It’s an unholy burden deciding which artists were impactful enough that they helped shape the musical footprint of the last decade. So, when we listen to the mixtape of the 2010s, what does it actually sound like?
Well, its album sequencing would be a tumultuous one. The 2010s were messy and saw the blending of numerous genres, with many political, cultural and economic forces influencing the way we listen to music (hello juggernaut streaming services) and who we listen to (with the likes of up and coming young rappers breaking into the mainstream via Soundcloud and YouTube).
Here are all the most influential artists that helped shape the last decade of music.
Frank Ocean: an icon, a mastermind and an absolute g-force in the world of music. We’ll never forget the day this guy dropped his second studio album (August 20, 2016, but who’s really keeping track, right?). It disregarded the industry-wide trend of creating music as a commentary on social, political and cultural moments. Instead, it was an inward reflection that broke the norm and featured a whole heap of abstract and atmospheric sound. He also paved the way for being a pretty unconventional artist to the effect that he dropped albums whenever he wanted, disregarded social media and never actually put Blonde up for a Grammy nomination.
We’ll kick this one off with the mere fact Drake’s fifth studio album Scorpion (2018) was the very first to be streamed one billion times in a single week, which yes, is quite literally a mic drop. For the last decade, he’s been a collaborative artist at heart who blends pop and rap music, and whose lyrics surpass the usual focus of violence. By the same token, his music channelled a different type of masculinity, one that divulged emotions and feelings of loneliness.
Because it’s not really the 2010s without Lady Gaga. Period. On the surface, Gaga was the first human to ever snap up an Oscar, Grammy, Golden Globe and BAFTA in one year (all for her incredible work on the movie A Star Is Born, and its accompanying album). On the deeper side of things, her second album Born This Way (2011) was more than just packed with a couple of “pop bangers”. It was an artistic approach in expressing a number of themes which covered politics, sexuality and religion—carving out a new path for mega-celebrities to connect with social injustice and level with the concept of freedom as it stood in the 2010s.
In no shock at all, Lizzo is one hundred per cent that influential artist leading the latter half of the decade for more reasons than just being able to master the flute on stage in nothing more than exaggerated underwear (we’re all here for that though). We’ll cut straight to the chase, she’s basically a new being of artist. Fierce, unapologetic, talented and aware of the power of a pop culture moment (e.g. when her tiny bag at the AMAs got turned into a global meme), Lizzo is the artist the world needed and her impact will set the precedent for the next generation of artists to come.
Avicii had an indelible impact on the world during the 2010s and on EDM and house music forevermore. Another new age artist (who initially found fame through gaining traction on digital forums), his impact was greatly felt when he dropped Levels back in 2011, with his popularity absolutely skyrocketing after he played sets at some of the world’s biggest music festivals. For Avicii, it was his soul-wrenching, heart-pumping, banjo-meets-EDM song Wake Me Up, alongside his iconic 2012 Ultra performance that worked to project EDM into a stronghold on the mainstream.
Love him or hate him, Kanye West could very well be one of the most polarising figures in not just music, but history itself (there, we said it). Not only has this guy broken boundaries of all forms, shapes and sizes, but his direction, if we had to pinpoint to a singular word, is controversial. This in itself has meant he’s continued to stay relevant throughout the last decade. Honestly, it’s pretty damn hard not to find an artist that hasn’t fallen into Yeezy’s songified formula, brought to life in 808s & Heartbreak throughout the 2010s with artists like Kid Cudi, The Weekend, Brockhampton, Travis Scott and Chance the Rapper all being largely influenced by his mentorship and music.
We mean… he won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2018. And back in 2016, Kendrick Lamar’s name just casually popped up in Time Magazine as being one of the 100 most influential people in the world. His fourth studio album, DAMN, which was released in 2017, basically proved to the world that the power of hip hop couldn’t be ignored any longer and was praised by the Pultizer board as being rich with “vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism”. Songs like Good Kid, m.A.A.d.City and To Pimp A Butterfly, were complex pieces that caught onto emotions, nuances and insight into African-American culture, institutional discrimination, racial inequality and depression.
Ironically, Billie Eilish is almost unknowingly the Regina George of teen pop despite being an icon for the anti-artist slash anti-mainstream right now. The 17-year-old stands at the forefront for the next era of artists who haven’t climbed out of the classic Disney realm (see Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and The Jonas Brothers) and whose lyrics are much darker than the old diarised tunes akin to Taylor Swift.
Here’s the deal, you probably know of Shawn Mendes but you may not actually know how he first took to the spotlight. Let’s take a trip down memory lane, the year is 2014 and Vine (remember, the viral app before TikTok?) is still a very real thing that over 100 million people engage with every month. Shawn Mendes is 14-years-old and he’s posting six-second cover songs on the app of songs by the likes of Ed Sheeran, which ended up drawing half a billion views. And thus a new era of stars was born. Shawn Mendes completely diversified the game in the last decade in regard to how artists could be discovered—and that has completely changed how up and coming creatives share and distribute their music or talent.
And we'll round out this list with Beyonce—because no doubt, this decade was the one Beyonce morphed into the untouchable iconoclast we know her as today. Let's recap the 2010s for Beyonce: two critically acclaimed albums (Beyonce and Lemonade), each as groundbreaking for pop music as they were for album marketing and artist branding in the digital era. There was a documentary, a film, 23 Grammy Awards, and finally, being the first black woman to headline Coachella (an absolutely explosive performance that had the 2018 edition of the festival renamed, "Beychella"). From noughties pop diva to living legend—Beyonce's music is laced with double meaning, black history and cues on social justice, bringing depth, relevance, fervour and real power back to a genre noted for being shallow.
And what movies shaped the 2010s? Check our edit of the absolute best films from the last decade here.
Design credit: Kate Mason