Perhaps historians in the future will have a better chance of deciding the official sounds of the 2010s, but on the eve of 2020, it’s hard to nail down a single artist or genre that defined the last ten years. It was a decade of fluidity and change, one when barriers fell apart. Country musicians became pop icons. Rappers became rock stars. R&B singers became EDM favorites. And yet, while looking back at the 2010s, there were a few names remained that remained consistently in the pop culture conversation. One such artist was Taylor Swift. She started the decade off with Speak Now, an album that some say was her last rodeo as a country artist. The following records – Red and the now modern-classic 1989 — that would cement herself as one of the biggest pop acts on the planet.
The 2010s was also the decade the world started viewing Ariana Grande as more than Cat Valentine from Nickelodeon’s Victorious. With the release of 2013’s Yours Truly, Ariana began her journey to pop superstardom. She found herself on the top of the charts, and it seems like she has never left. Similarly, the 2010s saw Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber grow up and shed their teen idol images for a more mature sound. The Justin teasing new music at the end of the decade was a far cry from the young kid from Canada who released My World 2.0 at the start of it.
This was the decade that cemented rap’s dominance in the culture and on the charts. The Nielsen’s 2017 Year-End Report confirmed that, for the first time, hip-hop dethroned rock ‘n’ roll as the most consumed genre. Yet, hip-hop’s ascendency had happened long before that. Kendrick Lamar might be considered the rapper of the decade, with beloved records like Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, and To Pimp A Butterfly. The one rapper that might take the crown from Kenny is Drake, who dominated the decade with his style and sound.
2010 saw Kanye West release what many consider his masterpiece, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. A year later, he and Jay-Z dropped Watch the Throne. While Ye’s subsequent musical efforts haven’t been able to recreate both the critical and commercial success, he became prevalent throughout pop culture with his increased fashion ventures. The same goes for Rihanna. Though she had established herself as a star before the 2010s, this was the decade that she cemented herself as a queen. With Talk That Talk, Unapologetic, and 2016’s Anti, she ruled the charts. Beyond the studio, Rihanna has experimented in acting and fashion, the latter of which saw her launch her successful Savage X Fenty line in 2018.
It would be remiss to mention top stars of the decade without paying respects to the queen herself. Beyonce was a star long before 2010 rolled around, but this decade was one that she transcended into an icon. Her albums 4 and Beyonce changed the game (quite literally in the latter case, as her eponymous 2013 record changed the release date for music from Tuesdays to Fridays.) Yet, it was 2016’s Lemonade, a landmark release that celebrated black women and black culture, that put the crown on Queen Bey.
As the sun sets on 2019, these artists will continue to thrive in the coming years. Both Justin and Selena have announced new records for 2020, for instance. Yet, there’s a slate of new artists who are ready to carve out their own place in the pop culture landscape. Will the 2020s belong to Lizzo, Billie Eilish, Halsey, Shawn Mendes, or H.E.R.? Only time will tell. In the meantime, pop some champagne and toast the artists who made this decade their own.