The Best Albums of the Decade (No. 1-25)
As the decade comes to an end, CommRadio’s Arts & Entertainment staff has put together a list of the best albums of the 2010s. This article lists the albums ranked 1st through 25th. To ensure to capture the variety of sounds that came out over the past 10 years, each artist was limited to two selections on the list. Enjoy!
25. “Depression Cherry” – Beach House
With Beach House being of the defining bands for the “dream pop” genre, the duo’s music is held to a constant standard of simply executing its sound with the same spacey, dreamy feeling encapsulated in most of its songs. In 2015, Beach House went above and beyond the stereotypical “dream pop” feeling that it’s known for and released “Depression Cherry.”
The essence and nature that Beach House created with the music on this album stretches deep into the heartstrings of the artists, pulling out incredibly intricate and elegantly written songs such as “Space Song,” Sparks” and “Wildflower.” These songs take the listener to the very definition of dream pop while staying unique and completely original to themselves.
When working with such a tight and specific genre such as dream pop, it’s easy to find repetitive-sounding albums with songs that sound all too similar in terms of vocals, instruments and “feeling.” The tracklist on “Depression Cherry” can comfortably exclude itself from that stereotype, all songs being completely within themselves.
Beach House should feel nothing but pride about its career within the last decade, most specifically with “Depression Cherry.” It’s a flexible album that abides with the listener. It can be put on in the background while doing homework or given complete attention and still maintain the same impact at the musical level. —Lilly Adams
24. “Drunk” – Thundercat
Most people will not recognize Thundercat by name but rather by appearances on other albums, such as on Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” and Flying Lotus’ “Cosmogramma.” However, Thundercat is a well-rounded musician in his own right, and this is especially true on his album “Drunk.”
The album is a hybrid of jazz fusion, R&B and electronic, and can be described as an almost spiritual odyssey. Thundercat’s production is very precise and allows the listener to relax and follow along the ride. There are notable tracks on this album that have gained a lot of popularity, such as “Them Changes,” “Lava Lamp” and “Walk on By,” featuring frequent collaborator Kendrick Lamar.
Thundercat's slow croons and melodic vocals perfectly compliment the carefully constructed production, which is made specifically to evoke a sense of euphoria within the listener. It’s almost as if it leaves you in a trance. It’s a perfect album to just throw on in the background and relax to.
The lyrics themselves are interesting and even a bit introspective, talking about moments of trust, love and paranoia, though they are not always present on the first listen.
For his third venture, it is especially impressive that Thundercut figured out what makes his sound so special to the point that people can recognize his presence on other albums and even anticipate them in the tracklist. This record proves, however, that Thundercat is much more than a simple feature, and, when given the reigns, can create an amazing project of its own merit. —Jack Grossman
23. “Be the Cowboy” – Mitski
One of her most atmospheric and invigorating records to date, Mitski’s fifth studio album “Be the Cowboy” is an absolutely enthralling experience. Moving seamlessly between a series of several distinct tones and moods, Mitski brilliantly presents her fresh aesthetic at its most crisp and authentic.
Opening with the explosive “Geyser,” Mitski allows a stream of lashes at her guitar to convey the intense emotional distress she feels towards her regrets of wasted relationship pursuits. She then strikingly slows things down and shifts her focus from an internal interrogation to an inquisition of the individual who supposedly left her through “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?”
“Be the Cowboy” is an impressive collection of emotional variation. Mitski skillfully keeps the listener captivated with an ever-shifting array of soundscapes and perspectives. She moves from songs expressing despair such as the isolated “Lonesome Love” to songs overflowing with hope such as the tender “Me and My Husband.” She transitions between clashing high-intensity epic tracks such as the blistering “A Pearl” to mellow somber tracks such as “Old Friend.”
Mitski’s willingness to expose so many emotional fractures through her writing lends to the absolutely fantastic nature of the “Be the Cowboy” listening experience. Her lyrics feel almost too personal, as if they are references to places and things only Mitski herself could ever truly understand. However, the found-diary style of her writing feels almost universal. This is especially evident on one of the strongest songs of the album “Nobody.” Expressing her feelings of frustration and depression, Mitski references several personal allusions to her life in a way that feels cathartic for any listener.
