Women Ruled Music In The 2010s & The 10 Best Albums Of The Decade Prove It

Do albums even matter in the 2010s? It was the decade that saw the rise of Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, Amazon Music, and YouTube — places where we learned to make playlists from our favourite songs and lost the will to listen to a full album. But some artists still put out statement albums that got our attention. Whether the world consumed them as such, these collections of tracks were meant to convey a whole mood more than a vibe. To get the full picture and understand the storytelling, you had to go all in.

From Taylor Swift’s record breaking album that made her the first woman ever to win two Album of the Year Grammys, to Kacey Musgraves’ career-making turn that celebrates butterflies and outer space, to the Beyoncé album that taught us more about Queen Bey than we ever hoped to learn, these are the albums that ruled the 2010s.

And yes, they’re (almost all) proof that women drove the creative and popular narratives in music throughout the decade.

<h3>10. Taylor Swift <em>1989</em> (2014)</h3> <br>The first woman to win an Album of the Year Grammy, twice? Taylor Swift, for this album — you know, the album with which she announced she was leaving country music behind forever. <em>1989</em> found Swift examining the idea of being a young woman who moved to a new city and spent time with her friends while she was trying to figure out who she would be. It resonated with many people going through that same rite of passage. Swift captured a moment shared by many and created one of the best examples of her signature “ripped from the diary” songwriting but made it something anyone making the transition into adulthood could see themselves in. <br> <br> <strong>Big Machine Records</strong> Taylor Swift - 1989, $, available at <a href="https://www.amazon.com/1989-Taylor-Swift/dp/B00P2HSETA/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Amazon" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Amazon</a>

10. Taylor Swift 1989 (2014)


The first woman to win an Album of the Year Grammy, twice? Taylor Swift, for this album — you know, the album with which she announced she was leaving country music behind forever. 1989 found Swift examining the idea of being a young woman who moved to a new city and spent time with her friends while she was trying to figure out who she would be. It resonated with many people going through that same rite of passage. Swift captured a moment shared by many and created one of the best examples of her signature “ripped from the diary” songwriting but made it something anyone making the transition into adulthood could see themselves in.

Big Machine Records Taylor Swift - 1989, $, available at Amazon
<h3>9. Billie Eilish <em>When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? </em>(2019)</h3> <br> <br>There are few instances when a debut album makes a career, and even fewer these days when that star turn makes the music of that artist an inescapable part of the zeitgeist. Even more scarce are the number of artists who have all of that happen before they turn 20. Billie Eilish’s cultural domination with “Bad Guy” guaranteed her a place at the top of festival bills, in the hearts of her musical icons, and blasting out of car speakers worldwide. The combination of her whisper-singing and the strange musical landscape, loaded with bass lines and an easter egg collage of found sounds, created by her brother Finneas are not the kind of thing you rip off. Unlike the Britney-esque also-rans of the past, don’t expect the market to be flooded with Billies. She’s a once in a generation, once in a lifetime original. <br> <br> <strong>Interscope Records</strong> Billie Eilish When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, $, available at <a href="https://www.amazon.com/WHEN-FALL-ASLEEP-WHERE-Yellow/dp/B07N3RG76T/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Amazon" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Amazon</a>

9. Billie Eilish When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (2019)



There are few instances when a debut album makes a career, and even fewer these days when that star turn makes the music of that artist an inescapable part of the zeitgeist. Even more scarce are the number of artists who have all of that happen before they turn 20. Billie Eilish’s cultural domination with “Bad Guy” guaranteed her a place at the top of festival bills, in the hearts of her musical icons, and blasting out of car speakers worldwide. The combination of her whisper-singing and the strange musical landscape, loaded with bass lines and an easter egg collage of found sounds, created by her brother Finneas are not the kind of thing you rip off. Unlike the Britney-esque also-rans of the past, don’t expect the market to be flooded with Billies. She’s a once in a generation, once in a lifetime original.

