The Most Influential Songs of the Decade

By Sahara Portlance

This decade has defined our childhood. We’ve conquered elementary and middle school and are about to move onto an exciting new chapter. Music is a big part of many of our lives. When you hear a song that played during an important memory, it just hits different. These songs might mean a lot to you. Not only have they been the soundtrack to our youth, but they’ve also impacted American culture and spoken out about the problems that we were and are still facing today.

2010: Tik Tok was Ke$ha’s 2nd most listened to song that she ever made, hitting 300 million streams on Spotify by March of 2010. Listeners fell in love with her. The #FreeKe$ha movement in 2011, fueled by diehard fans, supported the case made by the singer and her mother against Ke$ha’s producer, Dr. Luke, claiming he engaged in a number of harmful activities with the artist. The producer filed an opposing lawsuit stating that the allegations made against him were fabricated. The fight ended in March of 2017 when a judge refused to amend the case and stated that any abuse would have been foreseeable due to the fact that Ke$ha entered the contract with Dr. Luke after the alleged abuse began. This case increased awareness of harassment in Hollywood and the entertainment industry.

2011: Pumped Up Kicks by Foster the People portrays the thoughts and emotions of a  teenager with homicidal thoughts. Lead singer Mark Foster told CNN,“I wrote ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ when I began to read about the growing trend in teenage mental illness… It was terrifying how mental illness among youth had skyrocketed in the last decade. I was scared to see where the pattern was headed if we didn’t start changing the way we were bringing up the next generation.” This fear was anything but unreasonable. Homicide and suicide were the leading causes of teenage death throughout the 10’s. From 2000 to 2010 there have been 61 shootings in schools and universities. That number has more than tripled in the past 9 years. There have been 226 school shootings from 2000 to May of 2019. The amount of shootings has become increasingly concerning to American students.

2012: Some Nights by Fun defined the feeling of all 2012 phenomenon skeptics when the world didn’t end. The upbeat, indie pop song talks about the feeling of having the most fun you can on any given night.  The feeling is shown when lead singer, Nate Ruess sings, “Why don’t we break the rules already?” These lyrics exemplify the feeling of believers in the Mesoamerican Calendar. People around the world, particularly in formerly Mayan countries of South America, believed that a series of astrological events would result in the end of the world on December 21, 2012. Countries such as Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Savador celebrated that night with many festivities. Fortunately the world did not end and we are able to live another day but thanks to the event, many people got out of their comfort zones and did things they may have never done if they didn’t believe they wouldn’t be able to have a chance to do it again.

2013: What Does The Fox Say by Ylvis, a Norwegian comedy duo, enhanced meme culture across the world. The song brought up a reasonable question in asking what sounds foxes actually make. It became a joke among memers everywhere and was their anthem for a short while. Memes are a way for people to make jokes and mock many cultural and political figures and events. They are popular because they can be made by anyone and be posted practically anywhere. These jokes lighten up people’s days and allow people all over the world to discuss political and cultural events in a satirical way. 

2014: Happy by Pharrell Williams was #1 in 80 countries. The catchy pop song gives out an extremely positive message and is hard not to love. The song uplifted feelings of everyone because it is maybe the least controversial pop song made in the decade. The music video for the popular song consisted of people dancing around to the song and clips of happy life moments. All clips of the video were submitted to Pharrell Williams on the website The song uplifted spirits of people around the world, which according to Williams was the purpose of the song. 

2015: When I See You Again by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth expresses a feeling of loss. The song signifies the feeling of loss after losing a close friend when Puth sings, “It’s been a long day without you, my friend. And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.” People across the country shared this feeling after the loss of Freddie Gray, a 25 year old African-American man from Baltimore. Gray was a victim of police brutality; the incident angered the people of Baltimore and many protests turned into riots on the day of April 12, 2015. After the mistreatment and unfortunate death of Freddie Gray, “the mind-set has changed.” according to the New York Times. The following riots set fire to the Black Lives Matter movement and made Americans really consider the problem of police brutality that this country is facing.

2016: Beyonce’s Formation was squeezed fresh out of her 2016 album “Lemonade”. The song as well as the music video made waves in pop culture all over the world. The music video incorporates symbols that reflect American Southern culture by including videos from Hurricane Katrina, the storm that rocked the South in 2005, along with black women flaunting their natural hair. The song acknowledges the importance of being confident with one’s self identity and owning your insecurities: “ I like my baby hair with baby hair and afros”. Beyonce claims she loves her natural hair. This statement empowers black girls to love the many features of themselves that have been discriminated against. A controversial topic was covered in the video when a young black boy was dancing in front of police officers. When the boy stopped dancing, him as well as the wall of police around him raised their arms as the camera panned over to a white wall with the words, “Stop Killing Us” spray painted in a contrasting black. The song addressed the problems that African-Americans are facing in America.

2017: In 2017, the leading cause of teenage death was suicide. Logic’s 1-800-273-8255 addressed this issue from the point of view of a suicidal teenager with lyrics such as “I’ve been on the low” and “ I feel like I’m out of my mind, It feels like my life ain’t mine”.  The song’s title is the number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Its impact on teenagers was apparent when there was a 50% increase in calls to the hotline.  Logic’s inspiration behind the song was his fans. He claimed, “Many of you have told me it’s even saved your life. I’m beyond humbled. But I felt I haven’t done enough… I made this song for all of you who are in a dark place and can’t seem to find the light.” The song has inspired many teenagers to seek help for their depression and helped them realize they are not alone in this feeling, especially when Logic says, “Who can relate?” 

2018: Childish Gambino’s This is America is arguably the most impactful song of the decade. The video opens with a man singing choral music and strumming a guitar. Soon after, Gambino shoots him. The choral music then turns into a haunting trap beat. Guthrie Ramsey, a music history professor from University of Pennsylvania told Times Magazine, “ Part of the brilliance of the presentation is that you go from this happy major mode of choral singing that we associate with South African choral singing, and then after the first gunshot it moves right into the trap sound.” When Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino dances and smiles ignorantly as violence breaks out around him, it symbolizes a typical American habit to be ignorant to the problems around us. The end of the music video shows Gambino running for his life from the violence that follows him. This moment represents the feeling of black Americans having to run from violence and discrimination. This song not only encompasses the problems we have faced this decade, but also the problems that we have faced since the start of this country.

2019: Juice by Lizzo, a rising artist in 2019, has been the year’s self-love anthem. The song radiates positive energy and confidence. The singer told NPR, “ They asked me what’s my favorite thing about myself [physically],  and I did not have an answer.” Lizzo discovered that she needed to improve her self-love after this question. She undeniably did that and now improves the confidence of all of her listeners. All ages love singing the song at the top of their lungs. When Lizzo sings, ”I was born like this, don’t even gotta try ”  you can’t help but feel like dancing. The song finishes the decade with an amazing attitude.