Rewind the Decade: Best female albums of the 2010s

Ryan Reichard, Columnist

The 2010 era was an obscure decade, one that was bound by playlists swollen with algorithmic recommendations that had no clear cohesive vision. The same was true for many of the artists who released albums over the last decade.

However, great artists emerged and innovated the music industry with a series of new releases that featured surprise albums, visual albums and albums longer than in any decade before (most of which were pioneered by female artist). As these forms progress from one decade to the next here are the best female albums of the 2010s. 

1) “Red” – Taylor Swift

“Red” is Swift at some of her most vulnerable, a portrait of a young star desperate to feel everything that life has to offer and Swift does exactly that. Across the albums 16 tracks (Swift’s longest up to that point, having been surpassed by “Lover’s” 18 tracks), Swift is able to capture small, pinnacle moments in her life, the temptation of risk (“Treacherous”), the rush of a memory and its disappointment as it recedes (“Holy Ground”) and Swift experiencing romantic love in a more mature and honest way than she had done on previous releases.

“Red” delved deeper into not only the pop sounds that Swift had explored on previous albums “Fearless” and “Speak Now,” but also sounds that she had not previously explored. The album’s opener, “State of Grace,” is Swift doing her best Springsteen-inspired arena anthem so well that she has not ventured into that territory again.

The title track dared to mix banjos and auto tune setting a staple in country music for the years after it. “I Knew You Were Trouble” mixed seething electric guitars with pop synths and an EDM drop on the chorus to create one of Swift’s most daring statements. That’s only the first half.

Then you get to the album’s centerpiece and the centerpiece of Swift’s career, the stirring ballad “All Too Well” that single-handedly turned a scarf into one heartbreaking gut punch as she recounts a love affair gone by and the warnings she ignored in the refrigerator light. “Red” burns with the brilliance of one of the decades biggest stars. 

2) “EMOTION” – Carley Ray Jepson 

Following the massive commercial success of 2012’s “Kiss,” “Call Me Maybe,” singer Carley Ray Jepson released 2015’s landmark album “EMOTION.” The album served as the end of Jepson’s chart-topping success; however, it introduced her to a sound all of her own. The result was bright, innovative synth-pop that had all the sleek and shine of 80s pop music.

Jepson worked with her collaborators Dev Hynes and Rostem to create a collection of textured, sonic sounds that hone in on the details reminiscent of the best aspects of the 80s.

The ballad “All That” sees Jepson pull a scene from Sixteen Candles. House-infused “Warm Blood” goes all out pulsating on a multitude of levels at the same time. Then there’s the ever-memed “Run Away with Me” that delivers one of the best saxophone solos since “Careless Whisper.”

“EMOTION’s” yearning and unashamed exploration allowed it to become a certified cult hit that retains the warm relatability of the best rom-coms it pulls from.  

3) “Melodrama” – Lorde 

Lorde’s career began when most people around her age were going to their first high school dance, getting their first kiss and getting their driver’s license. Instead of following this path, the New Zealand-native released her debut album, “Pure Heroine,” which launched her to superstar status with its hit single “Royals” paving the road.

But, where do you go when you reach superstar status at such a young age? For Lorde, this meant moving to New York City, where she hunkered down in a studio with her frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff to document her the angst-filled transition from teen to adult. The result was 2017’s “Melodrama,” an album that captured the perils of heartbreak, fame and self-indulgence with picture-pointed detail.

From freefalling into love on “The Louvre” to the heartbreakingly self-aware “Liability” to the search for a non-existent utopia on “Perfect Places,” “Melodrama” roots itself in storytelling that is built around low, bubbling synths and pianos to not distract from the narrative. “Melodrama” is Lorde showcasing her brilliance as she waits for the rest of the population, reviewing onion rings on a secret Instagram account, in those “Perfect Places.” 

4) “A Star Is Born Soundtrack” – Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper

“A Star Is Born” was a rebirth for Lady Gaga in many ways. Gaga was able to recapture the heights of commercial success that she had experienced early on in her career. There was a critical renewal for her music and it saw Gaga return to her roots in pop music as well as explore various genres of music.

Across the album’s 34 tracks, Gaga splits it between the two sides of the singer: pop bangers and the country music sound that she had previously dappled with on 2016’s Joanne. However, where Gaga merely dipped her toes in the water of country music there she dives headfirst into it on “A Star Is Born.”

From the opening touches of acoustic guitar and pedal steel on the album’s lead single “Shallow” (now the most awarded song of all time) to the Natalie Hemby and Lori McKenna co-written “Always Remember Us This Way,” the soundtrack provides authenticity to its country roots through and through.

Then there’s the pop side to the album, where Gaga delivers the quality pop anthems that recall the best material on her earlier albums. “Hair, Body, Face” is easily Gaga’s best pop song since 2009’s “Bad Romance.” Most importantly, the album showcases that no matter what musical side Gaga wants to showcase, she will excel at it forging the fires for a star to be reborn. 

5) “Lemonade” – Beyoncé 

Beyoncé’s career defining album “Lemonade” begins with the wrath, not only of her husband, Jay-Z’s affair, but with life. The most known celebrity to emerge out of the last century, Beyoncé tosses off her wedding rings, destroys vehicles and smashes everything in her path with her “Hot Sauce” bat.

One to keep every aspect of her life private, across “Lemonade” that façade slowly wears away as Beyoncé exposes that not even the most famous are immune from the humanity that exists in a heartbreak (“Sorry”). In that humanity, she finds herself at war, between her head and her heart on the album’s best track “Sandcastles.” To love and to hate, when to forgive and when to forget, when to cry and when to dance and when to move past old scars to new beginnings (“Daddy Lessons”).

To be all of these at once, “Lemonade” deals with the complications of a confusing life, a convoluted history of grief. “Lemonade” is also a statement on what it means to be black, more importantly a black woman in today’s society as she handles the complications of life around her (“Formation”). In the midst of complications, grief, love, loss, scars and history exists healing. At the end of the day that is what “Lemonade” is: it’s healing in all of its various forms.