- Insider recently commemorated the past 10 years of musical greats with a series of opinion essays, each dedicated to a different artist who inspired fans and helped define the decade.
- The 10 artists are listed below, in no particular order, with highlights from the essays. They include Adele, Rihanna,Kendrick Lamar, Lady Gaga,Frank Ocean, Carly Rae Jepsen, Beyoncé,Harry Styles, Drake, and Taylor Swift.
- Following the list are 10 more artists who are considered honorable mentions.
- The honorable mentions include pop icons Ariana Grande, Bruno Mars,Miley Cyrus, and Ed Sheeran; critical darlings Lorde, Robyn, and Lana Del Rey; rap greats Kanye West and Nicki Minaj; and songwriter-producer extraordinaire Jack Antonoff.
- Each person marked the past 10 years with extraordinary contributions to the landscape of music.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Earlier this month, Insider reflected on the past decade of music greats with a series of opinion essays. These essays were dedicated to 10 artists that defined the 2010s, including Adele, Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Beyoncé, Drake, Harry Styles, Carly Rae Jepsen, Lady Gaga, and Taylor Swift.
We’ve rounded up highlights from each essay, below. Following our top 10 are the honorable mentions who were considered for essays, but ultimately didn’t make the cut. They include Ed Sheeran, Ariana Grande, and Bruno Mars, among others.
Read on for Insider’s top 20 artists of the 2010s.
Adele’s “artistry and style broke through in a time of ultra club-happy pop music, and paved the way for other artists to break the mould.”
“Put simply, the 2010s would have been a very different – and emotionally emptier – time without [Adele],” writer Kevin O’Keeffe argued for Insider. “And that’s what makes her the artist of the decade.”
Rihanna spent the past 10 years “making art for the century.”
Writer Caroline Colvin argued for Rihanna’s impact over the past 10 years, writing, “Even though she started the decade as the go-to musician for your homecoming dances, your pre-game vibes or your teary breakups, she’s truly earned her status as the artist of the decade because she’s not just making music for the decade. She’s making art for the century.”
Kendrick Lamar is “an unprecedented outlier in music, and more specifically, hip-hop.”
Culture journalist Mark Braboy focused on Kendrick Lamar’s influence in the 2010s for Insider’s artist of the decade series.
“There are only a handful of artists in music whose legacies superseded the wealth and fame they have accumulated throughout their careers. And while Lamar has plenty of that, the strongest parts of his legacies go beyond it all,” Braboy wrote.
“While he’s been compared to the late Tupac Shakur throughout his career it’s still far too premature to accurately gauge that influence. But what can be said is that he has sparked a blaze behind a generation of current and future musicians, creatives, thinkers, and writers alike.”
Lady Gaga “possesses an unparalleled sense of who she is. She has remained wholly herself in a sea of carbon copies.”
“Mother Monster is more than just a pop star – she’s a pioneer. Her unparalleled sense of who she is and uncompromised artistry make Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta the most influential artist of the decade,” freelancer Brandy Robidoux wrote.
Frank Ocean “has weaved his way through the public eye with astonishing grace and intention, forging ahead in search of artistic purity and limitless freedom.”
“It speaks to Frank Ocean’s stature in our culture, the way he’s changed our very understanding of modern music, that it almost feels irrelevant to point out how good his music is,” reporter Callie Ahlgrim wrote.
“Ultimately, the way Ocean earnestly grapples with themes like youth, innocence, lost love, loneliness, desire, and mortality – in a way that feels fresh and extraordinary, in a way that makes the introspective sound universal and transcendent – is why he’s one of the defining artists of our time.”
Carly Rae Jepsen’s “versatility, ever-evolving musical style, and impact make her the most important artist of the last ten years.”
Junior reporter Libby Torres believes Carly Rae Jepsen was the most influential artist of the 2010s because she has proven this decade that “her true power lies in crafting experimental yet intensely personal pop music for the ages that will make anyone listening want to run away with her.”
Beyoncé proved this decade that she’s a living icon through her culturally relevant music and her awe-inspiring live performances.
Writer Taylor Bryant argued that Beyoncé is deserving of being named artist of the decade because she “has always been a talented artist, but over the past decade, she’s become an entity, a living icon. Someone who people and other artists have come to both respect and envy.”
“When it comes to changing the culture and challenging others to catch up to what she’s doing rather than keeping pace with everyone else, she reigns supreme,” Bryant wrote.
