Best Musical Artists of the 2010s

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CREDIT: YouTube Screenshots

One more list! One more list!

My Best of the 2010s list-making journey has finally come to a close! (Or has it? … For now, it has at least. The future will come as it may, and it may just surprise you, and me.) All this week, I’ve been posting my rankings of a few categories that I was inspired to put together after submitting them to a Best of the 2010s polls that I’m participating in with some of my fellow cultural aficionados. To wrap it all up, I guide you along to the realm of music and lyrics, as I present the Best Musical Artists of the 2010s.

My criteria was similar to that of my choices for Best Film Directors. I considered a combination of how much I enjoyed their musical output as well as how much – and how well – they influenced the industry at large.

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Best Songs of the 2010s

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CREDIT: YouTube Screenshots

Of all the pieces of art and entertainment that I’m ranking for the decade, songs are probably the most personal. Yet somehow I feel compelled to consider how they affected the world at large moreso than all the other categories. The tunes that I value the most aren’t just the ones that make my own heart sing but also the ones that draw all of us closer together. So as I assembled this list, I asked myself both, “What has made me dance these past 10 years?” and “How would I like to dance with everyone else?” Here’s what that playlist looks like.
(I aimed to stick only to songs that were released as singles, as opening this to deep album cuts would’ve made things so overheated.)

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Best Albums of the 2010s

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One of the big themes about entertainment in the past decade is the incomprehensible explosion of available content in every medium. While this may be a recent development in cinema and television, it’s been the case for music for centuries, or even millennia. Since humans have been banging on rocks and clapping their hands, really. Of course, it was a little more recent than that when recorded music became readily available.

This is all to say, I of course haven’t listened to every album of the past ten years that made its way onto SoundCloud or Spotify, or even all the Billboard chart-toppers. But I did listen to enough of them to be able to assemble a vibrant and varied soundtrack of my life in the 2010s. Here are the musical collections of the era that I just haven’t been able to stop pushing play on.

[4/2/20 2:00 PM UPDATE: This post originally mistakenly included Justice’s , which came out in 2007.]

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Best Songs of 2017

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CREDIT: ToveLoVEVO

It’s early March, so it must be time for me to post my list of the best singles of the past year!

1. Tove Lo – “Disco Tits” – A woman doesn’t have to be modest to earn respect, and don’t Tove Lo know it.
2. Kesha – “Praying” – The gospel-tinged anthem we all need right now.
3. Lorde – “Green Light” – If you’re looking for euphoria, Lorde has you covered.
4. Jain – “Makeba” – This guaranteed toe-tapper/hip-spinner was technically released in 2016, but while it may have taken off in Jain’s native France that year, it didn’t really hit in the U.S. until that Levi’s commercial debuted in late 2017.
5. Marian Hill – “Down” – A deceptively simple piano-driven trip-hop jam from this Philadelphia duo.
6. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Cut to the Feeling” – We all need to just follow the Tao of Carly.
7. St. Vincent – “Los Ageless” – St. Vincent is still the master of combining genuine chops with super scuzzy distortion.
8. Beck – “Up All Night” – Put this track on if your house party’s tunes are bringing everyone down.
9. Miley Cyrus – “Younger Now” – Is this what agelessness feels like?
10. Dua Lipa – “New Rules” – Dua Lipa’s anthem attempt = anthem success!
11. Miguel – “Told You So” – If there is one singer above all others belting out tunes right now about whom I would say, “You’ve got to listen to what they’re saying,” it’s gotta be Miguel.
12. Alice Merton – “No Roots” – There may be no roots to Alice Merton’s disposition, but there plenty of roots, powerful ones at that, to her musical influences.
13. Camila Cabello ft. Young Thug – “Havana” – This song makes me sweaty. But it’s the sweat of passion, so I don’t feel gross.
14. Zedd and Alessia Cara – “Stay” – Zedd is the kind of DJ so skilled at bottling up those moments you don’t want to let slip away.
15. Calvin Harris ft. Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry, and Big Sean – “Feels” – Just some tropical vibes to get you by.
16. Portugal. The Man – “Feel It Still” – The sort of generational rock song with lyrics that might mean something profound or nothing at all.
17. Katy Perry ft. Ziggy Marley – “Chained to the Rhythm” – Direct, but also pointed and bopping.
18. The Killers – “The Man” – One thing we can count in this life is songs entitled “The Man” being silly but also kind of anthemic.

