I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about which songs would define the 2010s as a decade. It has been such a fast-paced decade full of changes and growth in so many industries, not just music. That makes it incredibly exciting, yet perplexingly difficult to find just one song to define that period. For that reason, I’ve come up with five (or near enough) songs that I think could define this fascinating decade to which we are approaching the end. In no particular order, here we go:
This is America – Childish Gambino (2018)
This song lays a great claim to this title by its frank honesty and unfiltered view on “The Land of the Free”. Released during a time of great internal struggle within “so-called post-racial America”, the song shines a spotlight on widespread issues still being faced by American citizens, largely members of the African-American community. From a political and societal view, this track makes a real statement, not to mention it’s a fantastic song to boot. However, a lot of the gravity of this track’s message lies within its music video, so make of that what you will.
A-Team – Ed Sheeran (2011)
As a brit I have been exposed to Ed Sheeran for nigh on a decade now, and while I don’t love all of his music (I was reluctant to admit I even liked his music for a long time), it’s impossible to deny the musical impact he has had since he came onto the scene. Arguably the greatest songwriter of our generation, this track makes a strong claim for different reasons. A-Team is one of the loudest breakthrough tracks in a long time, it serves as a poignant reminder to how the global superstar started out and how far he’s come, and it’s heart-wrenching take on the exploitation of young women in the sex industry still strikes a chord even now, nearly ten years after its initial release.
One More Light – Linkin Park (2017) OR 1-800-273-8255 – Logic (2017)
As an “in-between member” of both the Millennial Generation and Generation Z (born ‘97), I have noticed a significant rise in the level of open talk regarding mental health. I think that this decade has probably been one of the most significant in history for the attention paid to mental health as a legitimate illness instead of just a weakness. Some may dislike the fact that I’ve put these tracks in the same answer but I believe they have a similar reason for their claim, not to mention they were released within a month of each other.
Although One More Light was actually written about a friend of the band who had died of cancer, it was the last song that lead singer Chester Bennington would record before he tragically took his own life in 2017. The song was released after his death, and it’s impossible to look at it without thinking of the tragic loss of life and applications to both suicide and mental health.
1–800–273–8255 is actually the phone number for the American National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL), and the song was written to raise awareness of suicide prevention. In an interview with Genius, Logic said “ “Man I wasn’t even trying to save nobody’s life.” And then it hit me, the power that I have as an artist with a voice. I wasn’t even trying to save your life. Now what can happen if I actually did?” The NSPL has announced that immediately following the song’s release, phone calls rose by 27% whilst visits to their website rose by between 300,000 and 400,000. If that doesn’t display the power music can have, I don’t know what does.
Gangnam Style – Psy (2012) OR Despacito – Luis Fonsi ft Daddy Yankee (2017)
Again, I have put these two songs in the same answer as I believe they have similar reasons to appear on my list.
Gangnam Style is a South Korean K-Pop song, released by Psy in 2012. When it was first released it rose to number 1 on the South Korean charts, but then it did the unthinkable. It soared to number 1 in 47 countries. It hit over a billion views on youtube, the first ever video to do so. It was the most popular song for nearly an entire year, and still if the intro is played I defy you to find someone who doesn’t recognise it. The reason this is so significant is that it was a world-unifying event. Countries from all over the world found brief solidarity in a South-Korean pop song, and it was also one of the first Asian pop songs to have mainstream success in the West.
Despacito had a similar effect. Whilst the musical style of Reggaeton had been a long-term player in both Spain and Latin-America, much of the rest of the world had been deprived of its rhythmic hip-moving beats. Luis Fonsi changed that. Through both the fantastic original version and a remix released with singer Justin Bieber three months later, this track again brought international music to the forefront of both the British and American mainstream audience. It was undeniable and in-your-face. Despacito is STILL currently the most viewed video on YouTube*, by a long way, at 6.15 billion views (to put that in perspective, Shape of You by Ed Sheeran is second, on 4.18). And to clarify, that’s the version without Justin Bieber.
The “YouTube Generation” found international, border-crossing, unifying music the most attractive of all, in a time where we really needed it.
Run the World (Girls) – Beyoncé (2011)
Now, to preface, I don’t really like Beyoncé’s music. I have a lot of respect for what she’s achieved and what she stands for, but her music generally isn’t my cup of tea. The reason I’ve added this track is, again, for it’s potential to define this decade. This decade has seen the long-standing Feminist movement make real forceful steps into the mainstream, and this song, to me, sums up the steps the movement has taken throughout this decade perfectly. An anthem of power and unity and a refusal to be beaten down or silenced; with Queen Bey at the helm, girls really do, Run the World.
This article was really difficult to write, as I decided to focus on the most significant songs released during this decade, as opposed to my favourite songs released during this decade (I’m sorry Arcade Fire, St Vincent and Arctic Monkeys). I’m also aware that there will definitely be some hugely important and fantastic songs that I’ve missed, so feel free to let me know about them in the comments below.
* facts and figures correct at time of writing