazz atmospherics. His brassy voice is tarred and cracked, undeniably charismatic, and he trades on it to carry off a silly, spooky backing section that sounds slightly like the Monster Mash. Dum Surfer spins the listener a blurry tale that’s gross – vomit on the pavement, brain like “mashed potato” – but also as strangely beautiful as a petrol stain in a puddle.
Before Offset was married to Cardi B, before whatever Quavo Huncho was supposed to be, before the triplet flow took over the rap world, there was Hannah Montana. Rivalled only by Versace for simplicity of chorus, this track is Migos at their purest: throbbing bass, Three 6ix Mafia-esque church bells and of course, that hook. Tragically in 2019 we have to reconcile the fact that Miley Cyrus probably loves this song now, but in 2013 the idea of using a Disney darling as a metaphor for cocaine was still somewhat controversial. How far we’ve come.
Shut Up Kiss Me
“The people you love the most can make you the most angry,” Angel Olsen said about this song. “They’re really good at it.” Capturing the bitter heat of one of those arguments, Shut Up Kiss Me saw Olsen once again deconstructing the struggles of loving with grace and tongue-in-cheek drama. Exasperated demands laced with cool detachment and a bigger sound than ever kickstarted the next stage in Olsen’s sound. If only actual fighting was this satisfying.
Every era deserves music with shock appeal, something which reaches for unexplored territory and bewilders conservative listeners. There’s an extensive list of incredible material Young Thug dropped during his creative peak, but Danny Glover – for which he allegedly recorded his vocals in eight minutes – was, for many, the first time they were stunned by his alien sound. 808s Mafia’s beat transmits eerie synths like a warning signal, while Thugger spews slippery and unpredictable flows, improvising out-of-tune melodies that have been memorised by millions. Here was rap’s unruly new star, breaking the rules and dripping with slime.
Your Best American Girl
In just one line (“Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me”), the half-Japanese artist succinctly articulates the one-sided tensions of being in a relationship with an “all-American boy” (read: white and American) – the feelings of inferiority, the unattainability of all-white American culture and how immoveable and deeply centred it is (“You’re the sun”). The single came before Trump was inaugurated, and before rom com To All the Boys I Loved Before hit Netflix, which stars an Asian female lead with the popular white dude at school. People say that love is blind, but here Mitski crafted an anthem on love, race and power structures with such startling clarity that it still has the ability to stop you in your tracks.
If a rapper from New York didn’t rhyme over production etched in gutter boom bap back in 2011, their authenticity would still be questioned. However, with Peso, a codeine fever dream of a rap song, A$AP Rocky showed that it was perfectly OK for a Big Apple emcee to be just as influenced by the South as the East Coast. Rocky brilliantly blurs the line between the goofy swag of local artists like Max B and Cam’Ron and the slower, more intoxicated sound of the South’s Pimp C and DJ Screw, and the way he nonchalantly describes his penchant for wearing threads by Raf Simons and Rick Owens is exhilarating. This one changed the rules of what a New York rapper could, and should, sound like.
Nights might be one of the greatest break-up songs of the 21st century. Like all of Ocean’s best work, he trades melodrama for nuance – zeroing in on the details and overtones that make life so relentlessly devastating. On this song, his depiction of a deteriorating relationship feels especially vivid – phone calls feeling more like séances, working late to avoid confronting the inevitable, stoned nights in replacing romantic trips away. Frank’s response is to hibernate (“Shut the fuck up I don’t want your conversation”), cut out the noise and be alone with his thoughts. We’re just grateful he occasionally writes them down and shares them with us.
Battle for Middle You
All great tracks need a hook – Battle for Middle You had two. It was up to you whether you wanted to indulge in a spot of techno karaoke and gurn along to those iconic wamp wamps or have a singalong to that perfectly deployed vocal sample from Mass Production’s 1977 disco heater People Get Up. Either way, this track got everyone all in a tizzy and catapulted Bashmore into the DJ stratosphere in the process.
Katy on a Mission
Columbia Records/Rinse Recordings
Beginning life as an infectious Benga dubplate, replete with characteristic shuffling hats and a whip smart snare, it was the addition of Katy B’s elongated “rooms” and “fumes” that ultimately cemented the track’s anthem status. The tune soundtracked dubstep’s crest into the charts, and helped make household names of the genre’s leading producers. It catapulted Katy B into the limelight too – making her, for a brief moment, the face of the UK’s blooming early-2010s club culture.
