Normally I am glad for commissions, because they allow me to do what I like to do the most: earn money to fritter away on a luxurious lifestyle. This, though, I hated, because it forced me to confront reality, repeatedly, and at length. "Please stare like a sniper down a scope at the decade that has come before us," my editor said. "Please relive every hell of the previous ten years, then wrap it up again in a fun little list."
Do you know how much terror there has been over the last ten years? How many huge government changes? How many dead icons, how many explosions, how many shots have been fired? Do you know how many times we have thought it had got as bad as it would get, before it got worse? No? Well, it's fucking loads. It's absolutely loads.
To take a temperature read of the decade as a whole, I think it is important to pick cultural markers (the best-selling albums, the highest grossing films, all of which have been franchises or Ed Sheeran), as well as the leading news stories that have dominated the discourse. Look at them and you can see where this decade has taken us: from 2010, a sort of mediocre time of water-treading where nothing much happened and we didn't have iPads yet, to 2015, The Year of UKIP, and 2016, a year so bad it will become a Year Zero in history books should we ever go on far enough that someone will be alive to write them.
Evolution happened throughout: at the start of the decade we had Tumblr, but it wasn’t important, and then during the early bit of the decade we had Tumblr and it was vitally important (Tumblr made everyone kinky in just an insanely intense way, and also fed into BuzzFeed lists, which boomed in 2013), and then Tumblr went away and in that void we just dumped a load of racism, I guess.
Anyway: it's been a long decade. The format is this: years in review, each-by-each, then figure out the worst at the end.
Photo: Jenny Matthews / Alamy Stock Photo
Biggest selling album: Progress by Take That, your mum's favourite drive-to-the-big-Tesco music.
Highest grossing film: The genuinely impossible not-to-cry-to Toy Story 3. Key events: David Cameron and Nick Clegg formed a coalition government then basically immediately made university prohibitively expensive and started doing austerity; the iPad launched; the Chilean miners got trapped underground; Paul Gascoigne tried to bring a bucket of chicken to Raoul Moat; that MI6 guy who an inquest said zipped himself into a suitcase "zipped himself into a suitcase"; John Terry shagged Wayne Bridge's ex and Wayne Bridge refused to shake his hand about it; that big volcano in Iceland erupted and stopped Sam Allardyce from signing Robert Lewandowski.
If you think of the decade that came before 2010, it was actually quite a mellow time, wasn't it? Even with an election and a coalition government it didn't immediately feel very doom-laden. We had two gun rampages in two months – in Cumbria and in Newcastle – but nobody was like, "This feels bad, and a harbinger of what is to come." 2010 just sort of happened. We have to assume that, by no great hell being unleashed, in its mediocrity, 2010 was a high point for the twemteens*. I cannot believe how depressing the reality of that sentence is. "2010? Yeah, wasn't bad. We handed a large amount of power to Nick-fucking-Clegg, but in the context of the years 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019, that doesn't actually feel totally bad. That's how fucking lopsided a decade it's been."
*I'm calling this decade the twenteens. You cannot stop me. Not even violence can stop me.
Biggest selling album: 21 by Adele.
Highest grossing film: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, which that incredibly tedious girl in your house-share ("Guys, can you keep it down in here please? It's almost 9PM") still hasn't stopped going on about.
Key events: Osama Bin Laden and Gaddafi both chatted shit and got banged; the first episode of Made in Chelsea aired, as did the first episode of Game of Thrones, though it's hard to tell which went on to have more cultural impact; the Arab Spring happened, and for a while everyone thought Twitter was good; Amy Winehouse died; in the middle of his glow-down, Prince William cut his losses and got married; it was revealed to everyone that the Murdoch media used super-injunctions and phone hacking to break stories and shape reality in line with their own feelings on the discourse, and in the intervening eight years we've done absolutely nothing about it.
The best part of 2011 was the London Riots, and the worst part was the day directly after the London Riots, where people kept getting sent to jail for three weeks for stealing a bag of rice. The London Riots felt very visceral and very dynamic while they were happening, and I wonder if, since, a lot of that energy has been ground out of us. What is the difference, really, between a riot and a protest? There's a shade of anarchy to a riot, whereas a protest is just very politely asking for the things we don't like to be made better and them never getting better as a result.
