The main reason I can call these my top 25 songs of the decade are because I can almost no longer bear to listen to any of them – that’s how you know they’re good, right?
I’ve spun them all to near death, and as much as it pains me to play some of them, these are the songs that ultimately defined my decade. They are all (or at least were at one point or another) 10/10 or higher and I will champion them to my dying breath. I know you’ll be familiar with a lot of these – popular songs are popular for a reason, right?
Please read them slowly, build the suspense. I’ve tinkered a lot with the rankings in this list, and to be honest the whole top ten could come in any order because they’re all perfect songs to me, but for the sake of being definitive and drawing this decade to a full stop, here they are: the Iainsights top 25 songs of the decade.
25. HAIM – The Wire (2013)
It may not have even broken my top-ten of the year back in 2013, but this is a perfect slow burner of a song that you might forget for a bit then come back to again and again. The Wire is a musical ball of summer and sunshine wrapped up in a cool little melody, tied with some claps, some clicks and verse after verse of perfectly rhythmed staccato-y lyrics. I’m not going to proffer to be the biggest HAIM fan, but The Wire is an undeniable feel-good song.
24. Hozier – Take Me To Church (2013)
I was hestitant to come to Take Me To Church as a song – it felt like an uncool song to like at the time, and so I sated myself as a Hozier fan with the rest of his excellent first album. The thing about this soulful ode that bites back at religious discrimination of the LGBTQ+ is that it’s a story worth telling with a chorus that demands to be heard. I admit, it can feel a little one note at times, but it’s been almost seven years since I first heard it and that deep vocal taking swings with religious jargon still claws at something deep within me. A powerful tune.
23. Niall Horan – Slow Hands (2017)
If you had told me back in 2010 when the five boys were doing inoffensive covers of pop rock songs on the X Factor that the member who would produce their best song of the decade would be Niall Horan, I would have called you a liar, and yet here we are. What is it about Slow Hands that sets it streets above anything his bandmates have done? That it’s slow, it’s simple, and it was completely unexpected. It is better than it had any right to be. The opening ‘woo’, the inescapable earworm of a chorus, how sexually charged it is – every inch of it is practically dripping in [redacted]. In short, Slow Hands slaps.
22. Lake Street Dive – You Go Down Smooth (2011)
I can’t for the life of me remember when I first hear You Go Down Smooth. I could swear it was on an advert for something like ASDA but no amount Googling or looking through every song I’ve ever Shazamed can tell me. However it came to me – what a blessed day. You Go Down Smooth is a Beatles-inspired pop-folk song with a high energy, jazz influences, and a killer vocal. I know that music taste is subjective etc etc. but I defy you to listen to this and not get some enjoyment out of it. Dibs on using this as the theme song for a TV show I write.
21. Of Monsters and Men – Little Talks (2012)
My music taste has pivoted from the beginning of the decade when I was big into folk-pop and only a bit into pop, to now when I live and breathe pop but still have a bit of time for those chart-bothering folk-pop tunes. Little Talks was the epitome of that period. It’s a haunting love song and a folk banger simultaneously. Those trumpet melodies and the cheers of ‘hey’ are the crux of the genre at the time and I was truly, madly, deeply obsessed with this happy little tune.
20. Years & Years – King (2015)
Years & Years were bubbling under with Real and Take Shelter, and the original breathtaking demo of Eyes Shut, when they suddenly arrived with King. It was a high energy pop song that felt like something genuinely new. Olly Alexander and co. hit the melody running and explode into a synth driven banger, brimming with sound samples, tightly layered vocals, a chorus that is euphoric, and a perfect bridge that doesn’t pull back the song’s momentum so that when that final chorus hits you can feel the sweat dripping down your spine.