Undoubtedly one of the best albums of the decade, “Be the Cowboy” is an absolute masterpiece. The music presented is some of Mitski’s finest work, and her attention to soundscape creation and potent lyricism is some of the finest craftsmanship ever recorded. —Scott Perdue
22. “IGOR” – Tyler, the Creator
There are times where an artist flashes their full potential, giving us tastes of what the artist at their peak would look like. This leaves the audience wanting to see them put it together for a full album. Tyler, the Creator is one of those artists—actually, “was” one of those artists. He finally came through with a phenomenal album front to back, following up his solid 2017 outing “Flower Boy” with “IGOR.”
“IGOR” is an absolute treat. The concept of Tyler in love with and seeing a guy who is still seeing his ex-girlfriend allows Tyler to both discover himself and explore his heartbreak over giving himself emotionally to someone who isn’t doing the same. He is consumed by this unrequited love for about three-quarters of the album, but when the titular character finally arrives, he helps Tyler break free and come to his senses, allowing him to explore his other dark feelings (the non-romantic ones) snap out of his funk.
“EARFQUAKE” is the biggest song off the album, and it might be Tyler’s catchiest, but the whole album has absolutely beautiful instrumentals. The somber tones match the theme brilliantly. For Tyler, the instrumentals seem experimental compared to some of his other work.
For most album of the decade lists, it usually features the best album of each year that decade. “IGOR” may very well lay claim to that title, easily being one of the best, if not the best album of 2019. —Owen Paiva
21. “Saturation II” – Brockhampton
“Saturation II” is the second installment of Brockhampton’s trilogy. It was released just months after the group’s debut album “Saturation,” and it’s certainly one of the most colorful albums released this decade.
What gives the album its personality and distinguishes itself from other projects are the social constructs that Brockhampton questions throughout the project. One of the common themes Brockhampton touches upon is the stereotypes that come with being black in America; lyrics in songs such as “Teeth,” “Junky” and “Fight,” among others, highlight these concerns.
“Like my teachers would say, ‘Little black boys have a place in the world/Like hanging from trees, or dead in the street,’” Ameer Vann speaks from the heart on “Fight.” Ameer Vann has been considered as the “face of the Saturation” because he is featured on the cover art for the three Saturation projects and played an integral role in the creation of the band’s vision.
Brockhampton also features an openly gay member, one of the lead vocalists Kevin Abstract. Abstract vocalizes adversity he has faced because of this, especially dealing with the false sense of masculinity that comes with being a rapper. “‘Why you always rap about being gay?’ ‘Cause not enough [rappers] rap and be gay,” Abstract preaches on “Junky.”
The fearlessness to address topical issues while pairing it with the collective’s jubilant sound is what sets Brockhampton and “Saturation II” apart from any competition. Since “Saturation II,” Brockhampton has released three albums: “Saturation III,” “iridescence” and “GINGER.” —Connor Trask
20. “Ctrl” – SZA
After years of label struggles and trouble with the recording process, SZA released her debut album “Ctrl” in the summer of 2017, and it arrived at a perfect time. With the contemporary R&B scene still reverberating from the release of Frank Ocean’s “Blonde” the year before, “Ctrl” ended up being the logical followup, both in terms of themes and production style.
At 14 tracks and 49 minutes, “Ctrl” doesn’t have much time to waste, and SZA certainly doesn’t pull any emotional gut-punches when it comes to the deeply personal lyrics. On the opening track “Supermodel,” alone she spins a tragic story of a crumbling relationship over a strummed guitar before producer Scum finally brings in the drums in the last 30 seconds of the song. It’s no surprise that this track is arguably the best song of SZA’s career.
