From Taylor Swift to Kendrick Lamar, all the artists who owned the 2010s with their musical mastery
In a tumultuous decade that saw streaming services become the go-to medium to consume music and rap overtake rock in popularity, there have been some artists that have stood head and shoulders above their peers.
It has been quite a decade for music, to put it lightly.
The 2010s saw a monumental shift in how people consumed their favorite songs, with CDs making way for the digital age where YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal Music, Soundcloud, and a host of other streaming services reigned supreme. But just when you thought the algorithms would take over, turntables and vinyl records crept back into the mix due to a combination of their superior sound quality and a heavy dose of nostalgia.
It's also the decade that finally saw, much to the so-called purist's chagrin, rap overtake rock to become the biggest music genre in the US, while also simultaneously being the one where psychedelic rock exploded back into the mainstream consciousness for arguably the first time since the Summer of Love and the heydays of the 70s.
Pop music is thriving like never before, aided by the digital age where short, catchy numbers are all the rage, while EDM isn't too far behind either. Country is probably the one genre that has remained relatively unaffected, though, it too has seen the rise of a few upstarts hellbent on shaking up the game.
All that being said, compiling a list of the top artists for the decade, as you can imagine, isn't the easiest task. So we've parceled it out to those who we feel proved the most influential for each genre, though the list is by no means exhaustive.
EDM: Calvin Harris
The Chainsmokers, Kygo, Marshmello, Major Lazer, DJ Snake, Martin Garrix, Zedd, Tiësto, Flume, David Guetta, deadmau5, Armin van Buuren, Clean Bandit, Axwell Ingrosso. These are just a few of the many, many artists who would be well within their rights to claim the 2010s as their own. But we'll go with Calvin Harris, who began laying the groundwork in the latter part of the last decade but well and truly established himself as the top dog in an extremely competitive and cutthroat genre as this one.
Yes, his second studio album, 2009's 'Ready for the Weekend,' did debut at number one in the UK Albums Chart, but it was beginning 2011 when he started gaining international prominence. It was that year that he toured as a support act for Rihanna's 'Loud Tour,' following which he produced 'We Found Love' and 'Where Have You Been' for the singer, the first of which topped charts in 27 countries worldwide, topped the Billboard Hot 100, and was the Fenty Beauty star's longest-running number one for the year.
He's only gone from strength to strength since, and in October 2014, he became the first-ever artist to place three songs simultaneously in the top 10 of Billboard's Dance/Electronic Songs chart. He was also the first British solo artist to reach one billion streams on Spotify, was named the Top Dance/Electronic Artist at the 2015 Billboard Music Awards, and was the world's highest-paid DJ for six consecutive years from 2013 to 2018.
Pop: Taylor Swift
Has Taylor Swift ever had a slow year? She started as a country darling charting a rapid rise to superstardom following the release of her 2006 eponymous debut album that was the longest-charting album of the 2000s, before immediately following up with 'Fearless,' which won her four Grammys and made her the youngest ever Album of the Year winner.
'Fearless' did hint that Swift was allured by pop sensibilities, and the 2010s saw her effectively conquer the genre with narrative songs about her personal life. She consistently topped the charts with singles such as 'We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,' 'I Knew You Were Trouble,' 'Shake It Off' -- which stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 for 50 consecutive weeks -- and 'Blank Space.'
Still just 29, her accolades already include 10 Grammys -- including two Album of the Years -- one Emmy, 29 American Music Awards, which is more than any other artist, 23 Billboard Music Awards, six Guinness World Records, and three(!) appearances on Time's list of 100 most influential people in the world, all of which came this decade. Having sold more than 50 million albums and 150 million singles, she's also already one of the best-selling music artists of all-time. The 2010s belonged to Swift, and if her recent albums are any indicator, the 2020s may just be as well.
Country: Garth Brooks
Garth Brooks has a well-deserved legendary status amongst, not just country music aficionados, but also listeners across the US and the world. Despite being around for three decades now -- he released his 10x platinum self-titled debut album in 1989 -- he has retained immense popularity as he continues to deliver timeless music that blends his beloved country genre with elements of rock and pop.
