Exclaim!'s 50 Best Canadian Songs of the 2010s
Published Nov 06, 2019
"Glowed Up" (ft. Anderson .Paak) (2016)
As a song, "Glowed Up" is peak Kaytranada. The hard-hitting track off his Polaris Music Prize-winning album 99.9% harnesses the electronic superpowers of the Haitian-born, Montreal-raised DJ and beatmaker for good, tossing in a collab with L.A. rapper and singer-songwriter Anderson .Paak in there for extra measure. The 2016 single is blissful in its approach of melding hip-hop, disco and house into something that's anthemic — all while exemplifying the mid-decade SoundCloud-era mindset: groove at all costs.
Ryan B. Patrick
39. July Talk
"Push + Pull" (2016)
Whether it's Netflix, coffee or something stronger, the last decade has been one of overindulgence. With their trademark angel-and-devil vocals dancing on your shoulders, July Talk's bluesy "Push + Pull" charts this storied excess with startling honesty. It's the dark side of the life pop stars boast of, cleverly playing against a beat that's dancier than is typical of the Toronto five-piece. Knowing when to hold back and when to strike, it slides sexily between rousing choruses, culminating in the night's final, epic fall: "And then we fought over dignity." A simple song about a complex generational fault, "Push + Pull" captures a decade of consumption in three minutes.
38. The Tragically Hip
"In a World Possessed By the Human Mind" (2016)
The year 2016 dealt many blows, including the news that Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. The next day, the band dropped "In a World Possessed by the Human Mind," the first single from the Hip's final record, Man Machine Poem, and it's clear that the importance of the mind was in Downie's thoughts as he struggled with his own. Soaring with the Hip's steady, resonant guitars and Downie's held-then-fast vocals, "In a World Possessed" is an ode to the small moments in a life consumed by something bigger than us, yet somehow still undeniably human.
37. Daniel Caesar
"Get You" (ft. Kali Uchis) (2017)
Leading his debut album Freudian to critical acclaim, Daniel Caesar's "Get You," featuring Kali Uchis, revived a sound in R&B that was quickly getting buried. Unmasked by all the bells and whistles, Jordan Evans and Matthew Burnett produced a simple bass line that carries both Caesar and Uchis's vocals into a dream-like state, while still paying tribute to the present moment. Admiring the essence of love, as well as its ability to make one vulnerable, "Get You" serves as both a moment of clarity and a pure reflection of how it feels to love and be loved.
"God's Plan" (2018)
Whether it happened thanks to divine orchestration or self-actualization, only the most resolute contrarian could argue against Drake's dominance during the 2010s. From Scarlett Road to handing out a million dollars in Miami, "God's Plan" is a succinct summary of a wild journey few could have ever imagined. Drake contrasts his accomplishments against those who have wished otherwise as his vocals trail off, proving that obsessing over the negative is fundamentally uninteresting. And while the lyrics are, at first glance, primarily a celebration of the artist born Aubrey Graham, it's really the underlying aspirational tones that helped break first-day streaming records and made it an anthem for everyone who loves their beds unconditionally.
35. Carly Rae Jepsen
"Cut to the Feeling" (2016)
From the opening synth swirls leading into handclaps and thunderous, slapping drums, Carly Rae Jepsen captures everything you could want from a massive pop anthem on "Cut to the Feeling." Cut from E•MO•TION for being too "cinematic and theatrical," later withheld from E•MO•TION: Side B and ultimately released as a standalone single, it certainly holds its own. The anticipation-building verses are crafted without a ton of frills, leading into enormous choruses with gleaming melodies that hook themselves into your brain. Much like the song's title, CRJ cuts the bullshit and gives you what you want.
34. Godspeed You! Black Emperor
"We Drift Like Worried Fire" (2012)
"We Drift Like Worried Fire" sounds like hope surviving in an unjust world. Built around a simple melody introduced by ominous, plucked strings, this core is taken up by guitars, supported by looping, bowed counterpoints. As the volume and distortion increase, this core remains strong and joyous. The moment where it is isolated again as a screeching hammer-on solo — around eight minutes in — serves one of Godspeed You! Black Emperor's most ecstatic climaxes in a career defined by them. In the more droning back half of the 20-minute track, its counterpoints take over to create a second glorious peak.
33. Lido Pimienta
Lido Pimienta's "Agua" is a joyful dance anthem that both honours water and highlights its abuse around the world. The dangerous predicament in which the planet's most important liquid finds itself — polluted, bottled, diverted — comes cloaked in a hip-shaking song with cascading synths, percussive pops like rain drops and an enchanting voice. The Afro-Colombian artist's first song on her Polaris Music Prize-winning La Papessa is a chant for water — part of the international movement of Indigenous water protectors — and a poem for her mother's Wayuu roots. It's the first of many refusals of the status quo that the multidisciplinary Pimienta crafted skillfully into her self-produced and independently released album.
"Lost in the Light" (2012)
Before "Lost in the Light," Afie Jurvanen was merely an impeccable self-taught guitarist from Barrie with a penchant for touring with Canadian royalty like Feist. But it was this song from Barchords, Jurvanen's second album as Bahamas, that proved he could also pen a universal breakup song unlike any we'd heard. With a handful of electric guitar chords, piano flourishes and passionate backing vocals making the whole thing soar, Jurvanen belts with unprecedented passion, "You wouldn't be wrong, being free, leaving me on my own." It's a lush, intimate anthem that established Jurvanen as one of Canada's preeminent songwriters.
31. A Tribe Called Red
"Electric Pow Wow Drum" (2012)
While great art is inherently political, A Tribe Called Red's genre-defying "Electric Pow Wow Drum" demonstrated how the political could also be danceable. Blending electronic music with the rawhide drum beats and chanting of traditional powwows, the track emerged as both a source of pride and controversy amongst Canadians, with issues regarding musical assimilation and ownership being called into question. Yet, despite the tension between those hoping to spread the gospel of Indigenous culture and those hoping to sneak in a headdress or two onto music festival grounds, "Electric Pow Wow Drum" marked a moment in time where one act — and one track — got the whole world talking about First Nations music, heralding the impending Indigenous Renaissance.