Having just entered into the 2020s, the time has come to look back and reflect on the many musical gems that the music industry gifted us with in the 2010s. From Hip Hop to Pop, Rock, Folk, and EDM, there have been plenty of songs, albums, and concerts that helped shape this memorable decade.
From rising stars such as Drake and Ed Sheeran to brand new talents such as Chance the Rapper and Billie Eilish, there has been a multitude of fresh talents who have redefined music genres across the board. Even long-established acts such as Radiohead and Arctic Monkeys made memorable contributions, thereby delighting their existing fanbases and even earning new admirers in the process. Let’s take a look at the last decade’s best albums and better understand why these albums have been so impactful in the world of music.
40. Kendrick Lamar, DAMN, (2017)
In his fourth studio album, Lamar shifted focus from the political issues affecting the United States (the main focus of To Pimp A Butterfly) to a journey of self-reflection. This hard-hitting album was painted with some of Lamar’s innermost thoughts on fame, success, and even his own spirituality. Boosted by guest performances from Bono and Rihanna, this album takes listeners on a journey through Lamar’s heart and soul.
While Fear depicted some of Lamar’s greatest concerns at the ages of 7, 17, and 27, Feel depicted Lamar as a wounded artist yearning for the approval of his loved ones. This sentimental album received widespread acclaim, with significant praise being directed at Lamar’s use of multiple subgenres and the resulting balance between old school and modern rap.
39. Lorde, Melodrama, (2017)
After releasing an explosive debut studio album as well as her wildly popular single Royals, one couldn’t have expected Lorde to top her initial contributions to modern music. Unexpectedly, she did just that with the masterful Melodrama. After experiencing her own break up, Lorde dissected her feelings of grief, loneliness, and insecurity and utilized them to write two powerful yet sincere ballads, titled Liability and Writer in the Dark.
As if such emotive tracks were not enough to win listeners’ hearts, Lorde still managed to include a number of dance-floor tracks rooted in her electropop background, such as Green Light and Supercut. Following heaps of praise directed at Lorde’s sensational songwriting talent, this album was named album of the year by a multitude of media publications, including Cosmopolitan, Entertainment Weekly, and Uproxx.
38. Jay-Z and Kanye West, Watch The Throne, (2011)
Widely known as rap music’s greatest “frenemies”, these two icons previously exhibited their potential chemistry when Kanye West helped produce Jay-Z’s 2001 album, The Blueprint. In August 2011, the full extent of this potential was realized as Watch the Throne hit the shelves.
Just some of the golden tracks that were featured on this album included Murder to Excellence (a provocative piece addressing black-on-black crime) and Otis, which offered an old-school trade off between Jay-Z and Kanye West where each rapper would build on what the other one said. Lauded as one of the best rap collaborations of the 2010s, this album reached the number one spot on the US Billboard 200, Billboard Canadian Albums, and the UK R&B Albums charts.
37. Rosalía, El Mal Querer, (2018)
At a time when female Latin stars seem to have become a rare commodity, up stepped Rosalía. This Spanish born artist has gifted fans with a colorful fusion consisting of traditional Flamenco music modern pop and Latin R&B, as could be experienced throughout her second studio album.
With popular tracks such as Malamente and Pienso en tu mirá, this experimental album showcased the best of Rosalía’s songwriting ability. While rhythmic hip hop beats were present throughout the album, El Mal Querer remained rooted in Flamenco music. This explosive album reached the number one spot on Billboard’s US Latin Albums chart, while clinching the top spot on Billboard’s US Latin Pop Albums chart. Ultimately, El Mal Querer delivers a vivid reimagining of Flamenca, the 13th century romance novella from which it draws its inspiration.
36. Lorde, Pure Heroine, (2013)
Lauded as the album of the year for 2013 by The New York Times, The Mercury News, and The Herald Sun, Lorde’s debut album helped her to cement a place at the peak of pop music. Just 16 years old at the time of release, this songstress from New Zealand received widespread praise for her mature and sincere reflections on being a teenager in the modern age.