Before James Blake’s sounds became ghostly and skeletal, he was having fun flipping samples and ushering in a new era of bass music from the UK. CMYK squeezes the best out of a few elements. As with much of Blake’s sound, less is always more – and each element of this track speaks to its era. The irresistible nonsensical samples (drawing from both Kelis’ Caught Out There and Aaliyah’s Are You That Somebody), chords which sound like an ecstasy rush, skittering, paranoid percussion and rolling sub bass, all interacting with a delightful unpredictability. After its release, R&B samples would go into overdrive, but not many were as perfectly pitched – and fun – as this.
Apparently the work of three week’s worth of drum programming, iii’s Front sounded like the thrilling culmination of everything the Russell brothers have been working towards through their separate – and now intertwined – musical careers. Ed Russell’s solo work as Tessela can be clearly heard in the mangled, homebrew breaks and tricky beat science, while the rollercoaster arrangement and borderline cheesy slap bass owe a bit more than nothing to Tom Russell’s everything-goes-as-long-as-it’s-too-much Blacknecks project. Whoever did what, the damage this thing does in a club is inescapable.
Today, ‘SoundCloud rap’ means face tattoos, Xanax and an unfettered dose of Auto-tuned feelings. But in 2014, it could just as easily refer to an oddball Awful Records mixtape as a piece of chart-chomping anthem rap like Trap Queen. Originally uploaded as a rough freestyle, the tune had already generated a hefty stream count on SoundCloud before being polished and picked up by, well, basically everyone – charting a steady rise to radio playlists, Snapchat stories and small town dancefloors worldwide. It’s also probably the only love song to date that centres on whipping crack cocaine, so there’s that too.
It was a spot on Lee Gamble’s UIQ label that really alerted listeners to the especially supple sound of Lanark Artefax, but his productive relationship with Whities saw the Glaswegian producer hit his stride in earnest. Lifted from Whities 011, Touch Absence married Calum McRae’s penchant for vintage electronica to a gloriously modern production heft, resulting in a track that transcended the emergent electro zeitgeist while being utterly compatible with it.
In a year that delivered us a near-relentless slew of anthemic bass-house bangers (Sicko Cell, Getting Me Down, Battle for Middle You), Mosca’s Bax rose to the top to provide the biggest dancefloor earworm of the year (if not the decade). In an unexpected twist, its unashamed deployment of pastiche dance music tropes – from its singalong organ riff to the gloriously obnoxious “My DJ” vocal sample – granted the track a sense of complete timelessness, and today it lives on in our hearts and our record bags.
Yeah Right ft. Kendrick Lamar
Blacksmith Records/Def Jam Recordings
For Vince Staples’ exceptional album Big Fish Theory, he leaned into avant-garde electronic music and explored the chaos of the times through experimental production and immersive sonics. No left-turn felt quite as radical as Yeah Right where a gargantuan SOPHIE instrumental provided the backdrop for Vince and Kendrick Lamar to unpick the motions of rap, capital and consumerism. The alchemy of elements is dazzling; Kendrick finds pockets in the space between SOPHIE’s mechanical sounds and Vince’s hook is warped into something far more cerebral than mere catchiness.
Don’t Touch My Hair
A Seat at the Table saw Solange definitively step out from her big sister’s shadow, and Don’t Touch My Hair was her calling card, her rallying cry. Only an artist with an ironclad sense of self could take one of the black community’s most demeaning micro-aggressions and turn it into an anthem, and when Solange speaks these words, they become a command of respect rather than a plea of acceptance. When her vocals bloom in unison with Sampha’s on the chorus, the spell is complete, and you feel their liberation deep in your bones.
Sebastian Gainsborough has left his mark on the 2010s like few others, even if his music still hovers beneath the surface of mass recognition. Amongst three albums for Tri Angle bursting with febrile abstraction, Red Sex from 2014’s Punish, Honey is a lurid track that stains like a bad tattoo. The Young Echo member reportedly made his own rudimentary instruments for the album, and it goes some way to explain that beguiling siren simultaneously pitched at the crowded dark room and the air raid shelter.