But even after “Supermodel,” the hits keep on coming. “Love Galore” is a sultry jam which features a knockout hook and a radio-friendly yet wonderful verse from Travis Scott. “Drew Barrymore” has one of the best vocal performances on the album and includes an excellent melody and rhyme scheme from SZA on the first verse (“Somebody get the tacos, somebody spark the blunt/Let’s start the Narcos off at episode one/Bring the gin, got the juice/Bring the sin, got that too”). Last but certainly not least, “The Weekend” feels like the last ‘90s commercial R&B song to be culturally relevant in 2017.
It took SZA a long time to release “Ctrl.” But that doesn’t matter nearly as much when the final product is a classic. —Caleb Wilfinger
19. “Titanic Rising” – Weyes Blood
Weyes Blood has been rising in popularity since the summer of 2019, mostly due to her incredibly successful album “Titanic Rising.”
The album is an ethereal experience, quite like drifting through time and space itself. The airy quality to the cover perfectly captures the mood of the album. One moves from sitting in an empty room one moment, and the next they’re being transcended to another universe.
The vocals and the instrumentation harmonize beautifully together. It’s psychedelic and creepy but soft and sweet all at once. The cohesivity of the album is what brings it all together into such a different listening experience than any other album of the decade has to offer. Additionally, the lyrics are cutting and deep, though they aren’t completely necessary to make the album golden. The instrumental tracks on the album like “Nearer to Thee” are just as good as the lyrical pieces.
“Titanic Rising” was a pivotal moment for Weyes Blood as an artist and one that proved she shouldn’t be defined by titles. “Indie” just doesn’t cover everything that she is a musician. Rather, she is “Titanic Rising.” —Jade Campos
18. “Modern Vampires of the City” – Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend had been labeled as prep school rockers after the release of its first two albums. Drawing heavy influence from African music and singing about Oxford commas, mansard roofs and ladies of Cambridge, it’s easy to see how they got that moniker. However, for the band’s third album, “Modern Vampires of the City,” that sound got more eclectic, and the lyrics got deeper.
“Modern Vampires of the City” delves into topics Vampire Weekend had not in earlier albums, mainly religion. It’s as if Vampire Weekend grew up, left prep school, and started challenging its belief in religion in one album.
For the most part, “Modern Vampires of the City” sees the band ditch its overtly African influence. While it can still be heard, the sound of the album is much more somber than the band’s past work. Songs like “Hannah Hunt” show the growth in Vampire Weekend’s musical range. The piano solo near the end of the song provides a climax that the band had never produced before.
“Ya Hey,” near the end of the album, is the point at which lead singer Ezra Koenig is challenging his belief in God head on, and the background vocals, which build in intensity, provide beautiful filler in an epic track.
“Modern Vampires of the City” might not have changed music, but it served as a worthy high point in Vampire Weekend’s impressive three-album run. Its diverse sound and mastery in production brought something completely unique to the music world in 2013. —Jim Krueger
17. “21” – Adele
One of the strongest sophomore albums ever recorded, Adele’s “21” still endures as an immaculate presentation of the sheer range of her impressive talents. Overflowing with brilliant exhibitions of her soulful powerhouse sound, Adele’s ability to wield bold music to support her unique voice is utterly invigorating.
Opening with the iconic “Rolling in the Deep,” Adele lays down a powerful musical gauntlet which the rest of “21” is more than capable of living up to. The following track “Rumor Has It” proves this fact. The intensity of her sound meshed alongside the delicate yet volatile energy of her voice forces the attention of her listener. Throughout the landscape of this amazing record, Adele charts an astonishing amount of territory.
She continues to hold the attention of the listener as she moves between slow-paced ballads such as “Don’t You Remember” and the tearfully underrated “One and Only.” Her ability to maintain the spectacular nature of her voice as she moves throughout the entire duration of the record is a skill often unseen. The track “Set Fire to the Rain” is a perfect demonstration of this truth. Her capacity to release and invoke tension through just her voice as she passionately delivers her performance is absolutely impeccable. She lends her voice to a cover of the classic Cure hit “Lovesong,” which she makes entirely her own, and she exposes a moment of utter fragility through the reminiscent “Someone Like You.” Adele’s range is unmatched on this record.
