These Will Be the Years: The 100 Greatest EDM Anthems of the ’10s
Counting down the classics that defined the mainstream breakthrough of 21st-century dance
The definition of a true musical moment is that when you’re in the thick of ONE, it really seems like it’s never going to end. Such was the case with the EDM boom of the early 2010s, a movement that established pulsating, treble-soaked electronic dance as not only the dominant form of crowd-pleasing live music, but the contemporary lingua franca for all of pop, and the default mode of the Top 40. The number of many non-club artists that have made EDM-geared singles this decade is as numerous as rock bands who went disco in the late ’70s. When the ’10s get their own Wedding Singer-styled nostalgia fest, you can bet the soundtrack will be overwhelmed with strobe synths and dramatic drops — it has been, simply, the sound of its era.
Yet look at the songs that have scaled the top of the pop charts in 2015: “Uptown Funk!,” “Trap Queen,” “See You Again,” “Thinking Out Loud,” “FourFiveSeconds,” “Love Me Like You Do,” even “Shut Up and Dance.” The one thing they all have in common is that it’s hard to find obvious traces of stadium dance in any of them. The charts haven’t been completely scrubbed of it — David Guetta and Zedd both have singles bouncing around the upper stretches of the Hot 100, though both hits are somewhat lesser replications of the formulas of past successes — but we’ve yet to have one truly massive EDM-influenced hit. (The closest things have arguably come from Flo Rida and Pitbull / Ne-Yo, which should probably tell you something about the epoch being past its cultural peak.) Big-name spinners will long have a home on the festival circuit, but the days of their total mainstream ubiquity may be waning, and the recent trailer for the DJ-focused Zac Efron drama We Are Your Friends reeks pretty seriously of shark-jumping.
To celebrate the potentially soon-bygone era of its musical preeminence, we’ve assembled a countdown of the 100 greatest EDM bangers of the first half of the decade. This isn’t a list for the deep cuts or the underground favorites — this is a collection of the biggest set climaxes, the least avoidable hooks, the most compulsory floor-fillers. In the interest of keeping the focus on the beatmakers, most dance flirtations by established pop stars were excluded (sorry, Rihanna, Britney and company). And no, Daft Punk won’t be found here either: “Get Lucky” was a definitive smash of the time, but the whole point of Random Access Memories was that it wasn’t electronic dance music — consider it an honorary number zero if you’d like.
So without further ado: The anthems. If you prefer your dance music heady and challenging, and have been waiting long enough for this time in music history to end that you can’t stand the idea of reliving it already, feel free to sit this one out. Otherwise, grab a beer, strap on something glowing and head out to the middle of the dance floor, because the drop’s about to hit.
100. The Chainsmokers, “#SELFIE”
(Dim Mak, 2014)
Finally, a song that asks life’s important questions: “It’s not even summer, why does the DJ keep on playing ‘Summertime Sadness’?” Yes, the Chainsmokers’ breakthrough hit got tagged for being sexist, but women outside of the one-percent income bracket aren’t likely to identify with its incepted shallowness because no one could — who actually asks for help picking out an Instagram filter? Mainly, meanly, it’s a “Valley Girl” update for guess-which-generation. — DAN WEISS
99. CAZZETTE, “Beam Me Up”
(4th & B’way, 2012)
A zooming, dizzying, higher-than-a-supernova trip, with a two-clap signal to whoever is listening out there that we are ready for our close encounter. “Don’t look down” is just good electro-house policy in general. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
98. Dillon Francis feat. Simon Lord, “Messages”
(Mad Decent, 2013)
Earns its memorably emojitastic music video with its gleeful, synth-squeaking shuffle, and nonsensically romantic lyrics (“Hieroglyphics in your eyes”) delivered with a conviction that would make Duran Duran proud. — A.U.
97. Gorgon City feat. MNEK, “Ready for Your Love”
(Black Butter, 2014)
It’s one of the newest of the bunch, but Gorgon City have already cemented themselves as titans of the ’90s, if perhaps a couple of decades too late. The beat itself might be more eager than you are to hear itself drop, slamming down to the ground before MNEK can even finish purring the titular phrase. — BRENNAN CARLEY
96. A-Trak & GTA, “Landline”
(Fool’s Gold, 2012)
As owner of Brooklyn indie dance label Fool’s Gold, A-Trak knows a thing or two about keeping it funky. The GTA-featuring “Landline,” one of his best works, bridges electronic music with hip-hop, bass music, and dancehall, emblematic of the all-embracing aesthetic Fool’s Gold is recognized for. — ASHLEY ZLATOPOLSKY
95. Otto Knows, “Million Voices”
You might not get to a million counting the vocal layers that make up the wordless, ecstatic chant here, but at least you’ll inevitably be adding your own shouting to the mix soon enough. — A.U.
94. Wolfgang Gartner, “Illmerica”
Wolfgang Gartner’s electro-house banger kicks off light and rapidly builds levels of noise, peaking in an ultimate combustion before swiftly tearing away layers and returning to square one. A total mind-bender. — A.Z.
