The 2010s broke many new bands into the mainstream and the effects of veterans from decades past were still running deep. While it’s difficult to exactly pin down the most influential bands of a decade right after that decade has come to a close, we can nonetheless give our thoughts based on the current shape of the scene, the music industry, and the larger culture.
When constructing this list, a few questions came to my mind. Which bands’ styles inspired other artists? Which songs had sociocultural impact? Pop culture impact? Which records were plastered all over aesthetic Tumblr posts or Instagram profiles? Which bands had sold-out tours or merch flying off the shelves at Hot Topic? Which artists were always appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone or AltPress or Rocksound?
It’s all completely arbitrary and there’s no definitive way to measure a band’s influence, even when you look at the charts, the sales, the streams, etc. However, after living through the past decade and being rather entrenched in the industry, specifically the alternative scene, a handful of artists has truly stuck out.
This list is certainly not a list of my favorite bands from the 2010s. This list does not solely consist of bands that debuted in the 2010s. This list holds little judgment to critical acclaim or lack thereof. Again, it’s all distinctly arbitrary and rather muddled, but I thought I might as well throw my hat in the ring and give my two cents from my observations over the past ten years.
- Tame Impala
- Panic! at the Disco
- Arctic Monkeys
- Linkin Park
- The Black Keys
- Mumford & Sons
- The Lumineers
Let’s get into it…
5. Fall Out Boy
Whether you want to admit it or not, Fall Out Boy has undoubtedly maintained their popularity even after their 2009 hiatus. When they returned in 2013, they had singles climbing the Billboard charts and scoring major certifications. Huge hits like “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light ‘Em Up),” “The Phoenix,” “Centuries,” “Uma Thurman,” “Irresistible,” and “Immortals” cemented Fall Out Boy’s presence as still relevant and (somehow) “hip.”
Even with their post-hiatus material aside, many bands still cite Fall Out Boy’s pre-hiatus releases as heavy inspirations for their work. The ever-bubbling Chicago pop punk scene has much to owe to Fall Out Boy, and so does the pop punk/pop rock genre in general. Bands like 5 Seconds of Summer, Panic! at the Disco, Set It Off, State Champs, and 7 Minutes in Heaven have pointed to Fall Out Boy as inspiration; 5SOS interpolated the famous “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” riff into their 2014 song “Social Casualty,” and 7 Minutes in Heaven literally named their band after the respective Fall Out Boy song. With their long-term friendship in tow, Panic! at the Disco has followed extremely closely in Fall Out Boy’s footsteps, rushing to the same music producers and management teams in attempts to achieve similar success. All Time Low was handed an unused b-side from Fall Out Boy’s 2008 album Folie à Deux, which manifested on All Time Low’s 2012 full-length Don’t Panic as the song “Outlines.”
While Fall Out Boy’s recent records have arguably paled in comparison to their earlier releases in terms of being “rock,” the group remains one of the most recognizable, well-known modern bands in the public eye. Their dedicated fanbase and beloved repertoire has carried an important weight throughout the past few years, and their influence is still felt to this day.
4. twenty one pilots
The experimental attitude of alt-pop duo twenty one pilots has proven to be undeniably alluring and intriguing in the mainstream. Their melding of rock, singer/songwriter, rap, pop, reggae, and electronica serves a bit of flavor for everyone, and, almost unsurprisingly, it’s produced some of the biggest hits of the past few years. Massive singles like “Stressed Out,” “Ride,” and “Heathens” reeled in billions of streams and video views, which I’m sure came as a surprise to many of their long-time fans from the era before their major breakthrough.
Fueled By Ramen, their record label, was probably surprised as well. Fueled By Ramen is one of, if not the, most successful “alternative” labels around with names like Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, Paramore, Yellowcard, Fun., Gym Class Heroes, Cobra Starship, All Time Low, Jimmy Eat World, The Academy Is…, and Young the Giant dotting their roster, both past and present. (Let’s be real, these are the majority of the most popular alternative acts of the 21st century.) But somehow, within only a few years signed to the label, twenty one pilots surpassed all those other artists in terms of numbers. Their most popular music video “Stressed Out” is scraping nearly 2 billion views on YouTube—that’s more than most mainstream pop artists. And while it’s easy to identify twenty one pilots as a pop duo, their alternative edge cannot be ignored; the lead single “Jumpsuit” from their most recent LP is truly a rock song.
