Country music’s familiar themes of trucks, beer, nostalgia and love were present in hundreds of songs that hit the airwaves over the past decade, but a number of songs took the tropes and turned them into pure art.
They showed that in the right hands, certain themes transcend stereotypes to become songs that capture a specific place and time that take the listener back to a front porch, a first love, a wedding dance or an aching loss. It’s what country music does best.
Despite female artists struggling to have their voices heard on radio, as our countdown of the top 35 songs of the decade shows, they were making some of the most compelling songs of the 2010s. Read our list below, with a Spotify playlist of all 35 at the bottom.
35. Kelsea Ballerini, “Peter Pan” (2015)
Breakup songs are no rarity in the country world, but ones as clever as “Peter Pan” are special. Ballerini’s smart use of metaphor in the song — comparing a situation with an immature ex to the classic tale of The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up — makes the heartbreak narrative extra relatable, and her breathy delivery makes the song hurt so good. Fans were clearly enchanted, too, as the song marked Ballerini’s third Country Airplay No. 1 and first Hot Country Songs No. 1. – TAYLOR WEATHERBY
34. Brothers Osborne, “It Ain’t My Fault” (2017)
Delivered with a knowing wink, the protagonist in this riotous Brothers Osborne hit always finds something or something else to blame — whether it be the whiskey, the beer or even the bar band — to keep him from taking responsibility for his bad behavior. Under Wes Edwards’ direction, the Point Break-spoofing video, which featured pawn shop robbers in Trump, Reagan, Clinton and Bush masks, adds another delightful dimension to the story.
33. Maddie & Tae, “Girl in a Country Song” (2014)
Maddie & Tae launched their career with this emboldened track, calling out country radio and the men on the airwaves for painting women as unnamed, cut-off jeans-wearing accessories to dudes driving their trucks down endless dirt roads. The tongue-in-cheek response to the bro-country movement helped land the duo a record deal as well as its first No. 1 and highest charted song to date — while helping to further the conversation on the lack of females at country radio. — ANNIE REUTER
32. Eli Young Band, “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” (2012)
Though the Eli Young Band’s second Country Airplay No. 1, written by Eric Paslay and Will Hoge, is specifically about trying to make it in the music business, the chorus — “Keep on dreamin’/ Even if it breaks your heart” — applies to anyone who has ever wished for something better for themselves, and resolutely refused to give up no matter the odds.
31. Bebe Rexha feat. Florida Georgia Line, “Meant to Be” (2017)
Florida Georgia Line’s sixth single to top Hot Country Songs turned into a record-setting ubiquitous smash, spending 50 weeks atop the chart. Rexha, Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley’s piano-driven, finger-snapping paean to going with the flow was not only a country hit, but cross-format hit as well, hitting a staggering No. 2 on the Hot 100, and even even reaching No.11 on the Dance/Mix Show Airplay chart.
30. Midland, “Drinkin’ Problem” (2017)
Another country drinking song, you say? Well, technically yes, but Midland told the alcohol haters off with their breakout hit, “Drinkin’ Problem.” “People say I’ve got a drinkin’ problem/ But I’ve got no problem drinkin’ at all,” they declare in the chorus over an infectious undulating melody. The song established the trio as one of the genre’s wittier artists to come along in the decade, with a hip aesthetic that carried into their elaborate Western wardrobe and satirical commentary whether in interviews or on stage. —T.W.
29. Jon Pardi, “Dirt on My Boots” (2016)
“Boots” showcased Pardi doing what he does best — saluting the time-honored country tradition of a working man taking his girl uptown to dance the night away, before kicking off those boots for some nocturnal activity. “I can get cleaned up if you ask me/ But I can only get so fancy,” he warns, knowing full well his scruff is part of his appeal. Pardi took the song to No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart, making it his second chart topper.
28. Lady Antebellum, “What If I Never Get Over You” (2019)
It took nearly 10 years for Lady Antebellum to come up with a song that rivaled their crossover breakthrough “Need You Now.” Not that the trio didn’t release plenty of strong songs in the interregnum, but they couldn’t have sold the ballad so completely before now — this tear-jerking anthem about a lost love brims with a sharp anguish that took a little more living to achieve than they had in their 20s.
