Nostalgic Songs That Both Millennials And Gen Z’ers Will Recognize

Millennials and Generation Z’ers may be distinct in certain ways, but there are some songs that either generation will get major nostalgia from. Who could forget Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” or Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s “Thrift Shop”? Read on for more hits that both Millennials and Gen Z’ers still have stuck in their heads.

Miley Cyrus – “Party In The USA”

Miley Cyrus performs at the Staples Center in 2009.
Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images
Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images

Miley Cyrus started to inch away from her Disney persona with the hit “Party in the USA.” The song became the lead single from Cyrus’ first EP, The Time of Our Lives.

The song reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100, so you can bet that radios were playing it on repeat. Gen Z’ers and Millennials alike will likely remember the country-inspired music video, which showed how much the still-innocent Cyrus had grown up.

Taylor Swift – “You Belong With Me”

Taylor Swift reinacts her music video at the 2009 CMT Music Awards.
Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images
Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images

Taylor Swift has had countless hits over the years, but “You Belong With Me” is one that especially stood out. Part of its popularity is thanks to the relatable music video, which showed a “nerdy” Taylor Swift pining after the boy next door.

Whether you were an elementary school Gen Z’er or a college-aged millennial, the song’s message about popular girls coming in first hit home. At the time, it was Swift’s highest-charting single, peaking at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Ft. Wanz – “Thrift Shop”

Macklemore performs onstage in Italy.
Francesco CastaldoArchivio Francesco CastaldoMondadori via Getty Images
Francesco CastaldoArchivio Francesco CastaldoMondadori via Getty Images

What, what? What? What? That one word marks the start of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ massive hit, “Thrift Shop.” Who doesn’t love a song that rips on overpriced clothing lines and praises second-hand purchases?

Apparently, the answer is no one because this song reached number 1 in eight different countries! It also won a Grammy for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song. Gen Z’ers and Millennials alike probably still know every word to this jam.

Lorde – “Royals”

Lorde performs at Madame Jojo's in 2013.
Joseph Okpako/Redferns via Getty Images
David Livingston/Getty Images

Lorde hit the ground running with her debut single, “Royals.” Millennials and Gen Z’ers are jointly to blame for this song’s nine-week run as number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song is certified Diamond and is among the best-selling singles to date.

It was also a chart-topper in New Zealand (Lorde’s home country), Canada, and the United Kingdom. “Royals” even earned Lorde two Grammys, one for Song of the Year and the other for Best Pop Solo Performance.

Drake Ft. Lil Wayne – “The Motto”

Drake performs in Indianapolis in 2012.
Theo Wargo/Getty Images for ESPN
Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

We have Drake’s “The Motto” to thank for the half-Millennial, half-Gen Z’er phrase YOLO! The song’s message that “you only live once” became a rallying cry for young people.

The youthful notion of living wild and free became justified because… YOLO! The hit made it to number one on the US Hot R&B/ Hip-Hop Songs and the US Rap Songs charts. It also scored a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Song and was certified platinum in the US.

Gotye Ft. Kimbra – “Somebody That I Used To Know”

Gotye and Kimbra pose with their Grammys in 2013.
Jason Kempin/WireImage/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/WireImage/Getty Images

Gotye’s most successful hit to date didn’t come until his third studio album, but boy was it worth the wait. “Somebody That I Used to Know” was first released in Gotye’s home country of Australia and singer Kimbra’s country of origin, New Zealand.

Half a year later, the song made its way to the US, where it won two Grammys for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Record of the Year. Arguably one of the world’s catchiest breakup songs, it reached the top ten in 30 different countries!

Pharrell Williams – “Happy”

Pharrell performs at the 2013 BET Awards.
Mark Davis/Getty Images for BET
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for BET

Only music producer Pharrell Williams could turn the premise of “If You’re Happy And You Know It Clap Your Hands” into a radio hit. Pharrell’s “Happy” was the best-selling song of 2014, peaking at number 1 in more than 20 countries!

The song won an Academy Award, two Grammys, and two MTV Video Music Awards. Gen Z’ers may best remember the song as being on the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack, while Millennials probably recall its incessant radio play.