The 2010s did see the likes of Kacey Musgraves, Brad Paisley, George Strait, and Chris Stapleton make waves in the genre, and yes, Brooks' albums this decade were a tad underwhelming by his impeccable standards, but it's his record-breaking live performances that set him above everyone else. While the aforementioned command massive followings within the states, Brooks' influence has been felt with his 2014 comeback world tour that saw so much demand for tickets that he was been, at times, performing two shows per night. With 390 shows performed by the conclusion of its eighth leg in 2017, it broke the record for the most all-time concerts on a tour and also became the highest-grossing country music tour of all time.
Soundcloud: Post Malone
In 2014, multi-platinum selling singer Kesha revealed on 'The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon' that she had tried to break into Prince's house when she was a struggling musician in the hopes of dropping off her demo and catching a big break. But those days are now long gone, with streaming services giving up and comers a chance to showcase their talents to audiences that number in the millions without being necessarily signed with a big recording label. And amongst those services, SoundCloud is where there is a perpetual stew of young talent brewing.
The likes of XXXTentacion, Lil Peep, Chance the Rapper, Lil Dicky, and Lil Pump have all made it through to the big leagues after duking it out on the platform, but none have gone on to be as commercially and critically successful as 23-year-old rapper, singer, and songwriter Post Malone. His 2015 single 'White Iverson' peaked in the top 20 on the US Billboard Hot 100 following its release on SoundCloud and went on to be certified quadruple platinum, earning him a lucrative contract with Republic Records.
Since then, his debut studio album 'Stoney' peaked number four on the US Billboard 200 and has been certified triple platinum, his second studio album 'Beerbongs & Bentleys' debuted number one and broke multiple streaming records, and his collab with Swae Lee on the song "Sunflower" for the soundtrack to the film 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100. He has sold 60 million records in the US alone and won two American Music Awards, a Billboard Music Award, and an MTV Video Music Award.
R&B and Soul: John Legend
John Legend really has nothing left to prove. He's one of just 15 people, and the only black man, to have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony (EGOT), which just tells you that he's not one to shy away from broadening his horizons. But that didn't really stop him from experimenting with his sound with all three of his albums this decade.
2013's 'Love in the Future,' produced by industry heavyweights Kanye West and Dave Tozer, saw the 40-year-old shift towards a dramatic, eerie tone, with the single 'All of Me' peaking at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. 2015's 'Darkness and Light' was even more ambitious, addressing his notions on how to make one's way around an increasingly bleak social landscape and finding happiness in dark times, while 2018's 'A Legendary Christmas,' despite being his first attempt at a holiday album, earned itself a Grammy nomination.
His influence has been felt beyond music as well considering how he is on the national board of Teach for America, the Education Equality Project, the Harlem Village Academies, and Stand for Children. And most recently, he has been quite vocal about his political leanings as well. Quite vocal indeed.
While Oxford’s indie darlings set the bar for the genre phenomenally high in the previous decade with their math-rock infused debut 'Antidotes,' they shattered the bar this decade with every successive studio effort.
At the turn of the decade, while 'Holy Fire' suddenly broke through to mainstream recognition with an unexpected double Grammy, Foals were blowing their fans -- both old and new -- out of the water on the other side of the Atlantic.
They did it first with their 2010 stadium-ready sophomore record 'Total Life Forever.' This was followed by their 2013 magnum opus 'Holy Fire,' which cemented them as flag-bearers in the indie UK scene among fans and critics alike. While 2015’s 'What Went Down' did manage to polarize some of their fan base, any inkling of doubt as to Foals’ pedigree was dispelled in 2019.
After parting ways with their longtime bassist Walter Gervers, the band buckled down for their boldest adventure to date which ultimately culminated in not one, but two thematically linked albums this past year. Part 2 of 'Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost' finally gave them the No. 1 spot on the UK Charts. Judging by the momentum that Foals is carrying, it shouldn’t be long before they go the Arctic Monkeys way and smash American charts too on the way to well deserved global mainstream recognition.
Let's get one thing straight, K-pop has been a massive cultural phenomenon for the better part of three decades now. Think K-pop fandom, and the picture that in your head is always of hordes of South Korean teenagers and young adults packing themselves into stadia in the hundreds of thousands, getting worked up into a frenzy over their favorite group's merch, and frankly, diety levels of worship of the genre's superstars. It's just that, for the longest time, that cultural phenomenon was confined within the borders of South Korea alone. But not anymore.
