The end of 2014 also meant the end of the first half of the 2010s, a decade thus far marked by fantastic popular music from sources expected (Beyonce, Usher and Lady Gaga kept delivering bangers) and unexpected (who saw the incredible rises of Carly Rae Jepsen and Miguel coming?). Although the past half-decade was brimming with memorable hits, these 20 defined the last five years the best, and will endure through the second half of the 2010s and beyond.
Check out what the Billboard.com staff chose as the 20 best singles of the 2010s so far:
20. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe”
Between the endless lip-sync tributes and the lawn-mowing hunk in the music video, Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” is the ultimate Song of the Summer for this decade so far. Thank Justin Bieber for breaking her, and thank Josh Ramsay of Canadian pop-punk band Marianas Trench for turning Jepsen’s acoustic original into a lush pop mini-opera befitting of Phil Spector.
19. Arctic Monkeys, “Do I Wanna Know?”
Of course the Arctic Monkeys had to change. When they started out with snotty punk rock, frontman Alex Turner was 17; by the time they wrote this romping, psychedelic wall of sound, he was closer to 30 than 20 and hanging out with Josh Homme. And it got to No. 70 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the finest pure rock song to crack the chart so far this decade.
18. Usher, “Climax”
When people wondered whether or not Usher had another massive R&B jam within him, he delivered “Climax” and put those questions to bed. Usher unravels his cluster of feelings as he rides along Diplo’s suspenseful soundscapes, experiencing distraught, coming around to desperation and ultimately accepting loneliness.
17. Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
Several years before Taylor Swift was declaring her new allegiance to pop, Lady Antebellum helped accelerate country’s crossover potential with “Need You Now,” still the biggest hit of their career. The bass line channels the grandeur of U2, while the dueling vocals from Hillary Scott and Charles Kelly reach back to the ’80s, when superstars in pop and R&B regularly teamed up for torch songs. This is Nashville pop at its finest.
16. Britney Spears, “Til The World Ends”
“Til The World Ends” finds Britney Spears spending her last moments awaiting the apocalypse by provoking movement: her seduction seeps in and makes the listener twitch, while a faceless chorus bellows behind her and clamors for gyration. The single makes its audience wait a full two minutes and 35 seconds before unveiling its euphoric chorus, which reaches toward the heavens and declares that, if the world is about to end, that shouldn’t stop anyone from having a good time. For years, Britney fans had been yearning for a dance floor scorcher as potent as “Til The World Ends,” and when it arrived in early 2011, pop fans rightly declared that it was worth the wait.
15. Fun., “Some Nights”
Fun. unapologetically aim in every direction at once. Gospel piano chords? Check. Introspective, soul-searching questions? Of course. Drums that sound like they escaped from a military parade? Why not. Add in a lot of anthemic shouting, a touch of Auto-tune, and a Civil War-themed music video, and the diversity of “Some Nights” makes the band’s No. 1 hit, “We Are Young,” look downright boring in comparison.
14. Sia, “Chandelier”
Sia spent years penning smashing pop singles for other stars while refusing to show her face or stash away a “Diamonds” or “Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself)” for herself. She still didn’t show her face in 2014, but did save one epic track for her own album: “Chandelier” possesses the magnetism of Sia’s reliable songwriting but aims higher than any of her previous songs, as recklessly created — and as breathtakingly unmissable — as the image of a tiny Australian woman drunkenly swinging from a hanging pendant. Sia may have performed “Chandelier” with her back to her audiences, but her first solo Top 10 hit was far from anonymous.
13. Lady Gaga, “The Edge of Glory”
The title here is a misnomer. There’s nothing “on the edge” about this track: like all of Lady Gaga’s vital songs, it’s fully committed, with lyrics that would fit the climactic scene of a war movie, an imperious beat, and synthesizers like battering rams. This song is also notable for its saxophone solo — famously provided by the E Street Band’s Clarence Clemons — which predated 2014’s explosion of sax hooks by multiple years.
12. Kacey Musgraves, “Follow Your Arrow”
A wind of progressive fresh air in country music, “Follow Your Arrow” championed 21s- century gender views in a way we rarely see in country music. Kacey Musgraves didn’t quite score the coveted radio or sales hit with her debut album Same Trailer, Different Park, but by performing this twangy, charismatic singalong on the 2014 Grammys and getting virtually the whole music industry (Nashville and beyond) on her side, there’s plenty of reason to believe this is her springboard to much bigger superstardom.
