40 – Lost Stars by Adam Levine (2014, Year-End Rank: Unranked)
The first time I lived in Singapore, I used to brisk walk at night. During that period, “Lost Stars” was a regular. I remember looking up at the sky and searching for stars. They were opportunities to ponder life’s questions. I was a drama queen. And Adam Levine gave me a license to practice my craziness.
39 – Teenage Dream by Katy Perry (2010, Year-End Rank: N/A)
At the start of the decade, I said goodbye to my teenage years. So when Katy Perry released “Teenage Dream”, I had little idealism. The romantic in me was hidden to the darkest corners of my mind. The song represented everything from my past and nothing about my future. Now, I’m ready to embrace life again and be vulnerable like Katy Perry.
38 – bad guy by Billie Eilish (2019, Year-End Rank: #2)
“bad guy” represents everyone I fall for and everything I wish I was. If I could redefine life’s starting points, I’d rather be chased than the one doing the chase. I know life on the other side is not as easy as it seems. But trust me, my side also sucks. Billie Eilish’s music oozes of excitement and danger. And I can’t help but be intrigued and envious.
37 – Work Bitch by Britney Spears (2013, Year-End Rank: #30)
Many factors contribute to inequality. Opportunities may never be as distributed as they should be. But one dimension we control is the amount of effort we put in. Even if we don’t admit it, Britney Spears gives us a part of the equation we often ignore. And that’s the work we put in. If you want it, you better work bitch!
36 – Clarity by Zedd featuring Foxes (2013, Year-End Rank: #13)
There is no bigger party song this decade than Zedd’s “Clarity”. While most people think Hayley Williams of Paramore provided the vocals, it was British singer Foxes. She’s responsible for the passion I imitate when I sing the song. I continue to ask – how can something as tragic and insane as love give me the cure and clarity I seek?
35 – Titanium by David Guetta featuring Sia (2012, Year-End Rank: #18)
We overestimate our strength. And to stay resilient from all of life’s heartaches, I see merit in reinforcing the belief we can pull through. With a song as powerful as “Titanium”, the narrative is contagious. David Guetta has club beats that sound like gunshots from all directions. And Sia gives a vocal that repels and is unmoved.
34 – You and I by Lady Gaga (2011, Year-End Rank: N/A)
By 2011, Lady Gaga can fart on a beat and the crowd would still dance to her music. But in the same year, she showcased her versatility and released “You and I”. The track was a power ballad. It highlighted her vocal chops. At the same time, the romantic and mellow side of Gaga came to the surface. That made her more human and relatable in my eyes.
33 – New Rules by Dua Lipa (2017, Year-End Rank: #7)
Dua Lipa is the god of moving on. She gives us the commandments we need to abide by to get over a toxic partner. But as a public figure, her credibility has gone down. After the song’s release, she got back together with the track’s subject. And while her advice carries little weight in my mind, the single still rocks the dancefloor.
32 – Too Good by Drake Featuring Rihanna (2016, Year-End Rank: #6)
We will never know what happened between Rihanna and Drake. But something tells me they have great chemistry that’s too dangerous to last. In “Too Good”, the toxicity of obsession and going overboard is as clear as day. I’m surprised we settle for it. I guess that’s better than nothing.
31 – Ho Hey by The Lumineers (2012, Year-End Rank: Unranked)
I just realized that I’m a sucker for folk love songs. The genre’s sound is simple enough to connect with me on a visceral level. The sentiment becomes the focus because there is no full-blown production to be mindful of. The chorus of “Ho Hey” is as basic as they come. But that doesn’t matter because I’m not as complex as I project myself to be.
30 – Green Light by Lorde (2017, Year-End Rank: #4)
I wish I could enter Lorde’s mind and witness all the action that happens in her head. She’s like a child prodigy sees the world differently. “Green Light” is a step forward for her music – representing a progressively catchy and improving melody, songwriting that poetically captures her desire to move on, and proof that she’s no fluke.
29 – Only Girl (In the World) by Rihanna (2010, Year-End Rank: N/A)
There was a period when Rihanna released albums back-to-back. I was impressed with her stamina to record music and her ability to continuously squeeze out creative juice. But what stood out the most is how her songs remained of high caliber. “Only Girl (In The World) is part of the series of hits that cemented her as a force in pop, dance, and R&B.
28 – Bang Bang by Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj (2014, Year-End Rank: #9)
It took more than a decade for “Lady Marmalade” to have a deserving successor. Three superstars came together and delivered the same energy and spirit. In “Bang Bang”, Jessie J and Ariana Grande sang and exchange high notes that battle rounds are made of. Nicki Minaj added the funk that gave the song its crossover (even universal) appeal.
27 – Middle by DJ Snake featuring Bipolar Sunshine (2015, Year-End Rank: #7)
In 2016, I was at my most intoxicated. I was drinking three or four times a week. I went to different bars and clubs in search of a temporary high. In almost all the places I went to, “Middle” was playing. I will never consume the same amount of alcohol. But I have no regrets. Those were good memories with exceptional music that made people happy.
