How will we remember the music of the 2010s? And what albums will we still love years from now?

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:

  1. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs (2010)
  2. Black Keys, Brothers
  3. Kanye West, My Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
  4. Lana Del Rey, Born to Die (2012)
  5. Arctic Monkeys, AM (2013) (My pick for the best rock record of the decade)
  6. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)
  7. Frank Ocean, Blonde (2016)
  8. Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)
  9. Lorde, Melodrama (2017)
  10. Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go (2018)

Any addition thoughts are welcome.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

3 thoughts on “How will we remember the music of the 2010s? And what albums will we still love years from now?

  • December 4, 2019 at 7:44 am
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    I don’t know about Billie Eilish because it’s too early to tell. And maybe not that Radiohead album.

    Robyn’s Body Talk should be there & it’s Lady Gaga & Vampire Weekend’s decade also. David Bowie’s last album will have a lasting influence.

    We saw the rise of Reggaeton/Latin Pop music & superstars into the mainstream and will be a standard genre in the next decade. You can say the same for K-Pop.

    Other bands that are my faves & will continue to influence will be Tame Impala & The National.

    Reply
  • December 4, 2019 at 11:54 am
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    How about the 2010’s being remembered as the beginning of the Death of Rock… in a literal sense? Sadly, we lost so many awesome artists. We lost many in the decades preceding, yes. But not like the decimation over the past 10 years. The reason? Father Time himself. 1960 is nearly 60 years ago, 1970 is nearly 50 years ago, and 1980 is nearly 40 years ago. That would make, say, 25 year old artists of the time 85, 75 and 65 respectively. Meaning at the turn of the last decade, they were 75, 65 and 55. That’s prime time for the Grim Reaper to do his work. We could even say those Rockers from the 90’s that we lost over the past 10 years were in a “getting there” age range of 45-55 too. Although, many of the 90’s artists deaths were attributed to self-harm. Nonetheless, it was a brutal decade for Rock, in both a literal and figurative sense.

    Reply
  • December 4, 2019 at 10:44 pm
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    Such a completely meh decade for music. Dreadful really. “The decade music forgot” will be an article like 80 years from now.

    Reply

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