Harry Styles’ “authenticity, along with his talent, has caused him to become one of the defining artists of the decade.”
Writer Elana Rubin thinks Styles is the artist of the decade because of his “ability to be vulnerable through his music, remain authentically kind, and make his fans feel comfortable with who they are.”
Drake’s “supreme dominance over the decade in music, pop culture, and in business ultimately remains undisputed.”
In addition to Lamar, Braboy argued that Drake was also deserving of the artist of the decade title.
Braboy wrote that Drake’s “exceedingly dominant presence over music allowed him to be one of the decade’s most successful and influential hip-hop and pop superstars with a complicated, all-star legacy that’s continuously being written by the minute.”
Not only has Taylor Swift been putting out No. 1 hit after No. 1 hit this decade, but her music has latched onto its listeners in deeply intimate ways.
Insider’s associate celebrity news editor Courteney Larocca argued that Swift was the artist of the decade because “not only does she produce beautifully-worded tracks that resonate with fans on extremely personal levels, but she also wants to make the world a better, fairer place – one music contract, open letter, and song lyric at a time.”
While only 10 musicians made the cut for Insider’s artist of the decade series, here are our honorable mentions — starting with Ariana Grande.
When “Victorious” premiered on Nickelodeon in March 2010,Ariana Grande became known as the bubbly, spacey, red-haired Cat Valentine, a high schooler with a prodigious voice that the show grievously failed to showcase.
But less than three years later, Grande had seamlessly pivoted to a full-time music career. Her debut studio album, “Yours Truly,” was a vivid blend of R&B, retro pop, and piano-driven doo-wop. Just one year after that, “My Everything” – featuring hits like “Problem” and “Break Free” – further cemented her reputation as an illustrious pop icon.
With each year that passes, with each album she drops, Grande continues to evolve and her renown continues to swell. 2016’s “Dangerous Woman” was a portrait of a budding feminist, a once-in-a-generation vocalist, and an increasingly unstoppable force. 2018’s meticulously produced “Sweetener” netted Grande her first-ever Grammy, winning best pop vocal album. And just when it seemed that she’d reached her creative peak, Grande spent three weeks in a studio, turning a string of tragedies into her most intimate and beloved project to date: “Thank U, Next” handily broke streaming records and earned a Grammy nomination for album of the year.
Grande has brought a remarkable brightness and resilience to modern music, infusing each release with more and more details from her multi-coloured inner life. She was named Spotify’s most-streamed female artist of the decade, and she did it in just seven years (after making a self-described “terrible first impression”). – Callie Ahlgrim
Kanye West created some of the decade’s most boundary-pushing, forward-thinking music.
In 2010, Kanye West appeared to be trapped in a downward spiral: still reeling from the death of his beloved mother, recently split from his serious girlfriend, and essentially in hiding after his infamous “I’mma let you finish” speech.
Then, at the 2010 VMAs, he premiered “Runaway,” his anthemic “toast for the douchebags” that Insider ranked as the seventh best song of the 2010s decade. Shortly after, he dropped “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” a sprawling masterpiece that remains his best album to date.
This breakneck turnaround illustrates West’s appeal and enduring impact. He has a singular talent for blending shock with creative redemption. Despite his recent string of mediocre releases, it’s why many fans refuse to give up hope on the self-proclaimed genius.
From the abrasive, futuristic “Yeezus” (2013) to the living document “The Life of Pablo” (2016), which West continued to tinker with after it had hit streaming platforms, the rapper-producer has constantly pushed boundaries. He encourages us to challenge our very notion of music, of what’s possible in a digital world, of what we take for granted and what makes us squirm. His decade as an artist is defined by his refusal to give fans what they want, refusing to apologise, and then watching his decisions ripple across culture years later.
“If you’re a Kanye West fan, you’re not a fan of me. You’re a fan of yourself,” he told Zane Lowe in 2013. “I’m just the espresso. I’m just the shot in the morning to get you going to make you believe you can overcome that situation that you’re dealing with all the time.” – Callie Ahlgrim
Nicki Minaj reinvented what it meant to be a woman in hip-hop.
Before she even put out her debut album, “Pink Friday,” in 2010, Minaj proved she was a force to be reckoned with when she stole the spotlight with her verse on Kanye West’s “Monster.”The song also featured Jay-Z, Rick Ross, and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, but 10 years later, it’s Minaj’s verse that undoubtedly left a lasting impression. Watch the queen conquer, indeed.