Interscope Records Billie Eilish When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, $, available at Amazon
<h3>8. Frank Ocean <em>channel ORANGE</em> (2012)</h3> <br> <br>The ‘90s revival reached its apex with this R&B mash-up of futuristic nostalgia from the breakout star of the Odd Future crew. How Ocean managed to capture the bleak weariness of class struggle and slide it hand-in-hand with love songs that embrace inclusivity, a massive push forward in the historically homophobic world of hip hop, remains a marvel. It also solidifies his place as an innovator and history-maker in the genre. It’s a big deal, considering that Ocean is clearly a gifted mind and only had to turn in this musical marvel of an album to be anointed the next big thing. <br> <br> <strong>Def Jam Records</strong> Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE, $, available at <a href="https://www.amazon.com/channel-ORANGE-Explicit-Frank-Ocean/dp/B008CJ0KI8/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Amazon" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Amazon</a>

8. Frank Ocean channel ORANGE (2012)



The ‘90s revival reached its apex with this R&B mash-up of futuristic nostalgia from the breakout star of the Odd Future crew. How Ocean managed to capture the bleak weariness of class struggle and slide it hand-in-hand with love songs that embrace inclusivity, a massive push forward in the historically homophobic world of hip hop, remains a marvel. It also solidifies his place as an innovator and history-maker in the genre. It’s a big deal, considering that Ocean is clearly a gifted mind and only had to turn in this musical marvel of an album to be anointed the next big thing.

Def Jam Records Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE, $, available at Amazon
<h3>7. Janelle Monáe <em>Dirty Computer</em> (2018)</h3> <br> <br>Monáe released a lot of great albums in the 2010s, but her concept album, <em>Dirty Computer</em>, took everything she was doing to the next level. She landed a collaboration with Brian Wilson (a member of the Beach Boys and a True Musical Genius), got to use stems from her mentor Prince’s archive, and worked in features from Grimes, Pharrell, and Zoë Kravitz. At a time when how AI will impact our lives — or is impacting our lives already through the Alexas, Siris, and Googles we’ve allowed into our homes — was a hot topic, Monáe explores the <em>Black Mirror</em>-esque concept of a computer developing emotional intelligence and pairs it with the experiences of marginalised communities, imagining that AI would face a similar life of being treated as less than. As an artistic statement, it’s truly first-rate. As a musical statement, it’s an absolute treat. <br> <br> <strong>BAD BOY</strong> Janelle Monáe - Dirty Computer, $, available at <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Dirty-Computer-Explicit-Digital-Download/dp/B079YTSSNH/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Amazon" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Amazon</a>

7. Janelle Monáe Dirty Computer (2018)



Monáe released a lot of great albums in the 2010s, but her concept album, Dirty Computer, took everything she was doing to the next level. She landed a collaboration with Brian Wilson (a member of the Beach Boys and a True Musical Genius), got to use stems from her mentor Prince’s archive, and worked in features from Grimes, Pharrell, and Zoë Kravitz. At a time when how AI will impact our lives — or is impacting our lives already through the Alexas, Siris, and Googles we’ve allowed into our homes — was a hot topic, Monáe explores the Black Mirror-esque concept of a computer developing emotional intelligence and pairs it with the experiences of marginalised communities, imagining that AI would face a similar life of being treated as less than. As an artistic statement, it’s truly first-rate. As a musical statement, it’s an absolute treat.

BAD BOY Janelle Monáe - Dirty Computer, $, available at Amazon
<h3>6. Robyn <em>Body Talk</em> (2010)</h3> <br> <br>Who could have guessed at the dawn of the decade that Robyn’s classic crying on the dancefloor album would cast such a long shadow on the pop music that would follow it? There are so many iconic singles that defined the whole damn decade, not to mention feminist manifestos on this thing that you could spend all of ten years taking the journey to embrace where Robyn already was in 2010. Robyn got us on the dance floor, helped us get over and get under, and most importantly brought a lot of empathy to pop. <br> <br> <strong>Interscope Records</strong> Robyn - Body Talk, $, available at <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Body-Talk-Explicit-Robyn/dp/B004856ST0/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Amazon" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Amazon</a>

6. Robyn Body Talk (2010)



Who could have guessed at the dawn of the decade that Robyn’s classic crying on the dancefloor album would cast such a long shadow on the pop music that would follow it? There are so many iconic singles that defined the whole damn decade, not to mention feminist manifestos on this thing that you could spend all of ten years taking the journey to embrace where Robyn already was in 2010. Robyn got us on the dance floor, helped us get over and get under, and most importantly brought a lot of empathy to pop.

