The 2010's was really the first decade I got to experience music for myself. Mostly from 2015 on, I started exploring the music that was out there more deeply. Getting access to streaming services really helped that. It was funny, though. As I scrolled through my iTunes trying to find inspiration for this list, I found that most of the albums that meant the most to me either came out in the late '90s or early 2000s and made an impact on me because of my parents or were far more recent and work that I found myself and loved quietly- just me and my earbuds. I think, in the future, I want to do a post on the 2000s music that shaped my taste too because this has me feeling super nostalgic. Also, I need to do a recap of my favorite music videos of the decade soon too.
Anyway, in mostly no particular order, here are the albums that shaped my decade:
This might be the best album of the decade. Actually, I'm pretty sure it is because it's an album I've only fallen more in love with over time. I'm still in disbelief that it came out five years ago. There is not a bad song on the entire album and it works incredibly as a complete body of work. Taylor is always a master of creating a true album, but this is one of the finer examples. It's sonically cohesive, which isn't necessarily a must, but works really well here. It also tells a single love story with a couple subplots on other loves extraordinarily well. From the main love story where all the songs and their details feel like they circle back to one person, we get every side of love and we get other loves like her falling for a place in "Welcome to New York". It's going to be blasting as soon as I touch down in NYC when I move there in the fall. Also, it has Taylor's first LGBTQ inclusive lyric that everyone seemed to miss when they were so shocked over YNTCD "And you can want who you want/boys and boys and girls and girls."
While the album deep cuts are my favorites (probably because they weren't played 24/7 on the radio for months on end), this is the first album where Taylor really pulls out statement songs. Sure, Red had "We Are Never Getting Back Together", but this is the first instance of Taylor stepping outside her own life and narrative and tackling the Taylor that the world is crafting. It's a theme that continues through Reputation and Lover, but nothing tops the artistry, irony, and wit of "Blank Space".
"Style" is another major turning point for Swift. I don't think that level of honesty and self reflection had ever been seen on her record outside of "Back to December". There's so much imagery and detail in the lyrics that it comes to life beautifully. My favorite lines are "He can't keep his wild eyes on the road/takes me home/lights are off he's taking off his coat/I say I heard, oh/That you've been out and about with some other girl/Some other girl/He says, What you heard is true, but I/Can't stop thinking 'bout you and I/I said I've been there too a few times". It's the first time that we examine a relationship that isn't a "you're dead to me" situation. It feels far more mature, and it's an extremely interesting situation to take on in a song. Lyrically and musically, it perfectly captures that one love that's never going to let you go. All these years later, I always listen to "Style" and "Out of The Woods" every time they come on.
"Out of the Woods" might be my favorite song of all time. Even though I wish the chorus had less repetition, the verses are insanely good. They're detailed, evocative, full of pain and longing but also nostalgia. It's a song that takes you places. "Remember when you hit the breaks too soon/Twenty stitches in the hospital room/When you started crying baby I did too/ But when the sun came up I was looking at you/Remember when I couldn't take the heat/I walked out and said I'm setting you free/But the monsters turned out to be just trees/When the sun came up you were looking at me" is the best bridge ever written and might be the best lyric of all time.
"All You Had To Do Was Stay" is extremely underrated. It's a song you can bop to, and it covers a topic that songs don't talk about enough. I mean, how good is "People like me are gone forever when you say goodbye". Later songs prove this isn't entirely the truth, but it's a great line. "I Wish You Would" is like it's longing, regretful cousin that has a sexy side. It is truly the perfect continuation.
"Wildest Dreams" is infectious and the most poetic, beautiful single night love story ever. Using her heartbeat as the beat is mind blowing but works perfectly. This is another perfectly elegant, grown up Taylor song that I'm still not burnt out on.
"This Love" might be the most beautiful, honest, perfectly encapsulating song about love that I've ever heard. Because it's one of the quieter, more haunting moments on the album, I don't think it ever got enough love, but it's one that makes you think. "I Know Places" is the song for anyone who wanted to know what dating while famous is like. It's also anxiety perfectly captured in a song.
