Ah the 2010s, what a wonderful decade. We witnessed the 2010 Haitian earthquake, survived the apocalypse in 2012, elected the adult version of Eric Cartman as president, and I’m not even going to TOUCH the fact that throughout the whole thing we infected our home planet with some gross, sticky flu. No, instead I want to focus on one of the few bright spots we did experience. Namely, entertainment.
From film to music to video games, things have been pretty great this decade for entertainment lovers. “Haha yeah they have. Hey, Kolby, I’m having a tough time figuring out what the best games, albums, and movies were this decade. Can you help?” Don’t you worry dear reader, I definitely can.
In this series of articles, I’ll be going through and discussing what my personal favorites for each of these categories are. This week, we’ll be covering music.
My taste for music has changed and grown with me this past ten years. I came into 2010 listening to Nirvana, Disturbed, and Avenged Sevenfold and left 2019 bumping Mac Demarco, Kanye West, and Lana Del Rey. Due to this drastic shift, I’ve grown to appreciate and enjoy many different genres of music. This list will reflect that, and be focused solely on what I found to be the best albums of this decade.
“To Pimp a Butterfly” by Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar is one of the most critically acclaimed artists to come out of this decade, dropping three classic albums, those being “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City”, “DAMN”, and this album. In “Good Kid”, Kendrick tells the story of the city of Compton, and what its like to grow and live there. In Butterfly, Kendrick evolves this theme into a grander exploration of what it’s like to be a black man in today’s society. Coming out during an extremely tense period of political and racially-based unrest, the album felt like more of a cultural moment than a piece of art. “Alright” was the anthem for Black Lives Matter, Kendrick was performing in chains at the Grammys, and the President was commending the rapper for his latest work.
Everything I’ve talked about would make it an easy contender for album of the decade, and I haven’t even gotten to the musical side of it yet. Using a jazz based production, Kendrick crafted an album that sounded entirely unique. Everything from his rapping to the featured vocals to said jazz production flows and meshes together in a way we hadn’t experienced before and haven’t experienced since. It’s loss to Taylor Swift’s “1989” for album of the year at the Grammys is to this day one of the academies biggest faux pas’, as it started a decline in respect and recognition they haven’t yet gained back. I could keep droning on and on about how wonderful this record is, but I think you get the point. If you haven’t, you need to listen to this album immediately.
“Melodrama” by Lorde
Lorde was a somewhat mysterious figure before her sophomore album. Not many knew who this pop newcomer was before she dropped her breakout single “Royals” in 2013, but they learned soon after. Her debut album, “Pure Heroine”, was a massive success commercially, but critically it didn’t do as well. Many cited a sense of repetition and a lack of deep themes as reasoning for low scores, while also stating that her foundations were something that she could build off of. And build off of them she did, as “Melodrama” became one of the best pop albums of the decade. Creating a newer, fresher sound with producer Jack Antonoff, Lorde explores what it feels like to be lost in your twenties. No album has captured a “feeling” for me the way this album has. She completely and totally owns this album, and for that “Melodrama” is my pick for pop album of the decade.
“Blonde” by Frank Ocean
This album is…weird. On first listen, you probably won’t know how to feel. The vocals are layered throughout, with seemingly random pitch changes. The production is somehow spacey yet grounded, and the themes are a struggle to grasp. However, one thing is clear. This album deserves a second listen. So you give it one, finding a more fleshed out theme of heartbreak and loss, a focus on “floating” aimlessly through life, and a sense of unrelenting movement. You liked it a bit more this time, so you listen one last time and it finally clicks, everything melds together into a perfect mess that culminates in you crying while smiling at 4 A.M.. It is the ultimate “sad” album, and should be discussed far more frequently than it has been. And it’s been discussed quite a bit.
Frank Ocean became a legend after he dropped “Blonde” and its counterpart “Endless”, not only because the albums were amongst the greatest of the decade, but because of what it did to the industry. By releasing “Endless”, a visual album exclusive to Apple Music, Frank fulfilled his label obligations and was free to do as he pleased. The next day, he released “Blonde”, which completely overshadowed “Endless” in sales and publicity due to its wider availability and status as a conventional album. Because this album was released after his contractual obligations to his label were ended with “Endless”, Frank was able to collect nearly seventy percent of the profit made, as opposed to the fourteen he would’ve gotten. This obviously shook the industry, but there was nothing they could do. Frank played them, and he played them well.
“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” by Kanye West
Kanye West is the physical embodiment of controversy. Everything he does is scrutinized and analyzed, deserved or not. One of the biggest and maybe the most notorious thing he has ever done was interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the VMAs. We all know how it went down, so we don’t have to revisit the moment. What I’d rather focus on is the aftermath that culminated in the creation of the most concise and well made rap album of all time. After the outburst, Kanye went on talk show after talk show discussing how disgusted he was with himself due to his actions and that he was taking time off to focus on bettering himself. Exiling himself to Hawaii, Kanye also canceled his highly anticipated tour with Lady Gaga and spent his time out of the public eye.
While there, Kanye became inspired to make a new album. Wanting to keep things as secretive as possible, Kanye had the featured artists fly out to his rented mansion where they were sworn into secrecy. During the next few months, Kanye was completely manic, refusing to sleep for longer than ninety minutes at a time. Thankfully all this hard work paid off, as Fantasy released to extreme critical acclaim. Front to back every aspect of the album sounds, well perfect. The production, the features, the rapping, everything. Everything about the album is exactly what it should be, there is nothing you could cut or add to improve the record. The album perfectly encapsulates one man’s psyche and his desire to become better. If you like rap music, you like this album. It’s that simple.
“Puberty 2” by Mitski
Finally, we’ve reached the final album. This is most likely my most controversial pick, as Mitski isn’t as well known as the other artists listed, and her niche of “Indie rocker girl” has gone somewhat out of style. However, that doesn’t mean this album is any less deserving of it’s placement on this list.
“Puberty 2” is an exploration of one person’s growth from a girl into a woman. Mitski dives into what life is after young adulthood and how things change, for better and worse. Combining extremely well performed instrumentals with her breathtaking vocals, the sound of this record is otherworldly. It is the pinnacle of what the genre can become. When combined with the themes, this record can stand toe to toe with any other album the decade has to offer. It’s a must listen for music lovers everywhere.
In the next edition of “Best of the Decade”, I’ll be discussing the best films to come out of the 2010’s. So get ready for that, because man is it gonna be…well it’ll be something. Thanks for reading.