A song whose title you can only pronounce after hearing it, has no discernible structure to speak of, and takes two minutes to get to the eight-word sequence that comes closest to constituting a hook might not seem an obvious choice for one of the biggest rap tunes of the decade. But, then again, musicians are always most appealing when it looks like they’re not trying too hard. “They call her Stephanie…”
New for U
Detroit veteran Andres’ 2012 single was inescapable at the time, and just as difficult to avoid now. So much as think about house music and it’ll fill up the recommendations in your streaming service of choice, clinging in there like honeycomb in the mouth of a sugar-starved child. Happily, New for U, with its silky strings and plump bassline, is as delightful as stuffing yourself silly with a Crunchie or six. Downbeat, but not downcast, this end of the night classic is Pepe Bradock’s Deep Burnt for generation burnout – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Mercury Records/Interscope Records
Originally released on 2010’s Vicki Leekx, Bad Girls was clearly too special to languish as a thumbnail sketch on a free mixtape. Duly, it was subjected to some polish and paired with a slick visual featuring women wearing designer burqas doing Tafheet manoeuvres in the desert. A smart call. Bad Girls’ Middle Eastern motif and insistent snares are as exhilarating as a Jeep mid-drift while the mantra at the song’s heart – “Live fast, die young/ Bad girls do it well” – swerves the controversy that had settled around M.I.A. in 2012 for something altogether more rousing and universal.
Did You See
Black Butter Records
J Hus represents some of the last remaining qualities that are worth liking about Britain: humour, perseverance and a refusal to be defined by a working class background. His sound also functions as a celebration of London – a positive hybrid built from the sounds of the diasporic communities which co-exist in the city. Did You See is the perfect encapsulation of this magic. That four-note steel drum intro is completely unique to this artist, in this era. Add a buoyant bashment pulse, an unshakeable Afrobeat melody and a charming lyrical irreverence that belongs to grime. The most influential British rapper of the decade had struck gold.
Dance Yrself Clean
Dance Yrself Clean is, according to Spotify, LCD Soundsystem’s most streamed track. While it might be one of the band’s least accessible moments, the track’s unparalleled tension and release clearly captured the world’s attention. After three minutes of spoken word, release comes in the form of an explosion of jagged, juddering synths over which James Murphy howls about blowing “Marxism to pieces”. As with all of LCD’s best moments Dance Yrself Clean toes the line between sincerity and cynicism as only Murphy can. Encouraging listeners to “forget your string of divorces” and “throw your little hands up”, Murphy’s falsetto both mocking and desperately earnest.
There’s a certain feeling that comes from knowing you make people uneasy. Queers know this all too well, and at first, it will nearly destroy you. But over time it will gradually harden into something approaching pride, no, power. Queen is about that power, and the joy that comes with flaunting it with glee. A resplendent, final reel pop song fuelled by rage and the survival instinct, Queen sees Mike Hadreas rear up into any god-fearing straight person’s worst nightmare. Make no mistake, there’s menace in those ugly-beautiful synths and strutting percussion. When Hadreas sings “No family is safe when I sashay” he isn’t joking.
There’s something timelessly appealing about Miami bass. In the city, it was a revolution; a reaction to the ‘golden age’ hip-hop that was dominating the airwaves, a desire to keep up with the club kids and dance. Its booming low end sound still continues to influence and inspire, but it’s possible that Kelela’s Rewind has paid it its greatest tribute yet. The lead single off 2015’s Hallucinogen EP, Rewind glides through heavy bass and moody, dancefloor-facing R&B before plunging into a smooth trap beat. Considering this is a song that charts unrequited love in the club – I mean, how relatable? – this feels like Kelela at her most complete.
Rachel Grace Almeida
I Don’t Like ft. Lil Reese
After quickly acquiring notoriety and local fame in Chicago’s south side, Chief Keef’s profile exploded after I Don’t Like, which saw the 16-year-old perfect the art of repetition, sneering his through Young Chop’s swirling beat with cocky charisma. Keef intrigued the media, concerned the authorities and caught the ear of Kanye West – who eagerly recorded a bloated remix of I Don’t Like mostly featuring rappers around twice Keef’s age. The drill wave Keef pioneered then inspired a new wave of artists in London, who were also seeking dark and energetic sounds to reflect their increasingly harsh realities.