"Clean" is the perfect way to end the album. We spend the whole time wrapped up in an on again, off again, imperfect but so deeply yearning and passionate relationship, but, in the end, we get to let it go.
This album is a complete emotional journey, a movie in a fifty minute piece of music. Taylor Swift tells a story like no other, and this is the first showing of her ability to create a complete arc that hits every note perfectly.
Songs not to miss: "This Love", "Out of the Woods", "I Wish You Would"
Most common motifs: Driving (usually poorly), early morning hours, six months, wildest dreams.
If 1989 started the trend of statement songs with "Bad Blood", "Shake It Off", and, most of all, "Blank Space", reputation makes an album that is half taken up with bold statements. While 1989 might be my favorite album of the decade, reputation might be my favorite Taylor Swift album. 1989 is clearly about a complicated love. reputation, on the other hand, is easily misunderstood. From the outside it's a dark, angry jab at the media falling out of love with America's sweetheart. If you actually take a second to listen, though, it's really Taylor telling the sweetest, least complicated love story yet. It's a love that's pure, real, and protected, and, even though Taylor has her armor on for the rest of the world, the love that blooms over the course of the album is special and untouchable delivered through a person at the height of their vulnerability.
Every song touches on the world outside because Taylor's life doesn't exist without how the media paints her, but they're also loud declarations of true love. In a way, Lover and 1989 tell the same love story, but reputation is shrouded in a newfound awareness and a forced step further into adulthood while Lover sort of shirks it all and goes back to I'm just gonna be me. I love the secret, dark, underground vibes of the reputation era and how the whole thing was a huge statement. Also, this is Taylor at her most self aware both accepting and rejecting the criticisms of herself. reputation is another journey, but the unstable element isn't the external love for a change, we chart Taylor on a self love experience.
Songs Not To Miss: "Delicate", "I Did Something Bad", "Gorgeous", "Dress", "Getaway Car", and "New Years Day"
"Look What You Made Me Do" also features the most iconic music video of all time.
If 1989 was an album for its sonic cohesion, Fie Line is an album for the exact opposite reason. Harry manages to tell a complete, complex, cohesive story with twelve songs that sounds nothing alike. It's a complete departure from his debut, but it feels so much more self assured and grown up. To keep relating it to the albums I've already discussed, cause why not, it's almost the perfect blend of 1989 and reputation. It tells an unstable, rocky love story that ultimately faces its demise while also threading an equally strong narrative of finding himself. In a weird way, the blend of the two creates an atmosphere where even the lowest moments are filled with touches of joy, or, at the very least, hope. It pulses with authenticity, and it must be listened to top to bottom because every song sounds best where it's intentionally placed. It's funny, even from upbeat and optimistic "Golden", you know that the love story isn't one that's going to work out. In a work like 1989, you're sort of strung along on a will they-won't they course that you root for, but, with Fine Line, it's clear from the start that the real journey only involves one person.
Songs Not To Miss: "Cherry", "To Be So Lonely", "Falling", "Sunflower Vol 6", "Lights Up", and "Fine Line".
Like LWYMMD, Lights Up will forever be an iconic video.
Harry's debut album is so different from his latest, but, without this album and the tour, we would've never gotten to this point. While Fine Line plays on themes, motifs, and references from his favorite artists, the debut could be a 70s rock album. And I don't have a problem with that.
This album has some of my longest running all time favorite songs. Before I cared about Harry at all, "Two Ghosts" was one of my favorite songs. The metaphor of the whole song perfectly encapsulates those relationships, romantic or not, where there's not some big, dramatic blowout. There's nothing to end it, there's nothing to hate- it's just over- and those can sometimes be the hardest. They're definitely the hardest to make interesting when writing about them, but the poetry here is perfect.
The whole album has a sort of removed despondency that's in an interesting dialogue with the deep undercurrents of desperation. It's an album that I return to year after year and one that I never get sick of.