Critics and fans alike were quickly willing to provide Adele with her much deserved placement amongst the reigning queens of soul. Her album topped the charts globally and made her one of the best-selling artists of all time. Adele’s command of her voice and sound at, as the album marks, only the age of 21 is beyond impressive. She essentially took the world into the palm of her hand and was able to showcase the dramatic range of her talents in what has rightfully been remarked as one of the best albums of the decade. —Scott Perdue
16. “Golden Hour” – Kacey Musgraves
Kacey Musgraves turned heads as an outspoken female in the country genre with her 2013 album “Same Trailer Different Park.” However, the album that broke the singer into the mainstream music industry would be 2018’s “Golden Hour.”
“Golden Hour” captures everything needed in the new age of country music: pop beats, meaningful lyrics, and a mixture of traditional acoustic guitar tracks. Her range on this album spans from the disco-type track of “High Horse” to the short but sweet “Mother.”
It is not only her music but her presence that gave “Golden Hour” Album of the Year at the CMAs and the Grammy Awards in 2019. Musgraves knows where she came from, and nothing fake about her is ever shown. Being honest with her fans about her beliefs and casting a parallel with the traditional background she came with, she is the epitome of where country music is headed. —William Roche
15. “Carrie & Lowell” – Sufjan Stevens
Inspired by his mother’s death, Sufjan Stevens delivered the best work in his discography in 2015 with “Carrie & Lowell.”
The album is a search for distant memories and emotions, remembering the past but in the context of one’s present. The lyrics are incredibly well-crafted and tap into some of the deepest parts of oneself that most tend to overlook in order to avoid the uncomfortable. Stevens prefers to dive right into what most run away from, particularly with “All of Me Wants All of You.”
What makes “Carrie & Lowell” so charming is its natural ability to draw listeners in. It is cohesive and beautiful, providing audio for what the meaning of melancholy is. Additionally, the album is simply thought-provoking. “Fourth of July” is a window into Steven’s childhood, recalling some bad memories though attaching pleasant feelings to them. However, the nostalgic quality to the song allows for all listeners to think of their lives several years ago compared to where they are now.
There is no dull moment on “Carrie & Lowell.” It’s simply a nostalgic, personal and humble perspective into one’s past. —Jade Campos
14. “Beyoncé” – Beyoncé
Beyoncé released her fifth solo album, “Beyoncé,” in 2013 as a visual album. The singer released short films alongside the album that portray the musical ideas created during production. The album’s themes include feminism, love and relationship issues to create the perfect array of songs.
The best part about “Beyoncé” is that there were no prior announcements or promotions to support it. Yet, it came in at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200, making it Beyoncé’s fifth No. 1 album. In the first three days of sales, there were 617,000 copies sold in the United States and 828,773 copies globally.
The album was re-released in November 2014 as part of the platinum edition, which included an extended version of “Beyoncé” with new songs, selling over five million copies worldwide. This is the third-longest charting album ever by a black woman, as it spent 185 weeks on the charts. Beyoncé had legendary songwriters and producers as a part of this project, including Sia, Justin Timberlake, Timbaland and The-Dream.
The singles she chose to release from the album were “XO,” “Drunk in Love,” featuring her husband and hip-hop royalty Jay-Z, “Partition” and “Pretty Hurts.” “XO” reached No. 45 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and made it to the top 20 on the charts internationally. “Drunk in Love,” one of the most popular songs off of the album, peaked at No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. —Emily Mugno
13. “I Love You, Honeybear” – Father John Misty
Father John Misty has quietly broken into the mainstream under the radar of most. It may come as a shock, but he has made contributions on albums for popular artists such as Kid Cudi, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Post Malone and others. Father John Misty has recorded four full-length albums under said namesake with electronic and indie rock influences.
The early stages of Josh Tillman’s career were simply him recording and touring with Christian bands of various rock genres. His parents were missionaries and he was raised as a devout Christian. Tillman’s faith is reflected in his name and in the content of “I Love You, Honeybear.”
