The 50 Most Important Music Moments of the Decade
From 2010 to 2019, both the business and culture of music went through an unprecedented revolution. Here are the biggest, craziest moments to remember
It was the best of times, and it was the most chaotic of times. Over the course of the last decade, the music industry went through a transformation like never before. Startups tore down old hierarchies, fresh ideas and iconoclasts soared to the forefront, artists gained a whole new degree of power over their music, technology companies reinvented decades of industry strategy, and the business of music as a whole finally started to bring in money again, just to name a few of the revolutions that took place over the past ten years.
Dynamics between musicians, fans, and industry executives will never be the same, thanks to this decade of upheaval, and the next few years of music will inevitably take cues from it. Here, in chronological order, are the 50 key events to remember.
Winter 2012 — There is popular, there is viral, and then there is Psy’s all-occasion smash hit “Gangnam Style,” which exposes hundreds of millions of people to the Korean pop music scene via a music video and global dance craze. “When we made this choreography, we called it ‘horse dance,’” Psy tells Rolling Stone. “I told [the director], ‘Hey, this is horse dance, so let’s find some horse place.’ In that way, it can be more cheesy. It can be more ridiculous. So we did that.”
9. The ‘Harlem Shake’ meme takes EDM mainstream
February 2013 — Immediately following “Gangnam Style” to the apex of internet fame is the jittery dance track “Harlem Shake.” After DJ Bauuer records it in May 2012, a series of YouTube videos in February 2013 help explode into a viral smash. The unexpected success of the track, which Bauuer’s label manager calls “a bit strange and new and confounding,” lures celebrities like Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon into participating and marks one of the first triumphs of the so-called novelty song.
10. Disney’s unshakable, Oscar-winning song about snow
Winter 2013 — Soundtrack sales in 2013 are largely, in music executives’ own words, reminders “of a bygone era,” but the soundtrack of Disney’s animated flick Frozen manages to smash all expectations when it grosses more than a million album sales and hundreds of millions of streams in a matter of months, not to mention an Oscar win for its title track “Let It Go.” Disney Music Group president Ken Bunt tells Rolling Stone that while the company never planned for Frozen‘s songs to be “a phenomenon,” it knew it had a “special film with incredible music that was emotional” on its hands.
11. A Beyoncé album takes the world by surprise
January 2014 — Nearly overshadowing Macklemore’s four Grammy awards is his text to fellow nominee Kendrick Lamar, hours later, telling Lamar that “you got robbed” for best rap album and “I wanted you to win. You should have. It’s weird and it sucks that I robbed you.” Writing to fans in a social-media post, Macklemore alleges that Lamar “deserved best rap album,” in an episode that is emblematic of both the growing power of artists over media discourse and the diminishing influence of awards ceremonies’ actual outcomes.
Summer 2014 — Canadian teenager Shawn Mendes draws half a billion views on social-media app Vine with six-second covers of Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran songs, which gets him discovered by an artist manager in 2013 and catapults him to superstardom within the next few years.
14. U2 bestow its album upon 500 million unknowing fans
2014 to present — In 2014, singer Kesha sues her producer Dr. Luke, claiming he “sexually, physically, verbally, and emotionally abused” her to the point where she “nearly lost her life,” which Dr. Luke denies. The bitter case will proceed for years not just in courtrooms but also in the public sphere, where fellow artists such as Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry weigh in on the matter; it will also linger in the background of any discussion about gender and power dynamics in the music industry.
November 2014 — Taylor Swift abruptly pulls her entire catalog from Spotify, in a protest against the streaming service’s free tier. She writes a message to the world: “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.” The star will return to Spotify in 2017, but her temporary absence prompts the industry to take a step back and realize how much power artists in the streaming-led era can truly wield.
17. A hip-hop dynasty drama becomes the TV hit of the year
February 2015 — That a television series about family, money, and rap takes one of top cultural spots of the year says a lot about the new symbiosis of music and entertainment. FOX’s Empire is “a gloriously preposterous full-court cheese blast, combining a hip-hop sensibility á la Hustle & Flow with an old-school sense of prime-time soap corn,” writes Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield.
March 2015 — A Los Angeles jury decides in a shock ruling that Robin Thicke noticeably ripped off Marvin Gaye‘s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up” when he wrote the smash hit “Blurred Lines” with Pharrell Williams and T.I., ordering a multi-million dollar payout to Gaye’s estate. The music business warns of a ripple effect from the “Blurred Lines” lawsuit that could result in dozens of new copyright lawsuit filings — which more or less comes true.
19. James Corden and Mariah Carey debut a music show in a car
Photo: CBSMarch 2015 — Mariah agrees to pioneer the new segment on The Late Late Show with James Corden after Corden shows her a clip of him singing with George Michael in a car. The minutes-long “Carpool Karaoke” series becomes a runaway hit — and, in 2016, is snatched up by Apple Music in an exclusive first-window licensing agreement — that suggests a promising future for music in unconventional new forms of media.
20. Introducing Apple’s Spotify
June 2015 — Apple unveils its long-in-the-works new project Apple Music, a subscription music-streaming service that does… exactly the same thing as Spotify, tech critics point out. Most underwhelmed of all is Daniel Ek, founder of Spotify, who tweets: “Oh ok.” But Apple’s rival will prove a sleeper hit, as the company savvily combines its hardware and software offerings for users and also signals to the world that the streaming industry can be a two-player game.
21. Discover Weekly and the advent of playlistomania