What were the most-played songs of the 2010s?

By Paul Glynn
Entertainment & arts reporter

Image source, Getty Images

Aah, the 2010s... Do you remember them?

Back in that golden age when we were all still able to listen to music in bars, cafes, shops, stadiums, at the gym and (sometimes) even at the office.

Now with the first Easter of the 2020s on lockdown, PPL and BBC Radio 2 can reveal the top 40 most-played songs, on UK TV and radio, of the last decade.

DJ Scott Mills will countdown the list of "absolute bangers" - led by Adele and Bruno Mars, with three appearances each - on the station on Monday.

"The top 40 most-played songs are the sounds that radio producers and broadcasters have consistently played throughout the last decade and will evoke many memories for all of us," said Peter Leathem, boss of the music licensing company which compiled the chart.

'Universally loved'

Jeff Smith, head of music at Radio 2, added it's "packed with universally loved, sing-along pop hits that really do stand the test of time".

The new data suggests broadcasters mostly favoured songs by male solo artists, with 22 nods compared to 14 solo female tracks, while American stars outweighed home-grown performers by 18-14.

Bands and groups accounted for 12 of the tracks, while that most modern phenomenon of the "collab" yielded seven hits.

And British outlets, it seems, also preferred to give airtime to songs released that decade (34 out of 40), with just a few from the noughties and Natalie Imbruglia flying the flag for the 1990s on her own, with Torn.

Rihanna, Coldplay, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry all made the top 40, however that's the last you'll be hearing of that lot in this article. Because we're about to dip straight into the top 10, which features two Brits, two women and two Pharrells.

The top 10 most-played songs of the 2010s on UK TV and radio:

10. Sex On Fire - Kings Of Leon

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First up, pop pickers, is a song that you've almost certainly heard a wedding covers band butcher since its release in 2008.

It gave the Nashville guitar slingers their first UK number one, and their first Grammy win too, for best rock performance by a group.

In 2017, they told Radio X how they would one day explain the song's saucy lyrical content to their kids.

"It's Socks on Fire," said drummer Nathan Followill. "Uncle Caleb's socks caught on fire one night when I was drying them out on the heater."

Use Somebody, another track off their fourth album, Only by the Night, also made the top 40.

9. Forget You - CeeLo Green

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As many of you will have noticed, this is actually the broadcast-friendly version of the Atlanta singer's 2010 track, written in collaboration with Bruno Mars and several others.

The song, which was a dig at the music industry, ironically won him a Grammy award for best urban/alternative performance.

Billboard reviewed it at the time as sounding "as sunny as a '60s Motown hit and as expletive-laden as an early Eminem song".

CeeLo was last seen, or heard rather, performing as the monster on the surreal ITV show The Masked Singer.

8. Counting Stars - One Republic

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The US pop-rock band topped the UK charts for the first time in 2013 with Counting Stars, which frontman and songwriter Ryan Tedder penned when he was trying to come up with something for Beyonce (who is notably absent from this chart).

The song's accompanying video has now been viewed well over 2.9 billion times on YouTube, making it the streaming site's 14th most-viewed video ever.

Not enough music videos contain crocodiles these days, do they?

7. Uptown Funk - Mark Ronson, ft Bruno Mars

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The second biggest-selling song of the decade - on streaming and physical sales - is also the second big royalty cheque on this list for the Mars man, and gives us our first Brit too.

London-born US producer/DJ Ronson, and the Hawaiian singer bagged the Brit award for best British single for Uptown Funk in 2015, when it felt like it was never off the speakers, anywhere.

Fun fact: after its release though, they were legally made to credit The Gap Band as co-writers, due to the song's resemblance to the their 1979 party hit, Oops Up Side Your Head.

Bruno's other songs, Locked out of Heaven, and Just the Way You Are, also appear on the top 40.

6. I Gotta Feeling - Black Eyed Peas

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"Tonight's the night / Let's live it up" sang B.E.P in their 2009 hit, and I'm sure we all intend to follow that advice if we're ever allowed out again.

The track was produced by superstar French DJ David Guetta and arguably saw them both at the peak of their powers.

