Rewind the Decade: Best male songs of the 2010s

Ryan Reichard, Columnist

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The 2010s have been a more diverse decade musically than those that have come before it. With the decade initially beginning with the club boom, to the resurgence of classic country, and the emergence of trap music, the 2010s have been nothing if not diverse. This led to the creation of some of the best songs of the decade. Here are the best male songs of the last decade. 

1) “The Sound” –The 1975

There is no doubt that The 1975 have been one of the most influential indie rock bands of the last decade. This is due in part to them release two of the best albums of the decade: the social commentary of “A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships” and the bombastic “I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of it.”

“The Sound” is featured on the latter and contains all of the hallmarks of fantastic The 1975 song. There are bouncing neon synths, an undeniably catchy chorus, the lead singer Matt Healy calling himself a cliché and the absurd name dropping of Greek philosophers (“A simple Epicurean Philosophy / And you say I’m such a cliché / I can’t see the difference in it either way”).

Minimalism does not exist in “The Sound,” as it’s driven by Healy’s desires: sex, intimacy and validation. “The Sound” is an all-too-catchy song that has no right to be as cohesive as it is, with the copious amounts of self-promotion. However, it is in this self-promotion Healy finds vulnerability and the room to air his insecurities, lending an emotional sincerity that few are able to capture. In a decade littered with sounds, The 1975 managed to be “The Sound” of the decade with this defining tune. 

 

2) “Mockingbird” – Ruston Kelly

It’s hard to believe that Ruston Kelly has only one album out and it remains as the best country music album of the decade. Of the many songs that could have made this list (“1000 Graves,” “Hurricane In My Head” and “Blackout”), “Mockingbird” served as the lead single for his “Dying Star” album and it’s easy to see why it’s one of the best country songs of the last 10 years.

The production is minimal, with the song built around soft touches of acoustic guitar, a twangy banjo, flourishes of steel guitar, elegant touches of harmonica and real drums that add an organic texture to the sound.

While the production is certainly lush and traditional, it is the lyrics that really define “Mockingbird.” Kelly puts his storytelling chops on full display as he tells the story of addiction and its toll on a relationship (“You could have sat right there and got high with me / But you fell asleep and your dreaming brought the nightmares / I’m too strung out to be upside down / Pretty little mockingbird sing me a song”).

Kelly watches as his addiction takes over the relationship and as it slowly eats away at the one he loves to the point where the metaphorical life is drained from her. On a heartbreaking tune that is guaranteed to cause tears, Kelly further demonstrates why his star is anything but dying. 

 

3) “Climax” – Usher 

Usher was, at one point, one of the most influential male artist in the R&B genre — so much so that the music industry spit-out various clones of the singer in an attempt to capitalize off of his success.

However, when the club boom hit in the early 2010s, Usher’s commercial and critical success had taken a hit. He was typecast as another male pop star and was reduced to making some of the worst music this decade had to offer (“OMG” and “Scream”) that were bland, run-of-the-mill pop songs. Then in 2012, Usher released his best song of the decade with “Climax.”

Co-produced by Diplo, the song quickly drew comparisons to alternative R&B newcomers such as James Blake and the Weekend. Usher does them one better by embracing his pain instead of shrugging it off, as he mourns the relationship that is crumbling before his eyes with his signature falsetto.

The song is cleverly structured with verses that attempt to build one after another and end up crumbling before they can be completely built to represent the relationship he is in. Then, comes the final emotional plea that, for lack of a better term, is intended to be the climax, but as the singer is delivering his soaring plea the track recedes, losing all of the momentum it had built up to that point.

While “Climax” is overshadowed by much of the singer’s catalog, it remains nonetheless beautiful as it is brilliant. 

 

4) “Alright” – Kendrick Lamar

“Alright” has become the song that is most synonymous with Kendrick Lamar. Released off of his album of the decade contender “To Pimp a Butterfly,” “Alright” showcases the power that resides inside of Lamar as an artist.

The song was released during a pivotal moment in American society, when the Black Lives Matter was rising in response to the widespread police brutality across the nation. “And we hate Popo, wanna kill us dead in the street for sure,” Lamar raps conveying the cold truth that has arguably become a generation’s protest anthem and successor to “Fuck Tha Police” by N.W.A.

Pharrell assisted in creating one of the most indulgent and memorable hooks of his career. “Alright” is a dark take on the reality of American society, while managing to protect the very fires of hope that remain. It serves as a reminder that we are going to be “Alright.” 

 

5) “Scarecrow In The Garden” – Chris Stapleton 

Chris Stapleton has become one of the most unlikely country music stars to arise out of the past decade. Launched into superstardom due to a collaboration with Justin Timberlake, Stapleton has paved a way for traditional country music to make a resurgence.

While Stapleton’s “Traveler” album remains his most consistent and his best, it is the song that is buried in his third studio album, “From A Room: Volume 2,” that is his best. The song, built around steady drums, prominent steel guitar and an affirmative acoustic guitar, details the hardships that a family has faced (“The fields ain’t what they once were / The rains just seem to flood / And I’ve been thinking about that river / Wondering how it turns to blood”).

Similar to Ruston Kelly, Stapleton is able to display his songwriting chops at their full potential. On “Scarecrow In The Garden,” Stapleton reminds us of the fear that resides in the unpredictability of life. An achievement that will endure as long as the ground, he sings about, “Scarecrow In The Garden” manages to find beauty in the haunting truth.