Interscope Records Robyn - Body Talk, $, available at Amazon
<h3>5. Lorde <em>Pure Heroine</em> (2013)</h3> <br> <br>Lorde was a singular figure in the 2010s. She was one of a handful of solo women who broke through the decidedly all-male ranks of alt-rock radio and forced the format to shift its sound to make room for her, making her the first solo woman in 17 years to have a No. 1 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart. In her wake, a jillion men writing lo-fi synth-rock albums have followed the work she created as a 16-year-old girl. Her version of middle-class youth wraps the confusion and disenchantment it brings with witty twists of phrase that only a wordsmith could ever parse. <br> <br> <strong>Lava Music</strong> Lorde - Pure Heroine, $, available at <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Pure-Heroine-LP-Lorde/dp/B00EYRCD8M/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Amazon" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Amazon</a>

5. Lorde Pure Heroine (2013)



Lorde was a singular figure in the 2010s. She was one of a handful of solo women who broke through the decidedly all-male ranks of alt-rock radio and forced the format to shift its sound to make room for her, making her the first solo woman in 17 years to have a No. 1 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart. In her wake, a jillion men writing lo-fi synth-rock albums have followed the work she created as a 16-year-old girl. Her version of middle-class youth wraps the confusion and disenchantment it brings with witty twists of phrase that only a wordsmith could ever parse.

Lava Music Lorde - Pure Heroine, $, available at Amazon
<h3>4. Kacey Musgraves <em>Golden Hour</em> (2018)</h3> <br> <br>Musgraves has been shaking up the country music establishment for the entire decade, but with this album she stepped outside the bounds of genre and became a musical favourite of even people who think they’re the kind who like “everything but country.” She built a magical, rainbow-coloured world that examined her burgeoning relationship with her now-husband, the complexities of family, and performing gender roles. Unexpectedly, she does it all using traditionally feminine instrumentation that evokes the disco sounds of the ‘70s and synth sounds of the new wave ‘80s, both of which weren’t taken seriously because women were their primary audience. Essentially this album says fuck the rule books while setting the world on fire — but it’s a beautiful, pastel flame. <br> <br> <strong>Mca Nashville</strong> Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour, $, available at <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Hour-LP-Kacey-Musgraves/dp/B079NBPH9S/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Amazon" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Amazon</a>

4. Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour (2018)



Musgraves has been shaking up the country music establishment for the entire decade, but with this album she stepped outside the bounds of genre and became a musical favourite of even people who think they’re the kind who like “everything but country.” She built a magical, rainbow-coloured world that examined her burgeoning relationship with her now-husband, the complexities of family, and performing gender roles. Unexpectedly, she does it all using traditionally feminine instrumentation that evokes the disco sounds of the ‘70s and synth sounds of the new wave ‘80s, both of which weren’t taken seriously because women were their primary audience. Essentially this album says fuck the rule books while setting the world on fire — but it’s a beautiful, pastel flame.

Mca Nashville Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour, $, available at Amazon
<h3>3. Adele <em>21</em> (2011)</h3> <br> <br>If you broke up with anyone, anyone at all, in this decade, you likely pressed play on at least one track from <em>21</em>. Adele showed us that there are songs about heartbreak, and there are songs that dig down into the bleakest, blackest places we go after being dumped and words you can string together to smash even the coldest heart into a million chunks of pulpy ice. Breaking up, and getting over a breakup, will never be the same after this album. With each single, Adele reshaped the sonics pop music in her image. The biggest hits being played alongside Adele that year were the likes of LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” and Katy Perry’s “Firework.” Adele’s timeless anthems didn’t exactly blend in, but by popular demand, the radio (where most of us still got music as the decade kicked off) was forced to make a place for them. It was one of the biggest power moves in music of the entire decade. <br> <br> <strong>Columbia Records</strong> Adele - 21, $, available at <a href="https://www.amazon.com/21-Adele/dp/B004I1WIWU/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Amazon" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Amazon</a>

3. Adele 21 (2011)



If you broke up with anyone, anyone at all, in this decade, you likely pressed play on at least one track from 21. Adele showed us that there are songs about heartbreak, and there are songs that dig down into the bleakest, blackest places we go after being dumped and words you can string together to smash even the coldest heart into a million chunks of pulpy ice. Breaking up, and getting over a breakup, will never be the same after this album. With each single, Adele reshaped the sonics pop music in her image. The biggest hits being played alongside Adele that year were the likes of LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” and Katy Perry’s “Firework.” Adele’s timeless anthems didn’t exactly blend in, but by popular demand, the radio (where most of us still got music as the decade kicked off) was forced to make a place for them. It was one of the biggest power moves in music of the entire decade.

