Nothing But 10s: The 2010’s Best Albums
Reading Time: 5 minutes
The 2010s was a bustling decade for music, spawning a new subgenre of rap, further evolving the dance-pop that erupted in the 2000s, sparking a brief tropical-house revolution, and creating countless classics that have shaken the music industry to its very core. A&E writers have compiled a list of what we believe are the best albums of the 2010s—records that have exemplified what good music should sound like in today’s world.
IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER:
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) - Kanye West (Morris Raskin)
After a slew of controversies in the late 2000s, Kanye West’s career was all but over. West, however, wasn’t ready to quit just yet, so he organized a series of high-intensity recording sessions on the island of Hawaii, preparing to drop his most ambitious project yet. Packed with bustling choir samples, ripping guitar riffs, classic West soul-inspired, hip-hop beats, and some of his most impactful lyricism yet, the resulting project “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” shook the rap game from the inside out and went on to inspire the next generation of rappers.
21 (2011) - Adele (Jesse Hammer)
In her second studio album “21,” Adele presents her greatest musical achievement to date. Though it’s easy to pigeonhole her as a pop artist, especially with her most recent smash hit song “Hello” being as pop as soul can get, she has historically ignored the strictures of genre. In “21,” Adele often sings like a woman possessed. Driven by the trauma of her romantic relationships, she sings with emotional strength far surpassing her other work, led by gems such as “Rolling In The Deep” and “Set Fire To The Rain.” Whether we get pop or soul or R&B is beside the point—with “21,” we get the best album of the 2010s.
AM (2013) - Arctic Monkeys (Christine Lin)
Arctic Monkeys’ fifth studio album “AM” radiates both confidence and depth as frontman Alex Turner croons about heartache and lust. Ditching the more indie influences their first few albums held, “AM” features a darker, heavier sound that proves the Arctic Monkeys aren’t afraid to experiment. Turner’s lyrics are evocative and filled with sly but meaningful references to pop culture and world events in songs like “R U Mine?” and “Arabella.” “AM” is an album that refuses to be pigeonholed and will inevitably be remembered as a classic from the 2010s. Plus, the basslines are killer.
To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) - Kendrick Lamar (Morris Raskin)
After dropping what the world believed to be his magnum opus in the form of “Good Kid, Maad City” (2013), it seemed that Kendrick Lamar had peaked. The Compton rapper, however, launched his career to new heights with the release of “To Pimp a Butterfly,” a 16-track album that pushed the envelope on what a hip-hop album could be. Bolstered by powerful funk bass grooves, aggressive percussion, and jazz undertones, “To Pimp a Butterfly” fundamentally changed music forever and will no doubt go down in history as an all-time great.
★/Blackstar (2016) - David Bowie (Jiahe Wang)
The final album by the “Chameleon of Rock” David Bowie was released on his 69th birthday—only two days before his death. The album can be seen as a parting gift from both the legendary artist and the alter egos he created; the glam-rock icon kills off his characters symbolically in his music videos, rich with dark imagery of bejewelled skulls, bandaged eyes, frantic ritual dancing, and crucifixes. Though his emphasis on emotion and visuals remain, the music itself takes a turn toward jazz and hip-hop beats, producing a sound that is foreign yet decidedly Bowie-esque. Through his surreal imagery, nihilistic lyrics, and meta reflection on his career as an artist, Bowie remains as theatrical as ever, even on his deathbed.
Blonde (2016) - Frank Ocean (Theo Kubovy-Weiss)
Following a series of missed due dates and the surprise release of Ocean’s visual album “Endless” (2016), “Blonde” builds upon the masterful storytelling of Ocean’s effort “Channel Orange” (2012), constructed as a series of striking emotional vignettes recounting different experiences and relationships that have defined Ocean as a person. “Blonde” is much less as a collection of songs than it is one coherent experience. It is a nuanced and intricate portrait of what it’s like to be in love: the excitement, nervousness, joy, complication, pain, and reflection, all portrayed in a uniquely honest, personal, and emotional way. “Blonde,” while avant-garde and abstract, remains able to convey a very realized and vivid message through an exceptionally effective combination of profound poetry, detailed imagery, progressive production, and soulful vocals, making it one of the best albums of the decade.
A Crow Looked At Me (2017) - Mount Eerie (Levi Simon)
“A Crow Looked At Me” is not an album for the average listener to unwind to or enjoy in most contexts. It’s not sonically abrasive—it sounds quite pleasant, even if it is lo-fi. What makes this album so devastating is the absolutely crushing and haunting poetry. The theme of death has never been so rawly explored, as singer-songwriter Phil Elverum contemplates the death of his wife, Geneviève. While most of the emotions this album provokes are uncomfortable, they are human and beautiful in a way that no other album in the 2010s was.
Melodrama (2017) - Lorde (May Hathaway)
Lorde’s sophomore album “Melodrama” transcends all possible expectations of a breakup album. Released four years after “Pure Heroine” (2013), her debut album, “Melodrama” not only loosely centers around a narrative of a house party, but is also an ambitious exploration of what it means to be a young woman in various stages of joy and melancholy. Lorde’s lyrics are sharp and grimly funny; her voice travels from sultry whispers in “Sober” to excited exclamations in “Perfect Places.” The gift of “Melodrama” lies in how accurately it captures human emotion—Lorde puts her feelings on full unadulterated display, and the album is so much better for it.
thank u, next (2019) - Ariana Grande (Lianne Ohayon)
When “thank u, next” was released back in February 2019, Ariana Grande made history. She joined the small list of artists who released two number one albums in less than a year, and she charted every single song from “thank u, next” within the top 50 of the Billboard Charts. Grande’s music is known for being upbeat, but “thank u, next” presents a different side of her. She explores her pain, wants, needs, and desires in just twelve songs and does so with a unique sense of awareness and experience. Grande has bared her soul for the world to see, and no other album this decade has achieved a message more powerful.
Norman F***ing Rockwell (2019) - Lana Del Rey
Golden Hour (2018) - Kacey Musgraves
Fade (2013) - Yo La Tengo
WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? (2019) - Billie Eilish
Trilogyf (2012) - The Weeknd
Ctrl (2017) - SZA
DAMN. (2017) - Kendrick Lamar
The Life of Pablo (2016) - Kanye West
1989 (2014) - Taylor Swift
Good Kid, Maad City (2013) - Kendrick Lamar
Yeezus (2013) - Kanye West
Lemonade (2016) - Beyoncé