The story of BTSTU began in 2010, when a demo uploaded to Paul’s Myspace page a year before its official XL release stirred a rapturous reception from the blogosphere (it’s been a while since we used that word). The mystery surrounding the song’s creator only added to the excitement. The track was a stunning introduction to Jai Paul’s world and its enthrallingly brilliant sample-heavy landscape. The elements shouldn’t fit together but somehow they do; a falsetto sings “Don’t fuck with me/ don’t fuck with me” over a woozy, convulsing synth line and mechanical drum claps, before a shimmering chorus kicks in. BTSTU would become a sonic touchstone for the rest of the decade, sampled by Drake and Beyoncé and drip-fed into the DNA of pop music. And what of Jai Paul? He would continue to be as elusive as he was influential.
Historically, flamenco is an art form where its performers process pain through meticulous recital. Look away for just one moment and you’ll miss a snapshot into someone’s soul. The same could be said about Rosalía, the Catalan-born singer-songwriter and classically-trained dancer who brought Spanish melodrama to the mainstream. Breakout single Malamente bubbled with ominous attitude, its traditional flamenco claps, folkloric melodies and stylish R&B production stirring up a commotion worldwide. If 2018 left us with one fact, it was that the world had a new global pop star.
Rachel Grace Almeida
There are certain electronic tracks we loosely dub as “winders”. Essentially, winders are tracks where, around three minutes in, you realise you have little idea where the track will end up. Ye Ye by Dan Snaith, operating under his Daphni guise, is the ultimate winder, steering its tension-filled path to no specific destination but absolutely devastating the dancefloor in the process. It’s a trick few producers can pull off, but by harnessing the power of a circling synth line, odd vocal stab and the drama inherent in surging forward momentum, Snaith created one of electronic music’s all-timers. We defy your synapses not to fire the moment those head-spinning synth chords kick in.
Drunk In Love ft. JAY-Z
It’s doubtful that anyone has ever gifted the club a better excuse to go ballistic than Beyoncé purring “I been drinkin’” at the beginning of Drunk In Love. Though her world-shaking 2013 self-titled album contains many highlights, Drunk In Love – a grown-up and opulent spiritual successor to Crazy In Love – is one of its best moments, as Beyoncé’s silky vocal rides muffled drums and synths which sound like how the sky looks at night. Slinky but somehow still totally bumping, the track is one of the great paeans to the end of the night fumble. Though for most that’s more “it’s 6am and wow I’m on a floor mattress in Bermondsey” than “fucked up my Warhol,” the sentiment remains appreciated and sublimely well-executed.
Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst
Kendrick has no shortage of legacy-defining songs. From the political urgency of Alright to the head-spinning flow of Rigamortus, you could spend days trying to pinpoint his greatest moment. For our money though, it has to be Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst. Sprawling across two parts and a total track length of 12 minutes, Kendrick immerses the listener in tales of Compton, blending narrative poeticism and introspection seamlessly into an epic that sits at the core of Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. Just as impressive, if not even more so, is the fact that through it all, he never misses a beat, twisting his flow into strange new shapes to make rhymes work and maintain pace. Heartbreaking and defiant in equal measure, it’s Kendrick at the height of his powers.
According to Tony Williams, aka Addison Groove, Footcrab almost never saw the light of day. Initially built as nothing more than a tool for bridging the gap between juke and dubstep in his sets, it eventually found its way to Loefah, boss of the Swamp 81 label. To say the track became ubiquitous would be an understatement. Played by pretty much every DJ of note from across the electronic music landscape, it found its way into the sets of everyone from Villalobos and Surgeon to Kode9 and Mr Scruff, onto the record shelves of a million hypebeasts around the world and straight into our hearts.
Punishing drums. Threatening bass. Blunt, rusty riffs. Savages’ chic, muscular first single, released in 2013, doesn’t waste a single second on polite introductions. The black-clad four-piece take just 20 seconds to start a riot, and then Jehnny Beth hollers an “Ohhh” so powerful it could stop a mosh pit in its tracks. Surrealist lyrics twist a domestic scene into a claustrophobic post-punk nightmare, punctuated by a heated, exhilarating violence which explodes between the verses. Finally the fever breaks with a staccato yelp, piercing and breathless, that rejects a whole worldview with a single word: “Husbands! Husbands! Husbands! Husbands!”
When a young Azealia Banks exploded onto the scene with 212 in 2011, it felt like the arrival of an artist who was destined to shake up the industry. And she did – but more on that later. The track, with its hydraulic vogue-friendly beat, house chimes and snarling, raunchy rhymes, became the centrepiece of New York’s ‘hip house’ movement that also included Zebra Katz and Cakes da Killa. In its memorable black-and-white, seemingly homemade video, a Mickey Mouse sweater-clad Banks delivers a performance so whip-smart and veloce, it could snap your neck. Yes, we’ve now reached a point where Banks’ personal controversies overshadow her musical output, but somehow 212 still manages to send a shockwave through a dancefloor like little else. All together now: “I’ma ruin you cunt.”