26 – Style by Taylor Swift (2015, Year-End Rank: #2)
Rumors have swirled that Taylor Swift’s “Style” is about her former One Direction lover Harry Styles. If it’s true, I cannot help but admire how clever she is. I would even go as far as saying that she’s a songwriting genius. Regardless, the classiest and most elegant she has ever sounded being in love was in “Style”.
25 – Pumped Up Kicks by Foster the People (2010, Year-End Rank: Unranked)
I’m opposed to gun ownership. I believe they play a role in the rise of shootings. I do not believe Foster the People encourages it. Through catchy beats in “Pumped Up Kicks”, they penetrate discourse. It’s easy to miss. But once you recognize the meaning of their words, it’s difficult to ignore. If they make you feel uncomfortable, good.
24 – Blame by Calvin Harris featuring John Newman (2014, Year-End Rank: #4)
It’s convenient to blame our actions on the night. But the mood has little to do with the genuine and dormant desires it enables. John Newman’s deep and masculine voice reinforces the stereotype. A man is using external factors to excuse his behavior. And it doesn’t help that Calvin’s beats are sick and makes the narrative palatable.
23 – Hotline Bling by Drake (2015, Year-End Rank: #1)
Drake’s awkward and interesting dance moves are iconic. While more are skilled on that front, the rest of us are just as silly. Drake is the master of creating cravings. “Hotline Bling” leaves more to be desired. The beat is underdeveloped. His tone is relaxed. The choreography is restrained. Exactly those things make me want more.
22 – A Sky Full of Stars by Coldplay (2014, Year-End Rank: #1)
Ghost Stories, the 6th studio album of Coldplay, is depressing. The only glimmer of hope is “A Sky Full of Stars”. Previous releases had hints of EDM. But this track went all out with Avicii’s help. Chris Martin and Avicii were both in dark places during its production. And it’s great to hear they can generate optimism in their music regardless.
21 – Sunflower by Post Malone and Swae Lee (2018, Year-End Rank: #1)
Often, soundtrack singles lose their meaning outside of a feature film. But “Sunflower” is different. While the song fits well with the plot, it’s themes are generic enough for people to connect with. The beat is current. Hence, its existence in fiction and in real-life makes sense. In recent history, very few movie tracks connect as much as “Sunflower”.
20 – Domino by Jessie J (2012, Year-End Rank: #2)
The first line of Domino goes “I’m feeling sexy and free”. And from the moment Jessie J utters those words, the track screams of confidence and liberation. While the song is essentially about a significant other making you fall head over heels, I take out a declaration of independence and self-love.
19 – Formation by Beyonce (2016, Year-End Rank: #9)
In “Formation”, Beyonce embraces her roots and identity unapologetically. She disregards her critics and haters. She also uses her platform to break class inequality and redefine gender roles. She makes a step forward for African-American women to achieve their limitless potential. And she becomes the ultimate definition of #goals.
18 – Treasure by Bruno Mars (2013, Year-End Rank: #6)
The first time Bruno Mars fully embraced funk in his music was in 2013’s “Treasure”. At the time, the sound has been largely absent from mainstream radio. And he was right to take the gamble. The grand celebratory vibe of the genre helped catapult Earth, Wind, and Fire to the hall of fame of karaoke sessions and family reunions. He’s up next.
17 – Radioactive by Imagine Dragons (2012, Year-End Rank: #1)
I used to curate my playlists at the beginning of the week. I retire songs I get sick of. And I replace them with the latest and see what sticks. Although I didn’t connect with “Radioactive” immediately, I never got sick of it. And before I knew it, the track grew on me. And it ended up as my favorite for 2013. It’s the ultimate slow burner for me.
16 – Slide by Calvin Harris featuring Frank Ocean and Migos (2017, Year-End Rank: #1)
One of the riskiest collaborations I’ve seen is Frank Ocean and Calvin Harris coming together. The former was fully opposed to surrendering his creative control. The latter was a force to be reckoned with in EDM. And yet, the two blended harmoniously. They created an output that neither catalog has ever seen.
15 – Blank Space by Taylor Swift (2014, Year-End Rank: #10)
Taylor Swift gained notoriety for dating men and writing about them in her music. The media will never resist an opportunity to discuss her life at length. And she will never back down. I admire her self-awareness and resilience. She has the skill to use any narrative against her into a subject for her art. They should teach this in school.
14 – Rather Be by Clean Bandit featuring Jess Glynne (2014, Year-End Rank: #3)
Clean Bandit made the right choice in “Rather Be”. While mixing violin and EDM doesn’t seem intuitive, they went ahead. And the sound amplifies the sentiment of being exactly where you’re supposed to be. For a moment, when I sing this song, I feel that everything fell into place and life’s gonna be alright.
13 – Thinkin Bout You by Frank Ocean (2012, Year-End Rank: Unranked)
When I listen to “Thinkin Bout You”, I cannot separate Frank Ocean’s back story from his songwriting. I admire his courage and passion to let his guard down. I don’t think it’s ever easy. But that’s especially true from where he comes from. But on a technical note, his falsettos in the chorus are to die for. Occasionally, they still give me goosebumps.
