With about three weeks to go in the decade, this is the time for retrospectives. In the case of music, what songs/sounds/artists defined the music of the 2010s?
- 1950s: Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and the birth of rock’n’roll
- 1960s: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, the music of the counter-culture
- 1970s: Led Zeppelin, guitar rock, punk, disco
- 1980s: Madonna, hair metal, hardcore
- 1990s: Nirvana and grunge, the punk rock revival, the rise of hip-hop, Britpop
- 2000s: Boy bands, Coldplay, Rihanna, indie rock (Strokes, Arcade Fire, etc.), Justin Bieber-esque pop
- 2010s: ?
Let’s examine this.
From my perspective, alt-rock was too fractured and too littered with one-hit-wonders (Gotye, anyone?) to declare any one sound dominant. Indie rock was very much a factor, but there were so many different approaches in the sphere for anything to coalesce into a consensus regarding what might be considered the sound of the decade. Can anyone thing of anything from the 2010s nearly as unifying as grunge or the indie rock revival?
Even hip-hop, which became the dominant musical driver of culture in the US is now so segmented that it’s tough to name one area that was more dominant than another. Grime? Trap? Mumble rap?
Instead, I believe the 2010s will be remembered not for a sound or scene, but instead as the time when a new technology–streaming–created two major stars: Drake and Ed Sheeran. No one else comes close to the way they dominated streaming.
A few other pop stars will probably be remembered. Beyonce. Ariana Grande. Shawn Mendes.
On the more traditional side–i.e. artists that still sold lots of CDs–we have Taylor Swift, Adele, and Beyonce. They moved a lot of physical product, but they’re the last of their kind. When it comes time to review the 2020s, we won’t give a shit about who sold the most CDs, although we might still be talking about how immortal vinyl seems to be.
Which reminds me: We can throw the vinyl revival on our list of the most enduring legacies of the 2010s. Still, that’s a technology thing not aligned with any particular sound or scene.
Another question: What music of the 2010s will endure for decades to come? We won’t know for a while, of course, but I’m willing that people will still be listening to these albums for a long time yet:
- Arcade Fire, The Suburbs (2010)
- Black Keys, Brothers
- Kanye West, My Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
- Lana Del Rey, Born to Die (2012)
- Arctic Monkeys, AM (2013) (My pick for the best rock record of the decade)
- Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)
- Frank Ocean, Blonde (2016)
- Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)
- Lorde, Melodrama (2017)
- Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go (2018)
Any addition thoughts are welcome.