27. Tanya Tucker, “Bring My Flowers Now” (2019)
Tucker’s first album of original material in 17 years, While I’m Livin’ boasts this gem about celebrating someone while they are still here and can appreciate the love. “Bring my flowers now, while I’m living/ I won’t need your love when I’m gone,” sagely and gruffly sings the country legend, in a tune she co-wrote with the album’s co-producer Brandi Carlile and Tim and Phil Hanseroth. Her welcome return yielded four Grammy nominations in November, including one in the all-genre song of the year category.
26. Blake Shelton, “God’s Country” (2019)
Shelton’s unfailingly successful career needed no resurrection, but the spiky “God’s Country” kicked it into an even higher gear, yielding him his first CMA Awards win in six years and a Grammy nomination for best country solo performance in November. The heavy guitars and his fire-and-brimstone, defiant delivery on this ode to the fly-over states is patriotic in all the right ways.
25. Dierks Bentley, “Drunk on a Plane” (2014)
Though Bentley has plenty of party starters and No. 1 Country Airplay hits in his two-decade catalog, “Drunk on a Plane” is the most fun (and funniest) of them all. The song — about a man whose wedding didn’t go as planned, but who takes the honeymoon anyway — may seem depressing, but the way Bentley wrote it (with Chris Tompkins and Josh Kear) is hilarious. “Buyin’ drinks for everybody/ But the pilot, it’s a party” is just one of the many amusing lines Bentley delivers in the track, which has a chant-along chorus and winding melody that makes it so fun to sing, you almost forget that it all started with someone left at the altar. — T.W.
24. Kane Brown feat. Lauren Alaina, “What Ifs” (2017)
“What if it’s our last first kiss?” Brown and Alaina wonder in this sexy mid-tempo hit about taking that risk on love in hopes of finding the one. Though originally not intended as a duet, the back-and-forth between Brown and Alaina makes the track much more compelling, as the tune went on to top Billboard’s Hot Country Songs, Country Airplay and Country Streaming Songs chart. Simultaneously, Brown’s “Heaven” hit No. 1 on Digital Song Sales, while the deluxe edition of his self-titled debut album reached No. 1 on Top Country albums, making Brown the first artist to be No. 1 on all five charts concurrently.
23. Pistol Annies, “Got My Name Changed Back” (2018)
“I don’t want to be a Mrs. on paper no more,” declared Miranda Lambert, along with her fellow Pistol Annies Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe, on what may be the most jubilant song about divorce ever written — and certainly the most frolicking sequin-filled video on the topic. The song, written by Lambert post her split from fellow country star Blake Shelton, kicked off the supertrio’s third album, Interstate Gospel, which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums and was nominated for a Grammy for best country album.
22. Luke Bryan, “Drink a Beer” (2013)
In concert, it’s the butt-shaking anthems that Bryan’s fans come for, but this ballad about raising a glass to the ones we’ve lost — co-written by a pre-solo-breakthrough Chris Stapleton — revealed a vulnerability made all the more poignant by Bryan singing it about his brother and sister, both of whom have died. It’s a side the arena headliner doesn’t show too often, but it packs a wallop when he does.
21. Darius Rucker, “Wagon Wheel” (2013)
Written by Bob Dylan with additional words by Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor, Rucker turned “Wagon Wheel” into a live crowd pleaser, especially with the references to “North Caroline” and Raleigh, old stomping grounds from his days in Hootie & the Blowfish. The song’s rollicking vibe are ready made for Rucker’s gravely voice. The song, which featured former label mates Lady Antebellum on backing vocals, rolled all the way to No. 1 on Hot Country Songs.
20. Maren Morris, “Girl” (2019)
The title track to Morris’ second Columbia Nashville album (and reigning CMA Awards album of the year) serves as a pep talk to any woman and a reminder that “everything’s gonna be okay” and “don’t lose your halo.” At a time when women are still struggling mightily to have their voices heard at country radio, it was a welcome message that Morris took to the top of the Country Airplay chart.
19. Thomas Rhett, “Marry Me” (2018)
Few artists deliver love songs with as much heartfelt conviction as Rhett, which made this stand-out ballad about unrequited love all the more a kick in the gut. As the song unspools, we realize he’s not proposing — as the title would suggest — instead he’s reeling from the reality that “happily ever after” isn’t in the cards for him and the woman he loves.
