Monday Musings: Albums of My Decade

I went into this decade a shy, awkward, and nerdy thirteen going on fourteen-year-old kid with braces, two pairs of arm warmers (one neon pink fishnets and the other black and white striped), hairstyles that ranged from a braided fauxhawk, colorful clip-ins, bangs for days, and a deep admiration for pop stars.

I’m leaving this decade, not where the girl who entered it thought she’d be but hopefully as a twenty-three going on twenty-four-year-old that she would at least be kinda impressed by in some way. (Or at least surprised I made it to this point?)

A lot of that has to do with music. It feels natural that after being born and raised in the very musical city that is Chicago and having childhood memories of my brother and I going back and forth between shows like 106 N Park and TRL or watching the musical performances on All That and Saturday Night Live. A lot of my childhood memories also consist of going back and forth between stations like MTV Hits, VH1 Soul, The Box, and Music Choice when there was nothing on. Then, I would spend my formative years on Tumblr during the time when the music you listened to counted as your dominant personality trait. (Maybe not much has changed since 2011, but you had to be there.) The point is, music has always been a constant for me like many others.

So, I recently relistened to what I’m calling the “Albums of My Decade” because these maybe aren’t the *best* albums of the decade and it would be impossible for me to attempt to make that kind of list anyway. But for the record, although this is a definitive title, it’s essentially an incomplete list made up of 115 albums that took me about a week and a half to compile and five weeks to listen to. Admittedly, this was very fun, but I also don’t think I recommend doing it at least in the way I did it where I’d dedicate a few days per year of albums. Maybe do an album a day or something. But to be fair, I didn’t start this when I had 115 days before the deadline I set for myself to post this.

Before I officially begin, I want to establish a few of the rules I set for myself when picking these albums and writing my reflections:
1. The albums were only picked if I got into it the year it came out. (So if I discovered or found an appreciation for an album, later on, I didn’t include it on the list–this is partially why I call this an incomplete list. I still have mad love for them but 115 albums is already a lot to listen to.)
2. Most of the albums listed were referenced by Wikipedia’s list of albums each year. (This isn’t really fair to the artists that I’ve listened to over the years that are independent/upcoming in a way that excludes them from Wikipedia’s radar, but I decided to utilize Wikipedia partially for convenience and partially because of memory. I tried as best I could to remember the ones that I didn’t see there but I know I missed some.)
3. Prioritize albums over EPs. (This is again because of the number of albums I would have to listen to in order to complete this. But also because sometimes an EP would feature all/most of the songs that would become a full-length album. Full disclosure, some of my choices are technically considered EPs, but I allowed myself to count it if it’s listed under Wikipedia’s album list. Same goes for mixtapes.)
4. Approach the Set the Scene as I was then. Approach the Hindsight Notes as I am now. (This will make sense if you so choose to read those parts.)

As mentioned above, I know I forgot a few albums. Some aren’t on the list for the reasons above, others just to narrow the list down, others because I forgot, and for a few, I couldn’t remember if I was really that into the album at the time or discovered it later. But without further ado, here’s my imperfect-but-very-hard-worked-on “Albums of My Decade” list.

The Albums (in order of release):
Animal/Cannibal – Kesha
The Sea – Corinne Bailey Rae
With Ears to See and Eyes to Hear – Sleeping With Sirens
Light Me Up – The Pretty Reckless
Doo-Wops & Hooligans – Bruno Mars
Loud – Rihanna
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West
Pink Friday – Nicki Minaj

Set the Scene:
In 2010, I was graduating from 8th grade and starting my first year of high school. I was also deep into my love of pop, rock, and pop-rock. I was really feeling any kind of music that I could jump and dance to and scream the lyrics of. And a lot of what I listened to was influenced by what was on the radio or could be found on TV–which meant most of my music in 2010 was singles, not albums.

Hindsight Notes:
These albums, for the most part, still go for me in terms of having some hits although some hold up more than others. At the time, my faves were Cannibal and Loud (I have a very vivid memory of buying Cannibal at an FYE on Black Friday with my friends and then the three of us going on OoVoo when we each got home so I could play the album for them. It’s great, although ‘Grow a Pear’ can still be skipped.) Now though, I’m reminded that Light Me Up should be considered a classic rock album of this decade.

The Albums (in order of release):
Goodbye Lullaby – Avril Lavigne
Lasers – Lupe Fiasco
4 – Beyoncé
Symphony Soldier – The Cab
Unbroken – Demi Lovato
Take Care – Drake

Set the Scene:
This was around the time I (like I think most) were looking more at singles than albums because singles felt like they were getting bigger than albums. I think I was also balancing my already established music taste with that of my high school friend group and since this was before Spotify, I still relied heavily on the radio, Youtube recommending me lyric videos, and the dying “music videos premiering on TV” to discover and listen to music.

