Join us all month long as we celebrate the best music, film, and television of the decade. Today, we continue the celebration with the Top 25 Pop Songs of the 2010s.
The decade has been defined by the discourse surrounding poptimism, the belief that pop music deserves the same revere as rock. Pop music has often been dismissed as a genre made up of derivative, radio-friendly garbage. But this decade said “thank u, next” to that concept. The best pop songs of the decade carry weight. They’re mantras of empowerment that remind us we’re not alone in our struggles, so we might as well dance away the pain.
The dawn of the 2010s might feel like just yesterday, but It’s nearly impossible to remember a time when Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” wasn’t an anthem for powering through heartbreak, soundtracking those nights your friends drag you out after nasty breakups, Tinder boys ghosting, or when you just need a pick-me-up. Or when Taylor Swift’s sage (and very catchy) advice with dealing with haters wasn’t instantly stuck in our heads as a reminder that we have to “Shake It Off” when we’re on the receiving end of unfair criticism.
Pop music has always been reigned by women, and this era gave us new icons that, in just a decade, have made their mark in shaping the future of music. Before becoming one of the most notable pop auteurs, Lana Del Rey emerged as a mysterious persona with the hauntingly beautiful ballad “Video Games”, and captivating new fans with her aesthetic, evoking both old Hollywood and woodland nymph. She united both flower crown-donning Coachella teens and punks as fervent fans, who fell in love with the brutal vulnerability of her songs.
We also can’t forget that this decade gave us wunderkind Lorde, who at just 16 wrote “Royals”, topping anything most people have accomplished at that age – or honestly, in their whole lives. And right when critics and fans weren’t sure how the New Zealander would top her debut album Pure Heroine, she gave us the masterpiece that is Melodrama, with artfully crafted songs about a painful breakup that are just as suitable listened to in bed in the dark as they are at the club.
But perhaps the biggest icon we got was Ariana Grande, who shifted from Nickelodeon star to one of the most compelling voices in music. We’ve seen her star power grow since her debut album in 2013, but the past year has been her biggest yet. Instead of getting caught up in tabloid fodder revolving around her high-profile relationships, she steered the narrative back to her music by penning “thank u, next,” a vital anthem of self-care and growth.
As the fear of the waning importance of rock grows, pop shifts into a bigger creative outlet for artists. The beauty of this decade of pop is that it isn’t defined by one sound. It welcomed an amalgamation of genres, allowing artists to push the boundaries of what pop should be, and inviting those who weren’t convinced about the importance of the genre to question that belief. The future might seem bleak, but for now, these songs make us optimistic about what’s to come for the 2020s.
Click ahead to see the Top 25 Pop Songs of the 2010s…
25. Katy Perry – “Firework” (2010)
Katy Perry had hit her stride by her third album, Teenage Dream. It was pop music escapism at its best, and “Firework” was the ring leader in the getaway. Sweet without being cheesy, positive without being overbearing, motivational without being condescending, it gave a whole generation of sad song lovers something to dance about. Perry did, however, want the track to be more than just something to sing along to. After dedicating the hit to the “It Gets Better” project, Perry shared the meaning of the song, saying, “A lot of times it’s only us that’s standing in the way of reaching our goals, fulfilling our destinies, being the best version of who we possibly can be, so that’s why I wrote it.” — Erica Campbell
24. Rosalía – “MALEMENTE Cap.1: Augurio” (2018)
The sensation of hearing Rosalía’s earthquake of a voice for the first time is like discovering a new color. Maybe it’s because hearing the 26-year-old Spanish singer’s signature vibrato over her striking fusion of flamenco and polyrhythmic pop is the closest thing you’ve ever heard to modern-day opera. Or rather, opera that even classical haters (hi) can enjoy when stretched across piles of hand claps that gesture at Timbaland and reggaeton. Or maybe it’s the videos. “Malamente” was merely the opening battering ram that sent 2018’s astonishing El Mar Querer skyrocketing; few artists are so poised to completely revolutionize the 2020s. –Dan Weiss
