The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

The Top 200 Tracks of the 2010s

The indestructible gold standard for pop since the dawn of the recording age, the single format benefitted from an explosion in technology that made its distribution not only easier, but less dependent on the old tyrannies of labels, A&R men and radio play. Everything, all of the time, were the watchwords of the 2010s.

The drawback, however, was the way in which we began to consume music in the streaming age. The algorithmical nature meant that it was harder to hear things outside of one’s own ‘bubble’ of interest, with automated recommendations making your Spotify account your own personal radio station. Hence, it was perfectly possible for Drake to have a UK no.1 single for 15 consecutive weeks, and yet barely over 5% of the population had heard of it, let alone would be able to hum the tune to you. Universal ‘moments’ in pop that used to bind the country together were very much harder to come by, following the explosion in choice in the marketplace for music consumption.

READ MORE: The Top 200 Albums of the 2010s

But perhaps that’s our editor’s age showing… For The Student Playlist, we agonised over the decision to narrow down the avalanche of great new music from all kinds of different genres down to just 200, but we proceeded on the basis that these tracks had to make us feel something. In truth, any one of about two dozen songs could conceivably have topped our list. We hope that your favourite has made it, and that you discover more music from this decade that you’ll like!

Please check out all 200 tracks by clicking on the (LISTEN) links, or enjoy them all in one go with our companion Spotify playlist!

All words written by Ed Biggs, unless specified otherwise in brackets.

200. Foster The People – ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ (2010) (Columbia / Startime)

Possibly the only song genuinely about school shootings that made it onto the charts and stayed there for as long as it did, ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ saw Mark Foster apply his jingle writing skills to dark subject matter to resounding success. (Ellie Wolf) (LISTEN)

199. The Chain Gang Of 1974 – ‘Sleepwalking’ (2014) (Warner Bros.)

Kamtin Mohager’s finest hour under his band-driven moniker TCGo1974, ‘Sleepwalking’ occasionally sounded like it was created in lab, each element processed and refined for commercial purposes, but still achieved electronic rock perfection. (LISTEN)

198. Holly Herndon – ‘Interference’ (2015) (4AD)

It was rare to hear something in the 2010s which, musically at least, appeared to arrive ex nihilo, but Holly Herndon’s digital-age avant-garde sonic artistry on her 2015 album Platform was one such moment – ‘Interference’ was its incredible lead-off. (LISTEN)

197. The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk – ‘Starboy’ (2016) (XO / Republic)

Rather than steal the spotlight, the robotic duo provide understated production and sighing background vocals as Abel Tesfaye reflects on celebrity and artistic evolution. (LISTEN)

196. Mount Kimbie ft. King Krule – ‘Blue Train Lines’ (2017) (Warp)

An unexpected union – the electronica duo Mount Kimbie with indie fusion’s darling King Krule – joined to create a very ‘80s doomsday track, where wheezes of technology cry under Archy Marshall’s snarls on ‘Blue Train Lines’. (Aiste Samuchovaite) (LISTEN)

195. Nilüfer Yanya – ‘Baby Luv’ (2018) (Blue Flowers / ATO Records)

The simplicity of the strummed rhythm of ‘Baby Luv’ belied the warmth and complexity of Nilüfer Yanya’s musical style – its two repeated phrases “do you like pain?” and “call me sometime” were both plaintive and self-abasing – and stoked the anticipation for her debut even further. (LISTEN)

194. Chvrches – ‘Leave A Trace’(2015) (Virgin EMI)

The stand-out moment on an album groaning with glinting, modern-day power-pop gems, the outrageously catchy ‘Leave A Trace’ saw Lauren Mayberry deliver a middle-finger treatise to not being friends with your ex. (LISTEN)

193. Weyes Blood – ‘Movies’ (2019) (Sub Pop)

In 2019, Natalie Mering was a gift that just kept on giving, her latest Weyes Blood album ‘Titanic Rising’ outshining many a release with its exceptional atmosphere and songwriting. ‘Movies’ encapsulates its grandeur, tragedy and hope, the outpourings of someone pleading for simplicity in their life, just like on the silver screen. (AS) (LISTEN)

192. Flying Lotus – ‘Do The Astral Plane’ (2010) (Warp)

Amid the genre-to-genre mood whirlwind of Cosmogramma, Steven Ellison found space for a (comparatively) simple hands-in-the-air house track with ‘Do The Astral Plane’. (LISTEN)

191. Car Seat Headrest – ‘Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales’ (2016) (Matador)

Full of scruffy indie angst, Will Toledo’s ‘Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales’ was about the dread of tomorrow, the danger of one’s self-sabotage and trying to be better. (AS) (LISTEN)