11. Nicki Minaj feat. Ester Dean, “Super Bass”
Sure, Minaj has stronger, wilder, more explosive verses on other tracks… but she has never put together a song better than “Super Bass.” It’s minimal, streamlined, and onomatopoeic all at once, a seamless combination of vocal dexterity and undeniable hooks.
10. Miguel, “Adorn”
Miguel’s rousing rendition of “Adorn” at the 2013 Grammys tipped off the masses onto something the industry had known for a while — Miguel is a rare talent who’s onto something big. In a past life, “Adorn” could have been a Motown hit or a disco banger; for the 2010s, it’s one of the purest R&B statements we’ve heard.
9. Robyn, “Dancing On My Own”
The thematic counterpart to Robyn’s equally irresistible “Call Your Girlfriend” is the show-don’t-tell version of Ultravox’s ’80s hit “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes.” A despondent ode to independence is a tricky thing to pull off, but so is straddling the line between immaculate pop perfection and indie cred. Robyn handily manages both feats.
8. Beyoncé, “Countdown”
Beyoncé gives a little more of herself with every album. On “Countdown,” one of her best songs to date, she gives us a taste of her relationship with Jay Z; it takes on their love of over a decade light-heartedly and with lively excitement, with a chorus built around Boyz II Men’s “Uhh Ahh” and a perfect mix of musical styles.
7. Drake feat. Majid Jordan, “Hold On, We’re Goin’ Home”
We all knew Drake could sing, but who expected the YMCMB rapper to put out one of this half-decade’s loveliest, subtlest synth jams? The song’s laid-back nocturnal vibe feels more authentic than any number of overwrought R&B ballads Drake’s contemporaries toss at the charts.
6. Miley Cyrus, “We Can’t Stop”
Miley Cyrus completed the smoothest transition from tween star to adult A-lister since Justin Timberlake did the same a decade earlier, with a little help from Mike WiLL Made-It and Rihanna, who turned down the beat. When Miley confesses, “We can’t stop,” it could mean she and her pretty friends can’t because they don’t want to, or because they simply can’t. Either way, we want to hear this when the party runs late, and that probably won’t change over the next five years.
“Ni–as in Paris” proves how powerful, and organic, Jay Z and Kanye West’s bromance really is. The Watch the Throne single, which they performed multiple consecutive times during their tour of the same name, feature the two rappers playing off one another like only the best of friends could, over a monstrous beat by Hit-Boy.
4. Adele, “Rolling In the Deep”
Adele’s debut album, 19, placed the spotlight on the U.K. singer-songwriter, but her sophomore album, 21, solidified her as one of best pop stars of the decade. And she came roaring out of the gate with an undeniable first single; “Rolling in the Deep” highlighted the range in Adele’s voice and songwriting, and gave her the timeless single that most artists spend their lives chasing.
“What keeps the planet spinning?/The force from the beginning,” Pharrell Williams answers himself on Daft Punk’s comeback smash “Get Lucky.” Pharrell is singing about sex, but he might as well be discussing Daft Punk’s music: the two French robots that concocted this slice of pop-rock heaven along with Williams and Nile Rodgers had been making immaculate dance music for years, and were not expected to unload their most impeccable single 20 years after their formation. What keeps the planet moving? Daft Punk’s universality, which has always existed and was thankfully pushed back onto Top 40 this decade.
2. Katy Perry, “Teenage Dream”
Katy Perry’s anthemic pop savvy is so strong that nothing — not even the knowledge that this song is about Russell Brand — can dampen the heart-on-sleeve, fist-in-the-air satisfaction of “Teenage Dream.” Similar to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” this is a song about a love so intense it makes you shiny and new — timed to the millisecond for pop perfection.
No artist has ruled the radio this decade with such colorful tenacity as Rihanna this decade — from the electro-grind of “S&M” to the tortured pop-rap of “Love The Way You Lie” to the aching balladry of “Stay” to the muted R&B of “Take Care,” Rih has dazzled with every new hat tried on, while always retaining her singular appeal. Of course, “We Found Love” is the crown jewel (or yellow diamond) in that run of hits, a saccharine assault that turned the idea of finding love “in a hopeless place” into a rally cry, and translated the intensity of Calvin Harris’ electro-pop mania into a endlessly pleasurable release at the height of the EDM boom. “We Found Love” is not a song that relies too heavily on its vocal take, but it’s difficult imagining any artist striking the same balance of voice-cracking vulnerability and giddy joy that Rihanna mines on the track. She makes this look easy, and always has. Rihanna struck many poses during the past five years, but “We Found Love” was the one that made us gasp the loudest.
Text by: Chris Payne, Joe Lynch, Erika Ramirez, Elias Leight & Jason Lipshutz