23. Lizzo – “Juice” (2019)
The glacial guitars recall The Police. Everything else is the best disco you’ve heard in years, narrated by the world’s greatest Twitter feed: “I’m the pudding in the proof,” “I be dripping so much sauce got a bih looking like Ragu,” “No, I’m not a snack at all, baby, I’m the whole damn meal.” Then there’s the astonishing bridge about someone else’s man trying to sneak into her DMs, which resonates extra for her many plus-size followers who’ve endured being some dude’s (attempted) secret. Lizzo’s heart is the mirrorball but every facet of her is gonna shine. As they say, iconic. –Dan Weiss
22. Ellie Goulding – “Lights” (2011)
Big, brilliant, and euphoric is singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding’s 2011 hit, “Lights”. The British pop star delivers breathy, comforting vocals atop zesty, melodic undertones. The track feels much like being in an ethereal dream full of color, packed with a potent pounding of synth keys and a simple, yet poignant, chorus (“You show the lights that stop me turn to stone/ You shine them when I’m alone/ And so I tell myself that I’ll be strong/ And dreaming when they’re gone/ ‘Cause they’re calling, calling, calling me home”). The multi-layered tune is much like a well-crafted cocktail — flavorful and balanced. Certainly, a classic pop record to be enjoyed well beyond the first listen. — Gabrielle Pharms
21. Billie Eilish – “Bad Guy” (2019)
Surprised “I like when you get mad” became the rallying cry for a generation of blue-haired TikTok teens? Ok boomer. Brother Finneas’ headphone-exploring production (that subterranean bass, Billie Eilish intoning the title via ceiling fan) and the “Hava Nagila”-meets-Addams Family melody set up the world’s most beloved goth since Robert Smith for a wicked cosplay as a “might seduce your dad type” who’s never not calling the shots and refuses to be sexualized at 17. Throw in the Missy Elliott-worthy video (the bellies!) and her delightful, Invisalign-prompted guffaw intro and you’ve witnessed an instant classic. You should see her in a crown. –Dan Weiss
20. Bruno Mars – “Uptown Funk” (2014)
It took some time for the country’s collective consciousness to accept Bruno Mars as the multi-hyphenate power player he really is, but Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” did its job in solidifying his ascent to pop’s premier feel-good mainstay. The throwback track — a funkified ode to feeling yourself, oozing with goofy sex appeal and charisma — ultimately took on a life of its own, becoming so embedded in our cultural core that it proved inescapable. Imbued with the kind of rare, connective power present only in a handful of Top 40 hits, “Uptown Funk” transcended demographic. All at once, the entirety of the planet was busy collectively celebrating the contained euphoria living inside of every grunt, every trumpet flare, every beat. Not since “Uptown Funk” has the world felt so united. –Ali Szubiak
19. CHVRCHES – “Recover” (2013)
Pop music revitalized an ’80s sound for modern dance floors when it began absorbing synthesizers in the aughts. By the early 2010s, synthpop started shifting as it tried to keep pace with the more subdued indie dominating the blogosphere. Then came CHVRCHES with a way to blend the two on their debut full-length, The Bones of What You Believe. Though not the biggest hit on the album, “Recover” best showcases the band’s layering of singer Lauren Mayberry’s siren-sweet vocals and emotionally forward lyrics over mesmerizing compositions. CHVRCHES’ early success heralded renewed interest in synthpop, and they remain one of the genre’s most beloved purveyors. –Ben Kaye
18. Perfume Genius – “Queen” (2014)
To revel in one’s outsider status or to assimilate — a question all queer folx face. Michael Hadreas answers it on “Queen” with a resounding, “No!” Hadreas wields words like “sashay” on the track like they’re a threat. Forget about lewks — this killer queen is serving up your ass. The mix of choral voices and grunts, Hadreas’ vulnerability, and the razor-sharp guitars plays up the duality of its narrator: a harbinger of disease in the eyes of bigots, a divine presence on the make in the eyes of fellow travelers. Beloved and hated by all, heavy is the head that wears the crown. –Ashley Naftule
17. Ariana Grande – “thank u, next” (2018)