190. Everything Everything – ‘Schoolin’ (2010) (Geffen)

While it didn’t always pay dividends, Everything Everything’s kitchen-sink approach to experimentation within the boundaries of pop worked marvelously when it did – Jon Higgs’ spiraling, soaring vocals cut well with the loping, throwback hip-hop and funk vibes on ‘Schoolin’. (LISTEN)

189. Jake Bugg – ‘Lightning Bolt’ (2012) (Mercury)

With its country riff and a sense of immediacy with its Dylan-esque delivery, ‘Lightning Bolt’ was a jolt of jaunty Sixties folk-rock in the form of Jake Bugg, a man who couldn’t have looked more 2010s if he’d tried. (AS) (LISTEN)

188. Katy B – ‘Katy On A Mission’ (2010) (Rinse)

Helping to make a superstar out of the hugely likeable Katy B for a brief time at the start of the decade, ‘Katy On A Mission’ took the aesthetics of dubstep and re-cast them for commercial purposes, using clever beats, wobbly basslines and stabbing synths to tell a story of hedonistic abandon. (LISTEN)

187. Loyle Carner – ‘Isle Of Arran’ (2016) (AMF)

Loyle Carner has always placed his personal life and authenticity front-and-centre of his work – on the crestfallen ‘Isle Of Arran’, he essays the feeling of grief and loss concerning his late grandfather in unnerving detail, set to a lonely sax lick and loping beats. (LISTEN)

186. U.S. Girls – ‘Incidental Boogie’ (2018) (4AD)

The angriest song about husbands from possibly one of the best albums about female rage, ‘Incidential Boogie’ was the highlight of Meghan Remy’s best album In A Poem Unlimited. (EW) (LISTEN)

185. Rihanna ft. Calvin Harris – ‘We Found Love’ (2011) (Def Jam / SRP)

Rihanna’s spectacular vocals elevated even the normally obnoxious Calvin Harris to the heights of excellence on this all-out dance-pop banger, which devastated the charts on both sides of the Atlantic in 2011. (LISTEN)

184. Circa Waves – ‘T-Shirt Weather’ (2015) (Virgin EMI)

Going silver despite not even charting in the UK, the irrepressible exuberance and energy of ‘T-Shirt Weather’ was more than enough to overcome Kieran Shudall’s prosaic lyrics and become Circa Waves’ calling card. (LISTEN)

183. Little Simz – ‘101 FM’ (2018) (Age 101)

Reminiscing about her London upbringing and her dreams for a different future, Little Simz bops above the playful, video game-esque Eastern-sounding instrumental like a skilled rap aficionado. (AS) (LISTEN)

182. Snail Mail – ‘Pristine’ (2018) (Matador)

The lead single from still-rising indie darling’s Lindsey Jordan’s album Lush is as emotionally fragile as it is authoritative, a true expression of teenage indie candour and emotional upheaval. (EW) (LISTEN)

181. Kamasi Washington – ‘The Rhythm Changes’ (2015) (Brainfeeder)

As virtuosic as anything from Kamasi Washington’s three-hour modern jazz masterpiece The Epic, ‘The Rhythm Changes’ feels as euphoric as it is simply impressive to listen to. (EW) (LISTEN)

180. Stormzy – ‘Big For Your Boots’ (2017) (#Merky / Warner)

Released in early 2017 and soaring straight into the Top 10, Stormzy’s ‘Big For Your Boots’ was another watershed moment for the rapid ascendancy of grime in the second half of the decade, and made an undisputed star of its creator. (LISTEN)

179. Against Me! – ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ (2014) (Total Treble / Xtra Mile)

The pointed and poignant centerpiece of an entire album of the same name, dealing with transgender dysphoria following lead singer Laura Jane Grace’s gender transition and coming out. “You want them to see you / like they see every other girl / they just see a faggot / they hold their breath not to catch the sick”, Grace spat sadly, set to a bracing, bone-shaking punk/rockabilly rhythm. (LISTEN)

178. Julia Jacklin – ‘Pressure To Party’ (2019) (Polyvinyl / Transgressive)

In an elegant indie song, Julia Jacklin ruminated on the difficulties of re-adjusting to ‘normal life’ – going out, mixing, small talk – after a devastating break-up. (AS) (LISTEN)

177. Michael Kiwanuka – ‘Black Man In A White World’ (2016) (Polydor)

Despite repeating the title more than 40 times in the soulful ‘Black Man In A White World’, Michael Kiwanuka’s tone is not angry or confrontational. Rather, it’s one of frustration at having to constantly defy or overturn the power of other’s expectations. (LISTEN)