19. Sam Fender – Friday Fighting (2018)
The Sam Fender song I’d ideally like to put on this list is a demo called I’m Done that he performed when I first laid my eyes and ears upon him when he was supporting George Ezra on the tiny King Tut’s stage back in 2014. It was a guy-with-guitar-and-a-dream vocal-showcase of a song, but it doesn’t exist outside of this video I took of him. Following that support slot, I became borderline fanatic, collecting every scrap of him performing live that people would put up on YouTube, searching him once a month at least to see if he was doing anything new. As weird chance would have it, we both ended up on a train up from London and I had the pleasure of talking the ear off of the then-unknown Brit Critics Choice of 2019. Following his every move I was lucky enough to meet him another couple of times (he kindly remembered me) and watch his pivot into a more indie-rock, Springsteen-inspired sound. I heard Friday Fighting first at one of his gigs, and it felt like the proper turning point for him to me. Whilst some of his other stuff feels little too on the nose for, Friday Fighting was just pure euphoric having a good time alt-rock. It was my song of 2018 and whilst I’m disappointed it didn’t make the debut album, it’s still my favourite songs he’s ever recorded and it fills me with unabashed joy whenever it comes on.
18. Tim Chadwick – I Need To Know (2019)
The artist I am most excited to hear from next decade is Mr Tim Chadwick. The first song of his I’d heard – Tell Me That – could have been a throwaway, but that final bridge tipped it and it became one my my favourite slow burners from 2018. And then came I Need To Know – a song that largely followed the same formula as its predecessor, but turned it all up to ten. The song is a musical and emotional crescendo – those opening “I I I” s, the authentically wrought vocals, the well placed Phil Collins esque drums, the subtly increasing intensity in every subsequent verse and chorus – it’s the 80s influenced pop song so many people have been trying to write but haven’t quite managed.
17. Imagine Dragons – Radioactive (2012)
I’ll shorten myself here because I’ve got one more Imagine Dragons song to pop at you further down. Radioactive is what pushed them into the front lines of music. Lyrics alone it doesn’t do an awful lot – a song that paint the image of the post-apocalyptic world. It’s Dan Reynolds incredible vocal that takes it to 110 per cent. His roar-singing-style is a rare gift – I hope I can catch the band live a couple more times before he destroys his vocal cords – and they are the staple of nearly every one of their Radioactive-mimicking single (Believer, Natural, I Bet My Life) but this is the pure pinnacle of it. I’ve never felt as alive as I did when I saw the band in Glasgow at Nice N Sleazy’s in 2012, Dan Reynolds’ sweaty vein-popping fae less than five meters away from my own, looking directly into my eyes bellowing the word Radioactive.
16. James Bay – Get Out While You Can (2015)
Everything that James Day was eclipsed by the sudden explosion of enormoballad Let It Go which don’t get me wrong, I love to death, but his biggest tune, and the one I’ve listened to the most, is Get Out Whilst You Can. It’s a high octane show closing song. So many of my favourite songs reach for that euphoric climax – largely because they’re perfect to run to – but so few of them do it as well as this. It’s a simple song in sound and style. What makes it is the way all the instruments feel effortlessly cohesive, and when that bridge comes in at almost the three minute mark when you should be flagging James Bay comes back at double speed. This was the song which marked the final five minutes of my run for more than a year and it was that bridge which pushed me to the limits of my endurance, the payoff from which was pure endorphin. I feel breathless just listening to it.
15. Jack Garratt – Weathered (2016)
Jack Garratt feels like he got the least out of winning the Brit’s Critic’s Choice award (the select group of peers made up of Adele, Ellie Goulding, Jessie J, Sam Smith, Jorja Smith, Rag N Bone Man, Sam Fender to name a few). Well, Jack, if you’re reading this, you’ve got the highest from that bunch on this songs of the decade roundup. Weathered is a synth pop sadbanger. The opening thirty seconds of the echoing choir, tipping into the quiet verses, then giving way to one of the biggest choruses of the decade. That first ‘Oh when my heart stops beating’ could have been a bridge in itself, but when it comes around for the second time it’s so massive and satisfying, the sheer wall of sound that comes at you is a musical orgasm. An unstoppable tune.
14. Lewis Capaldi – Someone You Loved (2018)
He comes late to the decade and on a technicality Someone You Loved doesn’t get to make it onto my songs of 2019 list because it came out a year prior, but the heartache ballad is undeniable. I was kidding myself that I liked some of his other tunes more (Bruises, Grace, Forever, Don’t Get Me Wrong) but this is the pinnacle of Capaldi. You’ve been hearing it all year, you’re probably sick to your back teeth of hearing him everywhere, but there’s something about this annoyingly simple ballad that got you in the end. I cannot imagine what the next decade of Lewis Capaldi will bring.
