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2010 music’s top hits and defining moments from pop-rap to protest music



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Editor’s Be aware: The CNN Authentic Collection “The 2010s” appears at a turbulent period marked by political and social upheaval. Social media remodeled society and streaming upended music and leisure. It airs on CNN Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT.


The 2010s felt extra like a century than a decade. Inside 10 years, popular culture developed (and, in some folks’s view, devolved) extra quickly than ever earlier than, due largely to the arrival and ever-growing affect of social media.

The cultural local weather and digital panorama influenced the music we listened to, too: We began the last decade within the optimism-heavy Obama period and ended it in a pandemic and a sharply divisive political climate. However we had been on-line for all of it, and apps like Spotify and TikTok catapulted sure songs and genres to recognition and even influenced the type of music that will get made in any respect.

Revisit a few of the predominant traits in music that got here to outline a mercurial decade, from pop-rap and boy bands to aesthetic unhappiness and protest anthems.

Originally of the 2010s, rap stars had bother scoring their very own No. 1s with out that includes on pop information, consultants famous in CNN Authentic Collection “The 2010s.” Rappers like Drake may contribute a verse to a music by Rihanna, however they’d a harder time reaching the identical heights solo on the Billboard charts.

So that they began to fuse the two genres, a enterprise that grew to become notably profitable with the arrival of streaming. Drake’s inescapable 2015 bop “Hotline Bling” was engineered to be a viral hit, from the meme-able music video (now viewed nearly 2 billion times on YouTube) to the infectious opening beat. He adopted it up months later with “One Dance,” a dancey, Afrobeats-infused hit which spent 10 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, the primary of Drake’s singles to hit that No. 1 slot and spend weeks there.

He took a cue from Nicki Minaj, maybe the rapper who most adeptly straddled the worlds of rap and pop throughout this period earlier than they overlapped considerably. With hits like 2010’s “Super Bass,” on which she expertly executed verbal gymnastics and sang the refrain and bridge, Minaj set the stage for artists like Cardi B, Lizzo and Doja Cat, who’ve benefited from viral moments and in addition mix rap and pop with their very own distinctive musical sensibilities, to thrive into the 2020s.

After which, in 2018, we met Lil Nas X, a musician raised on the web whose country-rap hit “Old Town Road” began as a meme and ultimately blew up offline, changing into one of the best-selling singles of all time and even altering the best way Billboard and different trade gatekeepers define “country” and “rap.” Lil Nas X used his digital presence to spice up his profile and turn into a bonafide star. He continued to pair his music with viral movies: His video for 2021’s flamenco-inspired “Montero (Name Me by Your Identify)” featured him dressed as the devil receiving a lap dance from a fallen angel, additionally performed by Lil Nas X. The hit was nominated for music of the 12 months on the Grammys in 2022.

Lana Del Rey helped to usher in a new era of downbeat and dark pop.

Whereas some in style musicians had been boasting about partying, sex and medicines, artists like The Weeknd and Lana Del Rey had been languidly singing about letting the identical issues destroy them. Their fashion was a trendy refutal of the “turbo-pop” that dominated the primary few years of the 2010s – and presaged a darker time for the US within the latter half of the 2010s, when bleakness became the predominant theme in popular culture.

Abel Tesfaye (The Weeknd) and Del Rey turn into icons on-line – Tesfaye’s 2011 mixtape “House of Balloons” and Del Rey’s single “Video Games,” from the identical 12 months, each bounced across the blogosphere and have become cult hits. Additionally they resonated with Tumblr customers, the place the imagery of their music and accompanying media – cigarettes, bruised knees, smeared eyeliner, moping black-and-white headshots – became an aesthetic.

The Weeknd would blow up later in the 2010s, but he began the decade as an indie R&B crooner with a melancholy undercurrent.

Each the Weeknd and Del Rey have pivoted since their debuts, with their photographs changing into extra difficult than their indie origins belie. The Weeknd has turn into one of the biggest pop stars in the world, principally with out abandoning his dedication to the depressed and wicked. Del Rey, in the meantime, has solely burrowed deeper into her area of interest, crafting intensely private information which have matured together with her listeners.