And we did watch Minaj conquer. Throughout this decade, she essentially reinvented what it meant to be a woman in hip-hop – or really, just an artist in hip-hop – while effortlessly blending elements of both rap and pop, leading to instantly-iconic hits like “Super Bass” and “Anaconda.”
“Her lyrical prowess and razor-sharp flow is undeniable. She vacillates seamlessly between rap and singing… and is as comfortable exchanging bars with Ariana Grande or Beyoncé as she is going head-to-head with Drake and Lil Wayne,” Sowmya Krishnamurthy wrote for NPR in 2018. “Her silver tongue and flair for the witty and dramatic make for verses you play on repeat just to catch the double, triple entendres.” –Courteney Larocca
As a teenager, Lorde emerged as one of the finest singer-songwriters this century.
When Lorde’s breakout hit “Royals” began to attract mainstream attention, it inspired equal parts awe and scepticism. Its lyrics were so sharp, so insightful, that people were convinced it couldn’t have been written by a teenager. Some even demanded to see Lorde’s birth certificate as proof. In fact,the 15-year-old New Zealander wrote it in 30 minutes.
While “Royals” is certainly a decade-defining anthem (Insider previously ranked it as the eighth best song of the 2010s), Lorde has only ascended to greater heights as a songwriter. Her subsequent debut album, 2013’s “Pure Heroine,” is an extraordinary portrait of teenage life in suburbia, evoking a striking blend of euphoria and melancholy. Before Lorde had even left her teens, she was describing the pang of youthful nostalgia better than almost anyone.
Then came 2017’s “Melodrama,” easily one of the decade’s most moving and masterful albums. Lorde took new risks with her music -moving away from synths and minimal beats – but honed her talent for lyrical intimacy, reflecting her emotions prismatically across an elaborate display of instrumentation. She was growing up, feeling every moment of that transition, and then translating it back to us with urgency and humidity and jarring chord changes.
At the beginning of the decade, Lorde didn’t exist. Fourteen-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor had never performed original songs. And in less than 10 years, with just two albums, she secured her legacy as one of music’s most essential voices. –Callie Ahlgrim
Ed Sheeran has been referred to as “the biggest male popstar on the planet.”
“A collaborator of Swift, Pharrell Williams, and Harry Styles, a songwriter for Justin Bieber, One Direction, The X Factor and many more to follow, Sheeran is the de facto voice of a generation, with music that reflects his personality and the defining characteristics of his audience,” George Chesterton wrote for GQ UK in 2017.
Chesterton added: “However amorphous any era may be, however problematic the definition of any generation is, the recurring qualities of Sheeran’s music correspond with those that his own generation, the millennials, most value: authenticity, realness, earnestness, sincerity.”
Not only was Sheeran beloved in the U.S., but the British singer obviously had international appeal as well. Earlier this year, he broke U2’s record for the highest-grossing concert tour of all-time with his Divided tour that brought in more than $US775 million with an attendance record of more than 8 million people. – Courteney Larocca
Lana Del Rey evolved into one of the most interesting modern pop artists.
In 2012, the Observer called Elizabeth Woolridge Grant, known by her stage name Lana Del Rey, “a failed pop singer who got lip injections, changed her name, and now has a great backstory about living in a trailer that makes her New Jersey Chanteuse schtick as Urban Outfitters-ready as a pair of tight Levi’s.”
But reflecting on Del Rey’s career now, it’s incredible to see just how wrong that notion was, or rather, how much we’ve come to accept inauthenticity and persona in mainstream music. Pitchfork went from rating her 2012 album “Born to Die” a 5.5/10 to naming her 2019 album “Norman F—ing Rockwell” as the 19th best album of the decade.
While that surely signals growth on Del Rey’s part, it’s important to note that she’s never departed from the cinematic qualities that permeate her debut album or strayed from her central themes of tragic romance and melancholy. Maybe audiences just weren’t ready for the force that Del Rey really is back in 2012 – but she’s certainly made her critics listen.
“Over the course of five albums, she’s often repeated herself, mixed signals and followed her impulses over the edge of good taste,” Ann Powers wrote for NPR in September. “Critics have doubted her motives. But she has earned a following among listeners who value unmonitored reveries.” – Courteney Larocca
Bruno Mars has been a delight to listen to throughout this entire decade.