13. Fall Out Boy + Foxes – Just One Yesterday (2013)
After a bit of a hiatus, Fall Out Boy came back with a string of pop rock bangers in 2013. It wasn’t for all of their fans, particularly the purists among them, but they came to play the game of popular music and they hit it out of the park. My favourite of their songs is actually this non-single release Just One Yesterday, largely because it features one of my faves of the decade: Foxes. Pop duets in good hands are a sure fire winner, and whilst I’m not the biggest fan for a guest spot stepping in to take the all important bridge, Foxes is a deft pair of hands. Just One Yesterday may have stolen its first few seconds from Rolling in the Deep but the way it blends pop and rock with two massive vocals is bigger (for me) than anything Adele has ever done.
12. Eminem + Rihanna – Love The Way You Lie (2010)
It’s been a long decade, hasn’t it? Love the Way You Lie ushered in a new crop of rap songs with pop hooks (much better than the reverse trend of pop songs with rap bridges that tainted much of the latter half of the decade). It’s lyrically problematic – a song about a viscerally abusive relationship from the world favourite angry white rapper, featuring someone we all knew to have been in a highly publicised abusive relationship. Subject tentatively contextualised as a cry of passionate devotion, there is so much about this which makes it work. Rihanna’s hook was unshakable, so much so that there was a part two to this song putting it at the centre, there are some iconicised lyrics from Eminem “Life is no Nintendo game” being my personal favourite, and it captures such a wide audience – Pop, R&B, Rap, Emo. I think this will be the rap that I remember until the day I die.
11. Maroon 5 + Christina Aguilera – Moves Like Jagger (2010)
I know, ok? This song is somehow both terrible and just the best at the same time. I’m quietly ashamed that it’s my third most listened to song of all time, but there are reasons for that they are these: it was at peak Maroon 5, I feel like dancing to it every time it comes on, Christina Aguilera’s feature spot is a perfect balance to Adam Levine’s high vocals. It was an unstoppable force of a song and ushered in a period of funk-driven pop that is only feels like it’s tapering off now, it’s silly, its fun, it’s overplayed, and it’s still such a banger.
10. Taylor Swift – Out of the Woods (2014)
Taylor Swift, as I mentioned when talking about Paper Rings, has existed in many iterations. Out of the Woods was the turning point into pop that really put her into the critical pop mainstream. Everything element of it is a precursor to the rest of that album and many of the best songs on Reputation and Lover. It’s a show closer, it’s anthemic, it delivers something in every single one of its two hundred and thirty five second length. The different layers of vocals, the echoey verses, the repetition in the chorus, the euphoric bridge, the sheer number of metaphors she crams into it. It’s the perfect pop song and her finest piece of work to date.
09. Rihanna + Calvin Harris – We Found Love (2011)
We Found Love is, in short, an absolute banger. It’s musical heroin, it’s got a killer hook, one of the best drop-choruses of all time, Rihanna is a goddess, and best of all it’s actually about something good and nice and pure. Finding love in a hopeless place is a message that so many people can connect to and works on so many levels. Heartbroken? Listen to We Found Love. In the closet and feeling down on the rest of your life? Listen to We Found Love. Madly in love? Listen to We Found Love. Need a song to dance to? Listen to We Found Love. Once again, in short, an absolute banger.
08. Mark Ronson + Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk (2014)
If you don’t include this on your songs-of-the-decade list, you’re joyless. Is it overplayed to fuck? Of course. D’you know why? Because Uptown Funk is four and a half minutes of musical perfection. That intro, the rhythm, the chorus, Bruno Mars’ vocal, how much it makes you want to dance. You know this song and you shouldn’t need me to tell you why this is in the top tens songs of the decade.
07. George Ezra – Paradise (2018)
Paradise is like no George Ezra song before it and there have been none like it since. Sure, Shotgun fired his sophomore album into the top of the charts, but it’s too basic. Paradise, on the other hand, is genius. The opening thrums, the vocal ping pong “my love – MY LOVE”, “lover-lover-lover”, the falsettoed prechorus, then that runaway train of a chorus. The lyrical rhythms of the chorus are staggering to keep up with and the little touches like the chant of “boom boom heart” that you can literally hear permeating with the background kick drum in the song are magic. A song about being in love that could make you feel like you are in love even if you’re a literal dead inside spinster.