Rachel Grace Almeida
Runaway is Kanye at his most vulnerable and self-aware, with lyrics like “You been putting up with my shit just way too long” working not just as an admission of being a bad boyfriend, but also as an acknowledgment that his narcissism might have eroded the patience of his audience. The production, which is full of tender piano and beautiful flourishes of bass, is lush and grandiose. The fact the music video features intricate ballet dances also felt intentional – Kanye knew this was the kind of rap song that deserved to be looked at as high art. On Runaway Kanye is too heartbroken to puff his chest out. It’s concrete proof that he’s just as human as the rest of us.
Dancing on My Own
Few songs have survived the last 10 years like Dancing on My Own, Robyn’s cough-your-heart-out-of-your-mouth ode to a) knowing someone you love is lost to another person, and b) getting extremely drunk about it. The universality of the feelings Robyn moulds around staccato synths and a pounding, singalong chorus might account for the track’s sustained pre-eminence, but it’s more accurate to say that, as a perfect sonic articulation of an emotion, Dancing on My Own could never be anything but timeless.
Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage
The early 2010s threw up a number of club tracks whose impact played out on the internet as much as the dancefloor. Blawan’s explosive Why They Hide… is a prime example, doing the rounds on YouTube – and emergent Dance Music Twitter – before anyone had even heard it in the club. But the buzz was deserved. The track revels in B-movie schlockiness even as it lays waste to dancefloors with its cavernous, dead-eyed kick and creepy Fugees’ sample. Why does it still sound so fresh? It had a quality that a lot of 2010s techno checked at the door. It had a sense of humour.
Numbers on the Board
One of Kanye West’s more unconventional bangers, Numbers on the Board is built around a Ye beat that sounds like someone is running a hammer through the cracks of a radiator. But the fact the beat is so minimalist means Pusha T’s slick raps are allowed to take centre stage, with stirring lyrics like “I can go blow for blow with any Mexican” designed to be shouted back raucously at live shows and make street dealers feel like titans. Perhaps some people still saw Pusha T as a one-dimensional gangster rapper before this song came out, but its release showed just how adaptable his flow was, proving he could sound at home on just about any beat. With Kanye behind the boards, Pusha T sounds like one of the greats and this song encapsulates that reality more than just about any other.
Oblivion was the first clear sign that Claire Boucher had aspirations beyond Montreal’s DIY community. Released in an era where poptimism had yet to gain cultural currency, the second single from Visions would provide the 22-year-old with her breakthrough moment.
The song tackles Boucher’s own experience of sexual assault, and the lyrics are fittingly disturbing, especially when delivered in Boucher’s high register: “I never walk about after dark/ It’s my point of view/ ‘Cause someone could break your neck”. The mood is carried into the sound – Oblivion’s first act sees throbbing arpeggios glittering darkly, like a goth Giorgio Moroder but, as the song progresses, seasick synths take over, lending the song’s “see you on a dark night” refrain added menace. A total game-changer of a track.
Roc Nation Records
Work felt like a re-introduction. A bold, unapologetic mission statement from a singer who had been so low-key for so long that many had begun to question her return to music at all. But Work, in its understated brilliance, felt like a new reality, one you could wine your waist slowly into.
As the first single from her sublime eighth studio album ANTI, Work’s smooth blend of dancehall, R&B and pop was immediately met with warmth. But this was a pointed departure from previous material. Operating in a glossy pop arena that relied so heavily on clear, explicit enunciation belted from the highest rooftops, Work’s indecipherable lyrics felt like a political statement; a moment of reclamation, of repositioning.
Rihanna became the kind of multifaceted pop star that could play a trick on you at every corner, all while retaining a firm stronghold on the charts. Such is the power of RiRi.
Rachel Grace Almeida
Where were you when you first lost it to Wut? The decade’s first true-blue belter, once heard, is not easily forgotten. Splicing together cues from the UK’s then-booming dance underground, US hip-hop and high-sheen R&B, Girl Unit – aka Philip Gamble – created something far greater than the sum of its mutant parts, making a star of himself and Night Slugs, the forward-facing label that released it.