Something has happened in the years between 2011 and now: we used to solve our problems with a brick through a shop window, an on-fire car, running around on night vision camera while a helicopter circled overhead. Now, we just lie gently down and send a clenched-fist tweet about how bloody bad things are, actually. In 2020, let's bring back rioting. Start the decade out right by cutting off some fucking heads.
Biggest selling album: Our Version of Events by Emeli Sandé. I stopped paying attention for a minute and sort of forgot Emeli Sandé had happened, and I just looked at her Wikipedia and she's won four Brits and has an MBE??? Was nobody going to tell me Emeli Sandé got an MBE???? You were all just going to keep that information to yourselves????
Highest grossing film: The Avengers, which that incredibly tedious boy in your house-share ("Guys, can you keep it down in here, please? I'm trying to untangle my ponytail from my waifu pillow") still hasn't stopped going on about
Key events: The London Olympics, a booming glut of patriotism that probably, if we're really thinking about it, helped to trigger the actually-Britain-is-good false narrative that got us into the entire mess of Brexit we're wading around in now; that woman in Spain painted over the Jesus fresco; Whitney Houston died and Wayne Rooney really couldn't believe it; Obama beat Mitt Romney in the election; in New Zealand, a dog learned to drive a car
My unpopular opinion is that the London Olympics absolutely sucked. The London Olympics left me cold. Is this because I was working a minimum wage shit-hole office job in Canary Wharf where I had to commute in on the Jubilee Line every morning, wedged in bumbag-to-bumbag with a bunch of American Olympic tourists, and that work forbade us from live-streaming sports on the central office TV? That is irrelevant. I ushered in the Olympics by watching, distantly, on a small TV, as a pub full of tourists cooed at the dancing nurses of the opening ceremony, and then I said: "So now it's just that and we have to watch six weeks of fucking rowing?"
The Olympics built a city in Stratford so Mo Farah could run around it one thousand times in a row, and somehow everyone you know who owns a "BUT FIRST, GIN" tea towel was there in the front row, gleaming golden from the ticket lottery, and then what. And then what has happened. I'm sorry but I just don't fucking think watching people do the discus is "good".
Biggest selling album: Midnight Memories by One Direction. To be fair to One Direction, they sort of exist now as a barometer of the decade that came before, and how it changed us all from cherub-faced angels into one of five flavours of person: either Desperately Wanting Shagger Energy But Fundamentally Not Having It (Liam), Lad Who Laughs at His Own Farts and Somehow Bought a House Aged 22 (Louis), Gender-Defying Sexual Hybrid Who You Feel Has a 45-Minute Bit in Him About How Kombucha Really Changed the Way He Thinks (Harry); Still Thinks "Fonts" And "Leaving Social Media" Are Cool (Zayn); Hey Lads, Game-a Golf? (Niall). After this decade, being one of those five genotypes is the only sensible thing to do.
Highest grossing film: Frozen, which that incredibly tedious toddler your mate has ("Guys, can you keep it down in here, please? I’m trying to eat an apple-flavoured fruit bake before I shit myself") still hasn't stopped going on about.
Key events: the first episode of Peaky Blinders aired, irreparably changing your boyfriend forever; Richard III was found underneath a Leicester car park, presumably releasing some sort of curse (on the rest of Britain) and luck spell (on Leicester as a whole), which we really should get some sort of exorcist to have a look at before we all run out of medicine; the "Cronut" was invented, as well as Vine; Royal Baby #1; Netflix launched its original programming, starting with House of Cards then moving on to Orange Is the New Black and Arrested Development, all of which have been absolutely ruined in the intervening six years; someone created the world's first 3D-printed gun, which feels more ominous that we'd like to admit; the PS4 came out, as did Grand Theft Auto V; people legitimately thought doing Harlem Shake videos was good.
Think it's safe to say 2013 was the year we, all of us, got irreversibly Too Online. The internet existed before 2013, of course, but the possibility of being Online – and then, in quick succession, Too Online – did not. In 2013, having a smartphone didn't mark you out as the 1 percent anymore, and websites were no longer single-serve Geocities homepages: it was a constant, burbling flow, of Tumblr and Twitter and Facebook, and we learned that we could look at it while we did shitting.
