ItsNotYouItsMe "Back To The The Future" Edition Salutes Thee Biggest Influences On Pop Culture In Thee 2010s!

ItsNotYouItsMe "Back To The The Future" Edition salutes thee biggest influences on pop culture in thee 2010s!

"When pop fans look back on the 2010s, pop fans should celebrate its lack of a singular identity. The past ten years have created music’s least homogenous era in history, thanks to internet fan culture and streaming which made monoculture impossible to exist. Sure, there were big stars, but even those stars were largely able to retain the top spot by paying close attention to the quick shifts in trends.

The 2010s have proven to be a great challenge for pop stars hoping for a chance to thrive in an over-saturated market. Many stepped up to the plate, pushing the definition of “pop,” what it means to have a hit song and who counts as a pop star further than ever. As the 2020s begin, pop music is at its most freeform and possibly interesting in years.

How did we get to this moment? Let’s take a look back at the biggest influences on the sound of pop this decade, ranging from music history landmarks to modern trendsetters who helped nudge their peers in a new direction.

Britney Spears’ ‘Blackout’
Britney Spears’ fifth album came at the height of one of her darkest period’s: she had become both a tabloid fixture and the subject of public mockery and scrutiny for her partying, whirlwind romance with Kevin Federline and questionable parenting skills. Blackout responded to all of the above and had Spears experimenting with her sound to an extreme she had not attempted before and has not entirely returned to since — but maybe that’s because so much of pop in its wake has attempted the dark techno of Spears’ masterpiece. The album’s impact can be best heard in Ke$ha’s self-aware early party jams, Charli XCX and PC Music’s incisive, sexy future pop, Kim Petras’ spooky bubblegum and Taylor Swift’s tabloid-tackling Reputation singles like “Ready for It?” and “Look What You Made Me Do.” -B.S.

Bruce Springsteen hasn’t been irrelevant in decades, so it’s not as if this was a decade of some great resurgence. But it’s a testament to Springsteen’s brilliance that, at a time of diminishing returns for mainstream rock, arguably the world’s last true rock and roll star remained as influential as ever. He was, of course, a touchstone for countless artists inclided towards something grand: the Killers, Florence and the Machine, Lucy Dacus and fellow New Jersey heroes Titus Andronicus, Hurray for the Riff Raff, the National, Julien Baker and the War on Drugs. The political ethos of Springsteen could be heard far and wide too, from the righteous fury of Providence punk outfit Downtown Boys to Lorde’s “Royals,” a working class anthem so perfectly Springsteen-ian even he had to cover it. Springsteen’s musical influence also started to carry a certain nostalgia that, when wielded properly, could make for a potent pop sucker punch. Jack Antonoff, another New Jersey native, balanced these qualities deftly in the music he made with Bleachers and produced for artists like Lorde and Taylor Swift, while country star Eric Church threw subtlety to the wind — and still succeeded — with his 2011 smash “Springsteen.” And then, of course, there was Lady Gaga, who knew exactly what she was doing when she invited Clarence Clemons to play on two Born This Way songs, “Hair” and “The Edge of Glory.” The latter in particular exists on the purest Springsteen continuum, that of “Born to Run” and “Thunder Road,” and just like on those songs, it’s Clemons’ saxophone that gives “The Edge of Glory” it’s air of endless possibility. This kind of open road, open night hope might be Springsteen’s greatest contribution to music, and the best embodiment of his legacy — a quality so honest and epic and true, it can never go out of style. -J. Blistein

Sufjan Stevens
Classic House
Yes, there are your Steve Aokis and your Skrillexes and every other “electro house” festival act that came to prominence this decade through abrasive, buoyant beats designed to make you jump up and down like a pogo stick. But there was a turning point in the decade – somewhere between Azealia Banks’ rise to prominence and Daft Punk releasing Random Access Memories – where the narrative around house turned nostalgic, and mainstream producers returned once again to the legacy of Frankie Knuckles and Marshall Jefferson. In recent years, Calvin Harris became classic house’s radio champion with his production work on Dua Lipa’s “One Kiss” and Sam Smith’s “Promises.” Elsewhere in pop, the piano riff on Lorde’s “Green Light” was a direct play on the hook from Derrick May’s classic “Strings of Life,” and Kygo led the charge on the latest “tropical house” trend dominating the charts. -C.S.