After singer Fergie left in 2015, the band went on to perform the song as part of a medley before the 2017 Champions League Final in Cardiff. However, the performance, which included fireworks, ran over time and forced the kick-off to be delayed by several minutes.

Fair to say they've had better nights.

5. Can't Stop The Feeling! - Justin Timberlake

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As well as singing the film Trolls' lead song, JT played the worrywart Branch in the DreamWorks animation.

In an interview with TheWrap, he said, like his character, he was pulling his hair out over the prospect of producing a hit for some colourful mythical creatures.

"This wasn't just like writing a song for a movie - it was writing a song for characters that are going to sing it in the movie," he said. "That part had to work, and that's the part that made it a task that none of us had ever done."

He needn't have worried, as the song - which he debuted live at the Eurovision song contest - won the Grammy Award for best song written for visual media.

Having been released in 2016, this is actually the most recent track in the top 10, which is weighted in favour of older songs - because its surveying plays over a whole decade - and perhaps helps to solve the mystery of the missing Ed. Sheeran's stellar 2017 track, Shape of You, came in in 38th.

4. Get Lucky - Daft Punk, ft Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers

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Combining the musical might of the French electronic duo, the US hip-hop star and the legendary guitarist, it was only ever going to end one way, wasn't it? Choon.

Stevie Wonder even added to the talent pool by joining them on-stage to perform the modern disco-hit at the 2014 Grammys, where it won record of the year and best pop group performance.

It topped almost every chart in the world, selling a million equivalent copies in the UK in just 69 days.

"When I think how it happened, too, with people who I like a lot, that we just decided to go into the studio and do something," Rodgers told the Official Chart Company. "And then it turns out like this? It's absolutely remarkable, because no-one was prepared for this!"

While attempting to Get Lucky is very much against current government guidelines, dancing around your kitchen to that funky bass-line is not.

3. Moves Like Jagger - Maroon 5, ft Christina Aguilera

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Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine attempted to brighten up one of the dullest Super Bowls in recent history by going topless as sang this ode to his hip-thrusting abilities, last year in Atlanta.

The 2010 track peaked at number two in the UK but topped the US charts, meaning Christina Aguilera became only the fifth female to score number one singles in three different decades, after Janet Jackson, Madonna, Spears and Cher. But it still wasn't enough for her to get invited back to the "greatest show on earth" to perform.

Incidentally, last year, Sir Mick Jagger - the 76-year-old Rolling Stone referenced in the song's title - posted a video of himself dancing at home following heart surgery, to prove he still had his signature moves.

The Los Angeles band's other big hit of the decade, Payphone - featuring rapper Wiz Khalifa - also gets a mention in the top 40.

2. Rolling In The Deep - Adele

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The opener from Adele's Brit award-winning second album, 21, was essentially her big comeback track following the breakthrough success of her debut, and also the moment she became a real star in the States too.

The gospel-tinged vibes of the pounding 2010 track saw her pick up three Grammys - record and song of the year, plus best short-form music video.

The visuals found her alone in an abandoned room which soon began to fall apart, like the relationship she was singing about.

After Mark Ronson, the Londoner is the only other British-born artist (and second woman) to appear in the top 10... and he mostly grew up in New York.

Someone Like You and Set Fire to the Rain, from the same blockbuster album, also made the top 40 mix.

1. Happy - Pharrell Williams

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So there you have it! An upbeat and inoffensive top 10.

The appearance of Mr Williams' second ubiquitous earworm of the 2010s confirms there is no room at all at the top table for Drake, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber or Ariana Grande. Possibly as while they are popular with younger audiences, radio and TV has to appeal to a much broader listenership.

Happy was another track written for an animated film; namely Despicable Me 2, and it fast became the eighth biggest-selling song in UK chart history.

A live rendition of the song eventually scored the singer/rapper a Grammy, after he previously lost out in the best original song category to Let it Go, from Disney's Frozen. "When they read the results, my face was... frozen," Pharrell told GQ magazine. "But then I thought about it, and I just decided just to... let it go."

With Lucky and Happy enjoying great success, we look forward to seeing which of the remaining seven dwarves he'll name his hits after in this new era.

(Joke... we know Lucky isn't one really).

Scott Mills presents the Most Played Songs of the Decade on Radio 2, at 14:00 BST on 13 April.

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