2013 was the year we stopped having feelings and instead had "all of the feels". 2013 was the year we all typed "you, sir, just won the internet!" to a @SoVeryBritish tweet. When the palaces crumble and the stadiums burn and the reenforced vehicles rev threateningly in the streets, and Apocalypse comes, O Lord, 2013 is the year we'll look back on and be like: probably should have pulled the plug on it there, shouldn't we. As soon as we started using Ryan Gosling GIFs instead of having actual emotions, that's when it all became over.
Photo: Daniel Fung / Alamy Stock Photo
Biggest selling album: x by Ed Sheeran. This is the moment we can’t come back from – you understand that, right? That's when we gave Ed Sheeran unassailable power. Every inch of descent since then started with that.
Highest grossing film: Transformers: Age of Extinction. God what a deathly year for culture 2014 was. Ed Sheeran and Transformers. Absolutely massive year for "lads who only own one belt".
Key events: Flight MH370 went missing on its way to Beijing, and that's why we have conspiracy podcasts now; the massive iCloud leak nicknamed "The Fappening" occurred, which was an absolutely massive day for lads who type "thank you for the gild, kind stranger!" on Reddit with 0 percent irony; an Ebola epidemic started in West Africa; a man was found on the side of the A66 with his penis cut off. I have to tell you, 2014 was a bleak year for news.
2014 wasn't very good, and I had forgotten that it wasn't very good because a lot of bad stuff and five years has passed, but still, honestly: 2014, not very good. 2014 had a lot of dark and dreadful shit happening within it. Culture: dead. Innovation: dead. Vast swathes of humanity: dead. Perhaps, in a way, it was good 2014 happened to us: there are only so many bad things that can happen – locally, domestically and worldwide – before you can stop being oblivious. I'm looking at photos of myself in 2014 and it seems like I was at a lot of costume parties. Aeroplanes were disappearing from the sky and Ebola was having a moment, and I had a lab coat on because I was "someone out of Jurassic Park". Shake yourself awake, you buffoon—
Biggest selling album: 25 by Adele. Love Adele, don't we? We love Adele. Because she's just so bloody normal!
Highest grossing film: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. You want me to make a joke, but I went to the IMAX to see it, so. It's me. I am the joke.
Key events: Everyone talked about UKIP all the fucking time; Busta Rhymes was arrested for throwing milk at a worker in a New York gym; the Charlie Hebdo attack in January and the Bataclan atrocity in November bookended a year of terror for the city of Paris; Jeremy Clarkson punched a BBC producer over a steak sandwich, and now your dad has to try to figure out how to make Prime Video work on the big TV if he wants to watch Top Gear; four legends managed to pull off the Hatton Garden Heist; Royal Baby #2; a General Election led to a Tory majority and Jeremy Corbyn was voted leader of the Labour party; American dentist Walter Palmer killed Cecil the Lion; the Calais Migrant Crisis, "The Dress".
Bit of a bitty one, 2015: obviously not as bad as the year that followed it, but it was definitely laying the groundwork, and the stop-start cycle of hell that studded it really set some tones for the year(s) that were to come. All I remember from 2015 was Nigel Farage being on every single TV channel all at once, drinking warm pints and wearing piss-yellow trousers and having pegs for teeth, and everyone was just like: "Oh, he's just a braying posh lad with some of the most insane ideas about Europe ever uttered aloud, let him keep going."
If nothing else, 2015 was probably the year we (collectively) woke from the slumber (general), as in to say: if you lived through 2015 and thought everything was alright, you probably weren't paying attention. 2015 was also the year I got "too into buying chore jackets", something I still haven't managed to shake, so top-to-bottom you have to admit the decade's halfway-point was a real low.
Photo: See Li / Alamy Stock Photo
Biggest selling album: 25 by Adele, again. Did everyone just spend two years getting broken up with, or something?
Highest grossing film: Captain America: Civil War, which is just a film where Chris Evans walks around an airport growling "Bucky" for three hours, as best I remember.