Hindsight Notes:
Admittedly, 2011 was hard to do. This might be the least reflective list of the whole thing. I was almost tempted to just focus on singles but these five are a good sample of how my taste in music pulled at very opposite strings/directions. At the time, I thought high school meant compartmentalizing them. Especially by looking at the pop/rock music I was listening as “less mature” than the R&B/hip hop music I was listening to.

The Albums (in order of release):
Some Nights – FUN.
Coexist – The XX
Halcyon – Ellie Goulding
Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City – Kendrick Lamar
Hello My Name Is... – Bridgit Mendler
Unapologetic – Rihanna
Warrior – Kesha
Unorthodox Jukebox – Bruno Mars

Set the Scene:
16 year old me was way deep into Tumblr and as such, it influenced the music I started getting into. It was one of the first nonsponsored outlets that I could discover artists through. Sometimes, it was because a song was reblogged on my dash, sometimes it was because a lyric was circulating, and in the case of some (such as The XX), I liked the look and as a bonus, I liked the music too.

Hindsight Notes:
This was the year I think I really got into focusing on lyricism. Or at least, it planted the seed. (2013 might be when it really took off.) I’ve always liked lyrics but if you look at these albums and compare them to the past years, it’s a little less about me looking for music I can jump around to (even though that’s still there) and more about just really wanting to feel the lyrics and intention behind the music. What Kendrick did on Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City might be the best example of what I mean, but also songs like Bridgit Mendler’s “5:15” were total standouts for me that year. I also think I was starting to care less at this point about the difference between “liking expected genres” and “liking multiple genres.” By that I mean, “liking multiple genres” was winning–especially when artists took inspiration from multiple genres and did it well.

The Albums (in order of release):
Bad Blood – Bastille
Paramore – Paramore
I Love You – The Neighbourhood
Acid Rap – Chance the Rapper
The 1975 – The 1975
Yours Truly – Ariana Grande
The Electric Lady – Janelle Monáe
AM – Arctic Monkeys
Zendaya – Zendaya
Pure Heroine – Lorde
Talking Dreams – Echosmith
Catching Fire Soundtrack
Beyoncé – Beyoncé

Set the Scene:
17 year old me: deep into Tumblr and deep into a life crisis, both clearly reflected in these album choices. Arctic Monkeys, The 1975, The Neighbourhood, Bastille, and Lorde were all artists I discovered on Tumblr and I pretty much clung to those albums and the way they toyed with pessimism, joy, and adolescence all in one while also solidifying my love for an all-black fit. I dove deeper into lyrics and angst but even as I geared more towards “alt-y vibes,” I’m pretty sure all the albums listed above stood out to me for making me feel seen in all my elements. There was Chance from the Southside of Chicago like me, there was Ariana making fun R&B that reminded me of growing up on Mariah Carey, Paramore was already one of my favorite bands and just getting better as we grew up, Janelle was expressing Black girlhood in the way I dreamed to, Beyoncé was quite literally reinventing the music industry and showing us what it meant to hone and own your craft. It was exciting.

Hindsight Notes:
I think, at least as a new/young adult, the music you listen to at 17 carries over a lot or at least, it holds a special place in your heart. Compared to the previous years up to this point, 2013 has the most albums that I still constantly listen to at least a song here and there on my phone or Spotify if not, just the whole album. It’s a little eerie actually because sometimes I still feel those fears and thoughts 17-year-old me felt that made her cling to these albums and often relistening to these albums feel comforting as they did then. And the power of Beyoncé’s Self-Titled is still That Girl.

The Albums (in order of release):
1000 Forms of Fear – Sia
My Everything – Ariana Grande
Goddess – BANKS
Hozier – Hozier
Mockingjay Part 1 Soundtrack

Set the Scene:
2014 was the leap from high school to college. It was the year I think I really started to call myself a writer after practically a year and a half of being sure I was ready to be done with school after high school as well as being even more sure that I wasn’t good at anything. (Even though I started calling myself a writer, it was also questionable if I actually believed it at this point.) It’s a long-ish story to how I got from point A to point B in that time but these were a few of the albums that saw me through it.

Hindsight Notes:
I’ve gone on record multiple times that ‘Yellow Flicker Beat’ is one of my favorite songs of all time. From the first time I heard it, I felt it. As a Hunger Games fan, it perfectly described Katniss. As just me, going through the emotions of feeling like I was heading to the unknown, it helped me get ready. I was still relistening to a lot of my 2013 albums which is why this list is so short, but it was because I was still getting ready. Still, as a short and sweet list, it’s also a pretty good list.