06. Ariana Grande – Into You (2015)
A better, more nuance pop writer than me can tell you why Into You is Ariana Grande’s most iconic pop song. It grew legs in the gay scene and carried her into the chart topping success of her subsequent two albums. That opening still leaves me breathless, the prechorus is vocal divinity, and then when the first half of the chorus itself drops it feels like someone has given you a pill that has started to kick in, and then the second half of the chorus it actually starts kicking in. The runs, the adlibs and all the little vocal touches from Grande are stunning and you could listen to it over and over and find something new every single time.
05. Emily Burns – Cheat (2018)
This is it. I’m calling it. The best pop song of the 2010’s: Cheat by Emily Burns. I have never in my life listened to a song that has made me feel the way I did when I first heard Cheat. I listened to it on loop for days – the way it ends feeds right back into the start of the song making it a very easy song to loop – and it was more an mor satisfying with each subsequent listen. The only reason I took it off my everyday playlist is because it deserves to be listened to in isolation. The introductory “ha ha” and the “whoop” sample, the way all the upbeat synthetic sound are threaded together, the simplicity of the verses and the chorus, the whooshing noise that precede the chorus, the actual melodic progression in the chorus – I have never, not do I think I will ever, hear a pop song better crafted than Cheat. Criminally underplayed by every single one of you.
04. Eminem + Kendrick Lamer – Love Game (2013)
I only have one goal in life and it is to learn every single word to this high-pace rap and perform it at the speed it was written to be performed. So many people haven’t heard this, and I feel like every single sane-minded person I’ve played this for has immediately been like “oh shit this is good how have I not heard this?” Both Kendrick and Eminem spit at breakneck speed with lyrics that would trip anyone up but the very best at their craft. The hook from Kendrick is weirdly cute, there is not a lyric nor a sound sample out of place, and every verse is so well. do yourself a favour if you haven’t already: listen to this fucking song.
03. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Can’t Hold Us – feat. Ray Dalton (2012)
Can’t Hold Us is pure energy. It featured at almost every single club night I went to during my uni days and it never failed to deliver the best moment of the night. When I saw the duo live in 2012, they played this both during their set and as their encore – who the hell gets away with that? These guys, because this is so damn good. It’s fun, fast, infectious, you want to rap to it, and if you let it, it can make you feel like your on top of the world. So many perfect parts – the spelling of”i-n-d-e-p-e-d-e-n-t”, the speed at which Macklemore delivers “like I gave a little speed to great white shark on shark week – rah”, the “nah-nah-nah-nah” bridge, Ray Dalton’s chorus, the horns. The amount of escapism this has given me over the years is something I will be forever indebted to them for.
02. Matt Corby – Resolution (2013)
I used to give biannual reminders on my personal Facebook page about how much I loved Resolution by Matt Corby. Its one of my most cherished songs of all time, in part because of how gorgeous the vocal is, in part because nobody else was really aware of it so it felt like a song just for me, in part because it came to me at an important time. Corby has one of my favourite voices in music – it’s soft and gritty, soulful and powerful, he boasts a massive range – and on Resolution he showcases it in its entirety. It’s a crescendo of piano and drum and vocal that comes to its most important point from 2.00-2.40 and the rest of the song just holds you in that state of perfect bliss. I cannot stress how good this song is.
01. Imagine Dragons – Demons (2012)
I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t put Demons at the top of this list. Imagine dragons are my number one artist of the decade, and this my most played song. When I first heard it I was heading to university and was suddenly given access to live music that I hadn’t had before. I was a huge fan of the band and specifically Demons, I was struggling with identity issues at the time and it’s an emotive fight song, and I felt every single word that Dan Reynolds was singing to me. It was just before they broke into the mainstream and so the song felt like my own. I went to Glasgow for a little pre-show meet and greet where I got a blurry photo with the band, I later peed beside Dan Reynolds in the venue’s bathroom, and then I was less than five metres from the stage at a very intimate gig. The atmopshere that night was electric and I’ve never had an live experience quite like it. I had all the words to Demons burned into my very being and it felt like the entire world melted away when they took to the stage and performed it. Demons is a huge, emotional song. The chorus is iconic, the verses are powerful an gentle, the bridge is short and sweet and I’m practically in tears just writing about it. This is my kingdom come; this is my song of the decade.
Thanks for reading!