Key events: The EU Referendum, a debate that resulted in the murder of one MP and the unbalancing of our entire political system, dipping the entire country into an economically precarious nosedive for literally no reason at all; Leicester City won the Barclays by just pegging it upfield and letting Jamie Vardy run after it like a thick dog; Trump got elected, Theresa May assumed power; David Bowie, Prince, George Michael and Leonard Cohen all died; terror attacks all across Europe; The Slaughter of Harambe. In researching this piece I realised that multiple news outlets had done a "10 Nice Things That Happened This Year… To Prove It Wasn't All Doom And Gloom!" list, which – if you think about it – really does prove that the year was all doom and gloom.
Remember the end of 2016? Felt like relief, almost, that we had collectively struggled to the end of it: a sort of widespread wounded feeling, like we'd crunched through something akin to a war, and that 2017 would wipe the slate clean and allow joy to flourish again. "Can't wait for this hell year to be over!" we said, didn't we, and people said, in chiding tones: actually, it's still a hell year for people on zero-hour contracts. And you'd go: yeah, no, I know, sorry – it's just it's been a tough year because of, like, the news, and overwhelming feeling of the discourse and that.
The dread, you know. The, like, feeling of dread there is, always. And they would go: Oh yeah, and I suppose American border prisoners don’t feel dread, yeah? And you'd be like: no, yeah, I get that, contextually they def— they definitely have it worse, I agree. It's just, it's been a hard year, I'd like to feel like— can you fuck off, actually? I'm trying to enjoy New Year? I'm trying to get off my face and eat a load of leftover Quality St. on a hangover? Can you actually fuck off?
Anyway, 2016 was bad.
Biggest selling album: Divide, by Ed Sheeran. The lad is naming his albums from the top line of his graphing calculator and still gets #1 every single year he bothers to drop an LP. At this point, you just have to admit: fair play.
Highest grossing film: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, a fucking 500-hour-long movie about John Boyega going to a casino for no fucking reason at all.
Key events: 2017 was incredibly awful: the Manchester Terror Attack, the Las Vegas shootings, the Grenfell Tower fire, another General Election, Trump's inauguration, TfL opted not to renew Uber's license (felt really important at the time, looking back I don't know why) (look, all I remember is a lot of really earnest conversations in the pub about having to get the bus home instead, and everyone trying to give you their Lyft code so they could try to claim the £10 free credit), acid attacks were on the up, the #MeToo movement began in earnest, "Salt Bae", fidget spinners, everyone thinking they knew about Bitcoin.
Weirdly, after the B2B hell of 2015 and 2016 – and despite all the incredibly horrible, just absolutely down-low things that happened – 2017 felt like a sort of mass hallucination, like we all just plugged into laptops and let things wash over us, and we said snarky things about male rompers and the Instagram dog filter and that Taylor Swift album, and didn't do much of anything else. 2017 was a year where we turned our face away from the fire and instead buried it in the sand of culture, but not very far, just far enough to regurgitate the same six jokes we'd read online to the friends we'd managed to keep in real life, but not deep enough to find any meaning in it.
I don't think a single person on the planet exhibited any meaningful growth as a result of the year 2017. It just happened, and we did nothing. And, to be fair – looking at the shit-show of years that make up the decade around it – can you really blame us? 2017 was like taking a year-long sick day off work and just binging Netflix until you forgot how to think right.
Photo: Ricardo Maynard / Alamy Stock Photo
Biggest selling album: The Greatest Showman: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. The overwhelming cultural weathervane of this country is decided by people who eat supermarket takeaways off a tray in front of The X Factor.
Highest grossing film: Avengers: Infinity War, and ah, god, that housemate's back. "Hi guys," he's saying, "is someone using the broadband connection in here? I’m trying to Skype my girlfriend who lives in some nowhere town in America. We met in EVE Online, not in real life. Her name is Cindy and she's married. She's 45 years old for some reason. If you're watching Match of the Day in here can it wait? I need to eat a Pot Noodle out of a bowl in pitch darkness in front of her for a hundred, maybe a hundred-and-thirty-five more minutes. And can you keep the noise down when we're trying to cum? Thanks!"
