In an attempt to do the impossible and sum up the past decade of pop culture in a single list, we gave our writers a prompt: Choose three works or moments that captured the past 10 years for you. First, pick a personal favorite. Second, pick something that mattered to the zeitgeist. Third, name something that offered a warning about what was to come. The result is a completely subjective and hardly comprehensive collection of memes, films, albums, books, and phenomena that defined the 2010s—for better or for worse.
Spencer Kornhaber, staff writer
Clark’s self-titled album (2014)
No era has a monopoly on apocalypse anxiety, but a decade that began with the end of the Mayan calendar and ended with freaky United Nations climate forecasts had special reason to fret about whether there’d be a next decade. I have no idea whether the U.K. electronic musician Clark had doomsday in mind when he recorded this ferociously beautiful opera-as-rave that became my go-to adrenaline booster. But the tornadic beats, devious melodies, and feral sound effects certainly evoke some cataclysm that, from the sound of it, might at least be aesthetically neat.
All the Drake memes
Which came first, modern internet culture or its favorite rapper? Just as Drake’s musical trajectory in the 2010s told the story of almost every larger shift in pop, the way he surfed the viral sea told the story about discourse itself. Reaction GIFs, dance crazes, text prompts, overdubs: His cult—and cult of haters—led the way on all formats. Broader debates over appropriation, authenticity, sports, the family unit, and so much more were litigated in terms of his sweaters. He, of course, had some control of this dynamic. Drake memed himself before others did; he used memes others made of him. The ouroboros was complete when you looked at your phone and made this expression.