Also, if "Out of the Woods" has one of my favorite bridges, "Carolina" has one of my favorite verses. "She never saw herself as a west-coaster/Moved all the way cause her/Grandma told her/Townes, better swim before you drown." Some days, I just need someone to tell me I need to swim before I drown.
Songs Not To Miss: "Carolina", "Ever Since New York", "From The Dining Table", "Sweet Creature", "Two Ghosts"
WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP WHERE DO WE GO
Between this and reputation, it's pretty clear that I have certain themes in my taste. I love anything covered in black and "scary" on the outside but so soft and sweet on the outside. Just like if you judged reputation purely on "Look What You Made Me Do", you'd get completely the wrong idea about WWAFAWDWG if you only heard "Bad Guy". It has a dark, experimental vibe, but it touches on love, life, being a teen today. I've never had an artist my age to admire. Billie gets what it's like to be seventeen today, and that's what her music is about but in an extremely mature way.
She plays with style, production, and ascetic in a way that no one else has completely tapped into as well. It adds so much texture to her songs. You're missing out if you haven't listened through on headphones. I talked way more about Billie and her album on here earlier.
Songs Not To Miss: "when the party's over", "xanny", "you should see me in a crown", "my strange addiction".
Also, all of her music videos are amazing and art in their own right.
+ (Deluxe Version)
Ed Sheeran's first album will always be my favorite. He's honed his craft and become far more polished in recent years, but I think my favorite thing about Ed is that he's so unfiltered. When he loves, it's intense, when he hates, it's unforgiving. It's all in all the time, and this album has a stream of consciousness vibe that I love. This album is before it's a formula, before it's a signature vibe. It's just Ed writing his super wordy yet super swoony lyrics. It's also the album that started it all. How did Ed Sheeran become the best selling male artist ever it seems in less than a decade?
Make sure you listen to the deluxe version of the album because all the little extra songs are so much fun and almost feel like poems.
"Wake Me Up" is in my top 3 Ed songs of all time. It's the epitome of being extremely, extremely detailed in your songwriting only makes it better and more relatable. "And I know you love Shrek/Cause we watched it twelve times/But maybe you're hoping for a fairytale too/And if your DVD breaks today/You shoulda got a VCR/Because I've never owned a Blu-ray, true say/I know I've always been shit at computer games/And your brother always beats me/And if I lost, I go across/ And chuck all the controllers at the TV/And then you'd laugh at me."
Songs Not To Miss: "Wake Me Up", "U.N.I.", "Sunburn", "Drunk"
+ might still be figuring some things out, but it's remarkable for what it is.
Divide (it's the symbol, but I can't figure out how to type that out at the moment)
From debut to the latest album, we find Ed hitting his stride. There's a lot of echoes of album one, but the never ending flow of ideas has been tamed into a cohesive bunch and the randomness has been streamlined into tight verses. And it's quite nice. It also moves farther from romantic songs (though there are plenty) and turns the camera more inward with tracks like "Eraser", "What Do I Know", "Save Myself", and "Castle on the Hill". "You Need Me, I Don't Need You" has grown into searing "New Man", and the sad songs pull inspiration from family like "Supermarket Flowers". It's a no skips album.
Not to Miss: "Supermarket Flowers", "Save Myself", "Galway Girl", "New Man"
This is technically an EP, and, from here on out, there's gonna be a lot of EPs mixed in. This is Finneas's first solo set of work, and the seven songs show a ton of promise. More folksy and mainstream than Billie's stuff, these songs are all about the lyrics. Sonically, some of the choices are questionable, but, overall, I'm a fan.
"Partners In Crime" is one of my favorite songs of all time, and, even though it's mostly fictional, the details and imagery is amazing. It's a complete emotional rollercoaster in a single song.