Think about when you first realized Beyoncé’s generational meaning was becoming way deeper than “Say My Name” or “Irreplaceable”. The mellifluous Ms. Grande didn’t stop at releasing 2018’s career peak, Sweetener; she realized she was on a roll, so why wait? Months later, she had split with Pete Davidson and regained control of her world with an amazing, off-the-cuff ditty that nipped several tabloid narratives in the bud. Her exes don’t define her, she still has love for them, and she’s moved onto self-care. And with that she achieved unprecedented parity between chart-topping success and social-media virtuosity. We’re so fucking grateful. –Dan Weiss
16. Paramore – “Ain’t It Fun” (2013)
Nearly a decade deep into their status as contemporary punk icons, Paramore ditched the genre label and charged full-force into pop territory with 2013’s “Ain’t It Fun”. Hayley Williams & co. were back, with a xylophone and gospel choir for good measure. “Ain’t It Fun” was a sardonic rebuke of the adulthood Paramore, and subsequently swathes of former emo kids, now emo adults masquerading in ties from 9 to 5, found themselves in. “Ain’t it fun/ Living in the real world?/ Ain’t it good/ Being all alone?” Played out within a deceptively bubble-gummy beat, “Ain’t It Fun” set the course for pop-rock’s new, diverse sound in the 2010s. –Irene Monokandilos
Click ahead to see more of our Top 25 Pop Songs of the 2010s…
15. Miley Cyrus – “Wrecking Ball” (2013)
You know the shot: It’s a naked Miley Cyrus, swinging from a monstrous steel and chainlink ball. Although the pop sensation had been at the forefront of pop culture since before she turned 14, there was never quite as much public upheaval than after the accompanying video to said scene. Of course, it closely followed her infamous VMAs performance, but “Wrecking Ball” also struck a chord for a much more genuine reason: The song is unadulteratedly intimate, shatteringly beautiful, and shockingly painful. The song lives on Bangerz, a highly controversial record that is beloved by many and traitorous to others, but “Wrecking Ball” is a friendly reminder: Like millions of others have during her decade plus of stardom, you can question her choices, her drug use, her lovers, etc. But you can never question her unequivocal musical ability. –Lucy Shanker
14. Disclosure ft. Sam Smith “Latch” (2013)
Disclosure and Sam Smith go together like peas and carrots or Michael and Quincy. Wheres the English singer often indulges in titanic balladry by his lonesome, producers Howard and Guy Lawrence know how to get him outta the house. “Latch” was the first example of this, a cruising, kaleidoscopic pop single that still wears the sharpest suit at the club. Like anything Smith puts a pen to, it’s affecting as ever — just listen to how he strips it down on tour — but it’s also sexy in its energy. It’s all in that chorus, the way Smith roars to life, sounding carnivorous even. The three would replicate this success a few years later with “Omen”, proving this was hardly lightning in a bottle. –Michael Roffman
13. Lady Gaga – “The Edge of Glory” (2011)
The current bleakness of the world has pitched pop into an ever-flatter stasis, but back in 2011, it felt invigorating to embrace a balls-to-the-wall zeal for life, and no song captures it with greater gusto than “Edge of Glory”. Lady Gaga’s penchant for unyielding hyperbole has occasionally overshadowed her knack for writing killer pop songs, but “Edge of Glory” eases up on the melodrama without ever sacrificing its own vigor. A sax solo would seem overwrought on any other pop song, but Gaga’s sheer embrace of cheese lends itself to the anthemic earnestness of the moment, and E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons gives the track a glorious freewheeling boost. Gaga is ready to live and die in this moment, so long as it means living and dying fully and freely with you. Were things ever so simple? –Ali Szubiak
12. Taylor Swift – “Shake It Off” (2014)
Where were you when you first heard Taylor Swift’s wannabe-snarky spoken rap in “Shake It Off”? It’s hard to forget that moment, the sound of a pop star embracing her defiantly transformative pivot and doing so with a wink. Like a perfectly produced cross of Avril Lavigne and your high school’s popular cheerleader chant, “Shake It Off” put all its cards on going big and never once had to go home, especially according to the radio stations still playing it. Upon release, it was the sound of Swift shedding her country sweetheart foundation. In hindsight, it was the moment she embraced her pop star status and her right to become whatever music star she wanted to be. –Nina Corcoran
