- Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift is an all-around defining artist of the 2010s by any definition. In these ten years, she relished in immense success as well as being met with some hardship and widespread criticism. She successfully crossed over from country to pop. With 5 incredible albums, 5 record-smashing tours, a truly endless number of awards, and a surplus of high-charting singles, her impact on music (and the world, really) this decade is undeniable. There are few artists with the ability to reach across the country, pop, rock, dubstep, and dance music genres, but Swift is surely one. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t memorized “Shake It Off,” “22,” “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” “Blank Space,” or plenty of her other smash singles. This decade, she was also a vocal advocate for her fellow artists getting paid for their art, an LGBTQ ally, and an avid supporter of artists having the freedom to release and own their own music.
People love to hate him, but you can’t knock Drake for what he is, and that is the most successful male artist of the 2010s. His debut album was actually released in 2010, and it’s hard to fathom just how much success he has had in such a relatively short amount of time. Drake can be defined as a rapper, but he is just as well an R&B artist. More than just having good songs, he has cemented his legacy with countless iconic collaborations, mixtape releases, fan-favorite music videos, and mind-boggling album sales. Everyone knows “Hotline Bling,” “God’s Plan,” “One Dance,” and “In My Feelings,” not to mention his endless appearances on others’ projects. Everything Drake touches turns to gold, and fans will immediately turn it into a headline or a meme (or both).
You can’t have a list of artists that defined the decade without Beyoncé. Call her overrated; you would be wrong. There is arguably no artist with more impact than Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter. Queen B is mentioned almost nightly in interviews on late-night TV, and her songs continue to be impactful years after release. Beyoncé is definitely an artist of today that people will be analyzing, dissecting, and studying years after her work is done. Her projects have so many layers from her songs’ production to the messages her albums contain to the meanings behind her legendary live performances. Beyoncé is the reason we all look forward to music being released on Friday, as she set the precedent for that release date. She also gave us the then-unparalleled concept of surprise releasing an entire album without the world having even the slightest notion. One of the most reserved artists of this generation, Beyoncé has taught us to always expect the unexpected, and we love and respect her for it.
It is odd to think that Adele had such a profound impact on the 2010s despite only releasing two albums, 21 and 25, during the time period. Those two albums, though, gave us the gems that are “Rolling in the Deep,” “Someone Like You,” “Rumour Has It,” “Set Fire to the Rain,” “Hello,” “When We Were Young,” “All I Ask,” and, of course, the amazing album tracks. The only issue we have with Adele this decade is that she did not give us more music, but she more than made up for it with the quality of what she did release.
Rihanna. There is just something about the name that just ignites something in people. Maybe it’s the mystery, her iconic looks, her endless hits, or her recent career endeavors into makeup and lingerie, among other things. She is known for her collaborations with Eminem, Nicki Minaj, David Guetta, Calvin Harris, Kanye West, Paul McCartney, Britney Spears, Drake, Mikky Ekko, and Shakira, and that’s just to name a few. Aside from her amazing music, she has also become a fashion icon and business venture queen. She is one of the most influential artists to this new generation of younger artists.
6. Lady Gaga
A chameleon. That’s the word I would use to describe Lady Gaga. She is always taking on a new form, and she is always flat out killing it. She has become a true multi-hyphenate as an artist-singer-songwriter-actor-producer-businesswoman. She flexed her muscles as a pop artist, shown her skills as a jazz musician, and proven her acting chops in A Star Is Born and American Horror Story. A true inspiration of an artist and a human being, Lady Gaga is an iconic artist that we should be thankful to be alive at the same time.
7. Katy Perry
Katy Perry is one of the great true pop stars of our time. From her hit singles to her colorful looks to her humongous performances (Super Bowl Halftime Show, I’m looking at you), she is truly a star. Her bubbly personality is contagious, and she shows it off best as a judge on American Idol currently, for which she is raking in the dough. “Teenage Dream,” “Firework,” “Part of Me,” “California Gurls,” “Roar,” “Dark Horse,” “Unconditionally” … they just don’t make songs like this anymore. She cranked out hit after hit this decade all while staying true to herself as an artist, and we are grateful for it.
8. Ariana Grande
This is hard to believe, but Ariana Grande started this decade as a supporting character on a Nickelodeon kids’ series and posting covers of Adele and Mariah Carey on YouTube. Now, she is having a full-on moment as one of the biggest stars in the world. From “Victorious” the show to victorious on the charts, Ariana has proven that she is here to stay. Five albums in, and it seems like she is breaking a new record each day, it only makes us all that more excited to hear what she has to offer next.
9. Nicki Minaj
I feel like we don’t give Nicki Minaj enough credit here lately. I don’t want to take away from any of the fellow female rappers out here right now, but let’s not forget who laid that solid foundation for the Cardi Bs and Megan Thee Stallions to do what they’re doing (and they are absolutely crushing it, by the way). Female rap, at least in the way Nicki made it happen, simply did not exist in that way before her success. Her bold personality shines through in her bombastic lyrics. Listening to a Nicki verse or song is such a joyride as she navigates from flow to flow, switching beats like the pro she is with ease. It takes a few listens to understand the double-triple-quadruple entendres she weaves into her airtight lyricism. You could argue she deserves a place at the top of a list among all rappers for pushing her pen. It is hard to believe her professional career has only been a decade, but she has made each and every year of it special.