Of course, with that level of stardom, other musicians will certainly take note. Artists like Jon Bellion, half•alive, Lukas Graham, and *sigh* AJR have incorporated that eclectic style of twenty one pilots into their own work, meshing genres and tones into one boisterous amalgam. twenty one pilots did something different. It made them stand out, it made them unique. There’s no question as to why they’re one of the most influential bands of recent years. But it’s not just their sound or style—the messages they convey through their lyrics and demeanor have also had an effect on their fanbase and culture at large. Their focus on mental health struggles and social issues gave many listeners a voice and validation. It’s hard to ignore that heartfelt kind of significance.
3. 5 Seconds of Summer
5 Seconds of Summer has remarkably outgrown their “YouTube cover band” days, becoming one of the most successful Australian bands of all time with their name known around the world. All three of their albums have debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200, and their single “Youngblood” scaled the Hot 100 up to #7. They first gained mainstream attention in 2014 when they began releasing singles and EPs with a major label (Capitol Records, at the time). Their self-titled, first full-length album fittingly released that summer, and 5SOS certainly received more than just five seconds of fame.
When 5SOS first broke onto the scene, critics were quick to label them a boy band or “One Direction with guitars.” And sure, their debut LP was, in the words of Crash Thompson, “Fisher-Price rock.” But that’s all 5SOS was aiming to be: fun, catchy pop rock drenched in wide-eyed, teenage memories and pheromones. They worked with a number of pop punk veterans, such as Alex Gaskarth, John Feldmann, and the Madden brothers, creating a spunky style of punk-influenced pop rock that was safe enough to appeal to the masses and edgy enough to warrant ripped skinny jeans and dyed hair.
And yet that lighthearted brand of pop rock opened the floodgates for many up-and-coming bands to aspire to greater heights. That and some long-running groups started to take note as well. Here, I’ll rattle off some bands that at some point in their career drew inspiration from 5SOS: State Champs, A Summer High, Good Charlotte, Over Atlantic, Hey Violet, Waterparks, The Vamps, Makeout, Chase Atlantic, With Confidence, One Ok Rock, Story Untold, Masketta Fall, Royal Teeth, and probably 800 more I can’t name. 5SOS’s stardom alone allowed the pop punk scene to flourish; more and more fans were being attracted by this Aussie “gateway band.”
5SOS recrudesced in 2018 to deliver their most experimental and mature record yet, stepping away from their punk-ish image and sound. Youngblood is expertly characterized by moody guitar melodies, pensive atmosphere, and stellar vocal performances contributed by all members of the band. Catchy, instantly replayable, and downright interesting, Youngblood was our album of the year in 2018. Still, to this day, I can put on any 5SOS song, whether it be from 2012 or 2019, and absolutely jam out. Their music avoids being too noticeably dated, and I think their legacy and career will continue to last for years to come.
2. Imagine Dragons
*sigh* Yeah, I’m cringing too. I don’t think any of us want to admit how influential Imagine Dragons has been, but it’s undeniable at this point. Imagine Dragons burst onto the mainstream scene in 2012 with their smash hit “Radioactive” and other big singles like “It’s Time,” “Demons,” and “On Top of the World.” Since then, the alt-pop band has consistently been releasing records and scoring more chart-toppers, garnering billions of streams and sales with tunes such as “Believer,” “Natural,” and “Whatever It Takes.”
The group had rather humble beginnings; before Imagine Dragons signed to a record label, they self-released a few EPs with many songs that never quite made it on their debut album, and they’re actually some of my favorite tunes by the band. After releasing their first full-length Night Visions, they made a name for themselves with their bombastic alternative anthems and softer ballads as well, usually comprised of organic instrumentation and emotive lyricism.