11. Lana Del Rey – “Video Games” (2012)
Lana Del Rey once described her sound as “Hollywood Sadcore”, and with her debut single, “Video Games”, she gave that definition its perfect manifestation. The song drips in on church bells and harp strings, a backdrop for Del Rey’s echoing lyrics of what could be a silver screen love story from a bygone era, except this plot has friends falling out of bars, games of pool, wild darts, and where a Marlon Brando-esque character would typically fill the lead role, stands a boy with a propensity towards beer and video games. It’s the daily minutia of a modern relationship shown through a cinematic filter, but without being contrived. When Del Rey sings, “They say that the world was built for two/ Only worth living if somebody is loving you,” it’s easy to be convinced that’s true. –Erica Campbell
10. HAIM – “Falling” (2013)
Depending on the landing, one can find beauty in failure. “You live, you learn,” as Alanis Morissette once sang back in the ’90s, and that lesson is hardly lost on the HAIM sisters. With “Falling”, the three California daughters find substance in survival, while also tossing in a new motto: “Never look back, never give up.” It’s timeless stuff, sure, and they back those words up with an empowering, if not decadent, tapestry of influences. There’s Miami Sound Machine in there. Phil Collins. Fleetwood Mac. Even Michael Jackson gets some love. It’s emblematic of the outfit’s knack to buck any genre label, but also a poetic parallel to the song’s theme of forging ahead with what you’ve learned. –Michael Roffman
09. Sia – “Chandelier” (2014)
Sia is the queen of making sumptuous club music for people with crippling social anxiety. What do you do when you’re a party girl who can’t get out of your head? Push it down, throw ‘em back til you lose count, swing from the chandelier, keep your glass full and run from the shame that stalks you every waking moment. The thing that kills me dead about this song, though, even more than Sia’s absolutely soaring vocal performance, is the future tense. Is Sia — am I, are you– ever really going to swing from the chandelier anywhere except the imagination? Maybe one day. It’s the conviction — the desperation — that matters more than anything. –Kayleigh Hughes
08. Lorde – “Green Light” (2017)
After a huge breakout in 2013, Lorde kept fans eagerly awaiting four years for a follow-up. When she finally returned with “Green Light”, she appeared even larger than anyone could have anticipated. The song is an undeniable dance anthem, its immense production a signal of Jack Antonoff’s arrival as a true pop heavyweight. Yet, for all the buoyant piano and beating electronics, Lorde’s more gothic tendencies still grip the track’s core. Even as you pulse to the rhythm, melancholy lyrics like, “‘Cause honey I’ll come get my things, but I can’t let go,” clutch at your throat, heartbreak pop at its finest. –Ben Kaye
07. Sky Ferreira – “Everything Is Embarrassing” (2012)
Sky Ferreira’s 2012 reflection on a broken relationship is dizzyingly incisive and regretfully underacknowledged. With perfectly chosen assistance from producers Ariel Reichstadt and Blood Orange, Ferreira crafted an addictive anthem for all of us brokenhearted millennials who needed to somberly shake it out to a disco-tinged ode to failure. The greatest part of “Everything Is Embarrassing” is how it knows a collapsing relationship can become an exercise in mutually assured destruction. Ferreira captures the lost hope, the could-have-beens, the maybes: “Maybe if you let me be your lover/ Maybe if you tried, then I would not bother.” And she lands squarely on the reason it hurts so bad: “I’ve been hating everything, everything that could have been/ Could have been my anything, now everything’s embarrassing.” –Kayleigh Hughes
06. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Run Away with Me” (2012)
Anything that comes in on that much saxophone has to be good. While “Call Me Maybe” will forever be Carly Rae Jepsen’s signature jam, tracks like “Run Away with Me” are what make her one of pop’s biggest sleeper hitmakers. Opting for sensual and endearing over explicit, the Canadian singer revels in the pure euphoria of romance, even if it only lasts “over the weekend.” That sort of purity may lack some of the “danger” of typical pop smashes, but its sweetness makes its catchiness even more unassailable. By the time the bridge comes in, any true romantic will want to grab Jepsen’s hand and run. –Ben Kaye
