Kendrick Lamar tops Pitchfork's pleasantly surprising list of the top 200 songs of the 2010s.
I dipped into Pitchfork's list of the top songs of the 2010s tentatively, not knowing what to expect.
Considering the sheer amount of music released in the past decade, there's simply no way one could ever hope to listen to it all, let alone compare it. Also, music rankings are inherently subjective, entirely reliant on the opinions of those curating the list and their respective definitions of what makes "great" art.
Don't get me wrong—the Pitchfork list has issues. First off, it essentially consists of popular American music. You won't find too many deep cuts here, nor many country, K-pop, classical, or non-English-language tracks. If you're someone who "dislikes pop," you might as well leave. Also, some of the blurbs are very odd. "Hotline Bling" is described as a "human centipede of modern music," which is a unique metaphor—I'll give them that—and apparently Lorde "[dissects] love like it's a frog in science class." Justin Bieber's "Sorry" is somehow painted as a track that asks for redemption in an era of #BlackLivesMatter protests. A lot of the writing is beautiful, though, and we get phrases like, "Pop songs, trends, and life itself are a constant cycle of death and rebirth" (in reference to Ariel Pink) to balance out the other stuff.
In terms of the song choices, I like and respect Grimes, but I'm not sure "Oblivion" deserves its number two slot. There are countless glaring omissions, with innovators like Lady Gaga, Mariah Carey, Donald Glover, and Sufjan Stevens notably absent (though Gaga and Stevens appeared on Pitchfork's equally solid best albums of the 2010s list). Also, "The Louvre" is objectively not the best song on Melodrama.
Even so, scrolling through the list made me remember that a lot of fantastic music has been released this decade, and a lot of creative visionaries have come out of the woodwork, selectively utilizing new technologies to create ambitious works of art. Plus, in contrast to the vast majority of best-songs-of-all-time lists, a lot of these songs are by women and people of color. Yes, there's still inequality in the music industry, but music has never been more diverse, both sonically and demographically.
The list is evidence that the concept of listening to one genre or disliking music just because it's pop has been steadily dying over the past decade. In today's world, pop hits like Carly Rae Jepsen's "Run Away With Me" and Robyn's "Dancing On My Own" exist comfortably next to indie powerhouse ballads like Mitski's "Your Best American Girl" and ANOHNI's "Drone Bomb Me," and rap and ambient and metal all appear on the same playlists. The kind of pretentiousness that discredited pop music in the past is largely disappearing, and in its own respect, pop is getting more daring, more willing to experiment and pull from other genres.
Carly Rae Jepsen - Run Away With Me www.youtube.com
Mitski - Your Best American Girl (Official Video) www.youtube.com
You could analyze the list forever on this kind of macroscopic level, but music is never only collective or political; it always has a microscopic, personal dimension. Personally, as I scrolled through the list from the bottom to the top, I began to feel something that I don't usually feel while on the Internet. The list was strangely heartwarming. It brought back good memories. Many of the songs on it are extremely special to me, intertwined with specific places, people, and emotions.
For example, Sampha's breathtaking ballad "No One Knows Me (Like the Piano)" took me right back to a time I got lost on a bus in Queens and ended up listening to that song as a woman delivered a sermon from the seat across me while rain poured down around us. The Kanye selections are particularly wrenching; "Runaway" is eternally powerful, "Ultralight Beam" sparks several memories immediately—driving over a bridge under a purple sunset, or another time, astronomically high in the woods, blasting the song from speakers and clinging to every note. "Queen" by Perfume Genius made my jaw drop the first time I heard it. Listening to "Mary" by Big Thief is always a religious experience. SZA, Tyler the Creator, the National, Vampire Weekend, Chance the Rapper—they've all held special places in my heart and life over the years. They're as real and significant to me as any friend, and I doubt I'm alone in that.
Perfume Genius - 'Queen' (Official Video) www.youtube.com
Reading through the list made me remember that while the world may be incredibly chaotic and painful to exist in, there's so much good music to soundtrack our journey through this brief and absurd life. The 2010's gave us revolutionary opuses like Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. and "Pa'lante" by Hurray for the Riff Raff. It gave us Frank Ocean's mystical, effervescent Blond, which I must give thanks for roughly once per week. It gave us Katy Perry's early exquisite pop and Courtney Barnett's dry ramblings and the soft electricity of Yaeji, whose "Drink I'm Sippin On" soundtracked so many of my night walks around the city.