Country Taylor Swift
It seems hard to believe that one of the world’s biggest popstars began her decade wearing cowboy boots and sang words like “dress” with an exaggerated twang. But ten years later, the tentacles of Swift’s first few albums–2006’s self-titled and 2008’s Fearless, specifically–can still be felt everywhere. Most obviously, every Top 40-crossover act rooted in Nashville’s music biz, from Kelsea Ballerini to Florida Georgia Line to Bebe Rexha to Maren Morris–can thank the trailblazing blueprint Swift laid forth in the late aughts. But more broadly, Swift’s early records presented country music as a naturally pop-friendly format to a generation of kids like Lil Nas X, who was 11 when Speak Now was released. As Maggie Rogers, who released a cover of Swift’s “Tim McGraw” earlier this year, put it: “It’s really hard to sing ‘Chevy truck’ and just like, not sing it country.” -J. Bernstein

1940s Cowboys
Cowboy and Outlaw Country
The American cowboy mythos dates all the way back to the 1500s, when Native American vaqueros were hired to herd cattle for Spanish settlers in the West. In music, cowboy attire – a theatrical approximation of it, that is – was first widely adopted in the Forties by country-Western acts like Gene Autry and the Maddox Brothers & Rose. But when the so-called “yee haw agenda,” as coined by Bri Malandro in 2018, came to prominence during the latter half of the decade, the boundaries of who could dress or act like a cowboy were nonexistent. Everything from Mitski’s Be the Cowboy, to Solange’s When I Get Home/Blackplanet projects in homage to Houston, to the rise of Kacey Musgraves, to cowboy fashion all over hip-hop – not to mention Lil Nas X and the entire “Old Town Road” phenomenon – sparked a greater conversation about history being reclaimed through fashion and music. -C.S.

Dancehall-pop has been around for quite some time, most notably heard in popular songs from Shaggy and No Doubt over the late-Nineties, early-Aughts. Around 2016, however, dancehall had re-emerged on the pop charts in a huge way. Led by Diplo’s in-demand work as a producer as well as hit singles by artists with Caribbean roots (Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Omi) and genre tourists (Drake, Justin Bieber, Sia) pop became more “tropical” and fused in elements of reggae and moombahton as well. Horns, breezy synths and steel drums became increasingly prevalent on the radio, with currently no signs of slowing down. -B.S.

David Bowie and Madonna
If there is one thing that every pop star of the last decade can agree on, it’s that they have loved the concept of “era” a little too much. David Bowie, Madonna and Prince were some of the earliest artists to make the concept notable, introducing characters or historic fashion statements to the canon of popular music. Often perpetuated by stan culture and first re-popularized by the likes of Beyonce and Lady Gaga, each star has sunk deeper into the mode of killing the past and rebirthing a new image with every album that goes beyond just working with new collaborators and debuting an updated sound. -B.S.

What would Top 40 have sounded like this decade if it weren’t from Drake? He is, after all, rap’s spongiest curator, soaking up and quickly distilling any burgeoning musical scene or sub-genre. He either led the charge or heightened the mainstreaming of any musical movement and completely shifted the way many pop stars either sung or released their music. Clipped phrasing blending with sung-rapped reflections on heartbreak became pop’s main form of communication, and the likes of Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Nick Jonas and Selena Gomez are clear disciples of Drake’s gospel. — B.S.

Lil Jon
Early 2000s Crunk and Trap
Not every pop star had the guts to say “Yeah!” but they sure felt the twerk-fluence of the Dirty South’s finest. Lil Jon, Three 6 Mafia and UGK presences were either literally or figuratively felt in the output of pop’s biggest stars, and that was only intensified by the continued popularization of trap itself as the decade carried on. In some way, attempting to make a trap-pop single became requisite for a hit, with everyone from Katy Perry to Lady Gaga making some slight effort to imitate the syncopated beats of the genre to varying degrees of success. -B.S.