To listen to the track now is to be transported back to autumn 2010, from the nods to juke in the percussion to those effervescent, trance-leaning synths that, in hindsight, explained why even the witch house contingent played along. But, for all the stylistic time-stamps, Wut transcends fad or fashion, essaying something ageless in its pursuit of endless euphoria. Wut is a pinnacle, a high watermark, a crowning achievement. Most of all, Wut gave us fair warning that the decade was going to be one hell of a ride.
One of the through-lines that runs through Frank Ocean’s catalogue is the idea of time. Long drives, fast years, endless streams. Pyramids is his only song which spans centuries – Cleopatra at the pyramids of ancient Egypt juxtaposed with a Vegas pimp falling in love with a client.
It’s the kind of concept that’s so wild ambitious it could only be handled by a songwriter as deft and sensitive as Frank Ocean. Evoking Prince’s Purple Rain era, Frank freewheels between genres with ease across the 10 minutes. The murky R&B of the opening chapter, the smoky club synths of the first drop, the sweet release of the spaced-out middle section collapsing into that timeless hook – “She’s working at the pyramids tonight.”
Blonde is often cited as proof of Ocean’s status as a generation-defining songwriter, but there’s a case for Pyramids being the best example of how he captures the mood of the era. It’s distracted but obsessive, here and there, full of big ideas and dead ends; euphoric but completely devastating.
That's Not Me ft. JME
3 Beat Productions
It’s easy to mythologise about music but the point at which Skepta stepped onstage in a black tracksuit at the 2014 MOBOS to collect his award for Best Video felt like a defining moment. He’d spent £80 on the shoot for That’s Not Me, during which he delivered his bars into a pair of headphones, pirate radio-style, against a backdrop of shaky VHS freestyle footage.
The track grazed the UK Top 20 and set out Skepta’s stall for a return to form that would culminate in the shape of Konnichiwa. Much was made of the Drake co-signs that followed, but the track wasn’t an international victory so much as a long overdue recognition of a sound maligned for too long. It didn’t matter that That’s Not Me was a throwback. In fact, its rough-edged nostalgia was entirely the point. Skepta had blown the doors off an industry that had failed consistently to show faith in its most invigorating homegrown talents.
Lana Del Rey
Video Games introduced the world to Lana Del Rey, but it took us a minute to warm to her. Del Rey’s timeless, modern classic had been passed over by record executives who warned that it was too dark and not commercial enough. This was a time when Ke$ha dominated the charts – no wonder Del Rey’s self-described “Hollywood sadcore” felt like an odd fit. A co-sign from The Weeknd, who posted the song to his Tumblr for 11 days, helped Video Games find an audience. Radio play and global chart placings followed. The rest is history.
Video Games framed Del Rey as one of the most exciting pop stars to arrive. Rejecting glossy pop for old-fashioned romanticism – sweeping strings and sultry vocals – she crafted a fantasy world where the mundanities of a relationship are all-consuming. It was the first hint at the immaculately curated sonic and aesthetic world that Del Rey would spend her career building; a world that’s still uniquely her own.
Theme From Q
Objekt’s tongue-in-cheek attempts at aping the basic genre conventions of club music has yielded some of his wildest and most exciting works. Take Cactus, the track that arguably cemented his reputation as one of the defining producers of his generation (or any generation, to be honest).
Ostensibly created as an ode to tear-out dubstepper Rusko, the result was a wildly unique slice of wobbly dancefloor chaos.
While Objekt has never expressed the intention behind 2017 song Theme From Q (besides the clearly nonsense backstory that it took inspiration from a tune heard at an imaginary club in west Berlin), it certainly sounds like his attempt at making a 90s house banger. In classic Objekt fashion, what was actually made was an alarmingly effective club weapon that looked both back and forwards with equal reverence – and subsequently got played literally fucking everywhere. The combination of deliciously programmed breaks, head-turning fills and breakdowns, and the catchiest melody heard this side of a football terrace, brought the world of dance music to a rare, unanimous decision: that this one slaps. We agree.
For David Robert Jones
Marred by the deaths of numerous musical heroes, 2016 truly felt cursed. George Michael, Prince and Leonard Cohen were among the artists we lost that year, but the death that cast the longest shadow came early – on 10 January. Few people knew David Bowie was battling liver cancer, compounding the shock that reverberated across the world.
