The Daily Gamecock

Playlist through the years: Rock 'n' reminisce

Music timestamps moments in our lives. From upbeat grooves to heartbreak ballads, every song you listened to in college will always be tied to your time at USC. 

In the past four years, we have seen songs break records, revolutionize the industry and connect us in new and deeply personal ways. We have seen artists emerge from their bedrooms to take the most renowned stages in the world and dominate the charts.

The songs that reign on The Billboard Hot 100, the standard record chart that ranks the most popular songs in the U.S., are the ones that thrive in college culture.

Whether you listened to the most popular songs in college or not, take some time to replay the ones that remind you of your time at USC.

Here are 20 songs that topped the Billboard Hot 100 in the last four years to get you started: 

Freshman year:

“Closer” — The Chainsmokers, Halsey

“Black Beatles” — Rae Sremmurd, Gucci Mane 

“Shape of You” — Ed Sheeran

“That’s What I Like” — Bruno Mars

“Despacito - Remix” — Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, Justin Bieber

Sophomore year:

“Look What You Made Me Do” — Taylor Swift 

“Bodak Yellow” — Cardi B

“rockstar” — Post Malone, 21 Savage 

“Havana” — Camila Cabello, Young Thug

“God’s Plan” — Drake 

Junior year:

“Girls Like You” — Maroon 5, Cardi B

“thank u, next” — Ariana Grande

“SICKO MODE” — Travis Scott

“Without Me” — Halsey

“Old Town Road - Remix” — Lil Nas X, Billy Ray Cyrus 

Senior year: 

“bad guy” — Billie Eilish

“Truth Hurts” — Lizzo

“Someone You Loved” — Lewis Capaldi

“Circles” — Post Malone 

“Blinding Lights” — The Weeknd

Artists who top the charts often brand their image in pop culture with genre-breaking songs and out-of-box artistry. Here are three artists who have done so in the past four years: 

Ariana Grande:

For the past few years, pop superstar Ariana Grande has become one of the most successful artists in the world. In 2019, three songs from her “thank u, next” album — “break up with your girlfriend,” “thank u, next” and “7 rings” — held the top three spots on Billboard Hot 100, a record last held by The Beatles in 1964.

Her power vocals over pop R&B beats is her staple, and her storytelling seems as effortless as the high notes she belts. Along with her success, the singer from Boca Rouge, Florida, uses music as a cathartic release to process her experiences. 

“thank u, next” the song is just one example of her emotional storytelling. She names a few ex-boyfriends and shares what they taught her. The catchy chorus repeats “thank u, next” almost as a mantra for moving on. While the lyrics are deeply personal to Grande, the universal message is one of self-love and empowerment. 

Billboard listed “thank u, next” as one of the songs that defined the decade. It is not simply catchy melodies that make Grande the third most-streamed artist in the world, but rather her healing process - a feat of humanity - she shares with the world. 

Lil Nas X:

If anyone is in tune with the workings of pop culture, it’s Lil Nas X. The 21-year-old created memes to promote his country hip-hop song “Old Town Road,” hoping internet culture would pick it up. Soon after its original release in December 2018, the song went viral on the video platform TikTok.

Lil Nas X, whose real name is Montero Lamar Hill, has proven that he is not a fleeting viral sensation. The remix with Billy Ray Cyrus, recorded just three months after the original, held the No.1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for a record-breaking 19 consecutive weeks and became an international hit. In less than a year, Lil Nas X went from creating a song in his closet to performing on the Grammy stage. There, he won Grammy awards for Best Duo/Group Performance and Best Music Video in 2020.

The star represents a change in the music industry and pop culture. The country genre is notoriously dominated by straight white male artists, with minorities rarely hitting the top of the country music charts. The song was removed from Billboard’s Hot Country songs chart, as Billboard said it didn’t have enough country elements to be categorized as such. Nevertheless, as a queer black artist, Lil Nas X is proof that today’s pop culture accepts genre-breaking songs and out-of-the-norm artists as mainstream.


Singer and rapper Lizzo was welcomed into mainstream culture with open arms. People quickly embraced her song “Truth Hurts” after it appeared in the Netflix movie “Someone Great” in 2019 and became popular on TikTok. The song is a sleeper hit — a release in the entertainment industry that takes time before becoming a big success — which seems more likely to happen these days with the use of social media.

Lizzo, whose birth name is Melissa Viviane Jefferson, has been in the pop/R&B/soul music scene since 2012 and has worked with artists such as Prince. Before she was known as Lizzo, she studied classical music at the University of Houston in hopes of becoming a professional flutist. She plays the flute in many of her songs, including several on her third studio album “Cuz I Love You,” released Jan. 4, 2019.

The album is full of self-love and empowerment anthems. Lizzo is known for her messages of body positivity and self-care, which she displays in her songs with lyrics such as “Mirror, mirror on the wall / Don’t say it, ‘cause I know I’m cute” from “Juice” and “You know you a star, you can touch the sky” from “Good as Hell.”