93. Ellie Goulding, “Lights (Bassnectar Remix)”
Bassenctar’s trippy rework of the Ellie Goulding megasmash yanks the twinkling synth-pop gem from the stars and sends it plummeting down to earth, giving the song a g-force conspicuously lacking in the original. One of EDM’s great pop-star alliances was born in the process. — A.U.
92. Tiesto, “Red Lights”
With 2013’s “Red Lights,” the Dutch DJ took off like its music video’s heroine — who ditches her trucker-stop serving job for his Hakkasan party in Vegas — for parts unknown, moving away from his two-decade trance background for a more melody-driven, four-on-the-floor anthem with a dreamily ambitious topline. —HARLEY BROWN
91. Gareth Emery feat. Bo Bruce, “U”
A piano-led, open-armed electro-diva throwdown that probably should have been as big as “Clarity.” Hard to Google, harder to resist. — A.U.
90. Avicii, “Street Dancer”
With a calypso, soca vibe — and a brilliant whistle sample from ’80s hip-hop cult classic flick Beat Street for the hook — “Street Dancer” will transport you from the dance tent to a carnival in the tropics. — A.Z.
89. Alesso & Sebastian Ingrosso feat. Ryan Tedder, “Calling (Lose My Mind)”
(Refuse Music, 2012)
The skyscraping festival brainchild of Stockholm producer Alesso and his mentor, Swedish House Mafioso Sebastian Ingrosso, gets an added dose of party-hardy encouragement from pop super-singer/songwriter Ryan Tedder, who reportedly laid down his vocals in just 45 minutes. — H.B.
88. Galantis, “Runaway (U & I)”
(Big Beat/Atlantic, 2014)
“Runaway” follows the PC Music-esque pattern of guest-vocalist anonymity that has become a trademark of producer superduo Galantis: Is it a woman? A chorus of children? “Barbie Girl” vocal samples rearranged to sound like new lyrics? Does it even matter when the roller derby drops hit? — B.C.
87. Doctor P, “Tetris”
A headbanging, industralized reimagining of one of the most iconic pieces of video-game music ever with totally unexplained and unnecessary f-word outbursts: The 12-year-olds have taken over dubstep HQ, and we ain’t mad at ‘em. — A.U.
86. Nicky Romero, “Toulouse”
Chris Brown swiped the searing syncopated synth line from Nicky Romero’s breakthrough hit for his imminently forgettable “Turn Up the Music,” but he didn’t even take the song’s best part: The belching post-drop hook is what really makes “Toulouse” fizz like the best French bubbly. — A.U.
85. Boys Noize & Erol Alkan, “Lemonade”
(Phantasy Sound, 2010)
London electro-house DJ Erol Alkan — perhaps known for his Kylie Minogue-endorsed mashup of her “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” and New Order’s “Blue Monday” — links up here with German industrial techno titan Boys Noize for a hissing bump’n’grime meant for a dripping warehouse somewhere in East Berlin. — H.B.
84. Sebastian Ingrosso & Tommy Trash, “Reload”
“Reload / This is free love / That’s what me are made of.” Uninteligible? Probably. Universal? Weirdly. — A.U.
83. Oliver $ & Jimi Jules, “Pushing On”
What the Great Gatsby soundtrack wishes it could have been: retrofitted house that manages to stay chic, classy and effortlessly jazzy. — A.U.
82. Knife Party, “LRAD”
(Earstorm/Big Beat, 2013)
In case the first corkscrewing drop doesn’t leave you totally pulverized, “LRAD” climbs you back up to an even more precipitous fall to make sure they finish the job the second time out. Not inaccurately titled. — A.U.
81. Michael Calfan, “Resurrection”
(Axwell Remix) (Axtone, 2011)
If Rick Wakeman had come around during the EDM era, he’d probably spend weeks in a basement studio in the hopes of emerging with an organ hook as majestic as the centerpiece riff of this Axwell second spin. Progressive house, indeed. — A.U.
80. Hard Rock Sofa w/ Swanky Tunes, “Here We Go”
Big Beat recut for the Fast and the Furious generation, with enough action packed into its grinding guitar riff, pre-break drum fill, and insta-adreanlizing titular call-out to make you wonder if they’re still releasing X Games soundtracks. —A.U.
79. Hardwell, “Spaceman”
(Revealed Recordings, 2012)
Ground Control to Major Robbert: Take your protein pills and unleash one of the most mercilessly catchy pitch-bent synth sidewinders of the decade. Lift off. — A.U.
78. Calvin Harris, “Awooga”
(Fly Eye, 2011)
It may be a quasi-dubious achievement to come up with a riff so mind-numbing in its monotonous insistence that LMFAO feel compelled to sample it just months after release, but even non-full time party-rockers have to go dumb for four gloriously IQ-dropping minutes of Calvin Harris’ bullhorn-blaring. — A.U.
77. Chris Lake, Steve Aoki & Tujamo, “Boneless”
(Dim Mak, 2013)
Named after a skateboarding trick, 2013’s “Boneless” also behaves like its title, flopping its way down those ominously pounded-out notes like a body down a staircase (or a particularly epic wipeout). “Just freak it,” the gruff vocal sample intones. You know what to do. — H.B.