Billboard Hot 20 – Week of March 25, 2017

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Each week, I check out the Billboard Hot 100, and then I rearrange the top 20 based on my estimation of their quality.

Original Version
1. Ed Sheeran – “Shape of You”
2. Migos ft. Lil Uzi Vert – “Bad and Boujee”
3. Bruno Mars – “That’s What I Like”
4. Zayn and Taylor Swift – “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker)”
5. Rihanna – “Love on the Brain”
6. Kodak Black – “Tunnel Vision”
7. The Chainsmokers – “Paris”
8. Big Sean – “Bounce Back”
9. Clean Bandit ft. Sean Paul and Anne-Marie – “Rockabye”
10. The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey – “Closer”
11. The Chainsmokers and Coldplay – “Something Just Like This”
12. The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk – “I Feel It Coming”
13. Katy Perry ft. Ziggy Marley – “Chained to the Rhythm”
14. KYLE ft. Lil Yachty – “iSpy”
15. Shawn Mendes – “Mercy”
16. Bruno Mars – “24K Magic”
17. Sam Hunt – “Body Like a Back Road”
18. Kygo x Selena Gomez – “It Ain’t Me”
19. Lorde – “Green Light”
20. Maroon 5 ft. Future – “Cold”

Jmunney’s Revision
1. Green Light
2. Chained to the Rhythm
3. Tunnel Vision
4. I Feel It Coming
5. Love on the Brain
6. Rockabye
7. Closer
8. Bad and Boujee
9. Shape of You
10. 24K Magic
11. That’s What I Like
12. Cold
13. It Ain’t Me
14. Something Just Like This
15. Paris
16. Bounce Back
17. I Don’t Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker)
18. iSpy
19. Body Like a Back Road
20. Mercy

SNL Review March 11, 2017: Scarlett Johansson/Lorde

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in March 2017.

Jeffrey Malone watches every new episode of Saturday Night Live and then organizes the sketches into the following categories: “Love It” (potentially Best of the Season-worthy), “Keep It” (perfectly adequate), or “Leave It” (in need of a rewrite, to say the least). Then he concludes with assessments of the host and musical guest.

Love It

Ace and Jake – The “Day Without a Woman” protest happened earlier this week, and – just as the people demanded – Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett have written a female-centric sketch in response! The joke here is obvious – the guys fight institutional sexism by passionately listing every example of it but neglect to actually give the women a chance to speak. These two are miracle workers, somehow making thoughtlessness totally adorable.

That canine actor in the Dog Translation sketch is not having that helmet on his head; the fact that he is also a Trump supporter is also kind of funny…The Olive Garden Commercial shoot has it all: fake orgasms, casual racism, and Kenan Thompson sticking his face flat in a bowl of pasta!

Keep It

Alien Invasion – I have mentioned a few times this season that SNL’s political sketches need to get weird if they want to distinguish themselves from the jokes that all the other late night shows and all the social media have already made. This is not just a matter of remaining unique, but also of avoiding boredom and/or depression. With each new unprecedented action the current administration takes, the comedy world could despair. Or instead, it could take a few minutes to wonder if we are adequately prepared for an extraterrestrial invasion.