Hurray For The Riff Raff - Pa'lante (Official Video) www.youtube.com
It gave us ample drama and good stories, too—there was the gleeful spite of "thank u, next," and the thrill of watching Cardi B rise with "Bodak Yellow," Miley's chaotic metamorphosis and Solange's ascendance. The 2010s took David Bowie and Lil Peep. It gave us unforgettable images, Bon Iver and his mythological cabin and FKA Twigs' surrealist masterpiece "Cellophane," images that connected to us on personal levels and bind us together across space and time.
FKA twigs - Cellophane www.youtube.com
I think that the best kind of music is taps into something much bigger than us, like a collective unconscious, something that extends way beyond the reach of one person. In order to make it, and to make any kind of art that can reach others on a profound level, you have to let go of the limitations of your singular self. That's what so many of these songs do—they tell individual stories, but they also channel something greater, and bring us together on a higher plane.
In many ways, I suspect that the 2020s will be even more full of change and tumult than the 2010s were. But I have complete faith that, when 2029 rolls around, there will be another Pitchfork list of songs that tap into the deepest emotions and most powerful connections we have. And maybe sometimes, the songs that help us personally are what give us the strength to engage with the world on a larger scale and speak truth to power. Maybe our greatest songs are the ones that, like Kendrick Lamar's "Alright," give us the strength to go on.
Kendrick Lamar - Alright www.youtube.com
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Using a Black dialect isn't a meme—it's cultural appropriation.
As Black Lives Matter protests have rightfully taken the world by storm over the past couple of months, we're long overdue for thorough evaluations of just how often aspects of Black heritage have been co-opted by white audiences.
It should be obvious that much of fashion and music as we know it today was invented by Black people. We (hopefully) all know by now that we can no longer accept Blackface and use of the n-word by non-Black people as the norm—and Internet users have tried "canceling" offenders in the public eye, with varying degrees of success.
They make up just a fraction of the many lesbian and queer musicians who are revolutionizing the industry, but you should definitely know each one of the artists on this list.
Friday was Lesbian Visibility Day, but lesbians deserve representation every day of the year—after all, they're not only around on April 26.
Here are 10 incredible queer musicians to know, each of whom has contributed to music and culture in hugely significant and inspiring ways.
1. Hayley Kiyoko
Hayley Kiyoko's exuberant pop has propelled her to the top of the charts and has made her a religious icon of sorts for queers everywhere. With her unabashedly gay lyrics and imagery, she's carving out space for a confident brand of sexuality that has long been relegated to ambiguous lyrics of even openly queer musicians.
Hayley Kiyoko - SLEEPOVER www.youtube.com
2. Hurray For the Riff Raff
Fronted by the Bronx-born Alynda Segarra, Hurray for the Riff Raff has created a blend of Americana so sophisticated that it merits dozens of listens, and each time it will inevitably offer up different bits of wisdom. Segarra, a former punk of Puerto Rican descent, has always traversed political and personal themes and is one of the strongest voices in protest music today. Her music explores the complexity of the queer, mixed-race experience, delving into politics and mixing English and Spanish into pure poetry. Her music does justice to its complex themes, while also maintaining a sense of hope and idealism. With her album The Navigator, she took on a David Bowie-type alter ego with her own twist. "I learned I could create a character, the Navigator, who would stand at the intersection of all these identities and weave in and out," she told The Times. "And I related to being the alien. I began to take that as a badge of honor."
Hurray For The Riff Raff - Pa'lante (Official Video) www.youtube.com
3. Janelle Monae
Sometimes it seems like there's nothing Janelle Monae can't do. She rose to the fore with her gender-bending, androgynous appearance, only to cast off even that label in exchange for truly fluid shifts from the silver screen to the largest festival stages. About a year ago, she told Rolling Stone that she identified with elements of bisexuality and pansexuality. "I want young girls, young boys, nonbinary, gay, straight, queer people who are having a hard time dealing with their sexuality, dealing with feeling ostracized or bullied for just being their unique selves, to know that I see you," she said in an interview. "Be proud."
