In just a few weeks, the ‘10s will officially be over as 2020 takes us in to a brand new decade. Over the past ten years, country music has been a bit of a study in contradictions — as female artists fight to reclaim their rightful place on the charts and on radio airwaves, as bro-country thrived and neo-traditionalists like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell blazed their own trail outside of the mainstream.
In the midst of all of this upheaval, though, is a whole lot of great music. Flip through the gallery below for a look back at the past decade’s best (and biggest!) country tunes, from Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert’s barn-burning “Somethin’ Bad” to Tim McGraw’s uplifting “Humble and Kind.”
Released in June 2010, “If I Die Young” is a poignant ballad about the tragic death of young people that was so impactful that it inspired fans to write the band with their own stories of loss and survival. The song was so relatable, in fact, that it hit #1 on both Billboard’s Hot Country Songs and Adult Contemporary charts.
Before she was a global superstar and one of the richest women in the world, Taylor Swift was a songwriting prodigy with a pure voice and plucky lyrical sensibility. Her 2010 hit “Mean” strikes a chord with anyone that’s ever been bullied, and scored Swift two Grammys for Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance that year.
Arguably one of the most tear-jerking songs of the past decade of any genre, Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me” was originally intended for her ex-husband Blake Shelton. Lambert snagged it away, and with that, created an emotional classic that can stir nostalgia in even the most cynical of souls. Following the song’s 2010 release, it was certified platinum and won Lambert a Grammy for Best Female Vocal Performance.
Now a classic country drinking song, 2011’s “Drink In My Hand” was a killer introduction into the fiercely independent, hard-driving music of Eric Church. Clearly, this booze-friendly song resonated with fans — it marked Church’s first #1 hit on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.
Though it seems ridiculous that a song about a plastic cup could be so enduring, fans of Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup” are legion. The music video alone, which boasts cameos from basketball legend Larry Bird, baseball icon Roger Clemens, and more stars, makes it a classic. And, of course, the 52 million views on YouTube sure don’t hurt, either.
A Texas band with mostly regional success before “Crazy Girl,” this song catapulted the Eli Young Band into the national spotlight. In 2012, it won Song of the Year at the ACM Awards, topped Billboard’s end-of-year chart, and was the band’s first platinum-selling single.
Eric Church has long called rocker Bruce Springsteen his idol, and “Springsteen” is a truly fitting tribute. A nostalgic song centered around a fleeting teenage love, its sonic qualities and enduring relatability make “Springsteen” a classic.
In 2012, Luke Bryan wasn’t yet the country juggernaut that he’d eventually become, but “Drunk On You” was the first clue that he was headed for super stardom. Bryan’s first top-20 hit, “Drunk On You” has since sold more than 3 million copies.
A country party classic that takes its name from a boat, “Pontoon” scored Little Big Town its first #1 hit on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 2012, along with a Grammy Award in 2013 for Best Country Duo/Group Performance.
However you feel about Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard, the duo better known as Florida Georgia Line, there’s no denying that their 2012 hit “Cruise” is ridiculously catchy. A crossover hit that peaked at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, “Cruise” has been derided heavily by country music traditionalists for kicking off the “bro-country” wave.
Now a bar and karaoke classic, Darius Rucker’s cover of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” is totally iconic. That could have something to do with the fact that its lyrics were co-written by legendary songwriter Bob Dylan, who penned the chorus decades before finishing the song with OCMS’s Ketch Secor in 2003. Rucker’s version came out 10 years later, and was a #1 hit that’s since been certified triple-platinum.
Combining the star power and incredible talent of two of country music’s biggest hitmakers, “We Were Us” was a #1 hit, and won Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert a CMA Award in 2014 for Musical Event of the Year.
Kacey Musgraves burst onto the scene in 2013 with “Follow Your Arrow,” a brilliantly written tune that’s all about staying true to yourself. With references to smoking marijuana and a message of LGBT acceptance, the song was controversial among some close-minded country fans but otherwise beloved. The following year, it won Song of the Year at the CMA Awards.
Co-written by Underwood, Hillary Lindsey, and Josh Kear, “Two Black Cadillacs” isn’t exactly light, poppy radio fare. Still, it scored Underwood a massive hit and earned her heaps of critical acclaim thanks to its heavy subject matter and intense instrumentation. It’s a dark, brooding song about two women who team up to kill the man that’s doing them both wrong, one that’s a pretty stark contrast from much of Underwood’s earliest work.
In 2013, Blake Shelton secured his tenth number-one hit with “Mine Would Be You,” a mellow heartbreak ballad that’s since sold more than a million units and been certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
A perfect going-out anthem, “Bartender” was written by Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott, Dave Haywood, and Charles Kelley alongside songwriter Rodney Clawson and released in 2014. In addition to the song’s chart success, it also inspired an iconic music video starring supermodel Kate Upton and actor Tony Hale.
The two most powerful women in country music teamed up for “Somethin’ Bad,” a barn-burning anthem for bad girls everywhere in 2014. It quickly hit #1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, and was ultimately one of the year’s top ten most-played tracks.
No one really expected a psychedelic country ballad to be one of the biggest songs of 2014, but Sturgill Simpson made it happen with “Turtles All The Way Down,” an introspective anthem that involves a whole lot of LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and cannabis. A critical success, Simpson proved with this song that it was possible to earn a massive fan base without pandering to country radio.