EDM Boom
As a term, EDM was always a better corporate buzzword than a useful way to describe the music that forced a full pop recalibration at the start of the 2010s. But while “EDM” undermined the vast sonic range of a moment that encompassed everything from Skrillex’s devastating dubstep to Avicii’s euphoric house pop, there was one unifying sonic signature: The Drop. In and of itself, building and releasing tension isn’t new, but The Drops of the early 2010s were full-force onslaughts of kick drum and bass, counterbalanced, at least a little, with some delirium-inducing riff on the high end. There’s perhaps no better example of The Drop’s pop dominance than the two biggest songs of 2011 — Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep” and LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem,” songs seemingly on opposite sides of the musical spectrum that actually rely on the same structural tricks, building to choruses that plunge into a breathless pulse that reverberates in your bones. But so much sheer intensity was never going to last. By 2015, even Skrillex had pivoted to lower case “d” drops as he helped revitalize Justin Bieber’s career with “Sorry.” Now, when a drop was central to a song, it often prioritized bright synths or chopped-up vocal hooks (see: The Chainsmokers), though increasingly it was just ironed out of pop entirely. Where the low-end was outright weaponized at the start of the decade, by the end, it was functioning more as an anchor for the washed-out vibes thriving in the new streaming economy. It’s hard to call this shift a comedown considering there’s still bleary, 3 a.m., trance-like quality to this music, but for sure, the 2010s won’t end with a wub, but a wave. -J. Blistein

80s Pop
Eighties Synthpop
The “Me” decade became more than just fodder for theme parties following the arrival of Lady Gaga in 2008. She led the path for an all-out synth-pop revival, inspiring a generation of artists to dig deep into the new wave-adjacent style. On Top 40, the big, lush, opulent sound of big hair and spandex became an early calling card for Ke$ha, Katy Perry and Robyn before Carly Rae Jepsen and Taylor Swift renewed interest in the style for the second half of the decade. -B.S.

Mumford, Lumineers & Sharpe
Festival Folk
The surprising neo-folk pop moment ushered in by groups like Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and the Lumineers had largely receded from the mainstream by 2012, but its sonic influence persisted for years to follow. Mumford’s crescendo-based arrangements stood as a precursor for the Chainsmokers-era pop-drop, but not before artists like Avicii incorporated roots music into his big-tent EDM.The hootenany clap-along rhythm of Lumineers-era folk-pop predicted the increasingly omnipresent snap-track in pop. Folk chic reached a fever-pitch in 2013-2015, when Imagine Dragons discovered clapping and Pitbull and Kesha rode a harmonica riff to the top of the charts. By the end of the decade, Florida Georgia Line was releasing Instagram-era homages to Edward Sharpe’s “Home.” But, perhaps most pervasively, artists used the aesthetics of groups like Mumford and the Lumineers as models of branded authenticity for the next ten years, from Macklemore’s thrift-store shtick to Justin Timberlake’s misguided 2018 Man of the Woods rollout. -J. Bernstein

Fiona Apple didn’t invent the jazz singer at the piano – the number of times that she, early in her career, was questionably compared to Nina Simone is proof of that. But even amongst her sad-girl contemporaries Tori Amos and Alanis Morissette, she was the first to popularize that form as a way of articulating the pain and resilience of a teen girl. Her unapologetic introspection, channelled anger and careful attention to detail within her songwriting translated well to the teen and young adult pop idols of 2019: Taylor Swift, Lorde and Lana Del Rey are just a few of the successors to her throne. -C.S.

Frank Ocean’s ‘Channel Orange’
In large part due to the widespread dissemination of R&B in early Aughts pop as a way of reminding the audience that you do, indeed, enjoy sex and drugs (Justin Timberlake, we’re looking at you), the once diverse genre was becoming one-track minded in the mainstream. Frank Ocean led a new wave of experimental R&B artists, known now under the umbrella of “alternative R&B,” which played with atmosphere, production and storytelling in the vein of Nineties Janet Jackson. Following Ocean’s immense success, the style spread over into the music of Beyoncé, Zayn Malik, Troye Sivan and Billie Eilish. -B.S.

