The end of the decade is upon us. New Year’s Day is coming up fast and THERE IS SIMPLY NOT ENOUGH TO PROCESS THE FACT THAT I HAVE BEEN AWARE OF THE PAST 10 YEARS. My friend Aric was wise in creating his album list of the 2010s early. (Thanks Aric for the idea!) In my defense, I needed time to have the existential crisis, be thankful for the millions of songs and albums I listened to, and eventually, sit down to write about every one of them. And then check back over the course of weeks to see if anything changed the more I thought about my list.

Each album was selected by two criteria: one, the zeitgeist of my year (it represents how I generally felt that year) and two, it had to be released that year. Especially in the latter half of the decade, my musical horizons broadened and I’ve been constantly finding and loving new artists/songs/albums that capture exactly how I feel. Not to mention the number of times I heard an album a year or three too late from when it was released.


2009: Lines, Vines, and Trying Times by the Jonas Brothers
I know 2009 isn’t technically part of the 2010s, but this album deserves justice and recognition. I was very much a kid when this album came out. In fact, I remember carrying it around in my purse full of CDs and it was loaded in my portable CD player. *cue my older sister screaming “nerd!!” in the distance* This album was the Jonas Brothers’s exploration of different genres, an attempt for people to recognize they were more than just a “Disney boy band.” Even at a young age, I saw that they were trying to play with different instruments and I was inspired. As I learned to play and write music, they served as not only my idols but inspiration. I wasn’t dealing with anything too terrible emotionally, so it was pure, unadulterated fun.

2010: Speak Now by Taylor Swift
Listening to this album takes me back to starting high school. Partially in a sweet way, but also in a cringey I-can’t-believe-I-did-that way. This album is the pinnacle of my ideas of love and romance being in their awkward phase: when I wanted to know what she was singing about so badly that I exaggerated things in my life to try to understand. Somehow, I can still feel the pain and the excitement of the crushes I associated with these songs. Not gonna lie though, listening to this album sounds like talking to high school age me and I’d really rather not revisit her crazy little mind. But in regards to the sweet memories, her confessional songwriting showed me how to open up as I tried my hand at writing songs. Sometimes you just need a simple 4 chord progression to let the words flow. Also, how crazy is it that in “Long Live” she said “it was the end of a decade, but the start of an age.” It’s as if she knew what she would do in the next 10 years. Wild.

2011: 21 by Adele
Remember when everyone went crazy over Adele? Yeah, this was when you could not escape “Rolling in the Deep,” in case you forgot. This album felt like the antithesis to the overproduced pop music on the radio and the rise of EDM. I should mention that this was the year I started thinking I was cool for not exclusively listening to mainstream Top 40. *cringe* What I was listening to at this time was classic rock from the 1960s-1980s and I really appreciated learning about the heavy-hitters of the music industry. Adele hearkened back to that era with her soulful cover of “Lovesong” by The Cure. If I was able to take my eyes off the past to focus on the present, Adele was the one to help me. Her talent is timeless and it appeals to everyone; I remember I bought this album for my dad because he loved her. A well-deserved Grammy winner. Also, I’m glad that the only someone that I’m reminded of when I listen to “Someone Like You” is the kid I did theatre with that mastered it on the piano and would play it at every rehearsal of the production of Hello, Dolly that we were in.

2012: Some Nights by fun.
This album is my album for 2012 because you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing fun.’s songs in 2012. I didn’t listen to the full album when it came out because I was still in my ~phase~. But honestly, as I listen through this album, it captures the confusion of being in the thick of life. I was in the thick of teenagedom when this album came out but I find myself running back to some of these songs even now when I’m in a confusing season. Not all these songs are written in my soul, but the ones that are have seemed to stick like glue. Most importantly, it’s told through the carefully crafted pop by the MAN, Jack Antonoff. We love you Jack Antonoff.

2013: Pure Heroine by Lorde
Ok, when Lorde broke out into the alternative/pop scene in 2013, a very low-key angsty and jaded me claimed this album as the soundtrack to my soon-to-be exit of high school. My sister showed me “Royals” before it blew up and I instantly loved the quirky instrumentation. My favorite memory with “Royals” is when my best friend post-high school (Czarina, gurrrlll I love you) did an unforgettable karaoke performance of it. My friends and I were all STUNNED that our sweet, quiet friend had a talent for singing and rapping. I had a pretty tight group of friends and I remember telling them that “Team” was our song, especially as we headed into senior year. The teenage rebelliousness of this album defines the latter part of high school and I still relate to it today.

2014: 1989 by Taylor Swift
As much as I tried to fight it at first, I couldn’t help myself to get back on the Taylor Swift love-hate rollercoaster. This album was the moment I stopped trying to be too cool for school. Was liking Taylor Swift not cool? It didn’t matter anymore in college, because we learned to embrace all parts of ourselves and let go of the people that were holding us back from being ourselves. It was a new era. So I shook off the jaded me of latter high school and danced to “Shake It Off” when I had back-to-back finals my first semester. In addition to polishing off positive and un-jaded Kelly from the dust of high school, this album and Red became two of the soundtracks for when I was in Shanghai. I even saw her in concert there: it was a peak point of the rollercoaster.