“I Love You, Honeybear” is a softer, yet bolder, alternative album, providing a soothing backdrop for Tillman’s distinct vocals. The project features lengthy, complete songs that allow his complex storytelling to shine throughout.
The content can be somewhat hard to digest at first listen because of all the complex emotions Tillman reflects in his music (see the tracks “I Love You, Honeybear” and “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt.” for examples). Despite this, “I Love You, Honeybear” was largely received well by critics, and has appeared on many other top 50 or top 100 lists for the decade. —Connor Trask
12. “Big Fish Theory” – Vince Staples
One of the more talented rappers in terms of technicality, Vince Staples uses his 2017 record “Big Fish Theory” to explore his struggle with finding his place in the rap industry while dealing with his own self-destructive tendencies. Staples is also very critical of fame’s power to corrupt and dealing with his own fears of his growing stardom.
The instrumentals of “Big Fish Theory” are very electronic, working with the despair Staples feels throughout the album. They add a frantic nature to it, helping to fit the mood that he is creating.
That being said, Staples isn’t afraid to mix up the instrumentals on tracks like “Crabs in a Bucket,” which is all about the crab mentality, with Staples relating it to his attempt at rising out of his struggles through his music and other people pulling him back.
This album helps show Staples’ mental state, though it isn’t always apparent through his vocal delivery. Staples’ confident and aggressive vocal delivery is present throughout, but the lyrics are what convey the mental struggle he is going through during the runtime of “Big Fish Theory.”
Staples shows his progression between his debut album and his sophomore effort. The albums are both great, but they sound drastically different. “Big Fish Theory” helped cement Vince Staples as one of the best young artists around, in the same class as others like Denzel Curry, Tyler and J.I.D. —Owen Paiva
11. “Channel Orange” – Frank Ocean
The word “debut” sometimes finds itself surrounded with doubt, hesitation and uncertainty from audiences and even from artist’s themselves. Too many times has the word been accompanied by lackluster art in which the artist wasn’t ready or far enough into their career to premiere their work. And sometimes, the word “debut” finds itself associated with the album “Channel Orange” by Frank Ocean, which was released in July 2012.
The album is a complete masterpiece, with Ocean not conforming himself to one category of sound. It mixes the best sound of all genres: R&B, soul, jazz, funk and even psychedelic, intelligently. Hailing all types of talent and highly established names from the music industry like John Mayer, Andre 3000, Stacy Barthe and more, “Channel Orange” throws the stigmas around “debut” away and enters itself into the sheer talent and intellect that Ocean embodied in all of the songs on the album.
Ocean’s soothing and soulful voice guides the listener on a journey throughout each song on the album, never taking 100% control. He allows the album to breathe within itself, an accomplishment most debut artists struggle with when trying to showcase themselves for the first time. Some of the best songs of the decade came from “Channel Orange,” such as “Super Rich Kids,” “Pyramids,” and “Thinkin Bout You.”
While Frank Ocean’s career within the industry has been sporadic, only releasing two studio albums and one mixtape, fans and music lovers alike will continue to talk about “Channel Orange” and the legacy Ocean gifted the industry with. —Lilly Adams
10. “Norman F***ing Rockwell!” – Lana Del Rey
Lana Del Rey dropped her first album at the beginning of the decade and dropped her now critically acclaimed “Norman F***ing Rockwell!” in August of this year. “Norman F***ing Rockwell!” still rocks the charts and captures the energy that women need in the music industry, including a nomination for Album of the Year.
With tracks like “Venice Bitch,” a long and dreamlike song that transports the listener to a creative state of mind, it is impossible not to find something that is cool about it, whether it be the production, the lyrics or the music video that transports the viewer down the freeways of California.
Del Rey brings the spunk for all women in music and ends the record with “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – but I Have It.” She leaves nothing up for interpretation. She is a strong artist in the music industry, and she’ll tear down all the gender walls she has to in order to prove that point.