For all the ways pop reconfigured around big tent EDM at the start of the decade, the smoother sounds of Seventies and Eighties soft rock still managed find pockets in which to thrive. Pop savant Bruno Mars snuck some big Phil Collins-style drums into his early hit “Grenade,” while Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” is arguably the definitive adult contemporary hit of the decade. On the indie side of things, a pastiche for the “uncool” began to emerge on albums like Destroyer’s sax-laden Kaputt, M83’s break-out Hurry Up We’re Dreaming, Bon Iver’s whole Bruce Hornsby-indebted oeuvre and even bubbling underneath the slick R&B of Blood Orange’s Cupid Deluxe. As the lines between pop and indie began to blur more, soft rock was part of that bridge, with artists like Carly Rae Jepsen and the 1975 filling their records with eighties synths and big, gated snares. As the decade’s earlier intensity wore off, a new soft rock king emerged, one Ed Sheeran, with his trusty acoustic guitar and well-worn loop pedal. But he wasn’t alone: Charlie Puth blended soft rock stylings with his love of funk and R&B on Voicenotes, One Direction nodded to the likes of arena-era Genesis and Journey with “Steal My Girl,” and, as a solo artist, Harry Styles has continued to plumb those sounds with slight psychedelic edge on songs like “Lights Up.” In fact, a literal soft rock smash re-emerged just this past year alone, with Kygo producing a remix cover of Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” featuring vocals from another Eighties hero, Whitney Houston. -J. Blistein

Joni Mitchell
Artists have been influenced by Mitchell’s introspective songwriting for decades, but pop stars in the 2010s embraced the Canadian musician with a newfound adoration that bordered on obsession: Harry Styles went on a quest to find the woman who built the dulcimer used on Blue, Lana Del Rey began covering the Laurel Canyon standard “For Free” on her Norman Fucking Rockwell! tour and Brandi Carlile performed Blue in its entirety. “I think this album is my favorite because it explores somebody’s soul so deeply,” Taylor Swift said of the record in 2013 — just before Mitchell nixed any idea of Swift portraying her in a biopic.

Mitchell’s exploration into other genres and innovative studio technique also made waves in the 2010s. Take Bon Iver’s “10 dEAThbREasT,” which mirrors the crunching moog synthesizer on The Hissing of Summer Lawns’ “The Jungle Line” (while simultaneously sampling Stevie Nicks’ “Wild Heart”). Muna’s Naomi McPherson recently gushed over the jazz-pop masterpiece Hejira: “I’m obsessed with her, and this is one of my favorite records of hers,” she said. “It’s the beginning of her experimental music period of her life. Look at this album art. It makes me wanna get a beret.” -A.M.

Kate Bush
The enigmatic art-pop queen has resonated with many artists — from Sia to Lady Gaga to Bat For Lashes Rosalía. Lorde’s “Writer in the Dark” practically sounds like a Hounds of Love B-side, while Grimes’ video for “Belly of the Beat” is an homage to Bush and her wonderfully weird aesthetic. “She’s almost like Rapunzel,” Big Boi once said of Bush on her genius song “Running Up That Hill.” “But on the top of a hill somewhere just in a castle, just desolate, playing the piano and wailing. I thought it was cool.” -A.M.

Lana Del Rey
“I watched as one of my favorite artists of this decade, Lana Del Rey, was ruthlessly criticized at the start of her career and slowly but surely in my opinion turned into the most influential person in pop,” Taylor Swift said while accepting her Woman of the Decade award from Billboard in December. “Her vocal stylings, her lyrics, her aesthetics [have] been echoed and repurposed in every corner of music.”

Swift is right: Del Rey’s “gangster Nancy Sinatra” was a softened Amy Winehouse for a generation even more entrenched in the rap-pop fusion. Her debut, Born to Die, found a unique middleground between nostalgia and the present, pairing anachronistically dreamy Sixties girl group and beat poet references with clipped trap production. Her style was Valley of the Dolls meets Jackie O via French New Wave cinema. Her wholly unique presence and especially skilled songwriting that has only gotten better with each album captivated a generation of pop stars hoping to ditch the more radio-friendly trends, like Halsey, Selena Gomez, Camila Cabello and Swift. -B.S.