Lorde’s hit single Royals remains her standout performance on this album and deservingly so due to its raw take on excess and wealth as well as its catchy hook. This song appeared on a number of lists for song of the year, including Rolling Stone, Billboard, the Huffington Post, and Time. Ultimately, Pure Heroine sold 1.4 million copies in 2013 and two million copies in 2014, with sales being boosted by Lorde’s emphatic performance at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards.
35. Pistol Annies, Interstate Gospel, (2018)
Following the release of their third studio album, this country supergroup of Tennessee origin redefined country music for the 21st century. While they may have sung about bad breakups and long-lost lovers in past releases, Pistol Annies exhibited a deeper layer of emotional substance in this heartfelt album.
With themes ranging from midlife introspection to the pains of divorce and even Southern Heritage, this album was released to critical acclaim, particularly for the trio’s emotive songwriting. Interstate Gospel debuted at number one on both the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and the UK Country Albums chart. This album saw Pistol Annies receive their first ever Grammy Nomination as well as their first number one spot on the Americana/Folk Albums chart.
34. Kanye West, Yeezus, (2013)S
While Kanye’s public image may have once again been spiraling out of control, this sixth studio album saw the rapper bounce back in style. This unabashed, brutally honest collection of works saw Kanye receive widespread praise from critics, with many praising him for his raw, confrontational approach as could be heard on tracks such as New Slaves and Blood on the Leaves.
Just fifteen days before the album’s release, Kanye recruited producer Rick Rubin to strip down the album’s tracks so as to adopt a minimalist approach. This decision, while rash, ultimately paid off, as this album skyrocketed to the number one spot on the US Billboard 200, UK Albums, Canadian Albums, and Australian Albums charts. Yeezus also received a Platinum certification for its sales in the United States.
33. The Weeknd, House of Balloons, (2011)
While this debut mixtape for Canadian singer The Weeknd may have been released as a free download, this does not diminish its creative excellence. While primarily composed of elements of R&B and soul, this album also draws from influences of trip hop, indie rock, and dream pop. Also noteworthy is the fact that this album featured The Weeknd’s debut single, Wicked Games.
This album provides listeners with the feeling that they are being transported the darker areas of hip hop that have rarely ever been frequented, particularly due to the beat switch in House of Balloons/ Glass Table Girls as well as the heaving outro in The Party & The Afterparty. This album was regarded as one of the best albums of 2011 by multiple media outlets, including Complex, The A.V. Club, and The Guardian.
32. SZA, CTRL, (2017)
With the release of her debut studio album, SZA showcased her bold and sassy persona. With heartfelt tracks such as Supermodel, SZA managed to prove herself to be a proud and empowered woman while at the same time, also managing to exhibit her own vulnerability as well as her deep desire to fit in. This out of the ordinary album tested the boundaries of the R&B genre.
Just as SZA has exhibited her brutal honesty and bluntness in her music, so too has she done so with her actions. At one point, SZA tweeted at her label president, stating that she was quitting music and that he could choose whether or not to release her album. Thankfully, this album was ultimately released and has gone on to share SZA’s reflections on topics such as desire, jealousy, low self-esteem, social media and sex-based politics.
31. Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool, (2016)
After keeping a low profile for the better half of a decade, this English rock band returned to prominence with the release of their ninth studio album. Throughout this mesmerizing album, Thom Yorke’s’ lyrics exhibited a vulnerability that invited listeners to share in moments of deep introspection. Emotive tracks such as Glass Eyes, Decks Dark, and Desert Island Disk led to this album receiving universal acclaim from fans and critics alike.
Radio head’s return to the limelight was well received, with A Moon Shaped Pool achieving Gold status in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Italy, France, and Australia. This beautifully orchestrated album also peaked at number one on the US Top Rock Albums and the US Top Alternative Albums charts.
30. Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy, (2018)
While already a social media presence and reality TV star, the height of Cardi B’s career came at the release of her debut studio album. This hip-hop record, with traces of R&B, Latin, and trap, was met with critical acclaim, particularly because of the album’s combination of dance tracks with feelings of sexuality and vulnerability.
With guest performances by J Balvin, Bad Bunny, Khelani, and YG, this album hit the number one spot on the US Billboard 200 as well as Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
29. Chance The Rapper, Acid Rap, (2013)
Through this psychedelic-feeling album, Chance the Rapper paints a landscape of poverty and crime in his native Chicago, drug issues, and the coming-of-age journey as experienced by the rapper himself.
While drawing controversy due to his alleged use of illegal drugs during production, Chance the Rapper enjoyed critical acclaim for this album. Not only did then-US President Barack Obama add this album to his 2016 summer playlist, but the album also peaked at number five on the US Billboard 200.
28. Katy Perry, Teenage Dream, (2010)
Consisting of seven hit singles, Katy Perry’s third studio album took the pop-rock singer’s career to another level. From the otherworldly E.T. to the empowering Firework, five of this album’s singles made it to the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100, thereby making Katy Perry the first artist since Michael Jackson to achieve this feat.
This album received recognition on a number of lists, notably grabbing the number one spot in VH1s list of The Most Important Pop Albums Of The Last 10 Years. Other accolades include spots on both Access’s and PopSugar’s 10 Best Albums of 2010.
27. Lady Gaga, Born This Way,(2011)
Consisting of hit singles such as Edge of Glory, Marry the Night, and the titular Born This Way, Lady Gaga’s second album proved to be edgy, gritty, and largely effective in shaping her artistic identity.
While some of the album’s works did remain in line with Lady Gaga’s synthpop and dance-pop roots, much of this bold yet controversial albumdrifted from this path, with elements of opera, heavy metal, and disco making their way into the mix. This risky move largely payed off, as over one million copies of Born This Way would be sold in the United States during its first week on the market.
26. Sam Hunt, Montevallo, (2014)
Having co-written all 10 tracks, this budding country star enjoyed high critical praise for his debut studio album. Of the five singles featured on this album, four made it to the number one spot on the Billboard Country Airplay listing, making him the first solo male artist to achieve this feat with a single album.
Hunt’s album was later nominated for the Best Country Album at the 58th Grammy Awards, while it won Digital Album of the Year at the 2016 American Country Countdown Awards.
25. Justin Bieber, Purpose, (2015)
While the Canadian-born youngster may have burst onto the scene in the late 2000s as a teenage sensation, Purpose reshaped Bieber’s public image and marked his return to superstardom following his many off-stage antics.
According to Bieber, Purpose was largely influenced by a spiritual awakening that he endured prior to production. This clearly had an effect on this album’s emotional depth, with songs such as Mark My Words and Life Is Worth Living filled with substance and sincerity. In addition, dance hits such as Sorry and What Do You Mean as well as the wildly successful Love Yourself did well to show this artist’s versatility, ultimately propelling him back to the top of his game.
24. Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City, (2013)
What’s intriguing about this album is mixture between being completely serious while also fooling around. Just some of the themes explored by this indie rock band include mortality, uncertainty, romantic troubles and even a bumbling curiosity about the Hebrew God.
This album won the 2014 Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album, while also enjoying gold certifications for sales in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.
23. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly, (2016)
This politically charged album explored issues of institutional discrimination, depression, and racial tension. As a means of delivering this album’s messages, Lamar incorporated elements of funk, jazz, soul and even the spoken word into production.
All five singles included in this album were included in the US Billboard Hot 100, while i and Alright won the Grammy Awards for Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance respectively.
22. Lana Del Rey, Born to Die, (2012)
While this album may have received its fair share of criticism at the time of release, Born to Die nevertheless shaped Lana Del Rey’s retro image. Filled with references to 1950s and 60s Americana, Born to Die featured riveting hits such as Summertime Sadness, Video Games and the titular Born to Die.
