The song at #61 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is the superb “Heathens” by twenty øne piløts. The third of their six songs on this countdown, it was written and recorded for the Suicide Squad film soundtrack. The dark song is in the style of rap rock rap rock, with a haunting arrangement set to a slow hip hop beat. The mournful piano keys, rough scratching sounds, Tyler Joseph’s monotone vocals, and a mysterious disembodied voice chanting “watch it” contrast with the dramatic, sweeping orchestration, creating a menacing sense of foreboding.
The lyrics speak to not making snap judgements about people you don’t know, and to be more sensitive to others, as we all have hidden issues. “We don’t deal with outsiders very well. They say newcomers have a certain smell. You have trust issues, not to mention, they say they can smell your intentions. You’re lovin’ on the freakshow sitting next to you. You’ll have some weird people sitting next to you. You’ll think ‘How did I get here, sitting next to you?’ But after all I’ve said, please don’t forget.”
The song was a big hit, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it spent four weeks at that spot, held down by the inferior Chainsmokers/Halsey hit “Closer”. However, it reached #1 on the Alternative and Rock charts, as well as in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The video for the song has been streamed more than one and a half billion times.
The song at #62 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is the hauntingly beautiful “Trampoline” by indie dream-pop band SHAED. The band consists of lead vocalist Chelsea Lee and multi-instrumentalist twin brothers Max and Spencer Ernst (Chelsea and Spencer are married to each other). Their inspiration for “Trampoline” came one night as the trio sat together watching old family videos of Spencer and Max jumping on a trampoline as small children. The song’s meaning has been the subject of debate, ranging from death to suicide to drug addiction, but SHAED has stated that they simply wanted to write a great song loosely based on the idea of the Stranger Things alternative dimension “Upside Down” (Genius.com). This is artfully captured in the stunning and rather surreal video for the song.
A breakout hit for the Washington, D.C.-based threesome, “Trampoline” was originally released in May 2018, but got little airplay until it was featured in an Apple MacBook Air commercial that October, and the song quickly took off. The song finally debuted on the Billboard Alternative Chart in early December 2018, reaching #1 in the summer of 2019 and and spending 63 weeks on the chart. It also peaked at #13 on the Hot 100, and was named the #1 song of 2019 on the Alternative chart, and finished at #5 on my own year-end list for 2019.
The song at #63 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Adventure of a Lifetime” by British alternative pop-rock band Coldplay. I’m not ashamed to admit that I love Coldplay, who were my favorite band in the 2000s (six of their songs appear on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2000s, including “Clocks” which I ranked at #1). They continued to produce some great music in the 2010s, although some have criticized their later music as being too ‘pop’. I suppose that’s partly true, but I still love a lot of their songs from this decade.
Coldplay pulled out all the stops with “Adventure of a Lifetime”, which was released in November 2015 as the lead single from their seventh studio album A Head Full of Dreams. That album was a stylistic departure for the band, as they wanted to make something more colorful and uplifting than their previous works. And though they’d collaborated with other artists on some of their songs in the past (such as Rihanna on “Princess of China”), this album saw them collaborate with many more artists, including Beyonce, Noel Gallagher, Tove Lo, Khatia Buniatishvili and Merry Clayton.
It’s a beautiful, joyously upbeat track, featuring Jonny Buckland’s gorgeous swirling guitars, Will Champion’s thumping drums and Chris Martin’s signature soaring vocals that make for a truly great song. Guy Berryman’s strong bass gives the feel of a heart beating and the mandolin at song’s end is stunning.
The whimsical video. directed by the band’s long-time collaborator, Mat Whitecross, shows the band members transformed through the magic of CGI into gorillas cavorting about in the jungle. According to The Guardian, the video was shot at The Imaginarium, where the reboot series of Planet of the Apes and parts of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars: The Force Awakens were filmed. Hannah Clark, the producer of the video commented, “As creatures go, chimps are one of the more difficult to animate. Not only are they quite human in their movement, but they are covered in hair. Add to this that we had no backgrounds shot, and we were asking an awful lot of any post-collaborator.”