Key events: GDPR made it so every single website you go on you now have to click away circa one million pop-ups about cookies before you can read fucking anything; Royal Wedding #2; Royal Baby #3; there was a big storm we all got excited for called "The Beast from the East"; the Thai Cave Rescue happened; England won a penalty shoot-out in a competitive tournament game; two Russians collapsed in Salisbury town centre after ingesting a nerve agent in Zizzi's; the Cambridge Analytica story broke and it doesn't really matter how many Netflix documentaries I’ve watched about it, I still don’t quite understand how I used Facebook so calamitously badly that I ushered in right-wing governments the world over; there was a lot of protesting in London, with over 700,000 turning out for the People's Vote march and a fair number kicking off about Trump's potential visit here, too. Princess Eugenie got married and literally no one cared.
2018 was the best summer in living history because it combined a million-week-long heatwave with the best ever World Cup. 2018 was just pints and barbecues and shouting. I’m sure bad shit happened too, but, on the whole, you’d take a year of being burnt pink-raw under the sun and a three-day trip to hospital with alcohol poisoning to counter out the rest of the decade. We deserved 2018, and we earned it. We will never have 2018 again. Every hot summer from now will be Too Hot, and come with a very ominous feeling that we've absolutely fucked the planet and we have to start dying to atone for it, and it won’t be quite as fun, anymore, grilling Sainsbury’s big packs of chicken wings over a temporary barbecue, because you'll know somewhere, distantly, Greta Thunberg is wincing at the thoughtlessness of it, and you'll trudge home, half drunk on warm Stella cans, with the same grim feeling of guilt you have when you look at porn or buy something off Amazon.
Living life, in the next five years, is going to be an unbearable constant thrum of Rightly Feeling Bad For Existing.
Biggest selling album: Probably going to be Showman again, we get what we deserve.
Highest grossing film: Second-part of the Avengers. Oh, here he is: "Konnichiwa, guys – I'm planning a trip to Osaka in October, so I'm brushing up on my Japanese, ne? I'm just heading out now, so if you could stay out of my room that'd be great. Those bottles full of urine in my wardrobe are actually an experiment and they're meant to be all blown up like that. It's called fermentation, you mindless rubes. Oh, cool, you're watching Avengers: Endgame? Ha, yeah, no, I saw it five times at the cinema. In the graphic novels Thanos is actually six to seven inches shorter than he is on film, so it's actually incredibly unrealistic. The bit where Iron Man dies is itai! Oh, you didn’t know? You didn’t see that bit already? Oh. Gomen-nasai. Anyway, heads up my Funko Pop collection finally got too big for my room, so I'm going to be moving some of the less valuable pieces in here, into the shared space. It's only about 40 or 50 of them, so it shouldn't be a problem. Sayonara, bitches!"
Key events: Prince Phillip battering a car into someone's mum, another Royal Baby, another election, we allowed Alex from Glasto to happen.
I don't know if this year has been a good year: I'm too close to it, my nose up against the frame, and can't see the wider vista. But I mean: it's felt quite bad, hasn't it? I'm writing this from an undeniable moment of post-election funk, but it doesn't feel good, 2019, as a whole. It doesn't feel like a vintage year. That, though, goes for the terror of it, as well as the spikes of joy: 2019 hasn't been really very good, or very bad, just there, large and looming in the background, happening, relentlessly, without respite. If nothing else, it does feel like a hard bookend for the decade that has come before it: not particularly good, or particularly horrible, or particularly memorable, a slow noiseless descent into the abyss of 2020.
Will the 20s be good? Judging by the way 2010 spiralled down to 2019: absolutely fucking not. It will get worse, and worse, and then in 2030 we will all be dead. Trump will definitely win an election next year. Brexit will absolutely be delayed and dragged out even longer. The two ideologies of "right" and "left" will creak ever further apart. The planet will get so hot that people start dying. None of these things can be avoided, because massive grinding cogs of power make it so.
I suppose the only thing we can really do is – when inevitably having this retrospective moment in 2029, on whatever big iPads we have then, with whatever deranged haircuts we think at the time are cool – I suppose all we can really do is hope that we like ourselves more, and that we personally have grown, and that we have at least done something with the last ten years to make ourselves feel better about being ourselves. That we can look back at the Facebook photos we take of the upcoming New Year's Eve and go: what a prick I was. What a happy, stupid, thoughtless prick I was back then. I guess that's the only thing we really can do, when faced with all this.
ALL THOSE YEARS, RANKED FROM WORST TO BEST
2: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017