This album took on dark themes such as suicide and doomed relationships, while helping to shape Lana Del Rey’s cult status. As time has progressed, Del Rey’s debut album has garnered an increasing amount of praise, particularly for her courage in sacrificing catchy hooks for emotive and sincere vocals.
21. Sam Smith, In the Lonely Hour, (2014)
This London-based singer-songwriter burst onto the scene with a debut studio album driven by emotional ballads such as Lay Me Down and I’m Not the Only One. The gospel-infused Stay With Me went on to win the Grammy Award for Record of the Year as well as Song of the Year, while the album itself remained on the year-end Billboard 200 chart until 2018.
This album went on to win the Grammy Award for Album of the Year as well as Best Pop Vocal Album. At the 2015 Brit Awards, the English singer-songwriter received both the Best British Breakthrough and Global Success awards.
20. The Black Keys, Brothers, (2010)
Prior to the release of their sixth album, The Black Keys were in a vulnerable circumstance, given the personal differences between members Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach as well as Carney’s difficult divorce. Despite such issues, the duo surprised fans and critics alike by bonding over their music and releasing a soulful album with traces of R&B and low-fi funk.
Against all odds, Brothers underwent a successful release and rose to number three on the Billboard 200. The Black Keys went on to win three Grammy Awards, namely the Best Alternative Music Album, Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals and the Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
19. Arctic Monkeys, AM, (2013)
Having gotten their start back in 2002, this indie rock band from Sheffield exhibited their cool, grungy appeal while simultaneously delivering a more adult-themed release. Apart from the music, what really grabbed music fans’ attention was the band’s admission to stealing ideas from a number of artists in numerous genres, not limited to Motown, R&B, and Hip Hop.
Arctic Monkeys’ non-apologetic attitude was reflected in Alex Turner’s witty lyrics. Some of this albums highlights include the pop culture reference-clad R U Mine, Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High? and the wildly-popular Do I Wanna Know?”. This album received a Platinum certification in the United States as well as a 4x Platinum certification in the United Kingdom.
18. Robyn, Body Talk, (2010)
This seventh studio album by Swedish singer and DJ Robyn set the bar for modern electro-pop. Throughout this release, Robyn seamlessly weaves between conflicting themes such as heartbreak and triumph, while also shifting between elements of mainstream pop and experimentation.
While this album is sure to satisfy the taste buds of mainstream pop enthusiasts, its soulful club tracks have proven to be a hit on the dancefloor. This album was ranked as the third best album released in 2010 by Entertainment Weekly, MTV and Billboard.
17. Frank Ocean, Blonde, (2016)
This unconventional and atmospheric album is packed with 17 tracks that have been produced in an unorthodox fashion. Some of the unique elements of this album are the odd effects, off-beat melodies and even screeches and chirps that seemingly disrupt the natural flow of music. Despite these many oddities, this album provided a sense of freedom to listeners.
This experimental album received critical acclaim, while guest performances by Andre 3000, Beyoncé, and Kim Burrell also provided enough sensation to draw in the interests of mainstream R&B fans.
16. Rihanna, Anti, (2016)
Despite a long and tedious road to its eventual release, Rihanna’s eighth studio album proved to be well worth the wait. This album was embedded with two intertwining tales: while the highs and lows of being in a relationship were depicted on the surface, the underlying story depicting Rihanna’s journey as a musician was also evident.
Although this album featured emotive works such as Needed Me and Love on the Brain, Rihanna nevertheless delivered dancehall hits such as Work (featuring Drake). This album was named Favorite Soul/R&B Album at the 2016 American Music Awards
15. Daft Punk, Random Access Memories, (2013)
One of the breakout acts of the 1990s, this electronic music duo is one of the driving forces behind the rise of French house. Despite having been around for the entire 21st century thus far, Daft Punk had only released three albums prior to Random Access Memories, which resulted in a lengthy yet highly anticipated wait for this one.