In 2012 and 2013, a number of alternative-leaning bands were crossing over in pop audiences with this organic, authentic style, both instrumentally and lyrically, and grandiose anthems. Imagine Dragons with smash singles like “It’s Time” or “Demons,” Of Monsters and Men’s “Little Talks” and “Mountain Sound,” Fun.’s “Some Nights” or “We Are Young,” The Lumineers’ “Ho Hey,” Passion Pit’s “Take a Walk,” or… well, you get the point. Bastille’s debut album Bad Blood seemed to be the first big release to blatantly take influence from Imagine Dragons—the folky attitude, larger-than-life choruses, and classic instrumentation with some electronic flair mixed in, the albums are practically long-lost brothers.
But 2017 was a notable shift for the group. The band’s third major label release Evolve was the biggest step towards pop that they had made. They always teetered on the edge of the pop realm in their music, but this time it was much more extensive. A little over a year later, they released their fourth studio album titled Origins, which was marketed as a “sister album” to Evolve. Despite the negative backlash from critics and long-time fans, the Evolve-Origins era produced some of Imagine Dragons’ most commercially successful hits, like “Believer,” “Thunder,” “Whatever It Takes,” “Natural,” “Born to Be Yours (w/ Kygo),” and “Bad Liar.” At its worst, the new material was overblown electropop with annoying melodies or lifeless lyrics shooting to be played on ESPN b-roll reels, and at its best, we got decently catchy hooks and impassioned vocals from frontman Dan Reynolds.
According to Billboard’s list for the most popular “rock” songs of the decade, Imagine Dragons dominated the spots, even though I would categorize them as more of power pop at best. And subsequently, many bands followed suit, an act which jocularly became known as “being eaten by the Imagine Dragon.” Unfortunately, this trend sucked the life and originality out of plenty of promising rock outfits aiming for fame.
By their sheer commercial prominence and effect on smaller bands, Imagine Dragons is probably the most popular “pop rock” band of the decade. While I’m sure my tone sounds rather disappointed or fed-up or annoyed, I can’t say that I completely dislike Imagine Dragons. I much prefer their older work (specifically their material before 2015’s Smoke + Mirrors) and some of their newer songs are pretty, eh, okay as well. They’re talented musicians and writers, and I can’t knock them too heavily. Yes, it has gotten monotonous in the modern “rock” scene with the amount of copycats, but that’s not necessarily Imagine Dragons’ fault. Props to them for being a gigantic influence in the 2010s, but I’ll still admire their older releases most.
1. The 1975
… Wait, what? Arguably the least popular band on this list sits at #1? Yep, these indie rock genre-bending lads from the UK take the top spot. Sure, they haven’t sold millions upon millions of album copies or scored huge hits on the charts (at least here in the States they haven’t), but I feel as though The 1975’s social and cultural influence cannot be ignored.
The 1975 caught mainstream attention in 2013 with their self-titled debut LP, clad in black clothes and grayscale tones. They became a cornerstone of the “aesthetic” internet culture at the time, predominantly on sites like Tumblr, with their adolescent-appealing lyrics and retro attitude. Their brand of pop rock was concocted by slick guitar melodies, crisp percussion, and electronic warping scattered about. It was pop enough to capture a wide audience and ~cool~ enough to reel in a more edgy “alternative” crowd. Leather jackets, neon signs, vintage cars, black jeans, and songs about sex, drugs, guns, and other spicy subjects gave the band a darker image, even though their music was still very much pop-leaning. They poked fun at their contrasting image and sound in the music video for the song “Girls,” one of the biggest hits from their debut.
This smooth new style of pop rock undoubtedly had an impact on other bands. Some of these bands include The Band CAMINO, Chase Atlantic, LAYNE, 5 Seconds of Summer (see: “Disconnected”), Pale Waves, and, yes, even One Direction (see: “Change Your Ticket”).
In 2016, they shook things up while still maintaining a distinct style. Instead of black and white, they went for pastel pink, and as for their musicality, they turned the retro dial up to 11. Their sophomore effort I like it when you sleep (still the most annoying album title ever, sorry) cultivated the band’s ’80s influence even more, dazzled in shimmering synths, snappy snares, and groovy basslines. The album cover was the exact same as their debut, except it was just … pink. Frontman Matty Healy said he crafted the album’s art design and aesthetic based on what fans were posting on social media after their debut’s eminence died down. I like it when you sleep had a similar effect as their previous release—Tumblr posts galore, try-hard Instagram vinyl photos, and a wave of ’80s-inspired fashion.