176. Rae Sremmurd ft. Gucci Mane – ‘Black Beatles’ (2016) (Ear Drummers / Interscope)

The two synthesizer patterns running out of tandem on viral hit ‘Black Beatles’ created a feeling of disorientation that the somewhat off-kilter trap rap track runs with, as you can’t help but get sucked into it. (EW) (LISTEN)

175. Mini Mansions – ‘Freakout!’ (2015) (Fiction)

A retro-rock side-project of QOTSA, Michael Shuman and Tyler Parkford didn’t even try to disguise their love for Sixties pop on ‘Freakout!’, a glorious crescendo of Sgt. Pepper’s dynamics and Brian Wilson-esque melodies. (LISTEN)

174. Adele – ‘Rolling In The Deep’ (2010) (XL)

Supposedly the song Adele wrote to prove that she can write a jazz number, ‘Rolling In The Deep’ sees her channeling Nina Simone, or perhaps Aretha Franklin, at their most virtuosic and fervent. (EW) (LISTEN)

173. Crystal Castles ft. Robert Smith – ‘Not In Love’ (2010) (Fiction)

An inspired cover of Platinum Blonde’s 1983 hit, Ethan Kath and Alice Glass cloaked the original in pixelated shrouds of gothic gloom, and got none other than genre legend Robert Smith to provide crestfallen vocals for a special single release. (LISTEN)

172. The Vaccines – ‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’ (2010) (Marshall Teller Records)

The Vaccines’ subsequent slide into mediocrity ought not to take away from the justified excitement in the music press when they first emerged. ‘Wreckin’ Bar’ distilled the essence of the Ramones and the Beach Boys into 84 breakneck seconds. (LISTEN)

171. Yaeji – ‘Drink I’m Sippin’ On’ (2017) (Godmode)

Placing herself on a weird midway line in between American deadpan trap and K-pop and R&B, Yaeji landed on a track that’s as mellow as it is hard-hitting. (EW) (LISTEN)

170. Drake ft. Majid Jordan – ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home’ (2013) (Young Money / Cash Money / Republic / AMG)

Chart topper, meme and stand-out Drake track, ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home’ is many things at once, championing the Canadian superstar’s signature ‘good girl, party, inspirational struggle’ lyrical style. (AS) (LISTEN)

169. Kanye West ft. Pusha T – ‘Runaway’ (2010) (Roc-A-Fella / Def Jam)

In typical Kanye fashion, ‘Runaway’ was a song that at the same time apologises for and lauds bad behaviour. And, of course, incomprehensibly, like all tracks on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it completely blew the roof off with its arrangement and production. (EW) (LISTEN)

168. Songhoy Blues – ‘Soubour’ (2013) (Transgressive)

Meaning ‘patience’ in their native Malian, Songhoy Blues’ signature track ‘Soubour’ was written to lift the country’s spirits in the midst of its civil war, channeling their youthful obsession with B.B. King, Hendrix and Howlin’ Wolf into a languorous, mesmerising piece. (LISTEN)

167. Janelle Monáe – ‘Cold War’ (2010) (Wondaland / Bad Boy)

One of many highlights from her stunning debut album The ArchAndroid, ‘Cold War’ was a fast-paced and futuristic clash of new wave and funk whose percussion recalled the clattering chaos of OutKast’s ‘B.O.B.’, and marked Janelle Monáe out as a star. (LISTEN)

166. ANOHNI – ‘Drone Bomb Me’ (2016) (Rough Trade)

An indictment of the drone warfare employed by the US administration of the time, ANOHNI managed to shed light on something completely awful in the most beautiful and haunting way by making the narrator a little girl pleading for death after her family got killed in one of the attacks. Dark stuff. (EW) (LISTEN)

165. Slowdive – ‘Star Roving’ (2017) (Dead Oceans)

The reunited Slowdive, releasing their first new music in well over two decades, gave a masterclass in how to return with credibility and style. ‘Star Roving’, rather than aping the shoegaze of their mid-Nineties heyday, blended the ruggedness of their early work with the soaring experimentation of Pygmalion. (LISTEN)

164. Majical Cloudz – ‘Childhood’s End’ (2013) (Matador)

Sparking off his bandmate Matthew Otto’s minimalist electronic backdrops, little more than low, keening strings and a pattering pulse, Devon Welsh turned in an exceptionally striking and heavy vocal performance reflecting on the permanent death of innocence, a point we all hit in our lives. (LISTEN)

163. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – ‘I Need You’ (2016) (Bad Seed Ltd.)

