M83 – “Outro”
From the album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
While “Midnight City” became the default cool song to use in your ad or trailer, and was undeniably a major work, it’s the elegiac finale from the double album that stands out as the premiere track of their underwhelming second decade. It’s not surprising it supplanted “Midnight City” as the default cool song to use in your ad or trailer.
Bruno Mars feat. Cardi B – “Finesse (Remix)”
With the possible exception of Drake, no one was a better singles artist this decade than Bruno Mars. Teaming up with Cardi B, he remixed an already pretty good album track, dropping it in early January 2018 and dominating the entire year, winning the Grammy for Album of the Year later that month.
Miguel – “Adorn”
That droplet sound effect. That voice. One of the most sensual, romantic songs of the decade that happened to feature one of the most unintentionally hilarious live performances of all time.
Mitski – “Two Slow Dancers”
From the album Be the Cowboy
Mitski was one of the most fascinating artists of the back half of the decade, but this song finds her at her most straightforward: a simple but devastating piano ballad. It was a hell of a way to end her best album.
Moby – “The Broken Places”
From the album Destroyed
While Moby will never again reach the artistic peak he achieved in the late ’90s, he’s still put out some fascinating music (even while outing himself as kind of a creep). This haunting instrumental track is easily the best thing he’s put out since 18.
Janelle Monaé – “Make Me Feel”
Prince may have passed away in 2016, but his legacy lives on in this NPG-era throwback. Monaé had long been his heir apparent, but confirmed it with a completely killer, sexually liberated jam.
Frank Ocean – “Pyramids”
There’s no shortage of great Frank Ocean songs to pick from, even with his limited discography. But still, nothing has topped his cinematic, 10-minute epic, with its quasi-love story in a dystopian hellscape.
Of Monsters and Men – “Slow and Steady”
From the album My Head Is an Animal
This Icelandic band’s most lovely track should have been just as big as “Little Talks,” but we don’t live in a perfect world. But for a few minutes they can take you there.
Old 97’s – “Longer Than You’ve Been Alive”
From the album Most Messed Up
While much of the decade has been divided between Boomers and Millennials, Gen X mostly got excluded. Because the Old 97’s don’t have a nasty bone in their body, this song feels like a necessary shout into the void without it feeling like an Old Man Yells at Cloud rant.
One Direction – “Little Black Dress”
From the album Midnight Memories
While their fans were a little nuts, this boy band actually put out some quality tunes. None were better than this power pop nugget, which Steven Hyden (accurately) compared to Big Star.
Paramore – “Ain’t It Fun”
I was not a fan of Paramore in the Hot Topic era, but as their sound evolved, they became irresistible. Their only Top 10 hit is exactly the kind of genre fusion that modern pop music is sorely lacking.
Penguin Prison – “Don’t Fuck with My Money”
From their self-titled debut album
The band on this list known to the least people, Chris Glover’s one-man effort stood head and shoulders above the many indulgences in ’80s nostalgia this decade. That falsetto could rival Morten Harket‘s.
Katy Perry – “Teenage Dream”
The album was just a few edits away from being a perfect pop record (a truly dreadful song wrecked it… more on that to come) but the title track is still a perfect pop song. If only she could have stayed more in this lane, instead of chasing trends and ripping off Christian rappers*.
*Personally I don’t think she should have been found guilty, but she has been deemed legally responsible.
Phosphorescent – “Song for Zula”
From the album Muchacho
How good is this ethereal ballad from Matthew Houck? It’s so good it may have single-handedly kept me from hating The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – “Round and Round”
One of the most unusual songs I had on repeat in my record store days, this soft-rock-on-downers jam had some of the worst key art of all time, but still made for one of the best songs of the decade.
Radiohead – “True Love Waits”
From the album A Moon Shaped Pool
Maybe it’s cheating to put this song, which has existed in various forms since 1995, on a list of the best songs of this decade. But Radiohead’s resurgent album closed with the first official studio version of the song, and it was absolutely worth the wait.
David Ramirez – “Fires”
From the album Apologies
Well, of course I’d have the song my wife and I had our first dance to on here. David Ramirez is the great unsung singer-songwriter of the decade, pouring his heart and soul into every track. But this love song remains his masterpiece.
Rihanna – “Same Ol’ Mistakes”
From the album Anti
Rihanna was one of the most prolific artists of the decade, but it all seemed forgettable until she took her time with Anti. Her cover of this Tame Impala track perfectly melds her powerful voice with Kevin Parker’s incredible production.
Josh Ritter – “Getting Ready to Get Down”
From the album Sermon on the Rocks
Josh Ritter and I are not from the same hometown. We did not go to the same church. But this ditty about religious hypocrisy struck a chord with me (no pun intended). Yes, I heard dancing, drinking and sex were all bad, but Ritter knocks down all that nonsense.
Robyn – “Dancing on My Own”
It’s hard to write about a song that’s been used and covered endlessly for nearly a full decade now. But few musicians have ever come close to grasping the pain of feeling lonely and invisible to the person you love as well as she has.
Mark Ronson feat. Kevin Parker – “Daffodils”
While “Uptown Funk” will be played at every wedding from now until the end of the world, the best song from Ronson’s Uptown Special album is this collaboration with Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker. The psychedelic vocals are there, but the funky production is all Ronson.
Run the Jewels – “Legend Has It”
From the album Run the Jewels 3
When Killer Mike and El-P surprise released their third proper album on Christmas Eve, it was a wonderful gift. But I didn’t fully realize how incredible this track was until it was used in that amazing Black Panther trailer. Now it’s a go-to driving song.