18. Chris Janson, “Drunk Girl” (2017)
Though Janson’s piano ballad about taking a drunk girl home and not taking advantage of her seemed to state a man’s obvious moral — not to mention legal — obligation in such circumstances, in the age of the #metoo movement, Janson’s gentle tune turned into much more. It was a manifesto (and a seemingly needed reminder) on how a real man acts, in an age where headlines full of brutish behavior by CEOs and frat boys dominated.
17. Kenny Chesney feat. Grace Potter, “You & Tequila” (2010)
You know when a simple strum of a guitar hits you right in the heart? That’s exactly what happens with the first chords of “You and Tequila,” likely because what comes next is even more affecting: stunning harmonies from Chesney and Potter, and a relatable message about a love that’s no good for you — but too irresistible to quit. The song earned Chesney his fourth Grammy nomination and Potter her first (for best country duo/group performance), also earning a nomination for best country song. It didn’t win, but “You and Tequila” stands as one of Chesney’s most beautiful hits to date, and a reminder that even the stadium rockers can get ultra-vulnerable every now and again. — T.W.
16. Ashley McBryde, “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” (2018)
For anyone who was ever told to give up on their dreams by people trapped in dead-end jobs themselves, McBryde was there to remind you that revenge is pretty sweet, particularly when the roar of the crowd drowns out any remaining doubts that the naysayers were wrong. Add November’s two Grammy noms for best country song and best country solo performance and look who’s goin’ somewhere now.
15. Jason Aldean, “Dirt Road Anthem” (2011)
Songwriters Colt Ford and Brantley Gilbert both released their versions of this country rap song first, but Aldean made it his own, turning it into a Grammy-nominated, 4x platinum smash, according to the RIAA. The words flowed smoothly as Aldean was “swervin’ like I’m George Jones” through the salute to southern tropes including bonfires, girls, beer and, of course, dirt roads.
14. Cam, “Burning House” (2015)
Cam did her man wrong and now he haunts her in her dreams as she tries to rescue him from the burning house set aflame by her misdeeds. Upon its release, “Burning House” sounded like nothing else on radio, crashing through scores of bro-country tracks to reach No. 2 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart with Cam’s understated delivery resting atop guitars and strings.
13. Little Big Town, “The Daughters” (2019)
When Little Big Town premiered “The Daughters” at Universal Music Group Nashville’s showcase at The Ryman during the 2019 Country Radio Seminar, you could have heard a pin drop as the quartet delivered the devastating song about the roles that society forces women into: “And pose like a trophy on the shelf/ Dream for everyone, but not yourself/ I’ve heard of God the Son and God the Father/ I’m just looking for a God for the daughters.” The label didn’t take the song to radio, as most conservative country stations wouldn’t have played something so forthright, but on tour fans have gravitated toward one of the foursome’s most intelligent, provocative tracks. On Nov. 20, LBT received a Grammy nomination for best country duo/group performance for the song.
12. Dan + Shay, “Tequila” (2018)
Dan + Shay penned one of the most omnipresent country songs of the decade with “Tequila,” and not just because of its unforgettable “When I taste tequila” hook. As the piano-driven ballad progressively grew within the country community, pop radio caught on to its popularity and by the summer of 2018, it became a mainstream hit among songs by Post Malone and Cardi B. Along with opening Dan + Shay up to a wider audience, the heart-wrenching tune increased the group’s industry recognition, earning the duo their first Grammy for best country duo/group performance in 2019, as well as single and song of the year at the 2019 Academy of Country Music Awards. –T.W.
11. Lee Brice, “I Drive Your Truck” (2012)
We all deal with loss in our own ways, and for narrator Lee Brice, it means climbing into his late brother’s truck and burning up the back roads to feel close to him again — rather than visiting the cemetery, since “that flag and stone ain’t where I feel you anyway.” Written by Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington and Jimmy Yeary, the emotionally charged song deservedly nabbed song of the year honors at both the CMA and ACM Awards.
10. Carrie Underwood, “Something in the Water” (2014)
Religious themes have often surfaced in country music – it is all about God, mama and apple pie, after all — but seldom has the result felt as redemptive as here, in a tune that topped both Billboard’s Hot Country Songs and Hot Christian Songs charts and took home the Grammy for best country solo performance. Underwood’s vocals soar in this glorious tale of baptismal salvation.
9. The Band Perry, “If I Die Young” (2010)
In lesser hands, this treatise about dying at an early age could have turned into a maudlin mess, but siblings Kimberly, Reid and Neil Perry found the gratitude and joy in a life well lived (albeit truncated), and wrapped the mid-tempo tune in banjo, mandolin and fiddle that helped blunt the pain of “the sharp knife of a short life.” It became the trio’s first No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, and also topped Billboard‘s Adult Contemporary chart nearly a full year later.