Unsurprisingly, given the sudden tragedy that befell his family with the death of his teenage son the previous year, Skeleton Tree was a dark and harrowing portrait of grief. ‘I Need You’ was its keening centerpiece, where the lyrics became less allegorical and the scope widens from intimate into cinematic. (LISTEN)

162. Mattiel – ‘Keep The Change’ (2019) (ATO Recordings / Heavenly)

Mattiel’s ‘Keep The Change’ has that trapped in a disappointing world feel, shaking its head in denial about wasted time and dreams unfulfilled, whilst still struggling to get loose. (AS) (LISTEN)

161. SBTRKT ft. Ezra Koenig – ‘NEW DORP. NEW YORK’ (2014) (Young Turks)

An unexpected yet delightful collaboration, SBTRKT and Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig’s fruit of labour is a minimalist, industrial/noir track at the heart of the gargantuan New York with the sleaze of a jazz cat. (AS) (LISTEN)

160. Leonard Cohen – ‘You Want It Darker’ (2016) (Sony)

Laughing Len opened his 14th and final album with its ruthlessly minimal title track, a funereal lament recorded in the Montreal synagogue in which his family used to worship. His subtly irreverent and black humour was on display in lyrics like “if thine is the glory then mine must be the shame / you want it darker? We kill the flame”, the sound of a man casting his eye over the state of civilisation and knowing he won’t have to put up with it much longer. (LISTEN)

159. Karen O ft. Michael Kiwanuka – ‘Yo! My Saint’ (2018) (Karen O)

Released as part of a multimedia project with fashion brand Kenzo, ‘Yo! My Saint’ forged an unlikely partnership out of indie-punk frontwoman Karen O and modern-day soul artist Michael Kiwanuka, but it ended up being a beautiful yet dread-tinged slice of Morricone-inspired balladry. (LISTEN)

158. Beach House – ‘Levitation’ (2015) (Bella Union / Sub Pop)

Full to the brim with soft romance, ‘Levitation’ is the sound of tenderness itself, a shimmering and naive acceptance of life’s unpredictability that can be saved and borne up with companionship. (AS) (LISTEN)

157. Cate Le Bon – ‘Daylight Matters’ (2019) (Mexican Summer)

Having spent a decade carving out her own niche between the realms of indie, folk and pop with her elliptical songwriting, ‘Daylight Matters’ heralded Cate Le Bon’s fifth studio album Reward in a much more direct fashion, a chiming and sun-dappled mix of guitars and sax. (LISTEN)

156. Anna Meredith – ‘Nautilus’ (2012) (Moshi Moshi)

Her first conventional release after nearly two decades in the classical scene, ‘Nautilus’ was an absolutely stunning reinvention for Scottish composer Anna Meredith – rambunctious, cacophonous and seemingly always on the point of collapse with its brass-powered builds. (LISTEN)

155. Denzel Curry ft. Twelve’len & GoldLink – ‘Black Balloons’ (2018) (PH / Loma Vista)

The fifth single from Ta13oo, released almost nine months after the album itself dropped, the hazy and narcotic synths that pervaded ‘Black Balloons’ at last broke Floridian rapper Denzel Curry into the wider consciousness, and out of the SoundCloud rap tag that had followed him hitherto. (LISTEN)

154. Alabama Shakes – ‘Hold On’ (2012) (Rough Trade)

Fusing blues, Americana and other beautiful influences floating around in Brittany Howard’s heart, ‘Hold On’ was the track that managed to be comforting and encouraging, all the while becoming Song of 2012 over at Rolling Stone. (AS) (LISTEN)

153. M.I.A. – ‘Bad Girls’ (2010) (Interscope)

Originally released in truncated form on her 2010 online mixtape Vicki Leekx, ‘Bad Girls’ was M.I.A.’s last truly great single, melding mid-tempo hip-hop with elements of worldbeat and dancehall, with a fist-pumping refrain “live fast die young, bad girls do it well” over an absolutely killer hook. (LISTEN)

152. Pet Shop Boys – ‘Love Is A Bourgeois Construct’ (2013) (x2)

The highlight from the Pets’ career-reviving album Electric, ‘Love Is A Bourgeois Construct’ contained everything the band’s classic singles are traditionally about. Based on a hook from 17th century composer Henry Purcell interpolated into a grandiose, almost pompous disco riff, Neil Tennant’s trademark scathing wit and self-deprecation was fully on display. (LISTEN)

151. Nadine Shah – ‘Out The Way’ (2017) (1965 Records)

Nadine Shah delivered an absolute whopper of a post-punk track in ‘Out The Way’, a declaration of pride as much as it is social commentary. (EW) (LISTEN)

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