Their musical affect is clear within the sounds of in style artists like SZA, Future and Billie Eilish, whose trap-infused sound shares similarities with The Weeknd’s early work. Even Taylor Swift has borrowed a few of Del Rey’s edge on her more moderen albums, and the 2 collaborated on Swift’s newest album “Midnights.”

Beyoncé paid homage to the Black Panthers during her Super Bowl 50 performance in 2016.

The last decade writ massive was additionally outlined by protests towards police brutality, starting in 2014 with Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager who was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri, by a White police officer. His demise – and the unrest that adopted – didn’t simply influence advocacy, it influenced music, too.

A lot of the last decade grew to become outlined by protest music – with a significant instance being Beyoncé’s 2016 Tremendous Bowl halftime present, the place she performed her then-brand new single, “Formation.” Clad in all black and sporting a bandolier of bullets, Beyoncé’s present was a transparent ode to the Black Panthers and known as consideration to the Black Lives Matter motion. That it was achieved throughout the 12 months’s most-watched television event factors to only how mainstream these messages had been changing into in music.

“Music is at all times the soundtrack of actions,” mentioned Renée Graham, columnist at The Boston Globe, in “The 2010s.”

And Beyoncé wasn’t the one one soundtracking the motion throughout the mid-to-late 2010s. In 2014, D’Angelo launched his first album in more than a dozen years – “Black Messiah,” his most political work up to now, particularly citing the Ferguson protests as inspiration for the album.

Two years later, Solange launched “A Seat on the Desk,” an album exploring the private influence of violence towards Black and brown folks in tracks like “Weary” and “Mad.” The identical 12 months, elusive singer Frank Ocean dropped his album “Blonde,” whose opening observe comprises the road: “RIP Trayvon, that n**** look similar to me.”

However the two songs that stick out are Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” launched in 2015, and Infantile Gambino’s “This Is America,” launched in 2018. Each songs exemplify the protest theme of the period, however in numerous methods. Lamar’s observe insists on optimism and hope, with the refrain “We gon’ be alright.”

Kendrick Lamar, pictured at the BET Awards in 2015, made a statement with his album

Infantile Gambino’s file is the other. The music emphasizes the resolute notion that this – the racist violence within the nation, each previous and current – is the truth is America, no matter what progress is seemingly made.

“With Kendrick Lamar’s ‘we gon’ be alright,’ you continue to are on this hopeful Obama-era, Black Lives Matter motion. And by the point you get to Infantile Gambino, we’ve got a distinct presidency,” Salamishah Tillet, a professor at Rutgers College, notes in “The 2010s.” “To lots of people, it appeared like we had been really shifting backward.”

That angle shift was obvious in society. And so, it was mirrored in music, too.

One Direction -- Louis Tomlinson, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Zayn Malik and Niall Horan -- was one of the biggest bands of the 2010s.

The Nineteen Nineties had Boyz II Males, the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. The 2010s had One Path.

Although boy bands and their primarily feminine fan bases are sometimes dismissed, the success of One Path within the 2010s factors to a revival of the style that has continued into the 2020s.

Check out the top-selling albums in 2012: Adele’s “21” and Taylor Swift’s “Purple.” Sitting fairly at No. 3 was One Path’s “Up All Night time,” the group’s debut album. And their sophomore album, “Take Me Dwelling,” launched the identical 12 months, scooped the No. 5 spot.

Having two albums turn into high 5 bestsellers is not any straightforward feat. And One Path was the primary to do it, in response to Billboard, since Nielsen SoundScan began monitoring gross sales in 1991.

Immediately bands like The Wished, Large Time Rush, and, within the latter half of the last decade, 5 Seconds of Summer season, had been all over the place. The latter group was notably profitable, with their first three studio albums, launched between 2014 and 2018, all certified at least gold by the RIAA. (Two of three reached platinum, having offered a minimal of 1 million albums).

One Path broke up in 2016, although former member Harry Styles has continued to dominate charts along with his solo efforts since. Of their place, K-pop groups like BTS have reigned supreme. The Western boy band could also be gone for now, however the common attraction of such teams carries on.