Columbia Records Adele - 21, $, available at Amazon
<h3>2. Beyoncé <em>Lemonade</em> (2016)</h3> <br> <br>Everything Bey released this decade was top-notch or, at the very least, a landmark moment of doing something no one had ever done before. But <em>Lemonade</em> was head and shoulders above everything, for its longform narrative, the intensely personal story of her marriage it told, and the incredible visuals she created to go with it. In an era when singles ruled, thanks to the playlist world that streaming has pushed us all into, Bey demonstrated why the album format still matters. Her songwriters and collaborators are lifted from the worlds of hip-hop and R&B production and indie rock. They worked together to fuse distinct scenes that have been growing closer together throughout the decade. But nothing, no big name guest on the verse or low-key tribute to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, could eclipse the sense of voyeurism this album offers into the life of a superstar notorious for curating her public image. To tell an extremely personal story, process the trauma of infidelity and the process of forgiveness in public, and then turn it into a universally understandable and easily consumed pop song is a feat. To do ALL of that and layer on the voices and unique experiences of Black women is masterful. With every new release, Bey shows more depth to her expertise in creating popular art. <br> <br> <strong>Parkwood Entertainment</strong> Beyoncé - Lemonade, $, available at <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Lemonade-Beyonc%C3%A9/dp/B0727QQY8Y/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Amazon" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Amazon</a>

2. Beyoncé Lemonade (2016)



Everything Bey released this decade was top-notch or, at the very least, a landmark moment of doing something no one had ever done before. But Lemonade was head and shoulders above everything, for its longform narrative, the intensely personal story of her marriage it told, and the incredible visuals she created to go with it. In an era when singles ruled, thanks to the playlist world that streaming has pushed us all into, Bey demonstrated why the album format still matters. Her songwriters and collaborators are lifted from the worlds of hip-hop and R&B production and indie rock. They worked together to fuse distinct scenes that have been growing closer together throughout the decade. But nothing, no big name guest on the verse or low-key tribute to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, could eclipse the sense of voyeurism this album offers into the life of a superstar notorious for curating her public image. To tell an extremely personal story, process the trauma of infidelity and the process of forgiveness in public, and then turn it into a universally understandable and easily consumed pop song is a feat. To do ALL of that and layer on the voices and unique experiences of Black women is masterful. With every new release, Bey shows more depth to her expertise in creating popular art.

Parkwood Entertainment Beyoncé - Lemonade, $, available at Amazon
<h3>1. Rihanna <em>ANTI </em>(2016)</h3> <br>Rihanna’s final album of the decade (we’re all waiting with baited breath for the follow-up) was a prescient look at what trends would shape music in the late 2010s. It was also a teasing look into her private life. If you thought you knew RiRi before it dropped, you were proven, categorically, to know nothing. Rih surfs lyrically through all the aspects of having “love on the brain” — from self-pleasure to hookups to falling in love to falling apart. She bucks traditional pop and R&B song structure, presenting us with partial songs that play like ruminations and ideas in progress, predicting the soon-to-be popular practice of loading albums up with tracks in the streaming era. She refused to stick to one genre, going from dancehall and singing in Patois on “Work” to singing an homage to the classic Black jazz vocalists with “Love on the Brain” to masterful pop balladry with hip-hop production on “Needed Me.” Criminally underappreciated upon its release, this is one album from the 2010s that we can all go back to and learn from — Rihanna was already several dozen steps ahead. <br> <br> <strong>Def Jam</strong> Rihanna - ANTI, $, available at <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Anti-Deluxe-Rihanna/dp/B01B6HIPWK/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Amazon" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Amazon</a>

1. Rihanna ANTI (2016)


Rihanna’s final album of the decade (we’re all waiting with baited breath for the follow-up) was a prescient look at what trends would shape music in the late 2010s. It was also a teasing look into her private life. If you thought you knew RiRi before it dropped, you were proven, categorically, to know nothing. Rih surfs lyrically through all the aspects of having “love on the brain” — from self-pleasure to hookups to falling in love to falling apart. She bucks traditional pop and R&B song structure, presenting us with partial songs that play like ruminations and ideas in progress, predicting the soon-to-be popular practice of loading albums up with tracks in the streaming era. She refused to stick to one genre, going from dancehall and singing in Patois on “Work” to singing an homage to the classic Black jazz vocalists with “Love on the Brain” to masterful pop balladry with hip-hop production on “Needed Me.” Criminally underappreciated upon its release, this is one album from the 2010s that we can all go back to and learn from — Rihanna was already several dozen steps ahead.

Def Jam Rihanna - ANTI, $, available at Amazon

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