The band’s faces were covered in a special, reflective and light-catching make-up that allowed the computers to appropriately interpret the video feed and create renders of the chimpanzees’ characters. The band members didn’t play real instruments, but instead held similarly-shaped objects that enabled creation of realistic body positions. The video took six months to complete, and has been viewed more than 1.1 billion times.
The song at #64 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “So Tied Up” by blues rock band Cold War Kids featuring vocals by Bishop Briggs. Based in Long Beach, California, Cold War Kids formed in 2004 and has undergone numerous changes in lineup, and now consists of Nathan Willett (lead vocals, piano, guitar), Matt Maust (bass guitar), David Quon (guitar, backing vocals), Matthew Schwartz (keyboards, backing vocals, guitar, percussion), and Joe Plummer, who formerly played drums for bands Modest Mouse and The Shins (drums, percussion). I love their vibrant, hard-driving sound, and they have two songs on this list – “So Tied Up” and their 2015 single “First”, which appears later.
Singer-songwriter Bishop Briggs, based in nearby Los Angeles, is pretty awesome too, with a distinctive, powerhouse voice. Combining her passionate vocals with the commanding vocals of Cold War Kids lead singer Nathan Willett on “So Tied Up” results in auditory fireworks to match the biting lyrics about a destructive co-dependent relationship that’s become so toxic the two partners loathe each other, yet are powerless to escape from it. The song is from Cold War Kids’ sixth album L.A. Divine, which also features another great song “Love is Mystical”. I loved “So Tied Up” at first listen and never tired of hearing it.
The song is positively electrifying, with an aggressive stomping beat-driven melody highlighted by pounding drums and piano keys, and fortified with a heavy thumping bass line, gritty synths and fantastic guitar work. The track’s massive sound combined with Willett and Briggs’ fiery vocals never fails to cover me with goosebumps. Shockingly, the song was not a very big hit, peaking only at #9 on the Billboard Adult Alternative and #12 on the Alternative charts. It spent two weeks at #1 on my own Weekly Top 30 chart, however.
The darkly amusing and rather violent video shows Willett and Briggs singing the song interspersed with scenes of a couple hell-bend on killing each other. By the time the song was released, Bishop Briggs had become quite popular in her own right, and many of her fans complained that her vocals weren’t prominent enough on the song. So, Cold War Kids invited her back into the studio so she could dub more of her vocals onto the track. The official video was reissued with her vocals given greater prominence.
The song at #65 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Coming of Age” by Los Angeles-based alternative pop-rock band Foster the People. Though I really liked their debut single “Pumped Up Kicks” a lot (it appears later on this list), it was their beautiful, introspective song “Coming of Age” that made me fall in love with them, and they’ve been one of my favorite bands ever since. I saw them in concert at L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium in November 2014, and a photo I took of them has remained as my Twitter header pic since I created my account in August 2015. A few months after creating my account, I was pleasantly shocked when Foster the People followed me back, most likely because band front man Mark Foster saw his band pictured on my Twitter page.
Hard as it is to believe, prior to hearing “Coming of Age” upon its release in January 2014, I was unaware of any of their other songs besides “Pumped Up Kicks”. I’ve previously mentioned my musical awakening when I discovered the Billboard Alternative Chart in late summer of 2013, and when I saw “Coming of Age” appear on that chart, I naturally had to check it out, and instantly loved it. I then searched for more of their music and discovered their fantastic debut album Torches, which in addition to “Pumped Up Kicks” was filled with great songs like “Helena Beat”, Houdini”, “Call it What You Want” and “Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls)”. When Foster the People released their second album Supermodel that March, I purchased it along with Torches, and had both on repeat for the rest of 2014.
“Coming of Age” was inspired by Foster’s experience and introspection after two years of touring with the band, and was actually the last song to be written and recorded for Supermodel. He told XFM London: “Lyrically it is almost a confession. It’s about having a moment of clarity…after the storm of touring for two years and my life drastically changing. It was kind of the first breath I had to really look around and see that there were some things that happened during that period with my friends and with my loved ones, with the people that are close to me and with myself as well. It’s about growing up.”