For me, the most amusing thing about Logo’s new lesbian reality show Cherry Grove is that one of the types is “the dairy-intolerant one”…Complicit is not as astounding as some previous SNL fragrance commercials, but it does make a killer observation…Michael and Colin get their regular political digs in, and then they just get silly…Alex Moffat and Kate McKinnon really have something here with their Al Franken and Jeff Sessions impressions, particularly Al’s matter-of-fact frustration over Jeff referring to lunch at a deli as “Jew stuff”…Pete Davidson stops by the desk for some “First Impressions,” and as befits this version of Weekend Update, the best part is his apparently improvised banter with Michael Che…There is really not much clever at all about Shanice Goodwin, Ninja, but Leslie Jones is clearly enjoying it, and the gunshot is worth a laugh…I could definitely dance the night away to those deep club tracks at the Funeral.

Leave It

Good Day Denver – I am all for some good, animal pornography-based humor, but I do take exception when comedy lacks internal consistency. Unless of course, that lack of consistency is the whole point – but that does not appear to be the case here. Mikey Day’s zoo photographer is misidentified as something more lascivious by a news anchor, who promptly admits her mistake. Then the caption team exacerbates the goof, so the news crew fights to fix it again, and yet it is the guy with the camera who ultimately loses his job. Come on, fam, let’s be fair. Or make the unfairness the point of the sketch so that we know how to track the humor.

Come on, Scarlett Johansson’s Monologue, just pick a concept and go with it! (Kenan taking over the spotlight could work well enough)…Regarding True Tales From the Sea, hurray to Kate McKinnon for reveling in her role of a blobfish mermaid (anglerfish ScarJo is having fun, too), but this outing lacks the unpredictability of the first edition. I do appreciate the Simpsons theme song gag, though.

Scarlett Johansson

On a scale of “Scarlett Johansson? Meh” to “Scarlett Johansson? I guess I like her,” this is now the second instance that 5-timer ScarJo has not played Lexi of Mike’s Marbleopolis and Busteria fame, as Fred Armisen is no longer in the cast. But Kenan Thompson still is! It is such a different era than it was 10 years ago, and yet in many ways it is still the same. One important difference: ScarJo is such an old pro, as she demonstrates when she re-straps the helmet back onto the doggie.

Lorde

On a scale of Haim to D’Angelo, Lorde is definitely one of those musical guests that I am super excited about because I already know how much I love the songs she is going to play. I have listened to “Green Light” about five times per day the past week. Ultimately, she falls a little on the side of “unable to live up to impossible expectations.” I think some more unbound dancing should have been in order. However, I am still getting to know here second song, “Liability,” so that rendition is satisfactorily intriguing.

My letter grades for each sketch and segment are below:

Alien Attack – B

Scarlett Johansson’s Monologue – C

Good Day Denver – C

Cherry Grove – C+

Dog Translator – B+

Olive Garden Commercial – B

Complicit – B

Lorde performs “Green Light” – B+

Weekend Update
Michael and Colin – B-
Al Franken and Jeff Sessions – B
Pete Davidson – B-

True Tales From the Sea – C

Shanice Goodwin, Ninja – C+

Lorde performs “Liability” – B+

A Sketch for the Women (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – A-

Funeral – B

Best Songs of 2015

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All songs on this list were released as singles in 2015, or late 2014, or earlier in 2014, but didn’t make an impact until 2015.