Laurie Anderson
This one is pretty straightforward. Kanye West cites Laurie Anderson’s vocoder use on “O Superman” as one of the biggest influences for how he utilizes Autotune, and the artistry behind that technique has since permeated much of pop and hip-hop. -C.S.

Big Freedia
New Orleans Bounce
Bounce has had consistent impact on the sound of pop, especially dance-pop, over the last decade, thanks largely to Big Freedia’s continuous presence. The reigning queen of the NOLA-bred hip-hop sub-genre — notable for it’s use of call-and-response as well as beats that sound exactly as the genre’s name indicates — were influential on Diplo’s early production career, carrying over by the end of the decade to major hits from Drake (“Nice for What”) and Beyoncé (“Formation”). — B.S.

Teddy Riley
Nineties R&B
When Bruno Mars accepted his Album of the Year Grammy for 24K Magic, he started with a tribute to Babyface, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis and Teddy Riley. The four had defined an era, blending classic R&B and soul styles with the hard-hitting rush of hip-hop, and Mars proved to be a devout disciple, incorporating the body-shaking spirit of those records into his inescapable funk-soul pastiche. Mars of course wasn’t alone. As R&B, in the classic sense, lost its commercial power, the start of the decade saw the emergence of an alternative movement (let us not utter that genre portmanteau with a particular blue ribbon beer) with Frank Ocean, Kelela, Kehlani, Miguel and the Weeknd bringing those Nineties influences into murkier, darker, more psychedelic places. The crisp, bustling snare hits that defined the Nineties would pop up in the music indie acts like Phantogram and How to Dress Well, while later in the decade, Mars, Drake and, more recently, Normani and Teyana Taylor would help re-solidify their place in the mainstream. -J. Blistein

Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’
“My dad just wouldn’t shut it off,” FUN’s frontman Nate Ruess said of Paul Simon’s 1986 masterwork earlier this decade. Even if Vampire Weekend spent much of the past ten years semi-successfully shedding their Paul Simon influences, this was nevertheless the decade when a generation of kids who grew up with Graceland playing in their car’s CD player started to define the pop landscape, from Feist (“the album became a litmus test for any day, any mood”) to Lorde (“Graceland is enlightenment after love lost”) to one of the decade’s most quietly successful pop mainstays, Imagine Dragons. “For Graceland, [Simon] had so much world influence,” the group’s frontman Dan Reynolds told Rolling Stone in 2016. “That’s been the goal of Imagine Dragons: to be a world band. It’s such a broad vision.” -J. Bernstein

The endurance and evolution of pop punk and emo in the 2010s has it’s obvious and apt corollary in the glorious persistence of Hot Topic. As malls and physical retail spaces faltered and withered, Hot Topic chugged along; as mainstream rock faltered and withered, emo and pop punk, etc., etc. The two are of course inextricable. Hot Topic was built on merch and survives today because of it; but just like emo and pop punk refined itself while also morphing in unexpected ways, Hot Topic made sure the kids could buy their My Chemical Romance and Post Malone t-shirts in the same place, too.

Pop punk and emo’s most mainstream moment was the 2014 emergence of 5 Seconds of Summer, tied to the coattails of One Direction in a way that made you think Blink-182 wasn’t parodying boy bands in the “All the Small Things” video, but telling you who they really were. Strands of Weezer, Paramore, Fall Out Boy, Sum 41 and Avril Lavigne could be heard throughout the indie world in records by Mitski, Pup, Soccer Mommy, Swearin’, Waxahatchee, Modern Baseball and Charly Bliss, many of whom brought fresh perspectives to a music that had, for too long, been dominated by too many dudes. There was also the emergence of emo rap and artists like Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Peep and Juice WRLD, who made obvious the notion that Drake always had plenty in common with someone like Pete Wentz. Emo and pop punk’s reach proved fully global too, with Bad Bunny producing one of the decade’s best pop punk songs with “Tenemos Que Hablar.” As for the originators — they may not be churning out the hits like they used to, but their legacy is set and plenty of kids are gonna shell out to see Weezer, Green Day and Fall Out Boy on tour next year. -J. Blistein