Not To Be Missed: "Partners in Crime", "I Lost a Friend"
You Ruined New York City For Me
Another EP, this is Fletcher's latest collection of work. The intrigue of the title carries through the entirety of the five songs. One of my favorite parts about this album is that it's all about one relationship. It's not a healthy one, but it definitely creates interesting art and emotional probing. From "Undrunk" which became a radio smash to "If You're Gonna Lie" which tells the story of wanting to be with a person even though you know they're lying to you, and it concludes perfectly with "Strangers" where Fletcher grapples with what it means to not know someone after you experienced so much together. Fletcher has all the incredible lyricism of a Julia Michaels type writer set to a more electronic track that would fit perfectly in the club.
Not To Be Missed: "If You're Gonna Lie", "Strangers", "Undrunk"
This was the world's introduction to Halsey. It's much more electro influenced and with a darker edge than Halsey's later work, but it's the perfect statement of intention for her career. It's strong, loud, edgy, and angry. Halsey is not taking your shit, and she's going to call you on it. While this album is on the angrier side, it's one of those albums that feels ratable and real and perfectly captures an era and experience. "New Americana" was the first Halsey song I ever heard, and I always liked it for reasons I couldn't put my finger on. But it's a song that makes you want to want to jump around and let it all out. "Colors" is one of the most beautifully written songs of all time, and I play it on piano almost every day. I also love that this album isn't overly concerned with love. It's explored, but there are so many different life topics that are covered.
Not To Be Missed: "New Americana", "Gasoline", "Drive", "Colors"
hopeless fountain kingdom
This is the album that makes you realize how powerful Halsey's voice really is. The album starts with a spoken word reading of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet prologue which I find fascinating. "Bad At Love" is so much fun and packs in the lyrics in a super artful way. "Sorry" is so painfully relatable. It's also further proof that she's willing to go anywhere with the stories she tells in her songs. The album is a concept and a vibe, as with everything she puts out, and, like Billie, she experiments a lot with samples and songs that exist to be more than just a song. They make fascinating pieces of art.
Not to Be Missed: "100 Letters", "Sorry"
Inner Monologue Part 1 and 2
Julia Michaels has defined the decade as an artist and a writer on some of the best albums. Her own work is just as stunning because it's even more personal than the art she makes for other people. She's created tracks that will pump you up, let you cry with them, and are perfect for some cathartic yelling. Her music is made to be experienced live or in a group where you can all stand united and feel seen by her lyrics and in your connection to each other. From anxiety to body image to happiness. and, of course, love, Julia knows how to take all your knotted up feelings and lay them out in front of you.
Not to Be Missed: "Body", "Happy", "Anxiety", "Shouldn't Have Said It", "Deep", "What a Time"
I've never been much of a Katy Perry fan. I always appreciated her bold ascetic and cotton candy costuming when she first started, but it took randomly hearing "Last Friday Night" to realize just how amazingly crafted a lot of the album was. I don't think it's an album with no skips, but it's an incredible piece of pop. A major shout out has to go to Bonnie McKee who wrote on all of the major bops on the album and came up with the chorus to "Teenage Dream". Honestly, the fact that I haven't liked anything Katy's done since dropping Bonnie from her writing team, maybe I'm more of a fan of Bonnie's writing than anything. To add another video to the list of iconic music videos from these albums, you have to see the "Last Friday Night". Actually, that album is full of amazing videos.
Not to Be Missed: "Teenage Dream", "Last Friday Night", "The One That Got Away", and "Not Like The Movies"
It's Your Bed Babe, It's Your Funeral
Back to EPs, young artists, and British artists, I bring you Maisie Peters who is just starting your career and is already amazing. Inspired by Taylor Swift, these songs are lyrically packed, full of pictures and emotions, and offer beautiful instrumentals. She's also great at capturing a sad break up in its most biting moments. From danceable twists on pop songs to ballads on taking care of yourself, this is a great EP that makes me anxious for a full album.