Janelle Monáe - Dirty Computer [Emotion Picture] www.youtube.com
4. Julien Baker
Now practically legendary in the indie folk circuit, Julien Baker made waves by speaking openly about her experiences growing up queer and Christian in Tennessee. Since then, her ingenious methods of looping, drawing spare melodies out of her Telecaster, and spinning pain into reverent poetry have made her a prominent and critically acclaimed solo artist in her own right. Plus, boygenius, the trio comprised of Baker, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers (both of whom also identify as queer), is one of the best supergroups of our modern era.
Julien Baker: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert www.youtube.com
boygenius @ Brooklyn Steel | Pitchfork Live www.youtube.com
5. King Princess
Producer-songwriter King Princess has never been shy about her identity as a lesbian—her first tour was called "Pussy is God," and she's referenced a variety of historical and contemporary queer themes in her music. Her best song, "1950," may be referring to the Lavender Scare, when homophobic paranoia reached a peak and many queers had to hide their identities in order to keep their jobs. Despite its heavy inspiration, "1950" is full of electric joy; though its political undertones are very intentional. "I want to get to a place where the story is less about me and my face and more about what the fuck's going on this world. How I can be an active voice for gay people but also the music industry," she said to Rolling Stone. "This is the art we need right now. This is what we need right now. We're in a renaissance, and we need people to rebel, come forth and bring messages into art."
King Princess - 1950 www.youtube.com
LP's voice sounds like a mix of Bob Dylan's and Stevie Nicks'—which would be enough to merit a listen on its own—but she's also a masterful songwriter and artist, as well as an open lesbian. Having written hits for Christina Aguilera and the Backstreet Boys, she's now taking the music industry by storm with her infectious, sophisticated brand of folk-rock. Not only does she shred on the ukulele she also wears sunglasses at night and has mastered the art of suit-wearing, so if you're looking for someone to fall in love with, look no further.
LP - Girls Go Wild (Official Video) www.youtube.com
Formerly known as Angel Haze, ROES has just released one track— "Brooklyn"—and if their future releases are anything like that one, we're going to be hearing a lot more from them. The song is a dreamscape, evoking the likes of Frank Ocean as they layer their vocals and bars over brooding electric guitar. The rapper-singer openly identifies as pansexual and has said that they don't consider themselves any particular sex or identify with any particular pronouns, and they prefer to keep their music ambiguous so that everyone can relate to it. They've also been a staunch advocate for mental health. "If I can't say how I feel I go crazy," they told The Fader recently. "Every day I wake up and I'm like 'goddamn, you lived. You're alive again.'
8. Tash Sultana
The virtuosic polymath gained fame after their YouTube videos took off, and they've been touring steadily ever since. With their blend of guitar, effortless vocals, and psychedelic grit, they should be on everyone's live show bucket list. Open about their experiences with drug abuse and queerness, they also identify as non-binary, use they/them pronouns, and have often spoken about the ways music has helped them overcome challenges.
Tash Sultana - Can't Buy Happiness (Official Video Clip) 4K www.youtube.com
9. Tish Hyman
A formidable talent in the R&B and hip hop spheres, Hyman has collaborated with some of the biggest names in the business. Having cut her teeth on battle rap in the Bronx, she moved to Los Angeles, worked as Lil Wayne's tour manager, and started writing with the likes of Alicia Keys and Kanye West before going solo. Her vocals have drawn comparisons to Lauryn Hill, and her first release, "Subway Art," is a tribute to the twists and turns of life in the big city.
Tish Hyman - Subway Art (Official Video) www.youtube.com
10. Young M.A.
The Brooklyn-raised rapper has always been committed to being authentically herself—the M.A. in her name stands for "Me, Always"—and it seems to be paying off. She sold out her North American tour with 21 Savage, opened for Beyoncé, and her first album Herstory is a triumphant reclamation of her queer black feminist identity. She's always been openly proud of her sexual orientation, telling Vogue that once she came out, she felt she was able to move forward with her career. "I held in being sexually attracted to women for so long that once I got that out of me, the music became easy," she said.
Young M.A "Stubborn Ass" (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
Honorable Mentions: Let us give thanks to our queer foremothers—to Tegan and Sara, Tracy Chapman, and all the many others who paved the way.
Tracy Chapman - Fast car www.youtube.com
Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.
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