End-of-decade ranking lists are inherently flawed, dependent on a list of arbitrary criteria that's largely influenced by the overculture's equally arbitrary metrics of quality—yet we're making one anyway.

Despite their issues, end-of-decade lists and rankings are ways for us all to reflect on the sound and media we've consumed over the past ten years. The past decade saw streaming services, social media, and the widespread dissemination of DIY production completely re-terraform music, opening up space for post-genre innovation and new forms of political protest music.

While so many artists put out incredible work this decade, four in particular stood out to us at Popdust due to the quality of their music, their personas, and their cultural resonance. Here are our top artists of the 2010s.

Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean has received ample love from end-of-decade lists so far, but all of it is deserved. The 2010s were defined by Ocean's music, from 2011's earworm "Thinkin Bout You" to 2012's highly acclaimed Channel Orange. He made history with his legendary decision to release Blond independently just a day after releasing Endless and finishing his contract with Def Jam. It might be a stretch to say that his decision to break from the label could symbolize a larger global shift towards dissatisfaction with major corporations and big money, but regardless, his act of defiance made Blond's expansive generosity and creativity that much more influential.

Thinkin Bout You www.youtube.com

Blond twines infinite musical genres and emotional threads into one entity. It's gloomy and hypnotic, nostalgic and futuristic. It sounds effortless despite its constantly shifting rhythms and unpredictable flows, but it's incredibly complicated and intentionally made. On "Nikes" and "Solo (Reprise)," Ocean makes powerful references to Trayvon Martin, police brutality, and the Black Lives Matter movement, arguably one of the most important movements of the past decades. The album was also praised for helping to redefine queerness in pop music, and, in a huge decade for LGBTQ+ people, Ocean was at the center of that shift.

But Blond's political undertones take a backseat to its artistry. In the final song, "Futura Free," Mikey Alfred asks, "How far is a light year?" A light year is ~9.4x1012 kilometers, and "Futura Free" is exactly nine minutes and four seconds long.

Frank Ocean - Futura Free www.youtube.com

Mitski

Mitski Miyawaki started out as a classical musician, but 2014's Bury Me at Makeout Creek was a raw, sputtering, furious melding of abandon, fury, and poetic refractions of young-adult angst. Then 2016's Puberty 2 addressed the painful experience that is realizing growing up is a never-ending process, particularly in an America that endlessly silences and pigeonholes women of color. 2018's Be the Cowboy was a dizzying reflection on fame, loneliness, and creative practice, a primal scream at the end of a painful metamorphosis.

Mitski - Your Best American Girl (Official Video) www.youtube.com

Mitski's music is endlessly giving, the sort that takes on different shapes depending on when you listen to it and what you're listening to. She throws the grainy psychedelic qualities reminiscent of Jim Morrison over dark beats and places wailing guitars beneath searing lyrics. Her concerts and persona have become loci of redemptive rage and solidarity.

The quality of music and performance alone isn't enough to define an artist as one of the top three musicians of the decade, so although she would probably hate this entire statement, Mitski also stands out because she symbolizes an entire new genre of indie-alternative musicians (ranging from Angel Olsen to Phoebe Bridgers to Vagabon) who are redefining and exploding what it means to be a "woman in music." In the 2010s, which saw the rise of the #MeToo movement and intersectional feminism and nonbinary identities (things that had always existed, but were finally starting to break into the mainstream), Mitski's music—which excavates trauma and strength, self-love and self-hate, womanhood and personhood on the whole—encapsulated and shattered ideas about what an artist could be.

Mitski - Townie (Official Video) www.youtube.com

Bon Iver

Bon Iver released his bleary folk masterpiece For Emma, Forever Ago in 2007, and he took all our breath away with his expansive self-titled sophomore album (which had the windy, breathtakingly humble "Holocene" as its crown jewel). But his stylistic innovations really took off with 2016's 22, A Million, a.k.a. "the BULLSH*T numbers album," as my editor says. 22, A Million was deeply weird, chaotic, unpredictable, and highly refined, laden with musings on gods and nature and time that seemed as abstract as the Internet and everyday life can feel.

Bon Iver - "Holocene" (Official Video) www.youtube.com

Throughout his entire career, Bon Iver has broken boundaries with his lyrics, which express emotions despite refusing exact translations (or maybe because they subvert the trappings of language, tapping into something more primal). He uses words as instruments, playing with their shapes and cadences in a way that no other artist has been able to emulate.

As a cultural symbol, Bon Iver is as much meme as man. Known initially for his sleepy snowbound folk, he transitioned to autotuned features on Kanye West songs and later broke boundaries in electronic music and the multi-genre sphere. Though 2019's i,i lacked the raw creativity of 22, A Million, it felt richer and warmer than ever before, an artist's return to the home he had to leave to rediscover.