76. RL Grime, “Core”
“Who do the shit that I do?” spits a robotized voice as concrete-smashing blasts prepare to go warp speed. Indeed, RL Grime — a proud member of L.A. raptronic collective WeDidIt — synthesizes the trap he’s historically connected to with Middle Eastern horn bellows, into a more worldwide banger. — H.B.
75. Chris Lake and Marco Lys, “Running Out” (Rising Music, 2010)
Crank your speakers up, because the thumping bass line in the highly addicting “Running Out” is designed for loud listening. — A.Z.
74. Armin Van Buuren feat. Trevor Guthrie, “This Is What It Feels Like”
A stadium singalong in any era, but one particularly suited to the swells of EDM anthemery. You wouldn’t necessarily guess that it was inspired by a neighbor’s death from brain cancer, but the emotional lift of the song definitely feels more real than your typical Big House Vocal. — A.U.
73. Excision and Downlink, “Existence – VIP”
Good of Excision and Downlink to give you a full 15 seconds between powering up the bass cannon and firing it to give you a chance to get the f— out of the way before that thing goes off. Most dubstep producers would not be nearly so charitable. — A.U.
72. Tiga vs. Audion, “Let’s Go Dancing”
Pretty much our motto in life: “Let’s go dancing / I wanna go dancing with you/ all night dancing.” You’ll come with us, right? — A.Z.
71. Dirty South & Alesso feat. Ruben Haze, “City of Dreams”
With his slightly raspy just-above-a-whisper voice, singer-songwriter Ruben Haze’s universally identifiable lyrics fill in the blanks on “City of Dreams.” Alesso and Melbourne-via-Yugoslavia producer Dirty South’s roof-raising handclaps fit surprisingly well with evocative hints of piano, like an early Arcade Fire sway-along. — H.B.
70. Audien, “Wayfarer”
A shimmering beacon of progressive house euphoria, as bracing and satisfying as putting the AC on blast at the height of summer. — A.U.
69. Baauer w/ Just Blaze feat. Jay Z, “Higher”
“You rockin’ with the best,” Jay Z announces, and he’s not wrong. Platinum-stakes hip-hop vet Just Blaze collides with Baauer, fresh on the scene a year after “Harlem Shake” shook up YouTube. Fueled by Hova’s taunts of “F—er” and titular background shouts, the duo ladder up and up and up with screeching synthesizers, only to booty-drop the bass like cinderblocks from the highest of heights. — H.B.
68. Major Lazer feat. Busy Signal, The Flexican and FS Green, “Watch Out for This (Bumaye)”
(Mad Decent, 2013)
Major Lazer’s most successful moombahton excursion, with a strong sense of dancehall and salsa history, and a seizure-inducing drop to ensure the kids are amenable to the social studies lesson. — A.U.
67. Kaskade, “Atmosphere”
A feel-good, uplifting number accented by a gorgeous piano/vocal hook. Soulful and poignant, it’s a perfect late-night summer jam. — A.Z.
66. Madeon, “City”
A shimmering utopia from the teen prodigy of ’10s dance, “The City” was a construction worthy of its vision, where calls to “dance like there’s no tomorrow” feel out of place, because it sounds like there are endless better tomorrows ahead. — A.U.
65. Pryda, “M.S.B.O.Y.”
(Pryda Recordings, 2010)
With a Daft Punk growl and a Human League sheen, “M.S.B.O.Y.” is one of Eric Prydz’s finest works under his Pryda moniker. Rumor has it that the acronym stands for “music sounds better (or bad) on YouTube.” — A.Z.
64. Dada Life, “Rolling Stones T-Shirt”
(So Much Dada, 2012)
Swedish duo Olle Cornéer and Stefan Engblom’s roaring jam invokes the ultimate symbol of vintage cool to demonstrate how the only thing cooler than a girl in your Rolling Stones t-shirt is a girl out of your Rolling Stones t-shirt. It’s how Mick would have wanted it. — A.U.
63. David Guetta feat. Kid Cudi, “Memories”
(EMI Music France, 2010)
With just a three-chord piano underline, an insistently pounding pulse, and the Man on the Moon’s weed smoke-dried husk of a voice, the legendary French producer spins yet another lean, effective party-starter. — H.B.
62. Fatboy Slim and Riva Starr feat. Beardyman, “Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat”
(Big Beat, 2013)
The “#SELFIE” for the old-school ravers, starting out with a sloshed clubber telling a nonsensical story — much like the girls in the Chainsmokers’ smash — that trips out into the titular mantra. Cosmic blips boomerang in and out around a boots-and-pants beat that convinces you, yeah, maybe those four words really are the only life advice worth following. — H.B.
61. Swedish House Mafia feat. Tinie Tempah, “Miami 2 Ibiza”
For their second collaboration with a big name from the hip-hop world, all-world supergroup Swedish House Mafia enlisted U.K. breakout rapper Tinie Tempeh for a chuckling, limber-tongued fist-pumper that doesn’t let its cleverness overwhelm its more obviously masses-moving qualities. A deliberately spelled-out “QVC” never sounded sleeker. — A.U.