Musically, the song is melodically complex and stunning, with swirling synths, haunting piano and gnarly guitars layered over Cubbie Fink’s thumping bass line and Mark Pontius’ aggressive percussion. I love the piano movement in the bridge, as well as Foster’s soaring heartfelt vocals that at times seem to channel his idol Brian Wilson.
The song was a hit on the Billboard Alternative and Adult Alternative charts, but unbelievably, did not chart on the Hot 100.
And here’s a cool time-lapse video showing the artwork for Supermodel, designed by Dutch artist and musician Young & Sick, being painted on the side of a building in downtown Los Angeles. With assistance from artist Daniel Lahoda, street artist Leba, and American graffiti art groups LA Freewalls and Vyal, the mural was painted over a period of 12 days, beginning the night of December 29, 2013 to the morning of January 9, 2014. Measuring 148 ft. by 126 ft., it was one of the largest murals ever created. Unfortunately, due to legal issues with both the building owners and the City of Los Angeles, the mural was later painted over.
The song at #66 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Live in the Moment” by alternative rock band Portugal. The Man. Originally from Wasilla, Alaska and now based in Portland, Oregon (they’ve sometimes referred to themselves as ‘Lords of Portland’), the band currently consists of John Gourley, Zach Carothers, Kyle O’Quin, Jason Sechrist, Eric Howk and Zoe Manville. They’ve released a fair amount of music since forming in 2004, but “Feel It Still,” from their eighth and most recent album Woodstock, was their breakthrough single. Following up on that monster hit, (which was my #1 song of 2017 and will be showing up later in this countdown), they hit the mark again with “Live in the Moment.”
It’s a gorgeous and electrifying track, with a hard-driving beat, sweeping synths, chugging guitars and soaring choruses dominated by John Gourley’s wonderful tenor vocals. The song lyrics are pretty deep with lots of hidden meaning, but they basically touch on subjects of religion and mortality: “Let’s live in the moment. Come back Sunday morning. Got soul to sell. When you’re gone goodbye, so long, farewell.” Toward the end it transitions to an almost church-like hymn with a dominant organ riff and chant-like vocals produced by computer text-to-speech software that sing “Oh, God, I can hardly believe my eyes. Wake up everybody you know. Come and watch the garden grow. I’ll see you when you get there.”
The imaginative and entertaining video shows the band riding in a car with a giant puppet of a guy skateboarding on top, being chased by another with a policeman puppet on top of that car.
The song at #67 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Jumpsuit” by my current favorite band twenty øne piløts, and is one of six songs by them on this list. For those who somehow are not familiar with them, they’re a couple of hyper-talented guys from Columbus, Ohio, consisting of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Tyler Joseph and drummer Josh Dun, who make brilliant alternative electronic rock & hip hop. Released in July 2018, “Jumpsuit” was the lead single from their fifth studio album Trench. Like their previous album Blurryface, Trench is a concept album that explores similar themes of mental health, suicide, and self-doubt. The album was co-written and produced by MUTEMATH front man Paul Meany.
Specifically, Trench tells the saga of the fictional evil city of Dema and surrounding valley known as Trench ruled by nine bishops, referred to as “Nico and the Niners”, as described in the similarly-titled track from the album. The bishops impose the religious cult of Vialism upon their citizens, and they do everything in their power to prevent them from leaving the walled city. Because they are unable to see the color yellow, the only way to escape is by wearing a yellow garment. Tyler Joseph’s alter ego is a character named Clancy, whose escape attempt is described in “Jumpsuit”.
The song is a metaphor for the struggle with mental illness, with the evil city of Dema representing mental illness, and the bishops representing the internal struggles of a person suffering from mental illness. Given its subject matter, “Jumpsuit” is one of their darker and more melodically complex songs. It opens with Joseph’s altered vocals shouting “cover me“, referring to his jumpsuit. As the song progresses, the music alternates between barrages of Joseph’s heavy bass guitar riffs and Josh Dun’s pounding drums, and soothing interludes of hushed vocals, lush synths and haunting piano. Joseph’s vocals gradually build to a goosebump-inducing crescendo towards the end as he desperately wails “Jumpsuit, jumpsuit cover me!”