8. Luke Combs, “Even Though I’m Leaving” (2019)
Combs garnered his seventh consecutive No. 1 single with “Even Though I’m Leaving,” a heartfelt ballad on loss that has Combs singing of a young boy scared of monsters underneath his bed who calls out for his father. The tune takes a turn at the end, with the now-grown man witnessing his father on his deathbed, who still promises to be around: “When you need me and you can’t see me in the middle of the night/ Just close your eyes and say a prayer,” Combs croons softly. – A.R.
7. Keith Urban, “Blue Ain’t Your Color” (2016)
Pick-up lines don’t come much smoother than when they’re delivered by Keith Urban in one of the finest vocals of his career. He is by turns seductive and sympathetic as he’s determined to turn a woman’s broken heart from blue to red in this soul-inflected, Grammy-nominated ballad from his 2016 blockbuster album Ripcord.
6.Tim McGraw, “Humble and Kind” (2016)
Written by Lori McKenna as a loving life guide to her five children, in McGraw’s hands the tender Grammy country-song-of-the-year winner expanded into a movement that celebrated random acts of kindness and spawned a book with all proceeds going, appropriately enough, to charity.
5. Chris Stapleton, “Nobody to Blame” (2015)
Stapleton’s remorseful third single became his breakthrough hit, as he ran through various scenarios to explain why his wife had thrown out all his clothes, changed the locks and turned his life into “a country song.” And what a song it was, with Stapleton’s one-of-a-kind vocals buffeted by haunting fiddles and guitars on this unredemptive tale that captured song of the year at the 2016 ACM Awards.
4. Sam Hunt, “Body Like a Back Road” (2017)
A sensuous track about exploring your lover’s body with the same joys of driving on a winding back road, Hunt’s crossover smash charmed listeners who were captivated by the song’s insinuating, sexy groove and the singer-songwriter’s laid-back, sung-spoken delivery. Fans were also pulled in by the handclaps and vibe that drew as much from DJ Mustard as from any country production. The song spent a record-setting 34 weeks atop Hot Country Songs (a record later broken by “Meant to Be”), earning the tune Billboard’s top Hot Country Song on the year-end charts, and Hunt top country artist. It also landed two Grammy nods.
3. Kacey Musgraves, “Follow Your Arrow” (2013)
Musgraves’ ode to living one’s life without apologies combined traditional clever country wordplay and instrumentation with a thoroughly modern notion that seeking one’s truth means to “Make lots of noise/ And kiss lots of boys/ Or kiss lots of girls/ If that’s something you’re into.” Country radio found the song a bit too renegade for its liking, but Musgraves’ peers followed their own arrow and rewarded her and co-writers Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark with song of the year at the 2014 CMA Awards.
2. Little Big Town, “Girl Crush” (2014)
And at the time of its release, some unattentive critics assumed Little Big Town’s biggest hit to date was about a female crushing on another female. But a deeper listen to the song’s lyrics revealed that the “girl crush” was out of jealousy, as the woman singing longs to have a man feel as passionately about her as he does about the other woman. A clever, yet painstaking narrative, “Girl Crush” is delivered with such conviction by Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild (with striking group harmonies on the chorus) that soon everyone realized what a special song it actually was. The single gained airplay on both country and adult contemporary radio, peaking at No. 18 on the Hot 100, and in 2015, it won single of the year at the CMA Awards, also winning a Grammy for best country duo/group performance a year later. — T.W.
1. Miranda Lambert, “The House that Built Me” (2010)
Nostalgic longing never felt quite so palpable. Take Allen Shamblin and Tom Douglas’ breathtaking tune about the yearning to return to the home of one’s childhood, where everything still made sense, and mix in Lambert’s plaintive, vulnerable delivery, and it all adds up to the kind of song that comes along maybe once a decade — if you’re lucky. If you’re not crying after after Lambert sings, “I thought if I could touch this place or feel it/ This brokenness inside me might start healing,” check for a pulse. Nearly 10 years on, its emotional punch has only increased. The song became Lambert’s first No. 1 on Hot Country Songs, won a Grammy for best female country vocal performance and was named both the CMA and ACM’s song of the year.