Click ahead to see the very best of our Top 25 Pop Songs of the 2010s plus an exclusive Spotify playlist…
05. Grimes – “Realiti” (2015)
In a decade full of dejected youth plagued by the isolation that comes with touting ill-informed coping mechanisms like social media’s “sad boy” aesthetic, the Earth laughed maniacally as it delivered one of the most human songs of the 2010s by an artist whose music has become synonymous with an inevitable invasion of cyborgs. “REALiTi” sees Grimes steer her futuristic, pop-forward brand of synth song in a new, heavy direction. Mortality? Looming. Claire Bouchard? Unfazed. “I wanna peer over the edge and see in death/ If we are always the same,” she sings. The stakes are higher, sure, but damn if Grimes’ reality doesn’t sound fun. –Irene Monokandilos
04. Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting on You)” (2014)
Yes, this song and this band took off following a particular late night performance that left David Letterman asking for “all of that you got.” But both “Seasons (Waiting on You)” and Future Islands are powerhouses in any context. Frontman Sam Herring could sing a shopping list with passion, his unparalleled intensity ripping apart the song’s woeful lines like, “You know, when people change/ They gain a peace, but they lose one too.” Muscling in with an otherworldly version of synthpop, the band miraculously find a way to match his potency, a case of perfect complements that feels exquisitely rare. –Ben Kaye
03. Adele – “Rolling in the Deep” (2011)
At the top of the 2010s, Adele sent a musical kamehaha hurtling through the cosmos to the beat of a thunderous piano and a gritty, gospel-tinged blues growl. In its merciless wake, the heartbroken found themselves empowered, the heartbreakers found themselves gutted, and Adele found herself a global superstar. The lead single off her acclaimed sophomore record, 21, “Rolling in the Deep” set music as we know it on fire. Adele would swiftly become the only artist in history to rank on rock, pop, R&B/hip-hop, dance, and Latin charts in the United States. In just 3 minutes and 48 seconds, the world laid limp at Adele’s feet in resounding emotional catharsis with little more to say than “We could have had it all.” Undeniably, “Rolling in the Deep” is the breakup song to best them all and a top track of every decade to come. –Irene Monokandilos
02. Lorde – “Royals” (2013)
It’s sort of ironic that one of the best-selling pop songs of all time is the very antithesis of what the genre stands for — or at least what it used to. Instead of praising the avant-garde lifestyle of celebrities and their lavish accessories and exclusive affairs, 16-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor (bka Lorde) reminded the industry that for the rest of the 99 percent: “that kind of luxe just ain’t for us.” Overtaking longstanding pop stars like Katy Perry and Brittany Spears on the Billboard charts, Lorde’s slow tempo, finger snapping, and practically a capella anthem served as an exemplar for other whisper-like, restrained vocalists such as Billie Eilish, BANKS, and Halsey, making the expressive storytelling of austere, everyday life the new mainstream. In 2013, Lorde became the auteur of the contemporary “pop star.” Although no one anticipates a 16-year-old will start a revolution (see: Greta Thunberg), Lorde’s success suggests that perhaps we should. –Samantha Small
01. Robyn – “Dancing on My Own” (2010)
Pop culture will never fail you: What you love will always be there, ready to comfort you. While some may find that problematic, or even argue against it, the truth is in our own predilections. Because when there’s no shoulder to lean on, we all have our personal crutches, and all too often that’s music. Robyn cuts right to the core of that sentiment on “Dancing on My Own”. Sure, the song dances around themes of heartbreak and independence, but it’s also about, well, dancing. More to the point, it’s about the ways we cope. For her, in that moment, it’s coping through the music of the moment, and Christ is that an affecting notion — especially for the 2010s. For so many of us, we live our day-to-day by what we escape into, be it music, movies, books, whatever strikes your fancy, and we’re living in an era now where that content is infinite. All too often, though, we fail to appreciate that, mostly because it’s so routine. “Dancing on My Own” celebrates that medium by becoming the very thing it’s about, and it’s a shoulder we’ll lean on for decades to come. –Michael Roffman
Below you can listen to the full list of songs via Spotify.