A year later, William Basinski released his 23rd album A Shadow In Time. The 20-minute eulogy For David Robert Jones, one of two immersive compositions, remains one of the most haunting tributes made to the late icon. Basinski, of course, is no stranger to exploring the contours of tragedy in his work, with 2002’s The Disintegration Loops a rumination on 9/11 and memory. But there’s something truly wrenching in hearing the composer write the loss of his friend into fraying analogue. The most powerful moment comes six minutes in, when a saxophone drifts across the surface of the piece, its texture eventually crumbling away into silence. To Basinski, the motif evokes Bowie’s track Subterranean, a B-side of Low. “I try to stay in the moment – and the moment is eternal,” Basinski has said, shoring up how ambient music has always been linked to its environment. For David Robert Jones encapsulates a specific, unarticulated feeling that settled on us collectively, in the aftershock of a terrible, unforgettable year.
Tyler, the Creator
If there’s one track that marks the tipping point when teens started to care more about hip-hop than indie, it’s Yonkers.
The wider world’s introduction to Tyler, the Creator, and by extension the rest of Odd Future, this track started a cultural revolution – one that is still going on today. From Billie Eilish’s gothic teen ballads to America’s favourite boy band Brockhampton, it’s impossible to imagine how the stars of today would sound had Tyler not appeared on our iPod Touch screens eating cockroaches and threatening to stab Bruno Mars.
Though Tyler’s sound has evolved numerous times in the years since, Yonkers is still decade-defining. It’s a flag in the ground, the start of a musical career that has captured the post-genre zeitgeist better than any other. Back then, few would imagine Tyler as the emotionally vulnerable polymath he is now, but even in 2011 there was something about him that was captivating. Something akin to the rebellious spirit of punk heroes past that galvanised a generation of teenagers to don satanic cat t-shirts, learn every crass insult and swear word on Goblin and Bastard and carve upside down crucifixes into their desks.
In the months after Yonkers’ release, Odd Future were the Wu-Tang Clan and Sex Pistols rolled into one, commanding an army of frenzied teens across the world and causing enough panic among parents that they ended up on Newsnight. For better or worse they also helped introduce Supreme to the non-skating world. Nothing has been the same since.
SOPHIE is now so unanimously revered that it’s hard to remember a time when no one knew what to make of her neon-lit, turbo-pop universe. After a sneak-entry with the electro-house 12″ Nothing More to Say, the Scottish producer went nuclear with her next three singles – Bipp, Lemonade and Msmsmsm – which together offered an all-encompassing vision of futuristic delirium, a sound so bizarre yet so fully realised that it simply had to be acknowledged: finally, here was music that sounded fucking new! At the time, though, few of us dared to stan. The suspicion that there was some kind of mystifying conceptualism behind the project was a turn-off for journalists worried about being hoodwinked – was all this helium-voiced exuberance ultimately vacuous? Or worse, was it just a piss-take, manufactured to make us all look stupid?
Neither was true, of course. Five years later and Bipp has lost none of its impact: a fizzing fantasyland populated by alien squeaks and sighs and weightless melodies cast from plastic, chrome and silicon – materials of the now-and-future bent into danceable shapes, just as steel and battery acid fuelled the techno machine music of the 80s. At the same time, Bipp captured an emerging nostalgia for an era not yet boiled down into “remember when?” clichés – the cheap-and-cheerful sincerity of 90s Europop, with its brittle, multi-girl harmonies: “I can make you feel better, if you let me!” The faceless robo-lover of our dreams promises us sheer pleasure and nothing but: a six-second sugar-high and chemical dependency, dopamine-jolting phone alerts and immediate fulfilment, over and over, endlessly. Bipp contains the shadow of both excess and comedown, attractive and repulsive in equal measure, like full-blown addiction. And SOPHIE nails this modern malaise like no one else, speaking to us as both object and subject: the perfect double agent. After all, before she revealed herself as a glamorous, fully human avatar for crypto-commercial nu-pop, she was licensing Lemonade to a McDonald’s advert – and getting away with it. Fast forward to 2019 and SOPHIE is the only artist in the world who can play an Amazon-sponsored music festival and make it look like a winking inside joke. Just as Andy Warhol’s canvases of Marilyn Monroe managed to both underline and undermine the power of celebrity in the 60s, SOPHIE’s Bipp exists as a mirror-like meta-commentary on the 00s, celebrating all that we reject. That’s genius, and we’re powerless to resist.