Harry Smith

Exploring Pitchfork's 200 Best Songs of the 2010s

Looking back at a decade of music.

Harry Smith

Published October 26, 2019

On Monday, October 7th, 2019, Pitchfork Media released their choices for the best 200 songs of the decade. Pitchfork is an influential voice in the independent music community, known for their detailed album reviews and their signature designation of "Best New Music" for songs and albums that they consider to be exceptional on release. Annually, Pitchfork releases a "Best of" list for the previous year, which sparks avid discussion among me and my friends. As the culmination of a whole decade of music, this list's release loomed large over my entire 2019. I had many questions about its content from the personal ("How closely do my favorites match up with the consensus of these music writers?") to the practical ("How will new songs from 2019 stack up against classics from years ago?"). On the morning that the list dropped, I read through their rankings and I started to take a closer look at the landscape of these superlative tunes.

They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To

The first question I explored was how the songs were distributed with respect to release year. Would the Pitchfork editors would make an effort to include equal representation from each year? I was curious how this group of writers would weigh the novelty of new tracks against the nostalgia for songs that came out up to a decade ago.

Charting the distribution of years in the list reveals that, according to Pitchfork, the early 2010s were the best and brightest years of this decade. 2012 was the year with the most tracks at 28 entries. What's more, songs from 2010-2012 account for a full 40% of the list. These golden years stand in contrast with 2019, from which Pitchfork identified only six songs as being among the best of the decade. Even accounting for the fact that Pitchfork released this list in October instead of December—the only reason I can imagine for why Big Thief's "Not" isn't included—six songs is a good deal short of the 20 that we'd expect under an equal distribution among years.

Mouse over the chart below to explore the songs from each year.

Drake Had the Decade's Midas Touch

The 200 best songs of the decade were performed by 166 artists in total when considering main performers as well as featured artists for each song. The vast majority of artists appeared just once in this list, with only 28 artists performing on more than one track from the list. Among these distinguished few artists whose output was recognized more than once on the list, Drake reigns on a tier above with seven appearances. Songs performed by or featuring Drake account for a full 3.5% of the list, and the artist with the next highest number of appearances is Beyoncé with five. If we consider only perfoming artist of each song and exclude features, Drake and Beyoncé share the record for most appearances on this list at four (along with Kanye West, Rihanna, and Frank Ocean).

Use the dropdown below to explore the artists featured on the list. Mouse over the figure below to learn which of the artist's songs made it.

You Can Make It Big Even If You're Small... Sort Of

Although major labels like Columbia and Interscope were the labels that released the most songs featured on Pitchfork's list, each with twelve releases, artists who released their music without any label at all were still able to secure nine spots on this list. This put self-released artists at a slightly higher representation than several major labels including hip-hop and rap titans Def Jam and Cash Money, as well as record companies with more broad genre representation like Epic.

On the other hand, it's worth noting that for every upstart track like Lil Peep's "Kiss", a truly independent release from an artist gaining label-free fame on YouTube and SoundCloud, the list features another track like Frank Ocean's "Nights" from 2016's Blonde. That album is only considered an independent release because Ocean put out video album Endless the day before to free himself from a contract that he found disagreeable with former label Def Jam. Goes to show that it's easier to be an independent artist with a record deal under one's belt.