Del Rey also adds a new voice to the indie genre. She is outspoken and does what she wants in a great way, not only by releasing a nine-minute song as her first single but being influenced by everyone from composer Andrew Lloyd Weber to Frank Sinatra. —William Roche
9. “A Crow Looked at Me” – Mount Eerie
Death, sadness, and tragedy are all parts of life that every person goes through. Everyone deals with it in different ways, but it is a part of the human experience, and in 2017, Phil Elverum of Mount Eerie decided to give his listeners a peek into his grieving process on “A Crow Looked at Me.”
Following the death of his wife Genevieve Castree, Elverum decided to put his thoughts into music and make one of the most relatable records of the past decade. His grief can be heard on every track as he tries to fathom the life he will have to continue to lead without his wife. It is a devastating listen, but at the same time relatable in how he can put grief into words. Those words put into perspective the meaningfulness of life and how hard it can be when someone who is loved so dearly is taken away in an instance.
Many artists attempted this decade to convey their grief to audiences, but none quite as raw as Elverum on “A Crow Looked at Me.” —Jenna Minnig
8. “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” – Kendrick Lamar
In 2012, the greatest rapper of the decade introduced the masses to his world. On Kendrick Lamar’s major label debut, “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City,” Kendrick brought listeners along one of the most cinematic journeys in hip-hop history.
The tape rolls and suddenly the listener is in a world of teenage mischief, debauchery and trauma.
The album is a coming of age story that follows a young Kendrick traversing the treacherous terrain of the city that made him who he is. The album finds Kendrick dealing with the ills of peer pressure, drugs, sex and violence, but the themes never seem disconnected. Rather, they’re perfectly put together thanks to the cameos from Kendrick’s partners and parents.
Kendrick’s ability as a storyteller is evident throughout the album, whether he is taking the listener along a ride through his hometown of Compton (“M.A.A.D City”) or if he’s revisiting the beatdown he got for trying to go over Sherane’s house (“Poetic Justice,” “Good Kid”).
After all the pain and wrong turns that Kendrick and his friends endure on the “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” journey, it’s refreshing when they finally find some semblance of solace in the woman who tries to point the boys in the right direction on the track “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.”
“Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” was truly Kendrick’s arrival, and since then, he has only gone on to construct more classic albums and now finds himself in the greatest of all-time conversations. —Jerome Taylor
7. “Currents” – Tame Impala
Helming of the most talked-about albums in the mainstream, Kevin Parker has had a visual history of improvement among his records. “Currents” was a transition for his music from the psychedelic rock sounds of “Lonerism” to a more pop-synth type of psychedelic.
Opening with “Let It Happen,” “The Moment” and “Yes I'm Changing,” the lyrics in Parker’s songs still follow the same themes of the previous two albums: love, confusion and not understanding where one is in their place in the world. This album is one of the more favored of his works, and for good reason.
Parker is seen as one of the pioneers of the resurgence of alternative and indie music, gathering the attention of several artists, including Rihanna (who even covered “New Person, Same Old Mistakes”), Travis Scott and Kanye West, who all asked for assistance on their tracks because of this record. The album itself is loaded with other notable songs by the artist, such as “‘Cause I'm a Man,” “Reality in Motion” and “The Less I Know the Better,” arguably his most popular song to date.
“Currents” was the second breakthrough required for Parker to reach the mainstream, and it has done so in a way that is accessible for everyone, inviting every listener it can to experience the psychedelic journey within Parker’s creative direction. It has left many wanting for more, and he is soon to deliver with many more projects to come in this style that he finds himself familiar with. —Jack Grossman
6. “Blonde” – Frank Ocean
For Odd Future member Frank Ocean, producing a worthy follow-up to 2012’s “Channel Orange” seemed like an impossible task, but somehow, he not only followed through but created an album that again shook the music world to its core.
What is most impressive about “Blonde” is its ability to transport the listener. It is as if the album has its own personality, and it’s a personality that is equally sad and captivating. This is best exemplified in the song “Ivy.” Ocean, featuring only his voice, a guitar and a simple bassline, created one of the most beautiful ballads of the decade. On the next track, “Pink + White,” Ocean recruited Beyoncé to sing background vocals, and its results are chilling.