The Purple One can be heard all over 2010s pop. Janelle Monáe kicked off the decade with The ArchAndroid, a debut in the vein of Purple Rain (she even gifted the CD to her mentor, with a flower and handwritten lyrics). Like Bowie, his impact has become even greater after his death in 2016. The Weeknd openly admitted his influence on 2016’s Starboy, and then there was that time Justin Timberlake hosted a controversial listening party for Man of the Woods at Paisley Park. Especially with the recent reissue of his breakthrough LP 1999, the late musician’s legacy will continue to shape the future of pop. –A.M.

Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own”
The decade began with the release of Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” and ended with every pop star having attempted to create their own version of it. From Carly Rae Jepsen to Lorde to Katy Perry, any artist with a dream of extinguishing heartbreak has looked to the dancefloor and Robyn’s punchy anthem for spiritual guidance instead of the once dominant tearjerker ballads of the past. -B.S.

James Taylor
Seventies Laurel Canyon Pop
If there’s one line from a Taylor Swift record earlier this decade that sounds dated, it’s when she sings, “You said you never met one girl who/Had as many James Taylor records as you” on 2012’s “Begin Again.” Seven years later, Swift is far from the only millennial hitmaker to count Seventies singer-songwriters like James Taylor among their foremost pop forebears. Not a year after “Begin Again,” the Irish folkie Hozier stormed the Top 40 with “Take Me To Church,” covering Van Morrison’s take on West Coast romanticism (“Sweet Thing”) along the way. A few years later, the trend crested, with Lorde looking to Don Henley’s “The Heart of the Matter” for her 2017 retro-pop opus Melodrama, Harry Styles finding divine inspiration in the harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and Lana Del Rey reinventing herself as a 21st-century Joni Mitchell on 2019’s Norman Fucking Rockwell! -J. Bernstein

Seventies Stevie Wonder
Wonder didn’t release an album in the 2010s, but his influence — specifically his classic Seventies period — is omnipresent in pop. The most obvious example is Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk,” which wouldn’t have existed without Songs in the Key of Life. Records by neo-soul artists — like D’Angelo’s Black Messiah and Esperanza Spalding’s Radio Music Society — also echo this era. While creating When I Get Home, Solange channeled Wonder’s 1979 psychedelic-soul odyssey Journey Through “The Secret Life of Plants,” his soundtrack for a film adaption of a 1973 book that suggested that plants are sentient. From Talking Book to Innervisions, the period still resonates with pop stars today — just look at the singer’s star-studded Grammy tribute in 2015. -A.M.

While it’s hard to imagine hitmakers like Shawn Mendes turning to shoegaze anytime soon (I wouldn’t say no to it, Shawn…), the sound of The Cure, Cocteau Twins and other dreamy groups from the late Eighties/early Nineties had a major resurgence on the rock side of things this decade. Beach House is the obvious example of 2010s dream pop, but the last dying breaths of chillwave in 2010-2011 – as well as its online-savvy successors like vaporwave – also carried on the legacy of slow tempos and heavy reverb. The War on Drugs built their entire sound on a mixture of Springsteen and synth-pop, and you can find echoes of their work in artists as far-reaching as Miranda Lambert and Taylor Swift. -C.S.

Stevie Nicks
Nicks and Taylor Swift’s duet at the 2010 Grammys may have been a little shaky, but it signified the rise of Bella Donna Energy, the decade of Stevie. She became Sisters of the Moon with Haim, performed a wedding ceremony for Vanessa Carlton and made her acting debut on American Horror Story, causing widespread adoration from millennials as if it were 1977 all over again.

Harry Styles, who inducted his mentor into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year, recently celebrated the release of his new record Fine Line with Nicks, duetting on “Landslide.” Florence Welch, who’s modeled her witchy style and music with Florence and the Machine after the icon, tried to make sense of her fascination in 2011. “There’s something about Stevie that’s really pure,” she said. “When she sings, she sounds angelic but also wild and free, like she’s getting completely lost in the song. She also definitely influenced me to wear a cape. I love a cape onstage.” -A.M." -

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