Bon Iver: Full Concert | NPR MUSIC FRONT ROWwww.youtube.com

On a larger scale, Bon Iver's music and persona might symbolize a large segment of musicians who, after initially being relegated to the folk genre (or another single sound), began to experiment with genres and themes, breaking them down and showing that close-minded rules about sound, lyricism, and reality itself simply did not have to apply. In the 2010s, genre broke down, identity politics came up, we started telling stories through memes and emojis, and Bon Iver opened our minds to universes and colors and sounds we'd never seen before.

Kendrick Lamar

Between 2012's Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, 2015's To Pimp a Butterfly, and 2017's DAMN., Kendrick Lamar has created an exhaustive collection of work that set new standards for hip-hop and music itself. Kendrick's work is rigorous and liberated, egoistic and self-critical. It's the finest modern protest music we have today. A master storyteller, Kendrick is frequently referred to as the best rapper alive, and though his lyrics bridge the gap between raw, confessional emo rap and guilt and power and glory, it's his flow that makes him truly unparalleled.

Kendrick Lamar - Alright www.youtube.com

During the 2010s, Kendrick Lamar became culturally omnipotent, snagging a Pulitzer, headlining Coachella, and pulling together the Black Panther companion album, contributing to the film's massive and long-lasting resonance. In a decade arguably defined by hip hop, Kendrick was constantly pushing the boundaries of what the genre could be. He'll probably be remembered in the same way we recall Bob Dylan today—the voice of a revolution we didn't know we were in the midst of, though in hindsight, we've been singing along this whole time.

Beyoncé - Freedom (ft. Kendrick Lamar) www.youtube.com


Runners-Up: Rihanna, Drake, Lana Del Rey, Beyoncé, Kanye West

CULTURE

Nazi-Chic: The Aesthetics of Fascism

Let's take a look at Nazi-inspired fashion.

Villains always have the best outfits.

From Darth Vader's polished black space armor to The Joker's snazzy purple suit, bad guys always seem to show up their protagonists in the fashion department.

Way more handsome than Batman. static.giantbomb.com

But could there possibly be a real world equivalent to the type of over-the-top villain fashion often found in fiction? It would have to be sleek and imposing, austere and dangerous. Probably black.

Maybe it's him. Maybe it's fascist ideology.

Oh, right.

Let's call a spade a spade. From an aesthetic standpoint, the Nazi SS outfit is very well-designed. The long coat tied around the waist with a buckle portrays a slim, sturdy visage. The leather boots and matching cap look harsh and powerful. The emblem placements on the lapel naturally suggest rank and authority. And the red armband lends a splash of color to what would otherwise be a dark monotone. If the Nazi uniform wasn't so closely tied with the atrocities they committed during WWII, it wouldn't seem out of place at Fashion Week. Perhaps not too surprising, considering many of the uniforms were made by Hugo Boss.

Pictured: A real thing Hugo Boss did. i.imgur.com

Of course, today, Nazi uniform aesthetics are inseparable from the human suffering doled out by their wearers. In most circles of civilized society, that's more than enough reason to avoid the garb in any and all fashion choices. But for some, that taboo isn't a hindrance at all–if anything, it's an added benefit.

As a result, we have Nazi chic, a fashion trend centered around the SS uniform and related Nazi imagery.

History of Nazi Chic

For the most part, Nazi chic is not characterized by Nazi sympathy. Rather, Nazi chic tends to be associated with counterculture movements that view the use of its taboo imagery as a form of shock value, and ironically, anti-authoritarianism.

The movement came to prominence in the British punk scene during the mid-1970s, with bands like the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees displaying swastikas on their attire alongside other provocative imagery.

Very rotten, Johnny. i.redd.it

Around this time, a film genre known as Nazisploitation also came to prominence amongst underground movie buffs. A subgenre of exploitation and sexploitation films, Naziploitation movies skewed towards D-grade fare, characterized by graphic sex scenes, violence, and gore. Plots typically surrounded female prisoners in concentration camps, subject to the sexual whims of evil SS officers, who eventually escaped and got their revenge. However, the most famous Nazisploitation film, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, flipped the genders.

The dorm room poster that will ensure you never get laid. images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com

Ilsa was a female SS officer and the victims were men. She spent much of the movie wearing her Nazi uniform in various states, sexually abusing men all the while. As such, Ilsa played into dominatrix fantasies. The movie was a hit on the grindhouse circuit, inspiring multiple sequels and knock-offs and solidifying Nazi aesthetics as a part of the BDSM scene.

Since then, Nazi chic fashion has been employed by various artists, from Madonna to Marilyn Manson to Lady Gaga, and has shown up in all sorts of places from leather clubs to character designs in video games and anime.

Lady Gaga looking SS-uper. nyppagesix.files.wordpress.com

Nazi Chic in Asia

Nazi chic has taken on a life of its own in Asia. And unlike Western Nazi chic, which recognizes Nazism as taboo, Asian Nazi chic seems entirely detached from any underlying ideology.