Honorable mention: Dream Your Life Away by Vance Joy

2015: Emotion by Carly Rae Jepsen
While 1989 and Red by Taylor Swift were definitely a part of the soundtrack to my year in Shanghai, this album defines my time in Shanghai. The opening saxophone to “Run Away With Me” best explains the feeling of exploring then creating a home in a place totally on the other side of the world. I was dealing with an unrequited crush (to the tune of “When I Needed You” and “Boy Problems”) but this album made me see the heartbeat of the city as I skipped down streets for miles and sang loudly. Yes, I got occasional stares from the locals but in my defense, I saw some stuff on the same level if not worse. Before I knew it, I had fallen in love with Shanghai, in all its complexity, grittiness, and somehow sparkly effervescence. By the time I had to leave, “Let’s Get Lost” was the “please don’t make me leave, I’m in love with you” song that to this day, produces an ache in my heart and gut because it makes me want to go back. If you want to give me a really sentimental gift, give me a vinyl record of this album with a postcard from Shanghai. I’ll cry.

Honorable mention: The Desired Effect by Brandon Flowers

2016: I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it by The 1975
I don’t have to say it, but I’m gonna anyways: 2016 was the weirdest year. Not only was it bad enough that I was dealing with coming back to reality in America and the fact that I couldn’t get over the aforementioned crush, but somehow life in general felt like it was just getting worse. On top of that, I didn’t know how to find new music. I remember at one point thinking that the best I could do was to wait at Forever 21 long enough to hear something good and search for it online. But as the recommendation algorithms became good, Spotify became my trusted confidante. I started listening to and appreciating indie pop/rock and finding new music through customized playlists. This album was the best representation of my growing love for it. I couldn’t tell you how many times I listened to “The Sound” as I bounced up and down the hills of Pepperdine’s campus my junior year.

2017: Wonderful Wonderful by The Killers
This was the year that I finally got my groove back. For the first time since I was a kid, I felt no pressure to be in a relationship and I was mad that it took too damn long to get there. To add to that, I was doing the coolest things ever: meeting journalism giants in New York, leading my college newspaper with the greatest team, interning for KISS, and strutting around with my worn-out leather jacket and thigh high boots. The swagger I carried myself with could only be communicated by the sound of The Killers’ triumphant return, “The Man.” One of my favorite bands of all-time made a comeback when I was living my best life in rebellion for letting my own heartbreaks walk all over me. “Nothing (could) bring me down.” But for the times I felt myself slide, I let “Run For Cover” speak. The only way to move is forward, so I became aware and told myself “don’t be afraid of the fear, that’s a played out trap, man.”

Honorable mentions: Melodrama by Lorde

2018: Pray for the Wicked by Panic! At the Disco
To be fair to past me, 2017’s true soundtrack was the entirety of Panic! At the Disco’s discography. As I danced around Pepperdine’s campus about to leave it with a diploma, they became my favorite band. The loud, bombastic energy of Pray for the Wicked is exactly what I felt as I graduated college: ‘I’m beyond proud of my accomplishments and we’re gonna celebrate, but what next?’ The anxiety of “Roaring 20s” had me realizing that success would take on new meanings as I got used to my first job post-college. With “High Hopes” taking the title of my favorite song ever, it’s crazy to me how that song has sounded when I felt victorious and hopeful and downcast and hopeless all in the same year. This album couldn’t describe the send off into the real world better for me: there’s a lot out there to hurt me and bring me down, but I’m gonna choose to have High Hopes.

Honorable mentions: Electric Light by James Bay, Love is Dead by Chvrches, Trench by Twenty One Pilots

2019: Happiness Begins by Jonas Brothers
2019 has been a wild year. But the wildest thing that happened, as I’ve recounted, is the Jonas Brothers coming back. Them coming back produced a similar feeling as when Taylor Swift released 1989: I let go of trying to be too cool for school to get in touch with the little kid in me. My job left me feeling really jaded but it’s as if this album told me “your career is one thing, but it’s not the only thing, Kelly.” This album was the soundtrack to me redefining words that had left me jaded in the past: love, romance, and family. It was so interwoven with new challenges in my life that I couldn’t tell if life was imitating art or art was imitating life. Nonetheless, this entire album is written in my heart and I could tell you how every single song related to my life in the year of our Lord 2019.

Honorable mentions: thank u, next by Ariana Grande, Dedicated by Carly Rae Jepsen, Cuz I Love You by Lizzo, Lover by Taylor Swift, Mystic Truth by Bad Suns

Phew that was hard. Narrowing down albums and artists and opening up myself to how I felt at each year of the past 10 years is like a Pandora’s box of emotions. It’s also crazy how we evolve and somehow stay the same in the span of 10 years. Welp, someone pour me a glass of champagne because here’s a toast to the next 10 years, may it be filled with phenomenal soundtrack-to-my-life music.

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