Three arts editors came together to decide on their top 10 best albums of the decade — no easy task when the 2010s have spanned music from artists like LMFAO to Billie Eilish.
Christopher Panella’s list
Honorable mentions: “Plastic Beach” (2010) by Gorillaz, “Trouble in Paradise” (2014) by La Roux, “Emotion” (2015) by Carly Rae Jepsen.
10. “DAMN” (2017) by Kendrick Lamar
9. “Random Access Memories” (2013) by Daft Punk
8. “ANTI” (2016) by Rihanna
7. “Pop 2” (2017) by Charli XCX
6. “Blackstar” (2016) by David Bowie
5. “Born This Way” (2011) by Lady Gaga
4. “Broke with Expensive Taste” (2014) by Azealia Banks
3. “Lemonade” (2016) by Beyoncé
2. “Ultraviolence” (2014) by Lana Del Rey
1. “Melodrama” (2017) by Lorde
Some of the best albums of the decade are the ones that capture chaos, from Lorde’s “Melodrama,” with its stinging honesty and shivering romance, to “Born This Way,” which paints Lady Gaga as both an introspective pop star and a cultural icon unafraid to embrace weirdness. Lorde makes something artistic out of the organic; “Melodrama” feels like both a night out with one too many drinks and the morning after, with Lorde helping the listener throw up in the bathroom before drinking some Pedialyte. Meanwhile, Gaga hands the listener some makeup and takes them to the club to dance the night away in pure celebration.
Often, the 2010s best releases capture a particular moment: David Bowie’s “Blackstar” is a beady-eyed ode to a life lived and a star growing dim; it’s a swan song and a testament to Bowie’s etherealism. Even now, listening to “Blackstar” feels like Bowie’s phantom playing with the lights or softly touching your cheek. “Random Access Memories” plays with decades and genre, eventually focusing itself on the future of music with its closing song “Contact.” Both Beyoncé and Rihanna made their best albums yet; “Lemonade” tackles the complexities of motherhood, romance, sex, faithfulness, forgiveness and being a black woman, while “ANTI” provides a space for Rihanna to experiment with vulnerability and confidence. “ANTI” ranges from a cool cocktail hour to a cocky hookup. It’s that versatility that makes it special.
Lana Del Rey also made her best album, with “Ultraviolence” allowing her to explore a desert rock coolness that is not only genre-defining but also complex in character. In just the 2010s alone, Del Rey released the most solid discography of any artist — albums that take deep swims underneath Del Rey, whom critics wrongly assume to be a persona. Similarly, “Broke with Expensive Taste” might come from one of the most controversial figures in music, but Azealia Banks is able to present herself as a standout rapper.
Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN” is pure storytelling, with an episodic nature that showcases Lamar at the top of his game. While it’s certainly easy to argue that Lamar has always been in the top echelon of rap, there’s something so conscious and real about “DAMN” that makes it a standout. “Pop 2” is undeniably a chaotic explosion of pop excellence — if there’s any pop star that has captured the changes of the 2010s, it’s Charli XCX. And while it’s painful not to include artists who helped change pop music, it’s important to note that Charli just does pop music the best, or at the very least, the most experimental.
Certainly it’s impossible to state how good music can be when the artist takes their time presenting something nuanced and powerful. For some of the artists, their work is masterful and decade-defining, not necessarily because that’s what was intended, but because of the labor put into the creation.
Geoff Tobia Jr.’s list
Honorable mentions: “Random Access Memories” (2013) by Daft Punk, “99.9%” (2016) by Kaytranada, “Minecraft: Volume Alpha” (2011) by C418.
10. “Have You In My Wilderness” (2015) by Julia Holter
9. “The Money Store” (2012) by Death Grips
8. “Emotion” (2015) by Carly Rae Jepsen
7. “To Be Kind” (2014) by Swans
6. “Currents” (2015) by Tame Impala
5. “AM” (2013) by Arctic Monkeys
4. “MASSEDUCTION” (2017) by St. Vincent
3. “22, a Million” (2016) by Bon Iver
2. “Blonde” (2016) by Frank Ocean
1. “To Pimp a Butterfly” (2015) by Kendrick Lamar
Many things went into consideration when choosing the best albums of the decade, one of the most important aspects being originality. Song after song, “The Money Store” by experimental hip hop trio Death Grips always presents new concepts, whether it be through rapper MC Ride’s unique vocal/lyrical delivery, or the mind-melting drums and synths on tracks like “System Blower” or “I’ve Seen Footage.” “To Be Kind” by Swans balances on the fence separating horror and beauty, like the mind-numbingly repetitive guitar riffs on songs like “Oxygen” and hypnotic bass lines on “Screen Shot.”