While this Daft Punk masterpiece played tribute to the past, when analog systems dominated the electronic scene, it also featured futuristic-sounding tracks that proved that this duo are progressing. This album was a weekly chart-topper in the United States, the United Kingdom, and a whole host of countries in Europe and Asia. To top it all off, this album won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 2013.
14. Solange, A Seat At The Table, (2016)
While her this soulful R&B star may have had plenty of commercial appeal up until that point, the release of this influential album revealed a previously untapped level of substance that elevated this artist to new heights.
With particular focus on addressing the experiences of black women in the 21st century, Solange was sincere and poetic in communicating her struggles with depression, while the interludes between songs where her parents spoke delivered an even more personal experience.
13. Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (2019)
The 18-year-old’s debut album not only helped solidify her career but reshape the pop genre as we know it. When We All Fall Asleep was an accurate depiction of Eilish’s bad-ass, mascara clad, and frightening-yet-lovable persona. Not only was this album warped with dark themes such as anxiety and terrors in the night, but it also consisted of a plethora of influences, such as hip hop, industrial, and art-pop.
Following its widespread acclaim from fans and critics alike, Eilish’s debut album saw her win big at the 2020 Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year as well as Song of the Year for Bad Guy, the award for Best New Artist, and of course, Album of the Year for this masterpiece.
12. Beyoncé, Beyoncé, (2013)
After having remained under the radar for quite some time, Queen Bey sent shockwaves across the world of music with the unexpected release of her fifth solo album. This album saw Beyoncé receive widespread praise for her seductive vocals, feminist message, and showstopper hits such as Drunk in Love.
This album proved that, despite her hiatus, Beyoncé is still on top of her game. In fact, this self-titled album spent an unbelievable 185 consecutive weeks in the Billboard 200 rankings. This album was named the album of the year for 2013 by numerous media outlets, including Billboard, Houston Chronicle, and the Los Angeles Times.
11. Taylor Swift, 1989, (2014)
While Taylor Swift’s previous album still pulled some influence from her country roots, this release severed all ties with the old Taylor and assisted the pop star in molding an entirely new identity. While this was a risky move, it certainly paid off as the album would skyrocket to the number one spot on the Weekly Billboard 200 list.
This album resulted in the rebirth of Swift’s career, while the single, Shake It Off, received much praise due to Swift’s willingness to admit to and embrace her detractors. With 1989, Taylor Swift won Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards for the second time.
10. Kendrick Lamar, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, (2012)
This release is more than just a compilation of songs- it is a story, crafted from the lips of this esteemed rapper. The songs included in this album revolve around Kendrick Lamar’s life in his gang-infested neighborhood of his childhood in Compton, California.
The meaningful lyrics embedded in this album revolve around Lamar’s introspection into his life, while the album’s cover consists of a polaroid picture of the rapper as a baby. This album debuted at number one in the US Top Rap Albums chart and went 3x Platinum with more than 1.7 million sales in the United States.
9. Arianna Grande, Thank U, Next, (2019)
This fifth studio album by Arianna Grande was created at a time when the popstar was traumatized by a number of personal issues, ranging from the death of her ex-boyfriend Mac Miller to her breakup with then-fiancé Pete Davidson, and even the terrorist attack at her Manchester concert.
Grande nevertheless engaged with her traumas by channeling them into her creativity, which resulted in hits such as Ghostin and the critically acclaimed Thank U, Next, which was praised for its positive message of gratitude. This album proved to be Grande’s career-high, and even came in at number two on both the US Billboard 200 and the US Rolling Stone 200 year-end lists for 2019.
8. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs, (2010)
The start of the decade saw indie rock band Arcade Fire release their third studio album to near-universal acclaim. This heart-felt album effectively explored the circumstances affecting the world at the time. From capturing the anxiety triggered by the financial crash in 2008 to longing feelings of nostalgia, this album connects with the artists’ inner workings as well as the emotions felt by society at large.
This album debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 Chart, the UK Albums Chart, and the Canadian Albums Chart. To top it all off, The Suburbs won Album of the Year at the 2011 Grammy Awards as well as Best International Album at the BRIT Awards.