The Albums (in order of release):
To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
Surf – Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment
Blood – Lianne La Havas
Badlands – Halsey
Beauty Behind the Madness – The Weeknd
Wiped Out! – The Neighbourhood
Know-It-All – Alessia Cara

Set the Scene:
2015!Me unsurprisingly if you’ve read the previous Set the Scenes, was also going through a life crisis but differently. I started 2015 just finishing my first semester of college and going into my second. That year I found myself understanding while also doubting what kind of writer I’d want to be. For the most part, it was the environment. In the beginning, going from the Southside of Chicago every day to classes at an art school PWI downtown, it was hard to figure out what stories I could tell and what stories I could share and what my writing actually was. It got especially harder once I realized a lot of my non-white references and understandings of the world oftentimes got lost in translation on teachers and classmates which made me feel the need to assimilate when making art for others to consume. Luckily, at this time I was also delving further into learning what it means to be a youth leader through art and activism which challenged me on what was more important.

Hindsight Notes:
2015 was the last of my teen years which is weird to think about now especially looking at the albums I picked. I forgot how much I loved Blood for example because of the way it reminded me of the feeling I get hearing songs live. (Even though I never saw Lianne live when she toured this album? Go figure.) The rest of the albums I still listen to sometimes when a song comes on shuffle, but I forgot about the joy and passion I’d felt blasting and singing the songs while I’d do my homework or take the train home or get in the shower. 2015 wasn’t that long ago but 19 and 23 are two different ages and yet, I still get the same hypeness listening to “Alright” by Kendrick now as I did the first time I heard it. A lot of my Sunday’s still include a listen to “Sunday Candy” from Surf. I got to see Halsey when she toured Badlands and Alessia when she toured Know-It-All and they’re still some of my favorite concert experiences. It was a good way to wave bye to my teens.

The Albums (in order of release):
Anti – Rihanna
i like it when you sleep for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it – The 1975
Lemonade – Beyoncé
Heart Speaks in Whispers – Corinne Bailey Rae
Coloring Book – Chance The Rapper
Dangerous Woman – Ariana Grande
Heavn – Jamila Woods
For All We Know – NAO
Telefone – Noname
The Altar – BANKS
A Seat at the Table – Solange
24KMagic – Bruno Mars
Moana Soundtrack
Hamilton Mixtape

Set the Scene:
2016 was a lot. It felt like once a week, we lost a different light that made us look at art and media in a different way. It was also an election year that was more into spectacle than the realization that politics literally affect lives. (Not necessarily new, nor a one-off thing as we can see, but 2016 was the realization of just how apathetic news and those in power could be about these things if it increased ad revenue.) A lot of the new music I listened to that year felt like answers. They also felt like joy and felt like sitting in the space, taking it in, and then carrying on. 2016 was a little draining as a person and an artist, but I got to see/listen to some of my favorite artists evolve and put out some of their best work and that was enough to keep me going and keep making. It was also the year I saw Beyoncé live for the first (and so far only) time.

Hindsight Notes:
I’ve gone on record multiple times stating that 2016 was one of my favorite years for music. In terms of sound, I think it’s maybe one of, if not my, broadest year. 2016 was less a focus on singles and more a focus on making bodies of work and it seemed like almost every artist felt this. Visuals were also a big thing and as such, was essentially perfect timing for me because when I wrote I found myself becoming a lot more visual. I ended up studying visual culture during my first semester of 2017 because I wanted to learn more about it after growing so interested in it from these bodies of work in 2016. A lot of my work/art around this time was greatly inspired by and made while listening to these albums. This includes the fact that after Lemonade dropped, I turned in at least one assignment for all of my classes where Lemonade was referenced or analyzed. (Including my visual culture comic book I made in 2017 as a final.)

The Albums (in order of release):
SweetSexySavage – Kehlani
Fin – Syd
American Teen – Khalid
blkswn – Smino
The Two of Us – Chloe x Halle
DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar
After Laughter – Paramore
Hopeless Fountain Kingdom – Halsey
Good For You – Aminé
Rainbow – Kesha
CTRL – SZA
Take Me Apart – Kelela

Set the Scene:
We all went into 2017 just wanting/hoping for it to be better than what the world was in 2016. I’m sure we go into every year hoping the next will be better but with all the discourse and events that happened in 2016 and the realities the world was forced to finally accept, we needed 2017 to be a miracle. It wasn’t. And again, that shows in a lot of the music released. I was interested in production value at this point (at a novice, casual listener level…not someone actually trying to, looking to, or studying production). Lyrics was a big thing for me in 2016 but the music behind it, I think, became bigger for me in 2017. Most likely because music became almost a requirement for me to write and visualize my writing.