10. Justin Bieber
Justin Bieber may have been laying low for the last little bit, but let’s not forget the absolute smash hits he’s had this decade. The 2010s saw him release “Baby,” which could not have been any more successful at the time. Purpose was one of the biggest albums of the decade, producing a hit with almost every single song on it. He has killed it in pop, but in recent years, we have even heard him test out the waters in the Spanish (“Despacito”) and country (“10,000 Hours”) worlds. To no surprise, he killed it there, too. Not only the incredible music, but Bieber is also a cultural icon across the globe with incredible influence.
11. Carrie Underwood
Carrie Underwood is deserving of a lot more recognition than she gets. Her impact within her own genre of country music is undebatable, but she undoubtedly has an impact that reaches well out into the music industry as a whole. Even those who do not follow country music respect and appreciate Carrie and her music. I mean, look at the memes on Twitter about her hit song, “Before He Cheats” or “Jesus Take the Wheel” on any given day to prove that. She respectfully speaks up for what she believes in, voicing her opinions on country radio’s lack of female representation. She is one of the greatest vocalists of all time. Don’t agree? Go watch her sing “How Great Thou Art” (or anything, really) and come back to me. She has spent the 2010s breaking records left and right for her singles, album sales, tour dates, and awards, and I do not anticipate it to slow down whatsoever as we roll over into the next decade.
12. Kelly Clarkson
Kelly Clarkson could have easily been “the girl that won the first season of that singing show.” The world had other plans, however, and those plans have propelled her to be the monster star she is today. Let’s take a moment to appreciate all that Kelly Clarkson has really accomplished this decade. Maybe we have time. She released her hit album, Stronger, which went on to win a Grammy Award, plus its title track topped almost every chart there is before being nominated for three Grammys. She performed the Star Spangled Banner at Super Bowl XLVI, and she performed “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” at the second inauguration of President Obama in 2013. She released her first Christmas album, Wrapped in Red, which we still play today. She released her Piece by Piece album featuring that emotional title track we all love to listen to and cry. She released a few children’s books, because why not be amazing at something else. She released the Meaning of Life album, arguably her strongest most personal work. She hosted the BBMAs twice, crushing it, of course. She is a coach on NBC’s “The Voice.” She hosts a daytime talk show, “The Kelly Clarkson Show,” where she slays a different cover every single episode. She has most recently announced a Vegas residency for 2020, as if her plate is not full enough. Wow, this is a long list. Do I really need to explain why Kelly Clarkson is deserving? She manages to be massively successful in every avenue she chooses to conquer, and I am never disappointed in the results.
13. Miley Cyrus
There are few people in the world that create headlines with even the slightest move, and Miley Cyrus is definitely one of them. Miley grew a lot in the 2010s, and it all happened before our eyes for better or for worse. We have seen her enjoy great success across all entertainment from music to movies and television. The world needs to understand that she is no longer the Disney star she was as a child, and, believe it or not, she’s grown from that person. I think she puts it best in her song, “Slide Away,” as she wrote, “Move on, we’re not seventeen. I’m not who I used to be. You say that everything changed. You’re right, we’re grown now.”
14. One Direction
Harry Styles. Niall Horan. Zayn Malik. Liam Payne. Louis Tomlinson. The British boy band may have only formed in 2010 and remained together as a group for a short six years, but their impact has resonated well beyond their years. They were breaking records previously held by groups like The Beatles and selling out tour dates as soon as they went on sale. The X Factor may have given them their launch board, but they managed to excel beyond a competition show winner’s typical success. Since then, the five members have entered an indefinite hiatus, giving them each a chance to showcase their individual talents as solo artists. This decade, we have been able to see how amazing they were together as 1D and also see how that prepared them for the international superstars they are becoming in their own right before our very eyes.
15. Bruno Mars
Bruno Mars adopts a different style with every song and project he releases, tapping into his pop, R&B/soul, funk, reggae, hip-hop/rap, and rock sides. The Hawaiian never fails to impress with his songs, and he raises songs to a different level when he is featured. He actually rose to fame in 2010, so we have seen his rise to stardom entirely within this decade. “Nothin’ On You,” “Billionaire,” “Just the Way You Are,” “Grenade,” “The Lazy Song,” “It Will Rain,” “Locked Out of Heaven,” “When I Was Your Man,” “Uptown Funk,” “24K Magic,” “That’s What I Like,” “Finesse” … the man has the hits. And they were all released within one decade.
16. Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran is one of those special artists we get once a generation. He’s quirky, and I mean that as a compliment. He refuses to conform to the traditional pop star formula, and, ironically, that’s what makes him so successful. He is another artist on this list who actually officially debuted in the 2010s. Since then, he has gone on to perform on the biggest stages in the world, work with the biggest artists of our time, and break countless records in the realms of album sales, streaming, concert dates, and more.
P!nk is an artist we will be talking about for years to come. She is an absolute rebel, and she is inspiring many of today’s new artists. Her don’t-give-a-damn attitude is contagious and inspiring. “Raise Your Glass,” “F****n’ Perfect,” “Try,” and “Just Give Me A Reason” come to mind. She also shines with her softer side that she chooses to expose every so often. Songs like “Just Give Me A Reason,” “Barbies,” and “Love Me Anyway” are these rare moments that give us that raw emotion that I think P!nk does so well. I mean, she has an ! for an i in her name for a reason.
18. Luke Bryan
Luke Bryan has dominated the country genre for much of this decade from his best-selling albums and singles to his sold-out arena and stadium shows. He has a knack for propelling artists to fame using his own platform. He strategically chooses openers that give them a launching pad of exposure. His openers through the years have included Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett, Dustin Lynch, Cole Swindell, and Morgan Wallen to name a few. He has music that makes you feel good, he has songs that make you cry, but at the end of the day, his shining personality and unique character have helped him win over the world.