Along with the originality from albums this year came impressive songwriting feats. Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Emotion” was truly a force to be reckoned with in the pop scene. “Run Away with Me” and “Your Type” are prime examples of how easy it is to dance or cry to this album. Perhaps even more powerful, St. Vincent paired impressive instrumentation (see “Masseduction” and “Savior”) and social commentary that hits like a train (see “Pills” and “Young Lover”) on “MASSEDUCTION.”
The 2010s also brought some of the most beautiful arrangements of sounds. Whether songs are picked apart or listen to at a surface level, it’s easy to hear the beauty of Julia Holter’s “Have You in My Wilderness,” a baroque pop album with goosebumps-inducing instrumental and lyrical composition. Another artist that’s certainly proven himself is Bon Iver, and his 2016 work, “22, A Million” displays this best, though Folktronica is a very unique genre.
It’s important to consider albums that fit the decade the best and albums that will stand the test of time. “AM” by Arctic Monkeys thrives this way, with poetic and hard-hitting songs like “Do I Wanna Know?” and “Arabella” that never get old, and never will. The untouchable synth-pop tracks on “Currents” by Tame Impala, like “The Less I Know the Better” or “Let It Happen,” also show how much shelf life that a versatile album will have.
Frank Ocean’s ability to make stunningly beautiful music is fascinating. Through consistent metaphors and well-constructed instrumentals, the experience when listening to “Blonde” is unforgettable. The best album of the decade is “To Pimp a Butterfly” by Kendrick Lamar. The fusion between jazz and hip hop, along with the raw political commentary, not only shows the musical genius of Kendrick Lamar but also shows how intelligent and appreciative he is of musical culture. No album this decade consistently delivered awe-inspiring and power quite like “To Pimp a Butterfly” did.
Tuna Margalit’s list
Honorable mentions: “Melophobia” (2013) by Cage the Elephant, “ANTI” (2016) by Rihanna, “The Life of Pablo” (2016) by Kanye West.
10. “Daytona” (2018) by Pusha T
9. “Kids See Ghosts” (2018) by Kids See Ghosts
8. “Rodeo” (2015) by Travis Scott
7. “21” (2011) by Adele
6. “AM” (2013) by Arctic Monkeys
5. “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” (2012) by Kendrick Lamar
4. “Yeezus” (2013) by Kanye West
3. “Currents” (2015) by Tame Impala
2. “Blonde” (2016) by Frank Ocean
1. “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” (2010) by Kanye West
The best album of the decade (and one of the best of all time) is “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” by none other than Kanye West. The grandeur is immediately apparent with opening track “Dark Fantasy.” Name another album that’s high point is a nine-minute song like “Runaway,” where the first six minutes are rapping and singing and the last three minutes are comprised of the artist wailing-yelling random phrases through a vocoder.
“Blonde” is at once intimate but also insecure. Few lyrics have sounded as beautiful as the opening from “Ivy” — “I thought that I was dreaming when you said you love me.” This is an album in which each listener will find something different to latch onto.
Kevin Parker, the man behind Tame Impala, found a sound on “Currents” and ran with it. Hypnotizing all the way through, the album features no shortage of wonderful, psychedelic sounds. Parker’s consistent use of a falsetto voice is always a highlight, but on this album it works to the greatest effect.
In this decade, there have only been two hip-hop artists who have managed to be consistently at the top of their genre and still release albums where each one tells a different story or explores a different emotion. Kanye West is one of them, and “Yeezus” is him at his most abrasive and most experimental. Kendrick Lamar is the other, and “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” was his breakthrough album. Recalling his teenage experiences growing up in Compton, Calif., Kendrick Lamar establishes himself as an all-time storyteller to go along with his uniquely impressive ability to convey emotions with his voice.
Featuring one of the best guitar riffs ever in “R U Mine?” and making a beautiful song about something as specific as someone asking Alex Turner — the lead singer — why he only calls her when stoned, the Arctic Monkeys show that they have perfected the mixture of rock musicality and thoughtful lyricism on “AM.”
There’s a reason “21” is one of the best-selling albums of the 21st century. The greatest voice of her generation, Adele became a household name after dropping “Rolling in the Deep” and “Someone Like You” — two of the best songs of the decade.
The first studio album from the rising hip-hop star, “Rodeo” showed that Travis Scott could make an excellent album from start to finish, while working in a stunning variety of spacey sounds, head-banging beats and infectious flows. “Kids See Ghosts” finds Kanye West producing and rapping along with longtime collaborator Kid Cudi, as both artists describe a sort of emotional rebirth coming with this album. Every single track off “Daytona” has a jaw-clenching ferocity that could only come out of the combination of a rapping Pusha T and a producing Kanye West.