Hindsight Notes:
There’s such a hypeness to my music picks of 2017 that I didn’t realize until I did my relisten. There is such joy and defiance to these albums as much as there is a vulnerability. My understanding of this year in music was taking and seeing the world as it is, but never forgetting to dance too. It’s a good reminder that, along with feeling as fully as possible and being as dynamic as possible, it is understandably easy to forget. Musically, these albums took risks because they weren’t aiming for radio play, they were aiming for folks to find them online. These artists, along with many others that year, brought something new to music and the way we talked about music and found artists. Both a throwback to the musical era of 2007/2008 when artists like Soulja Boy turned the internet into a musical tool and a move forward towards expanding that.

The Albums (in order of release):
Black Panther Soundtrack
Dirty Computer – Janelle Monáe
The Broken Instrument – Victory Boyd
Nasty – Rico Nasty
OnePointFive – Aminé
Sweetener – Ariana Grande
Room 25 – Noname
Krash – Jean Deaux
Saturn – NAO
Oxnard – Anderson.Paak
A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships – The 1975
The Pains of Growing – Alessia Cara
Into the Spiderverse Soundtrack

Set the Scene:
2018 joins 2010 and 2014 as my milestone years that inflicted full-blown life crises as I transitioned from one thing to another. So of course, I turned to music. I graduated from college and was met with my first real experience of realizing what it meant to live life without schooling being a part of it. At the same time, I delved further into being a teaching artist, into looking at and understanding what it means to collaborate with others artistically and as an activist, and working with youth to change the world and create action outside of just online. In the moment, that year felt like the trial run in going from young adulthood to new adulthood and I couldn’t tell if I was doing good or failing at it. But, these were the albums that felt me and grounded me and offered me places to escape when needed.

Hindsight Notes:
2018 was just last year, so there’s not a lot of hindsight to be had except that I didn’t realize my list would be as long as it was and I was also pleasantly surprised by how different the albums are listening to them back to back. I felt like in 2018 and 2019, I was very obsessive with music and when I heard something, I really clung to it and listened to it repeatedly. Songs like “Make Me Feel,” “Sincerity is Scary,” “Ace,” and “get well soon” were those for me last year among others. It feels cheesy and contrived, but all of these picks in one way or another felt like they were in my life way longer than they have been. Like they were in me and these artists just took them out and released them out into the world.

The Albums (in order of release):
While We Wait – Kehlani
Wasteland, Baby! – Hozier
GREY Area – Little Simz
When I Get Home – Solange
Sing to Me Instead – Ben Platt
When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? – Billie Eilish
Amidst the Chaos – Sara Bareilles
We Need to Talk – Tayla Parx
Homecoming: The Live Album – Beyoncé
Cuz I Love You – Lizzo
Anger Management -Rico Nasty
Fever – Megan Thee Stallion
A Tree Planted By Water – Eryn Allen Kane
Empathy – Jean Deaux
III – BANKS
WILLOW – Willow Smith
The Lion King: The Gift Soundtrack
Saves the World – MUNA
Norman Fucking Rockwell – Lana Del Rey
Charli – Charli XCX
Cheap Queen – King Princess
Magdalene – FKA Twigs
Songs for You – Tinashe
Queen & Slim Soundtrack
Jagged Little Pill Original Broadway Cast Recording
Fine Line – Harry Styles

Set the Scene/”Hindsight” Notes:

Surprisingly, 2019 was the hardest one to write about. I think because it’s too recent to have introspection. I was interested in a lot of music that said things would be alright. I was also interested in a lot of music that gave in to frustration and being loud about it. I was also interested in a lot of music that felt “vibe-y.” (Although, what does that actually even mean? It’s like I do and I don’t know.) This year manages to be the longest out of all of them, partially because it’s so recent it was easy to remember what caught my eye. I think to have these albums be the ones I listed to close out 2019, and subsequently, this decade, describes who I was this decade almost perfectly. It shows the ways I’ve stayed the same and it also shows the ways in which I’ve changed. I hope it’s also a step in the direction of where music is going in the next decade. And just because Rihanna posted yesterday about listening to R9 and not releasing it, if she actually drops it before this year ends…let’s just set the record straight that it’s an honorary member of this list because I already love it if you’re for whatever reason looking at this post, Rihanna.

Also, I’ve said this on Twitter and I’ll say it again here, give Little Simz her flowers for her GREY Area record. It’s not on enough end of the year lists and that is a travesty.

Did you like ‘Monday Musings’? If so, you’re in luck! Each week, Teenplicity will feature a new ‘Monday Musings’ post about things we are looking forward to, topics close to our hearts, or suggestions from readers!

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23-year-old Chicagoan and Creative Writing/Television graduate that's always writing, reading, and watching something. Future creator of television and books, co-creator of this website. Follow my Twitter and Tumblr to learn more.

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