12 – thank u, next by Ariana Grande (2018, Year-End Rank: #1)
“thank u, next” started a golden era for Ariana Grande. In the video, she recreated all the iconic movies I grew up with. That move was legendary. But the priceless part is the callback to all her former lovers. She treats them as pieces to her puzzle. While there’s some underlying bitterness, the overall sense is one of fulfillment.
11 – Nothin’ on You by B.o.B featuring Bruno Mars (2010, Year-End Rank: N/A)
In romance, I lost more times than I won. But that hasn’t changed my belief that there’s a right person for me. I was less than 20 when 2010 began. I was clingy. I was possessive. I thought being loved meant being the only thing on his mind. Bruno Mars and B.o.B told me otherwise then. Recently, I listened.
10 – The Sound by The 1975 (2016, Year-End Rank: #3)
On many occasions, the band has showcased its versatility. They went from synth-pop (“TooTimeTooTimeTooTime”) to full rock (“People”). When The 1975 decided to go pop, they went all in. And in “The Sound”, they have never been this catchy. Even phrases that don’t make sense somehow do when Matty sings it.
9 – Rolling in the Deep by Adele (2010, Year-End Rank: N/A)
The 2010s was the decade Adele became a superstar. “Rolling in the Deep” sounded like nothing on the radio. At that time, its release was a risk for her record label. Or was it? The heartbreak she speaks of is universal. The vocal harmonies are prime for stage performances. While she didn’t fit the notion of a pop star, she was like the rest of us.
8 – Everybody Talks by Neon Trees (2012, Year-End Rank: #1)
I have not listened to “Everybody Talks” in a while. After playing the song, I feel the same amount of love and passion for it as I did seven years ago. Back then, for me, it purely meant poking fun at people who talk more than they should. I now see it as a commentary on how we don’t listen enough and I let all the chit chat affect my life.
7 – Love on Top by Beyonce (2011, Year-End Rank: N/A)
If there is an award for the most difficult song to sing in this decade, the award has to go to “Love on Top”. Beyonce slays. And she does it across four keys. Just when I thought she could not go any higher, she proves me wrong. Anyone attempting to do a cover should just quit. Only parodies of it will work.
6 – One Dance by Drake featuring Kyla and Wizkid (2016, Year-End Rank: #2)
2016 was one of the worst years of my life. But looking back, it had some of the best music. It was the year Drake made dancehall mainstream. I even thought he invented that genre. All the clubs played “One Dance”. And everyone always had their groove on when the song played. Even today, if a DJ puts it in their playlist, I’d still go crazy.
5 – Supercut by Lorde (2017, Year-End Rank: Unranked)
My memories cannot be trusted. Or at least, I pick and select the best versions that fit my narratives. And I wonder why. Is my reality that bad? And if it is, can’t I do anything to change it? “Supercut” hits where I make most of those lies. And that’s in romance. I hope 2020 is more truthful than how the 2010s have been.
4 – Safe and Sound by Capital Cities (2011, Year-End Rank: #3)
I never knew I could dance to trumpet sound until I heard “Safe and Sound”. I was in college when this came out. Then, I wasn’t feeling safe and sound. But hindsight is 20/20. Now I recall being so liberated on the dancefloor. One of my favorite club experiences was the surprise appearance of Capital Cities in Aracama. The music fan in me died.
3 – Dancing on My Own by Robyn (2010, Year-End Rank: N/A)
This has to be one of the most painful songs ever created. Rejection. Failure. Heartbreak. All of this happened in a night I think I would score. Just listening to the track triggers all of the negative emotions I’ve been shielding myself from or ones I’m projecting an immunity to.
2 – We Found Love by Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris (2011, Year-End Rank: N/A)
It’s difficult to let a romantic prospect go. Nowadays, finding a partner I can connect with and who can withstand my crazy is close to impossible. So even when the conditions are far from ideal, I cling onto it.
I guess that’s Rihanna’s story. That is mine. And that’s probably yours.
“We Found Love” may be tragic. But separation is equally devastating. And to numb the pain, the beats take you higher and give you a high. The temporary rush makes all the negative emotions go away… until the next time they come striking again.
1 – This Girl by The Kungs vs Cookin’ On 3 Burners (2016, Year-End Rank: #1)
The year was 2016. My friend took me to a bar in Jakarta and introduced me to some of his friends. I didn’t know anyone but him. So when he was busy talking to other people, or getting a drink, or simply having other things to do than pay attention to me, I was left on my own. And interacting with people I’ve never met felt overwhelming. I wasn’t in the workplace where I figure most things out. I was out partying and I felt I didn’t fit in. I had no clue what they were thinking. But I knew what was in my head and they weren’t nice.
Then, “This Girl” played.
The rest of the night was a blur. But I remember the feeling I had when the song played. A sense of comfort took over. I’ve been listening to the tune months before the trip. And having a familiar sound decreased the anxiety I was experiencing. I thought everything was going to be okay. And I let my inhibitions go and I started dancing.
Since then, the single has been my go-to track when I need a boost. It’s effective when I’m working on a deadline and I need to submit an output. It helps when I need to pull myself out of bed. Most importantly, it gives me a push to dance the night away.