A large part of this likely has to do with the way that Holocaust education differs across cultures. In the West, we learn about the Holocaust in the context of the Nazis committing horrific crimes against humanity that affected many of our own families. The Holocaust is presented as personal and closer to our current era than we might like to think. It is something we should "never forget." Whereas in Asia, where effects of the Holocaust weren't as prominent, it's simply another aspect of WWII which, in and of itself, was just another large war. In other words, Nazi regalia in Asia might be viewed as simply another historical military outfit, albeit a particularly stylish one.

In Japan, which was much more involved with WWII than any other Asian country, Nazi chic is usually (but not always) reserved for villainous representations.

OF COURSE. i.imgur.com

That being said, J-Pop groups like Keyakizaka46 have publicly worn Nazi chic too, and the phenomena isn't limited to Japan.

In South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand, Nazi imagery has shown up in various elements of youth culture, completely void of any moral context. For instance, in Indonesia, a Hitler-themed fried chicken restaurant opened in 2013. And in Korea, K-Pop groups like BTS and Pritz have been called out for propagating Nazi chic fashion. Usually such incidents are followed by public apologies, but the lack of historical understanding makes everything ring hollow.

Implications

So the question then: is Nazi chic a bad thing?

The answer is not so black and white.

On one hand, seeing Nazi chic on the fashion scene may dredge up painful memories for Holocaust survivors and those whose family histories were tainted. In this light, wearing Nazi-inspired garb, regardless of intent, seems disrespectful and antagonistic. Worse than that, it doesn't even seem like a slight against authority so much as a dig at actual victims of genocide.

But on the other hand, considering the fact that even the youngest people who were alive during WWII are edging 80, "forgetting the Holocaust" is a distinct possibility for younger generations. In that regard, perhaps anything that draws attention to what happened, even if it's simply through the lens of "this outfit should be seen as offensive," might not be entirely bad. This, compounded by the fact that Nazi chic is not commonly associated with actual Nazi or nationalistic sentiments, might be enough to sway some people–not necessarily to wear, like, or even appreciate its aesthetics, but rather to understand its place within counterculture.

Ultimately, one's views on Nazi chic likely come down to their own personal taste and sensibilities. For some, Nazi chic is just a style, an aesthetic preference for something that happens to be mired in historical horror. For others, the shadow of atrocity simply hangs too strong.

MUSIC

Dear NPR Tiny Desk, Stop Having Repeat Performers

With all the love and respect in the world, NPR Tiny Desk, maybe consider using your massive platform to continue to uplift new artists as you have in the past, rather than inviting repeat performers.

I love the NPR Tiny Desk, and I love almost all the performers who have ever been featured on it.

I love the series' inclusivity and taste, and I appreciate the way the Tiny Desk Contest picks artists who deserve the major platform that the prize affords.

Naia Izumi: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert www.youtube.com

However, there's one thing that's been bothering me about the Tiny Desk. The show typically doesn't have repeat performers, but in the past few years, several bands have been invited on to perform more than once. Yesterday, Sharon Van Etten came on to perform three new songs, though she first performed in 2010. Wilco was invited to return in 2016. Julien Baker performed two shows, one in 2016 and then one in 2018, and then came back to perform with boygenius in 2019, alongside Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers—both of whom had also performed before.

boygenius: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert www.youtube.com

Even though I am a devoted fan of most these artists and think that boygenius is the future of rock music, the fact that these artists were invited to perform twice rubs me the wrong way, which makes me wonder how people who are not fans of these artists feel. All these repeats seem to contradict the intent of the show, which has always seemed to be about getting past layers of artifice and tapping into the true emotions at the core of a wide variety of music.

This annoyance isn't really directed at the Tiny Desk or the repeat performers, of course. One series certainly can't be held responsible for the corruption at the heart of the corporatized music industry or for breaking out of the media's elitist echo chambers.

Maybe the annoyance is rooted in the fact that so many artists dedicate their lives to music and yet never get the chance to be featured on a platform like the Tiny Desk. I have so many friends who have submitted wonderful videos to the Tiny Desk competition, and I've watched hundreds more submissions by artists who truly deserve recognition from NPR and other music outlets, yet receive little to none, especially if they don't have the cash or luck granted to others.

Maybe I'm annoyed because, in general, music is such an extraordinarily random crapshoot of a profession, and the truth is that most talented and hardworking musicians I know are sleeping on benches in the parks of New York.

As a music and culture writer, I'm also aware that I've absolutely fallen prey to the temptation to write repeatedly about artists and celebrities I know and love instead of prioritizing new and diverse voices. In that sense, I do understand Bob Boilen's desire to have his old favorites back in his office.

Maybe, Bob, both you and I can try to work on this. We can listen to Go Home by Julien Baker in private as many times as we want, while knowing that as music writers and content curators, we have the power to choose what stories and voices to elevate, and we have to constantly interrogate those choices and subconscious biases that may inform them. On the other hand, tokenization is never the answer, and nothing replaces having more diverse voices in positions of power in the first place.