LetItHappen

1. Tame Impala – “Let It Happen” – Tame Impala are just about singlehandedly keeping psychedelic rock alive, with their good vibe-filled soundscapes keeping minds as open as possible. This 7 minute-plus magnum opus is a crunchy, lovely, hooky, addictive ode to allowing the best possible future to come into existence. Settle in, let it wash over you, and watch the fear slip away.
2. Miguel – “Waves” – Hands down, Miguel is currently making the sexiest music on the planet. This cowbell backbeat-driven paean to lovemaking is the cream of his crop.
3. Wolf Alice – “Moaning Lisa Smile” – Alternative rock can actually call for an end to gloominess, as in this story of a Lisa Simpson-type.
4. Major Lazer ft. MØ & DJ Snake – “Lean On” – An American DJ, a French DJ, and a Danish singer break out the moombahton for Major Lazer’s hottest beat yet.
5. The Weeknd – “Can’t Feel My Face” – This is what pop music needs to thrive: someone who can write killer hooks and isn’t afraid to grunt alongside his silky falsetto.
6. Beck – “Dreams” – My dream for 2016 is that Beck’s new album will be released as soon as possible. In the meantime, this funky little psychedelic number from Mr. Hansen’s dancy side played on repeat will tide me over.
7. Taylor Swift – “Style” – Tight, tingly composition and hauntingly resonant lyrics about the path of love in an endless night’s journey.
8. The Weeknd – “The Hills” – An intro of pure distortion and an outro sung in Amharic (the language of Ethiopia) makes for the most unusual Number One hit in ages.
9. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Run Away with Me” – That sax intro – and everything else featured in this beautiful pop number – makes it clear that you will be swimming in bliss for four minutes.
10. Kendrick Lamar – “King Kunta” – Kendrick follows the examples of Edwin Starr and Public Enemy in demonstrating that the best protest music is also a lot of fun.
11. Selena Gomez – “Same Old Love” – With an assist from Charli XCX on the snappy lyrics and a deliciously wonky piano, Selena shot for the cranial stars with this earworm.
12. Disclosure ft. Lorde – “Magnets” – The Lawrence brothers provide the wooshy tropical beat as Lorde gets in too deep with her lover.
13. Florence + the Machine – “What Kind of Man” – Florence Welch has a knack for making 3 ½-minute ditties feel like 8-minute epics.
14. Calvin Harris ft. Ellie Goulding – “Outside” – If Calvin Harris is not singing on his own tracks, then it ought to be Ellie Goulding, as on this nugget of emotionally tense dance music.
15. Tove Lo – “Talking Body” – Tove Lo realizes that part of being healthy is fully and lusciously embracing our physical desires.
16. The Pretty Reckless – “Follow Me Down” – The Sing-Along With Attitude Anthem of 2015.
17. Cold War Kids – “First” – The Cold War Kids have found their niche of tight riffs guiding the way through everyday existential crises.
18. MisterWives – “Reflections” – Mandy Lee’s infectious vocals set the irresistible tone for this burst of indie pop effervescence.
19. Elle King – “Ex’s & Oh’s” – Groovy, bluesy guitars + feisty, funky attitude + snappy, playful wordplay = a no-brainer addition to your rock playlist.
20. Modest Mouse – “Lampshades on Fire” – It sounds like something that was written over the course of the raging party recounted in the lyrics.
21. Adele – “Hello” – Spare, unfussy production just gets out of the way of one of the most powerful instruments on the planet.
22. U2 – “Every Breaking Wave” – The beautiful, heartbreaking lyrics are as bottomless as the ocean from Bono and company.
23. Halsey – “New Americana” – Halsey gets away with brazen bluntness in this anthem for a new generation by making the straightforwardness part of the message.
24. Carly Rae Jepsen – “I Really Like You” – Incessant repetition should be avoided most of the time, except when you really, really, really, really, really, really cannot say it any other way.
25. Joywave – “Somebody New” – It’s a whole new genre: Sleepy Alternative Power Nap Rock.

SNL November 14, 2015 Recap: Elizabeth Banks/Disclosure

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My full review of this episode can be found on Starpulse: http://www.starpulse.com/news/index.php/2015/11/15/saturday-night-live-season-41-episode-

Elizabeth Banks’ Monologue (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – B+

ARON’S List – B-

Black Jeopardy – B

Infinity + 5 – “First Got Horny 2 U” – B+

Woodbridge High School Student Theater Showcase – B+

Disclosure and Lorde – “Magnets” – A-

Weekend Update
The Jokes – B
Bruce Chandling – B+
Olya Povlatsky – B

The Adventures of Young Ben Carson – B

The Bureau – B-

Disclosure and Sam Smith – “Omen” – B+

U B E R for Jen – B

Ghetto – C+