In a time where it seems every mainstream artist is at least somewhat divisive amongst audiences, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single person that hates Bruno Mars. He brings an undeniable enjoyment to every hit he produces – his Mark Ronson collaboration, “Uptown Funk,” certainly comes to mind.
Even that song alone, which has been certified 11x platinum by the RIAA (which is even higher than the coveted diamond certification), should have become grating with how often it was played – and yet, it remains a glorious, feel-good bop to this very day.
His other hits like “Grenade,” “Just the Way You Are,” “That’s What I Like,” and the Cardi B-assisted “Finesse,” were all welcome additions on the Billboard charts this decade, and his 2016 album, “24K Magic,” garnered Mars six of his 11 Grammys, including the prestigious album of the year award. – Courteney Larocca
Without Robyn’s 2010 album “Body Talk,” some of this decade’s best music wouldn’t exist.
Robyn was famously discovered and signed to a major label at just 14 years old. The Swedish teen found commercial and critical acclaim with a unique blend of vulnerable lyrics and polished pop arrangements. And yet, she was distinctly unsettled. At 16 years old, she told a magazine: “I’m not going to be a product.”
Despite all her early success, Robyn’s ascent to icon status didn’t truly begin until she broke out of the major label mould. The pop star triumphantly returned as an independent artist in 2010, armed with the instant classic “Body Talk” and the best song of the decade, “Dancing on My Own.”
Robyn has had an immeasurable impact on the modern landscape of pop music. Without her, there is no Carly Rae Jepsen, no Charli XCX, no Lorde. Some of the best music from artists like Janelle Monáe, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Rihanna, and Ariana Grande bears the mark of Robyn’s signature “poptimism.”
At a time when pop music was still comfortably discredited – when purists would insist that it was shallow or somehow less “authentic” than “real music” – Robyn emerged exultant and unbothered, burning an effigy of loss and betrayal and heartbreak before scattering the ashes under a disco ball. With 2018’s “Honey,” her first album in eight years, she capped the decade by releasing another of its finest albums, reminding us of the power she never lost. – Callie Ahlgrim
Throughout her many transformations, Miley Cyrus has reigned as one of our decade-defining pop stars.
Miley Cyrus, already a young pop darling with her Hannah Montana discography and solo hits like “7 Things,” rung in the decade with a brand new sound – a brash statement that’s right there in the title. “Can’t Be Tamed,” released as her third album’s lead single in May 2010, should have been heeded as the warning it was.
Cyrus has gone through many evolutions in the past 10 years. Alongside legendary producer Mike Will Made It, she created the sublime pop record “Bangerz.” Her next transformation heralded the psychedelic and undeniably queer “Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz.” She fell back in love with her fiancé and sang about their shared home in Malibu. More recently, she donned a purple wig and became the first person in history to crack the Billboard Hot 100 with three different personas (a few others have charted with slight name variations, but never by embodying three unique pop stars).
Whether Cyrus is swinging on a wrecking ball, serenading her blowfish, or flexing her powerful vocals backed by a live orchestra, she has remained a foundational figure in both pop music and pop culture.
As she was outgrowing her status as a Disney star, she was expected to adhere to specific expectations of female stardom; now, Cyrus is rightly recognised as one of the women who helped tear down that paradigm and forge a new, more liberated kind of pop star. When Cryus speaks, we listen. When she sings, we listen on repeat. – Callie Ahlgrim
Jack Antonoff, though maybe the least recognisable name on this list, helped create some of the best pop songs this decade.
While Antonoff has made some great tunes of his own this decade, either under his stage name Bleachers or as part of the group Fun., he’s also been the production wizard helping some of the most beloved pop queens grow their everlasting reigns.
Four of the women listed earlier on this list – Swift, Del Rey, Lorde, and Jepsen – have consistently utilised Antonoff as their go-to music producer to help them craft perfect albums like “1989,” “Norman F—ing Rockwell,” “Melodrama,” and “Dedicated,” respectively.
In 2019’s “Lover,” Swift didn’t even collaborate with her usual partners Max Martin and Shellback. Instead, she turned to Antonoff to help her co-write eight songs and co-produce 11 tracks out of the 18 songs included on the album.
Without Antonoff’s guiding hand and glittering synth arrangements, the pop landscape truly would not be what it is today. – Courteney Larocca