Arguably the most impactful song from Isbell’s 2013 solo stunner Southeastern, “Cover Me Up” is a deeply emotional track that explores Isbell’s journey of getting sober and falling in love with his wife, fellow artist Amanda Shires. It’s a beautifully timeless song, one that still earns Isbell a chorus of cheers every single time he performs “Cover Me Up” live.
In 2013, Luke Bryan released his massively popular album Crash My Party, and the rest is history. The standout song on that record is “Drink A Beer,” a deeply emotional ballad about coping with loss that was co-written by Chris Stapleton, who was still working behind the scenes as a songwriter at the time.
At the height of bro-country’s dominance on country radio, up-and-coming duo Maddie & Tae skewered the genre’s sacred cows with “Girl In A Country Song.” A direct criticism of songs that objectify and disrespect women, the catchy tune rocked to #1 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart after its July 2014 release.
Even though it’s about being obsessed with a woman who stole your man, some country music listeners misunderstood Little Big Town’s 2014 hit “Girl Crush” and thought it was about two women falling in love. A minor controversy followed, but ultimately “Girl Crush” was a crossover hit for Little Big Town, peaking at #22 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The lead single from Chris Janson’s 2015 debut album, blue collar anthem “Buy Me A Boat” resonates with anyone who’s ever been tired of hearing that “money can’t buy happiness.” The song was so popular, in fact, that it even performed well on the Billboard Hot 100 despite a decidedly redneck through line.
Even though it wasn’t one of his biggest chart hits, “You Make It Easy” is a showcase of Jason Aldean doing what he does best. Co-written by Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley, Morgan Wallen, and Jordan Schmidt, “You Make It Easy” inspired a dramatic three-part music video that runs 15 minutes long.
When Chris Stapleton exploded onto the country music scene as a solo artist in 2015, he was already a well-known Nashville songwriter with multiple hits under his belt. Still, the bluesy, bearded Stapleton shot to the top of the charts with “Fire Away,” a tear-jerking ballad paired with an equally emotional music video that depicted a woman suffering from mental illness.
Maren Morris got both a “hallelujah” and an “amen” with the release of her 2016 hit “My Church” that’s all about finding religion in country music. It won Morris a Grammy Award for Best Country Solo Performance the following year.
The smoldering fourth single from his 2016 smash album Ripcord, “Blue Ain’t Your Color” was a huge hit for Urban, charting #1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and at #24 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100.
Even fans who weren’t familiar with the versions of “Tennessee Whiskey” recorded by David Allan Coe and George Jones in the 1980s were immediately obsessed with Stapleton’s bluesy, powerful take on the song co-written by Dean Dillon and Linda Hargrove. After Stapleton performed the song on the CMA Awards, it was an instant crossover hit that’s since been certified Platinum six times over.
The title track of Church’s 2015 album, Church drops plenty of wisdom on “Mr. Misunderstood.” It’s also a truly interesting composition, with no chorus but the constant “Mr. Misunderstood” refrain functions as an anthem for anyone who feels a little jilted by society.
Luke Combs’s rocket-like ascent to the top of both the country charts and the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 began with “Hurricane,” his debut single. Its seamless blend of Combs’s killer vocals and radio-friendly melody makes it almost seem like “Hurricane” was engineered in a lab for country success.
Originally a heavily hip-hop influenced song when it was written, California native Jon Pardi brings a whole lot of twang to “Dirt On My Boots.” A #1 hit, it’s an anthem for anyone who gets a little dirt on their own boots every day in the course of making a living.
Whether you think it's responsible for the rise of pop-country on the charts and misogyny in bro-country lyrics, there's no denying that Sam Hunt's 2017 smash "Body Like A Back Road" is ridiculously catchy.
Maybe it’s the hard-driving melody or hilarious music video that boasts four thieves wearing masks of ex-presidents trying to pull of a robbery, but “It Ain’t My Fault” helped put country duo Brothers Osborne, composed of actual brothers T.J. and John Osborne, on the map.
The 2018 ACM Song of the Year, Miranda Lambert’s “Tin Man” is one of the most stunning tracks from her album The Weight of These Wings. It takes inspiration from the Wizard of Oz, using the instantly recognizable metaphor to describe the desire of just wanting to feel numb after an epic heartbreak.
Now a bona fide country super-duo, Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney scored a massive country-pop hit with “Tequila” in 2018. The song was particularly popular on digital streaming platforms, hinting at Dan + Shay’s youthful fan base.
In these tumultuous times, sometimes an uplifting tune like Luke Bryan’s “Most People Are Good” is essential. Whether or not it’s actually true, this earnest, stripped-down tune has been certified Platinum since its 2018 release.
On November 13, Ashley McBryde won the CMA Award for New Artist of the Year, and “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” is a huge part of that success. The lead single from her 2017 debut Girl Going Nowhere, this song’s vivid lyricism and McBryde’s powerful vocals made it an instant classic.
Written by prolific Nashville songwriter Lori McKenna and packed full of wise life advice for her family, Tim McGraw melted hearts everywhere with the 2016 release of “Humble and Kind.” That year, it won Best Country Song at the Grammy Awards, Song of the Year at the CMA Awards, and Country Song of the Year at the American Music Awards.
In 2012, Kenny Chesney shook up perceptions of his music with the release of “Somewhere With You.” He shed his beachy, upbeat anthems for this brooding, a little bit dark tune that hit #1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart weeks after its release.
The incredible rise of Luke Combs culminated in the artist being crowned Male Vocalist of the Year at the 2019 CMA Awards, and twangy party hit “Beer Never Broke My Heart” had a whole lot to do with that success. Co-written by Combs, the song was certified Platinum about two months after its release in August 2019.
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