7. Drake, Take Care, (2011)
While Drake’s debut album may have garnered him well deserved recognition, it was his second album that propelled him into hip hop superstardom. Consisting of seven singles, this album featured guest performances by André 3000, Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross and Lil Wayne, among others.
This album hit the peak position in weekly charts such as the Canadian Albums Chart, US Billboard 200, and US Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums, while making it to the number 3 position on Billboard 200 year-end chart for 2012. Following Take Care’s success, Drake ascended to the peak of hip hop.
6. David Bowie, Blackstar, (2016)
Having passed away just two days after this album’s release, Blackstar was a fitting sendoff for the innovative, experimental and quirky Rockstar who greatly influenced the music industry since his breakthrough in the 1970s. Having secretly lived with liver cancer, Bowie made sure to save arguably the most emphatic performance of his career for the end.
5. Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour, (2018)
With the release of her fourth studio album, country singer and songwriter Kacey Musgraves has helped revitalize the entire country genre, becoming arguably the biggest country star of the decade in the process.
From the sentimental Butterflies to the upbeat dance track High Horse, this album saw Musgrave shift the country genre into the mainstream spotlight. Her efforts saw the singer take home four Grammy Awards in 2019, including Album of the Year, Best Country Album, Best Country Song (for Space Cowboy) and Best Country Solo Performance (for Butterflies).
4. Taylor Swift, Red, (2012)
Prior to the release of her fourth studio album, fans and the media alike were wondering whether Taylor Swift would fully embrace her new popstar image or perhaps hold onto her country roots. In this album, she did both. While much of this album focused on romance and heartbreak, Swift approached these themes with more maturity and even threw the pressure of being in the public eye into the mix.
Apart from pop and country, this album also dabbled in dubstep and heartland rock. Featuring collaborations with Ed Sheeran and Gary Lightbody, this album peaked at number one on a multitude of charts, including the US Billboard 200, US Top Country Albums, and whole host of charts across Europe and Asia.
3. Beyoncé, Lemonade, (2017)
With this impactful album, Beyoncé explored themes that most artists would not dare to touch on. She explored a plethora of deep political themes, including feminism, gun rights, and racism, while also including other themes of heartbreak, Southern Roots, revenge, forgiveness and, ultimately, redemption.
Despite winning the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for her album 25, Adele herself admitted that she felt that Beyoncé was more deserving of this award. Considering that this album featured a broad range of genres, from her Pop/R&B roots to the countryfied Daddy Lessons featuring the Dixie Chicks, one can hardly blame Adele for her statement.
2. Adele, 21, (2011)
Upon the release of her second album, Adele sealed her place in the musical history books, shifting the paradigm of the entire music industry in the process. Exploring themes such as heartbreak, forgiveness, and self-reflection, Adele received widespread praise not only for her soothing and soulful yet emotive voice but also for her remarkable songwriting ability. The fact that she was only 21 at the time of writing this album’s singles makes this feat all the more impressive.
Masterpieces such as Rolling in the Deep, Set Fire to the Rain, and Someone Like You helped make this the world’s bestselling album of the year for 2011 and 2012, as well as the United Kingdom’s bestselling album of the 21st century. Adele consequently won six Grammy Awards, including the coveted trifecta (Album, Record, and Song of the Year).
1. Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, (2010)
While Kanye’s previous three albums may have been mainstream rap successes, this masterpiece stemmed from the heartbreak and retrospection that went through Kanye’s mind following his VMA meltdown and the decline of his public image. In fact, this album was recorded during this troubled artist’s self-imposed exile to Hawaii, where he collaborated with the likes of Bon Iver, Kid Cudi, Jay-Z, John Legend, and Nicki Minaj.
This album explored themes such as escapism, excess, romance, and self-doubt, while at the same time exhibiting Kanye’s regret over continuously doing wrong by himself and those around him. Even today, this album is effective in conveying the haunted rapper’s pain, while at the same time bringing closure.