Ranking the most listened to songs of the past decade by how bad they actually are

Gotye really is somebody that I used to know now x

A decade has gone by since 2010, a time where it was socially acceptable to wear leggings and shorts… together. But beyond fashion, cringe crimes were also committed in the world of music. Consistently. Year on year.

This is going to be an incriminating and jarring probe into pop, where my definition of bad is measured by levels of cringe. Some songs may resurface that rekindle your hate, and admiration.

They should all be nostalgic for better or for worse, but we really need to have a deep dive into the biggest singles of 2010-2020 and just how toxic they really were (and not in the good, Britney Spears way).

Here’s my 100 per cent scientific and obviously universal ranking of these hits from cringiest of them all to least cringe. Here we go:

1. Love The Way You Lie (2010)

This song appears whiny on its surface as a somber anthem for wounded lovers. But when you listen closely it becomes terrifying as you realise that it glamourises and condones the dynamics of toxic relationships. Yes, I’m taking this ranking that seriously. 2010 is not exempt.

The words of the song seem to portray abusive relationships as appealing or romantic with lyrics like: “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn / that’s alright because I like the way it hurts.”

Things get even worse as Eminem delivers lyrics which depict domestic violence and makes excuses for it: “I laid hands on her…I guess I don’t know my own strength.” Pffffft.

And I hate to say it but it ACTUALLY GETS WORSE: “If she ever tries to fucking leave again/ I’m a tie her to the bed and set this house on fire.” Yikes. 12-year-old me really had no idea what she was singing.

2. Blurred Lines (2015)

What started out as a song became a platform for moral debate and conversations around consent. All in all though, you have to admit that the song lyrics are creepy af, even five years on: “The way you grab me/ Must wanna get nasty”. Not even mentioning “you know you want it” and TI’s verse about tearing “that ass in two”.

The anatomy of this song’s creepiness comes from the fact that these are middle aged men making HUGE assumptions about what women want and behaving in ways that are invasive. The men’s touchy feely escapades on the models in the video proves this and intensifies the existing creep-factor of the lyrics. Also let’s remember that they made two version of the video, one half naked and one with the models fully naked. Em Rata deserved better.

3. Shape Of You (2017)

“Shape Of You” attempts to create a saucy atmosphere but it comes off as lacking seasoning. I’m sorry to do Ed like that but honestly, it was a bit appalling to see a poetic storytelling king descend into dystopian “urban badboy” pop.

His lyrics demand female attention in a way that’s jarring at worst and cringe at the very least: “Say, boy, let’s not talk too much, grab on my waist and put that body on me.” Edward, please.

While cringe, lyrics like this are not a mortal sin, there are thirstier lyrics out there. But…it is cringe with the beat of the song which is reminiscent of repetitive, jingle-like elevator music. It’s a no from me.

4. Somebody That I Used To Know (2012)

Listening to the song there’s a sense of waiting for a big payoff, but it never arrives. This song is flat and frankly boring. Even at the song’s chorus, you feel like the singer is shouting aimlessly. And it feels empty despite fairly dramatic lyrical content like: “But you didn’t have to cut me off/Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing.”

This song makes me want to press pause, but somehow in 2012, it was number 1???? The breathy, solemn vocals of Somebody That I Used to Know gestures at a gripping story of heartbreak, but falls short with minimal atmosphere. You know who’s really somebody that I used to know? Gotye. Where is he? Is he alive? He’s just somebody that I used to know x

5. Happy (2014)

Pharrell Williams, a custodian of the fountain of youth, revealed big news in this track. He unveiled the secret to his anti-ageing serum that keeps him looking fresh: being HAPPY!

This is a wholesome song, but it was overplayed to the point where it actually felt like being pressured into a state of joy. The lyrics could be described as too cute for comfort: “Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof/Because I’m happy/Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth”.

I won’t lie, this would have been a nice song if it wasn’t overplayed. But it was so it became kind of inescapable and scary. Anyone who worked in a customer service job can attest to this.