Minimalism is a strong theme in “Blonde,” and what it creates is a feeling of emptiness. There seems to be something missing on every track. For example, in “Ivy,” the lack of drums is clearly noticeable. Yet this works to Ocean’s advantage, as “Blonde” is an album with a theme of loneliness, and the overall sound makes one feel alone. It can be haunting, and it can be depressing at times, but it is above all beautiful. It’s an album that pulls at the heartstrings unlike anything else this decade.
The themes of loneliness in its lyrics and minimalism in its production would become a hallmark of the music done by Ocean’s many admirers in the music industry going forward. Its sound could be easily heard in Odd Future member Tyler, the Creator’s albums going forward. Regardless of this, “Blonde” stands as a monolith in the music world, and there will likely be nothing quite like it again. —Jim Krueger
5. “Red” – Taylor Swift
On Aug. 13, 2012, Taylor Swift livestreamed the reveal of her fourth studio album “Red.” It was the same day the world was introduced to “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” a song that would shake the music industry and mold Swift’s music for the rest of her career. At the time, many fans were hesitant about the artist’s upcoming album, but it would turn into her most critically acclaimed work to date.
Just 22 years old at the time of the album’s release, “Red” is chock-full of lyrical masterpieces. Songs like “State of Grace, “Treacherous,” and “Holy Ground,” which never reached the public air waves, present maturation far beyond other contemporaries of Swift at the time. As a whole, the album echoes melancholy, confusion and the truths of adulthood. It symbolizes a shift in Swift’s career not only as a performer but as a songwriter, too.
The album’s fifth track, “All Too Well,” has become an icon of Swift’s discography for its pure vulnerability and tragic beauty. With a bridge that is undeniably one of her greatest, screaming the lyrics “You call me up again just to break me like a promise/So casually cruel in the name of being honest,” the song becomes a part of the lore that is Taylor Swift.
“Red” is the cultivation of Swift’s entire career, both before and after the album’s release. There is a fresh blend of Swift’s country roots with songs like “Red” and the foreshadowing of her future as a pop singer with “I Knew You Were Trouble.” Swift proved she is capable of tackling all genres of music. —Jade Campos
4. “Flower Boy” – Tyler, the Creator
Many people knew of Tyler, the Creator from his work with Odd Future, and his records “Wolf,” “Goblin” and “Cherry Bomb.” However, a lot more people realized that Tyler was much more than the vulgar, hard bars he was known for in his earlier work. “Flower Boy” was Tyler's evolution into more expressive and artistic music. The record itself drew on different influences from the psychedelic and pop genres in order to reach a happy medium.
Tyler’s flow has unchanged, but the lyrics themselves are not as aggressive and instead offer more into the style that is being presented. He gets more introspective as the record plays out, speaking on topics such as sexuality, loneliness and his life before fame. What’s very special about this album, however, is Tyler’s attention to the more softer, euphoric sounds, as mentioned before. The production is very different from the grungier, even violent-sounding beats and lyrics from before. It represents a different side of Tyler, perhaps one that he has come to terms with not only as an artist but in a sense of self.
“Flower Boy” is not only an exploration of Tyler’s new style and vision, but it also allows others to really see him in a newer, more welcoming light. The contrast of this to his other works is what makes this album one of the most talked-about within recent years, propelling Tyler into becoming a household name. While Tyler didn’t start out this way, “Flower Boy” can be argued as the true beginning for his refined music career. —Jack Grossman
3. “Melodrama” – Lorde
Despite its popularity, “Royals,” wouldn’t show to many what Lorde would become. The singer’s sophomore effort, “Melodrama” was easily one of the best albums of 2017. “Melodrama” grew more and more in critical appeal and helped launch Lorde into even greater superstardom.
A loose concept album exploring themes of solitude, spurred by Lorde’s real life breakup with longtime boyfriend James Lower in 2015, “Melodrama” allowed Lorde to show her maturity. She could handle darker topics and wasn’t your run-of-the-mill pop star like many others are today.