The song at #68 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is the stirring “Nina Cried Power” by Hozier featuring Mavis Staples. Born Andrew John Hozier-Byrne, the strikingly handsome Irish singer-songwriter burst onto the music scene in 2014 with his massive hit “Take Me to Church” (coming up later in this list) and self-titled album Hozier. Exhausted from nearly two years of touring, he took a break in 2017 and then began writing new songs, but it would be four years before he followed up with a surprise release in September 2018 of a four-track EP Nina Cried Power, which featured the title track. The song was also included on his second album Wasteland, Baby!, released in March 2019.
“Nina Cried Power” is a magnificent gospel-infused ode to Hozier’s love of American rock and roll and its roots in R&B and gospel, with tributes paid to iconic artists like Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, Billie Holliday, James Brown and Mavis Staples, who lives up to her reputation by adding her soulful and raw vocals to the song. In addition, legendary musician Booker T. Jones contributed his organ-playing to the song and other tracks on Wasteland, Baby! It’s a stunning masterpiece in my not-so-humble opinion, yet seemed to fail to connect with very many listeners for reasons I cannot comprehend. It was a hit only on the Billboard Adult Alternative chart, where it reached #1.
The song at #69 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is the magnificent “Dizzy” by Chicago alternative indie rock band The Million Reasons. The song was released in July 2018, and I loved it at first listen. (I love this band and all its members too, as they’re as gracious and kind as they are talented.) The Million Reasons released their debut EP The Runaround in 2017, but “Dizzy” was my first introduction to them. The song made me an instant fan, and I’ve followed them closely ever since. At the time “Dizzy” was recorded, the band consisted of Scott Nadeau (vocals and guitar), Ken Ugel (guitar), Mike Nichols (guitar) and Colin Dill (drums). Bassist Jason Cillo joined the band later in 2018, and sadly, Nadeau left the band in 2019, but was replaced by an equally great vocalist Taylor Brennan.
The song is about a relationship in which both parties are blinded by an obsessive and possibly irrational desire for each other. Musically, the song is a slow burn. It starts off with an enthralling guitar riff that immediately pulls us in with the promise that something really beautiful is about to unfold, and as the music swells into a soaring anthem, we’re not disappointed. The instrumentals are incredible, and Scott Nadeau’s powerful, expressive vocals are perfection. By the time the final chorus arrives with Mike Nichols’ jaw-dropping screaming guitar solo and Nadeau’s raw, impassioned wails, I’m left covered in goosebumps and gasping for breath. This is truly one of the most beautiful rock songs I’ve ever heard.
The stunning video showing the band performing the song was directed and edited by Stephanie Battista.
The song at #70 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5featuring Christina Aguilera. While I would be the first to concede that it probably doesn’t qualify as a truly great song, it’s still a deliciously catchy electropop dance tune that’s just too damn fun to resist. When it came out in the summer of 2011, I couldn’t get enough of it, and it’s my biggest guilty pleasure song on this entire list. The song was a massive worldwide hit, reaching #1 in the U.S. and 25 other countries from Brazil to Finland to South Korea, and selling over 15 million digital units.
“Moves Like Jagger” was the the fourth single to be released from Maroon 5’s third album Hands All Over. Both Christina Aguilera and Maroon 5 front man Adam Levine were judges and coaches on the hit music competition show The Voice at the time, and their great chemistry shines through in the song. The video was filmed at the historic Los Angeles Theater, and features a bevy of costumed dancers doing their best Mick Jagger imitations along with Aguilera singing and Levine shown performing shirtless, of course, interspersed with vintage footage of Jagger dancing at several Rolling Stones concerts. In an interview on the ABC program Nightline in November 2011, Jagger stated he was flattered by being named in the song, and later joked on the Late Show with David Letterman about not seeing any royalties from it.
Fun fact: “Moves Like Jagger” is one of three songs on this list featuring prominent whistling, the others being the upcoming “Trampoline” by SHAED and “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People.