Not to Be Missed: "This is on You", "Take Care of Yourself", "Personal Best", "Look at Me Now"
I have a lot of love for misunderstood albums. I want to start by saying that nothing that happened in the Bangerz era would've caused a single person to bat an eye. I saw a Lizzo performance on the Jingle Ball livestream that was far more graphic, and no one was talking about that. I think that's partially due to this album. But, what annoys me most, is that Miley using physical nakedness to represent vulnerability in her "Wrecking Ball" video eclipsed how amazing and beautiful and heartbreaking the song is. The album as a whole is more about losing it and loving it and self empowerment than scandal. It's not a perfect album, but it's culturally defining, and it is full of songs that did not get enough serious attention. I stand behind my statement that everyone needs a Bangerz era that blows the doors off all expectations to get to true artistic freedom.
Not To Be Missed: "Drive", "Wrecking Ball", "We Can't Stop", "Maybe You're Right"
Made in the AM/Midnight Memories
If Rolling Stone can give One Direction a spot on their albums of the decade list, then so can I. I only got into their music a few months ago, but I really do love these two albums of theirs. I think they're a super interesting group to follow because they started completely bubblegum pop and totally evolved as they were allowed more creative control. It's interesting to see influences and a sound really emerge towards the end of something that huge, and they were in the unique spot at the end of being able to create whatever music they wanted because of the size of their fanbase. I picked Made in the AM because it's their best album but also because it has some of my individual favorite songs. While it works as an album, each song sort of fits a different mood and encapsulates it completely. Even the sad songs make you feel good.
I threw in Midnight Memories on the end because I didn't feel like I could write a whole blurb on it, but I wanted to note it here. While it's not an album that has standout songs like AM, it works so well as an album. The songs bleed together perfectly, and it's one you can put on without much thought. It stands up enough to analysis, but it also leaves room for you to just sit and listen on shuffle. It delivers on the album track front.
The albums also go well together. MM marks the start of them taking control and changing their sound, and AM represents them hitting their peak comfort with songwriting and experimenting musically.
Not To Be Missed: "If I Could Fly", "Perfect", "AM", "Long Way Down", "Happily", "Something Great"
The Hamilton soundtrack rightfully defined 2015. It still is an amazing work of art, and, almost five years later, I can still rap almost all the songs perfectly. I had that album on repeat almost constantly, and, somehow, it managed to unite music lovers, hip hop fans, and theater geeks. Lin Manuel Miranda is a genius. Also, it is the superior way to learn about the Revolutionary War.
Taylor's first album of the decade was still in her signature country with tons of crossover appeal style. While it's not quite the tight, concise, perfected, magical album of rep or 1989, it's so genuine and honest. It's a diary that got sold to the world more than any of her other albums, and it perfectly captures a time of life that I'm moving into so it has a new more special place in my heart. It's an age. album, and it's amazing in that respect.
Not to Be Missed: "Speak Now", "Dear John", "Never Grow Up", "Innocent", "Last Kiss", "Long Live"
Not to bring up Ed again, but this four song EP (not all of them are even original songs), but it has two of my favorite Ed Sheeran songs of all time. "Everything You Are" and "Friends" capture the two sides of Ed I love the most. The honesty is there, the stripped back sound is perfect, and they take on two unique situations. In "Friends" he dives into what it means to be more than friends and the anxiety of deciding to fall for your friend. It also trends on ideas of commitment. EYA is like the other side of "Friends". They're both about falling for friends, but EYA is an apology song in the most here's everything lets talk about it way.
So this is an album I've been listening to less than a week, but it's stuck with me so much, I have to throw it on the list! I'd been a big fan of "Mess Her Up", but, for some reason, I never thought to actually go listen to the full album. Her voice is amazing, the perfect blend of emotion and rawness. Also, the album strikes the perfect balance between slower, contemplative songs and faster paced songs you can dance to. Also, this album delves into love and break ups in a way that somehow feels fresh when it seems like the topic has been examined from every topic imaginable.
Not To Be Missed: "I Said Hi", "The Idiot", "Leave Us Alone", "Middle of the Night"