I’ve never seen a decade end with so many Best of the Decade lists being published, owing, I suppose, to the plethora of outlets online which cover contemporary culture. Well, here’s mine. And as I’ve done every year this decade, I’m throwing in an essay for good measure. Except there have been so many over-arching essays elsewhere. I’m just sticking to a few random thoughts……
1- All those aforementioned essays suggest that this is the decade where the very notion of genre collapsed. I’m not sure that’s the case, however. There have always been barriers that go up and come down between various audiences and genres, and they are constantly realigning. Think of the pop music world like it’s the maze in The Maze Runner, with high walls separating some pathways from others but openings throughout that allow you to explore. And, without warning, the walls move to create new blockades and new connecting paths. In the same way, the contours of the pop music maze continually change. Country and hip hop, for instance, which previously had a wall between them, suddenly find themselves face-to-face with each other. At the same time, a wall is erected between guitar-based music and mainstream pop. The mix-and-match possibilities are endless; ever-present is the certainty of new borders and pathways being erected and torn down all the time. So it’s not really the end of genres, it’s just the end of the OLD genres. New configurations arise. No doubt that in ten years’ time the pop music maze will be a very different puzzle.
2- We’ve long since passed the point where being a virtuoso musician is much of an asset in pop, but now we’re so far into the era of programmed music that even the ability to master the programming of music on a computer has lost its novelty. We’ve hit the point where just about any sound you can imagine can be conjured up, and every listener instinctively knows it, so hearing a new sound feels like less of an impressive trick, as everyone’s well aware of the machine behind the curtain. We get it—computers can make amazing sounds. Consequently, in a world where we know just about anyone can create just about any sound, why bother trying to show off? Why not just use the same trap sound on every record? No reason not to, apparently.
3- Music has served numerous different functions over the years: To move the plot along in a musical, to stir the idealism of a crowd at a protest rally, to add emotion to a film scene, to dance to, to soothe, to sell a product, to liven up a video game, etc. This decade we had lots of music that served as the soundtrack of memes, videos, viral stunts, what have you. Except in memes, the audience gets to be part of the product. Like all the other categories of music that came before, the meme music ranged from the great—Old Town Road, Black Beatles–to the forgettable—Harlem Shake—to the just bad-enough-to-be-good—Rebecca Black’s Friday—and of course the really catchy pop of Gangnam Style and Call Me Maybe, both of which seemed to be examples of spontaneous combustion, but both of which actually conquered the mainstream due to the intervention of those 21st century marketing Svengalis, Justin Bieber and Scooter Braun.
Regarding the list itself, it’s all over the place, with pop, dance, EDM, rock, country and even some Trinidadian chutney (Indian Gyal) and Israeli pop (Tudo Bom). I’ve put Sunday Candy by Donnie Trumpet (and Chance the Rapper, of course) on top of the list, but my number one could just as easily have been Frank Ocean’s Ivy, or the Clean Bandit record, or Kanye’s masterful Ghost Town. Or anything else in this list’s top 10, really.
There are some big, juicy pop hits here—Super Bass, anyone? I named that one my best record of the year back in 2011, but in the end, it almost didn’t make my best 100 of the decade. Is that because records that are so dependent on the freshest beats find themselves feeling dated more quickly, or is it simply that Sophia Grace and Rosie ruined the song for me? You be the judge.
The list also features many wonderful, under-appreciated tracks by the likes of Girlpool, San Fermin and so many others who made mind-blowing records, without attaining the level of fame each deserves. Special mention must be given to the great experimental dance-bubblegum label PC Music, represented on this playlist by no fewer than three tracks (Pink and Blue, Hey QT, Broken Flowers) PC Music would have had four on the list, except GFOTY’s fantastic Bobby is not on Spotify. For that matter, neither is Bruno Mars’ Somewhere In Brooklyn, which would have been a contender for my Top 10 (how in the world is it that there’s a Bruno Mars song that isn’t on Spotify?). Nor is Nipsey Hussle’s anthemic Slauson. What’s up with this? I hope you’ll check all these tracks as fast as your fingers can type their titles into YouTube!
100 songs for an entire decade is really a tiny number. There were so many more tracks that I could easily have included on this list. To learn their identities, check out my Decade Near Miss playlist.
And, if you’re curious about pop ancient history, my best-of list from the first decade of this millennium, first posted 10 years ago, can be found here. (Although please note that I have long since disavowed Ignition Remix, which I named my number one song of that decade 10 years ago. Ignition Remix is especially problematic because its lyrics present as something sinister and awful in the wake of the revelations about auteur.)
I have, as usual, eliminated from contention for this list any records on our S-Curve label or anything else with which I’ve had direct involvement. But many of the finest of these can be found at the very end of this Best Of 2010-2019 playlist, from such great artists as Andy Grammer, AJR, A-WA and even many artists whose names don’t start with the letter ‘A”. And please allow me to take this opportunity to bring to your attention the presence on the list of the genuinely insane When The Night Comes (Stereo 3-Way Mix) by Night Bus from 2013, in which there’s a completely different (dance) version of the song in your left ear from the (rock) one in your right ear. And yet, they work together magically. Oh well, I still think it was a good idea…..
Anyway, I hope you’ll check it all out—such great artists and great music.
Hope to see you in 2020!
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF THE GREAT GARY STEWART, MUSIC LOVER WITHOUT PEER, WHO GRACIOUSLY OFFERED HIS FEEDBACK ON EACH OF MY ANNUAL LISTS FOR THE PAST DECADE. THIS WORLD IS POORER IN SO MANY WAYS WITHOUT HIM.