While K-pop had carved itself a niche following in east and southeast Asia, as well as regions of Africa, the middle east, and the Americas, the 2010s saw it explode into the mainstream, and no other group has played a bigger role in that shift than seven-member group BTS.
Having made their debut with 2013's '2 Cool 4 Skool,' the group paved the Korean wave into the United States by 2017, breaking numerous sales records and becoming the first-ever Korean group to receive certification from the Recording Industry Association of America for single 'Mic Drop.'
Such was their meteoric rise, that in 2018, they were the second-best-selling artist of the year. Worldwide. They also became the first Asian artist and first non-English speaking artist ever to headline and sell out Wembley, and broke the record for single highest-grossing engagement in Rose Bowl Stadium history. And if that wasn't enough, they are worth a staggering $4.65 billion to the South Korean economy, 0.3% of the country's GDP.
Rap and Hip-Hop: Kendrick Lamar
The 2010s have truly been the decade of rap, and no one, and we mean no one, embodies that spirit more than Compton-native Kendrick Lamar. If you want an attestation to his remarkable impact, look no farther than the fact that, after just four albums and eight years in the mainstream, he's already being regarded by critics and contemporaries as one of the most important and influential rappers of not just this generation, but of all time.
And to anyone who has listened to those albums, those plaudits will not come as a surprise. 'good kid, m.A.A.d city' offers an emotional, fearless, and nuanced glimpse into the rapper's life, and just when you thought he couldn't possibly one-up a near-flawless record, he followed it up with 'To Pimp A Butterfly,' an incredibly complex production that explored themes of African-American culture, institutional discrimination, racial inequality, and depression.
To top it all off, he was named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME Magazine in 2016, and his 2018 album 'DAMN' became the first-ever non-classical, non-jazz album to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music.
Rock: Tame Impala
Tame Impala is an Australian psychedelic music project (if we can even call it that anymore) led by multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker, who is practically a one-man army who writes, records, performs, and produces his music. Inspired and influenced by a diverse spectrum of artists that include Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Supertramp, The Flaming Lips, and Radiohead, Tame Impala burst onto the scene with a self-titled EP in 2008, before their debut album 'Innerspeaker' offered listeners a trip back in time with its late-60s American psychedelia and stoner vibes.
The group's next two albums, 2012's 'Lonerism' and 2015's 'Currents,' showed Parker was capable of growing as an artist without losing a core magnetism that made his music appealing to both the thousands who inevitably flock the arenas for his concerts and those who liked to listen to it in a darkened room with a joint in their hand.
It's a testament to his mainstream popularity that Rihanna has covered his songs, and artists like Kendrick Lamar, Mark Ronson, and Lady Gaga are all in the list of those who have worked alongside him.
Where other Australian bands such as The Vines, Wolfmother, and Jet, as successful as they were, mainly recycled a well-known sound, Tame Impala revitalized it, paving the way for a thriving psych-rock scene Down Under that is already creeping its way across the globe.
What's a genre? King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
Formed at the start of the decade in Melbourne, seven-piece band King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard are as gimmicky as they are prolific and have been characterized as much by their frankly staggering recording output -- they have released two EPS and 15(!) studio albums since they burst onto the scene -- as they have been by their refusal to conform to a genre.
Their debut EP, 'Willoughby Beach,' as well as their first two albums, 2012's '12 Bar Bruise' and 2013's 'Eyes Like the Sky,' primarily blended surf music and garage rock, while their third to eighth albums saw them experiment with film music, progressive rock, folk, jazz, soul, and psychedelic rock.
2019's 'Fishing for Fishies' saw them mix elements of blues and classic rock with psychedelia as they attempted to advocate for environmental conservationism, while 'Infest the Rats' Nest' saw them take another hard left and delve into thrash metal.
The band's sound has mutated so much over the years that no two albums sound alike, and a trip through their discography is quite literally that: a trip. No other band in the past 10 years has shown they can create such a diverse wall of sound, while still very much showing the world that rock n' roll is alive and kickin'.