6. Uptown Funk (2013)

This is not a bad song but its popularity is also its downfall. It was so overplayed that I ended up hating it even though I actually liked it at the start.

Bruno Mars gives you confidence that is extreme and actually kind of inspiring: “I’m too hot (hot damn)/Call the police and a fireman.” Truly exceptional.

But you feel less inspired when it’s the millionth time you’ve heard it and it makes you want to tell the music to “funk” off.

7. Blinding Lights (2020)

With Blinding Lights, The Weeknd gave us an emotional spiral accompanied by an upbeat melody and I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

The whole song he suggests that a former romantic partner was an emotional crutch if not his one anchor pulling him to reality: “I said, ooh, I’m drowning in the night/Oh, when I’m like this, you’re the one I trust.”

He pushes the unstable lover narrative with his video which aligns with his brand of disturbing imagery. There is blood, stumbling around in a suit and strange happenings. Very toxic and very The Weeknd.

8. One Kiss (2018)

This song was made for the club. It’s something to dance to, and the video’s tropical visuals made it the perfect release for summer. This was vitality, thirst and cringe blended beautifully.

Dua Lipa tells us that her lips make people fall in love (but it works?): “One kiss is all it takes/Fallin’ in love with me/Possibilities/I look like all you need”.

Some call it cocky but she calls it confidence! Hot girl summer but make it caucasian. I don’t hate it!

9. Someone You Loved (2019)

I wouldn’t say I LURVEEEE this song but it is a well-made song, so I’m giving Capaldi credit for that. It is a piano coloured ballad that is about struggling to move on from a past relationship and feeling rejected: “I let my guard down/And then you pulled the rug.”

Plus, Lewis Capaldi really is out here securing the bag, becoming an unlikely UK sweetheart. Just an unpretentious Scottish man rising to fame without profiting off his looks. He did it all without hypnotising a colony of thirsty preteens to elevate him.

10. Someone Like You (2011)

A self-aware breakup song? What a queen! I wouldn’t call myself a massive Adele fan, especially after her unprovoked bantu knot betrayal… But what I WILL admit is that the lady has some bops. In this song, Adele turns breakup lemons into lemonade. The tone of acceptance in the lyrics demonstrates this: “Never mind, I’ll find someone like you/I wish nothing but the best for you, too.”

The only slightly uneasy part of the song is where she claims to show up out of the blue “uninvited”, presumably to seek closure. Someone should have told her “DON’T DO IT SIS!” but she probably did and that’s why she had to sing this song to get it off her chest. Fair play Adele, and thanks for giving us a fairly healthy breakup anthem for the archives.

11. One Dance (2016)

To say this is not a cringe song is debatable, but its thirst and cringe are so on-brand with Drake that you are desensitised to it.

There is a heavy Carribean influence on the song’s beat and lyrics which makes it a dance hit and means you don’t focus on Drake’s angst too much. The lyrics prove that he is thirsty though: “Grips on your waist/Front way, back way/You know that I don’t play.”

Also, some of that cringe is destabilised and seasoned with the afrobeat contribution of Nigerian artist Wizkid’s brief, repetitive lines on the track which are equally thirsty:”Back up, back up and wine it, girl”

This is a good song though, dance is in the name and it delivers on its promise, so it takes the cake as least cringe. It’s probably one of the only ones you’d listen to without having to ironically brand it a “throwback”.

So, believe it or not, all the songs listed here were actually the top UK singles of the year according to Official Charts. I know it’s hard to grasp, but people generally really enjoyed playing these songs. I’ll leave you to ponder the taste that elevated these songs to glory, cringe and all.

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• From Tinchy Stryder to Taio Cruz: Where are the forgotten artists of the noughties now?

• Okay, for real now: Where is Paolo Nutini and why haven’t we heard from him?

• We asked boys what’s on their sex playlists and now all music is banned, forever