The story of country music in the 2010s is largely the arc of bro country, which rose and faded within the confines of the decade. For all the chatter about formulaic truck songs and cynical genre-bending, mainstream country in the 2010s actually had a lot of bright spots. From Chris Stapleton to Miranda Lambert to Luke Combs, some great country music made it onto the charts this decade.
Using Billboard’s year-end Hot Country charts, I’ve selected the best song from each year of the 2010s. (Note: some songs made it onto more than one year-end chart.) To be clear, the music you’ll find on the Americana charts is a better reflection of true country. But there’s still some good to be found on the country charts, and that’s what this list is about.
2010: ‘The House That Built Me’
“House That Built Me” is probably one of the best country songs ever recorded. Also released in 2010 was “American Honey,” Lady Antebellum’s most underrated song.
Critics weren’t friendly, but listeners loved it. With sharp, unusually poetic lyrics that tap into a common experience, “American Honey” deserves to be remembered as one of the decade’s best.
Josh Turner had a great year too, with “All Over Me” and “Why Don’t We Just Dance.” Taylor Swift’s “Mine,” perhaps her last decent country release, debuted in 2010 as well.
2011: ‘You And Tequila’
I’m loathe to celebrate Kenny Chesney for any reason, but a healthy dose of Grace Potter turned out to be exactly what the country charts needed in 2011, a great year for the genre. I liked “Amen” by Edens Edge, “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” “You,” “Take A Back Road,” “Homeboy” and “Bait A Hook.” Sunny Sweeney’s “From A Table Away” was excellent as well.
This was the year of “Girl, you make my speakers go boom, boom.” That’s why an Eric Church song is taking the crown. 2012 also gave us “Flyover States,” “How Country Feels,” and “Time Is Love,” among others.
2013: ‘Merry Go Round’
“Merry Go Round” is one of the best-written country songs of the decade, and an early testament to Kacey Musgraves’ talent. Then again, so is “Mama’s Broken Heart,” a song co-written by Musgraves, Shane McAnally, and Brandy Clark, that Lambert took (almost) to the top of the charts in 2013 as well.
Honorable mentions include “Like Jesus Does,” “Runnin’ Out Of Moonlight,” and “Carolina.” They do not include “Cruise,” or Darius Rucker’s tacky “Wagon Wheel” cover.
2014: ‘American Kids’
There I go picking Kenny Chesney songs again. Between the lyrics and production, “American Kids” was a refreshing slice of authenticity amid all the Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan songs that dominated 2014. (Not that both of those acts aren’t capable of producing decent music, but “This Is How We Roll” isn’t it.)
“Give Me Back My Hometown” is an obvious pick. “Beat Of The Music” and “Whatever She’s Got” were highlights that year as well. “Leave the Night On” has grown on me.
This year was a tough call between “Biscuits,” “Talledega,” “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16,” and Chris Stapleton’s cover of “Tennessee Whiskey.” They aren’t the best representation of the genre, but I liked Thomas Rhett’s “Crash and Burn” and “Die a Happy Man” as well. Cam’s “Burning House” came out in 2015 too.
2016: ‘My Church’
I think “Vice” is one of the best songs to ever make it onto country radio (and “Weight of These Wings” one of the best country albums of all time), but “My Church” is a once-in-a-generation anthem, perfect from start to finish.
Other highlights include LANCO’s “Greatest Love Story” and Little Big Town’s “Better Man.”
2018: ‘Broken Halos’
2019: ‘Beautiful Crazy’
This Luke Combs song is a fitting way to round out the decade, proof that bro country is on the way out and solid country music can still thrive on the charts.