Of course, The 1975 was not the first band to jump on the ’80s revival train. (In fact, I’d say they were pretty late to the game considering popular releases like HAIM’s 2013 record Days Are Gone, Walk the Moon’s 2014 record Talking Is Hard, Troye Sivan’s 2015 record Blue Neighbourhood, and even One Direction’s 2014 record FOUR, which as I mentioned before actually took some influence from The 1975’s debut.) But The 1975 certainly executed it extremely well. I would argue they did it better than most. The production was clean and solid, the lyrics were enticing, the tracks felt cohesive, and the aesthetic qualities were unmatched. (Even though that runtime is too damn long and some of the instrumental cuts are practically unnecessary.) They made it fresh and avoided drowning too deeply in their inspirations. Catchy grooves and quotable lines made for a fantastic record that definitely dodged the sophomore slump some critics were expecting.
I like it when you sleep had another profound impact on other bands, and these days, it’s hard for an act to emulate the sound of the ’80s without people drawing comparison to The 1975, whether it was that band’s intention or not. (i.e. Paramore, Fickle Friends, Heart of Gold UK, The Aces, etc.)
In 2018, the band released their most experimental record to date, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. (Can we just get an easy album title, guys?) Matty Healy made it clear that this new era would be dubbed the Music For Cars era, a name borrowed from one of their early EPs. The band was set to release one record in 2018 and then another either in 2019 or 2020 to act as sister albums. The 1975 had always toyed around with differing genres and styles, but A Brief Inquiry took things a step farther by incorporating aspects of ’90s grunge rock, singer/songwriter acoustic ballads, gospel choirs, brasswinds, techno, autotone-drenched trap, R&B, jazz, soft swing, and of course ’80s pop rock. Some songs followed in the band’s traditional ’80s-esque vein, but some truly stepped outside those boundaries, like “Sincerity Is Scary,” “Mine,” “I Couldn’t Be More in Love,” or “I Like America & America Likes Me.”
Although the album was initially received as rather scattered and detached, a number of tunes stuck out as being more politically-oriented than most of their past material. The song “Love It If We Made It” heavily draws musical components from The Blue Nile’s “The Downtown Lights,” a single from their 1989 album Hats which is actually my favorite album from the ’80s. But the lyrics were socially poignant and politically-charged, unlike The Blue Nile’s sophisti-pop classic. Well, in reality, the lyrics were simply news headlines, tweets, and other various bits of recent events, but Healy’s vocal delivery conveyed anger, sadness, and borderline existentialism. However, the upbeat, glistening chorus of the song contradicts this rage with optimism and hope. The tune was named the best song of 2018 by many music-centric outlets, and it’s been heralded as one of the most important songs of the past few years, mainly the latter half of the decade (or the Trump era, as many of us refer to it as).
And I can’t help but agree. “Love It If We Made It” is incredibly well done; it’s brought me to tears on multiple occasions and always lights a fire in me. The 1975 has begun moving into this sociopolitical commentary even more with the upcoming release of the second album in the Music for Cars era, Notes on a Conditional Form. The opening track, which is titled “The 1975” on all of their albums and always features the same exact lyrics, stepped away from the typical opener fans are accustomed to. Instead, a monologue from Greta Thunberg plays about how the planet is dying and society sucks and there is no time to hesitate to ameliorate these problems. Sure, it’s a bit preachy, but if any band is to do it, it’s The 1975. The single “People” is a thrashing garage rock, indie punk (?) song attempting to wake up the … people to essentially stop harming and killing other people. (Hi, gun violence, how are you?)
In the past decade, The 1975 has certainly left their mark, from their early EPs to their platinum-certified albums, from their songs about girls to their songs about climate change. And throughout all these transformations, the band still remains easily recognizable as The 1975. Their cultural impact has been felt without question between Tumblr blogs and top music reviewers alike. It was hard to not put them as our #1 most influential band of the decade.
Let us know your opinion on who the most influential bands of the decade were in the comments below!