The lead single “Green Light” sets the tone for the rest of the album with its upbeat instrumentals and melody disguising darker lyrics about Lorde’s struggles post-breakup. As a whole, the instrumentals are upbeat, kind of in a European pop flavor, which fits well with Lorde’s beautiful voice. The album is structured as a house party over one night, with the emotions and moods following it.
Lorde showed a vulnerable side on this album, which is really a great thing. Most of the best albums of the 2010s, especially in the back half, were introspective albums with the artist’s emotions following some event in their life taking top billing. “Melodrama” was no different, as it was able to be a relatable album to many people, and not in some phony or predictable way like other breakup albums tend to be. —Owen Paiva
2. “To Pimp a Butterfly” – Kendrick Lamar
Though it doesn’t have the commercial appeal of “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” or “DAMN,” Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” is his most important project to date. Over the course of the album, Lamar tackles issues within himself and issues with society as a whole.
“To Pimp A Butterfly” will be remembered for “Alright,” a song that became an anthem for multiple movements during the decade. But before Kendrick gets to the point of uplifting people with “Alright” and “i,” he has to deal with issues that plague him, including survivor’s guilt, resentment and depression.
Another major theme of the album is Kendrick highlighting how often black entertainers find themselves on the wrong end of financial crimes due to their unfamiliarity with that aspect of life. Kendrick highlights how after making it out of poverty, another obstacle is there for black entertainers that they have never encountered.
Throughout “To Pimp a Butterfly,” Kendrick has to battle antagonists like Lucy (Lucifer) and Uncle Sam to become a better version of himself while also hoping the listener vicariously does the same thing. Though the album is dense and there are many themes that can be foreign to first-time listeners, it’s an album that will forever be analyzed for its impact on society. —Jerome Taylor
1. “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” – Kanye West
Writing about an album that has been lauded and celebrated for the entirety of the decade feels like an exercise in futility at this point. After all, how much hyperbole can one man use?
With that being said, this is an album that deserves nearly every word written about it.
The start of the decade was a tough time to be Kanye West. In the span of 18 months, the Chicago rapper had gone through a messy split with then-fiancée Amber Rose, drunkenly antagonized renowned pop star Taylor Swift on national television, and was called a jackass by Barack Obama. Instead of apologizing to a legion of people that were eager for the controversial artist to make amends, West famously canceled his tour with Lady Gaga and flew to Hawaii to work on his fifth album. It would end up being a masterpiece.
“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is full of dramatic, career-defining moments. West goes bar-for-bar with Raekwon on “Gorgeous” and holds his own on “Monster,” a track with a show-stopping verse from Nicki Minaj. He fashioned a King Crimson sample into one of the most recognizable hooks of the decade on “POWER,” created a grandiose piece of pop music in “All of the Lights,” weaved together tales of debauchery over lavish production on “So Appalled,” and brought in Rick Ross to contribute one of the most memorable verses of the decade on “Devil in a New Dress.”
The album’s centerpiece is undoubtedly “Runaway,” which starts out as an emotionally fraught ballad before turning into a rallying cry for the misunderstood, culminating in a three-minute outro that serves as a metaphor for what we hear when West opens his mouth.
In many ways, rap music was forever changed in the wake of this album. It spearheaded the first wave of great albums produced this decade, and the two biggest rappers of the next 10 years, Drake and Kendrick Lamar. As for West, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” remains the greatest work in the discography of one of music’s biggest perfectionists. —Caleb Wilfinger
Caleb Wilfinger is a senior majoring in print journalism and political science. To contact him, email email@example.com.
Jerome Taylor is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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About the Contributors
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Jack Grossman is a student, audio producer, writer, photographer, and schmoozer. Growing up alongside all different forms of media, it was clear to him that his calling was to produce and create content. Whether his own original work or a reinterpretation or review of another, Jack is able to produce and create content that speaks to the current generation, while maintaining a sense of classic professionalism.
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