Adele – “Rolling In The Deep”

Adele performs at the 2011 The BRIT Awards.
Getty Images
Getty Images

Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” proved that not all of her breakup songs are slow. Millennials and Gen Z’ers may not have known whether to dance or cry to this hit, but doesn’t that describe all youthful breakups?

The song was the lead single from Adele’s 21, reaching number 1 in 12 countries! It also won two Grammys and three MTV Video Music Awards. After 65 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, “Rolling in the Deep” was named the Number One Single of 2011.

Fun Ft. Janelle Monáe – “We Are Young”

Fun performs in Philadelphia in 2012.
Jeff Fusco/Getty Images
Daniel Boczarski/Redferns via Getty Images

Based on the title alone, it should come as no surprise that Fun’s “We Are Young” was a huge hit among Millennials and Gen Z’ers. It was the lead single off the band’s second studio album, topping the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six weeks straight.

Part of its popularity could be thanks to the television show Glee, which covered the song shortly after its release. In 2013, “We Are Young” earned the Grammy for Song of the Year.

Maroon 5 Ft. Christina Aguilera – “Moves Like Jagger”

Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera perform for their "Moves Like Jagger" music video.
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for A&M/Octone
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for A&M/Octone

We sincerely hope that every Millennial and Gen Z’er knows that “Moves Like Jagger” refers to Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger. But even if they don’t, they probably have the song memorized because it’s just that catchy.

To top it off, the song debuted on the popular singing show The Voice, where both Adam Levine and Christina Aguilera were coaches at the time. “Moves Like Jagger” topped the charts in over 18 countries and landed a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.

Jessie J Ft. B.o.B – “Price Tag”

Jessie J performs at the 2011 MTV Europe Music Awards.
Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images
Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images

Jessie J’s international fame is in large part thanks to her hit “Price Tag.” The song was her debut album’s lead single in the US. It also was Jessie J’s first song to hit number 1 in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, and 16 other countries!

Over three million copies of the single have sold worldwide, making it a popular pick for Jessie’s live performances. Though the song was a huge money-maker, it ironically asserts that money isn’t everything, a sentiment that especially appeals to youth culture.

Justin Timberlake Ft. Jay-Z – “Suit & Tie”

Justin Timberlake performs at the Grammys in 2013.
Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images
Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images

Justin Timberlake traded in his early pop sound for something more R&B, resulting in the wildly popular hit “Suit & Tie.” The song’s first-week download sales exceeded 300,000, a personal record for Timberlake at the time.

Gen Z’ers and Millennials could appreciate the innovative sound, especially after the singer’s 6-year music hiatus. Timberlake performed the song alongside featured artist Jay-Z at the 2013 Grammy Awards, and it won the Grammy for Best Music Video the following year.

Kid Cudi “Day ‘N’ Night”

Kid Cudi performs in Maryland in 2009.
Kris Connor/Getty Images
Kris Connor/Getty Images

The lonely sentiment and playful beats behind Kid Cudi’s “Day ‘N Night” make it a favorite among Millennials and Gen Z’ers even today. The song became the lead single off Cudi’s debut album and has since sold more than 2 million downloads.

It peaked at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and Rolling Stone ranked it 15 on their “Best 25 Song of 2009” list. Cudi committed to making the song a hit in honor of his late uncle, who inspired the lyrics.

Neon Trees – “Animal”

Neon Trees performs at the Gibson Amphitheatre in 2010.
Tim Mosenfelder/Corbis via Getty Images
Tim Mosenfelder/Corbis via Getty Images

Neon Trees may be a rock band, but their debut single “Animal” had just enough pop influences to make it an upbeat hit for young people to dance to. Plus, the lyrics are about falling in love with a friend, which may as well be a prerequisite for adulthood.

The song launched the Neon Trees into stardom, remaining at number 1 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart for 32 weeks! The following year, “Animal” won the Billboard Music Award for Top Alternative Song.

Rihanna Ft. Jay-Z – “Umbrella”

Rihanna performs in Houston in 2008.
Bob Levey/WireImage/Getty Images
Bob Levey/WireImage/Getty Images

Gen Z’ers, Millennials, and anyone else within earshot of a car radio probably got Rihanna’s “Umbrella” stuck in their head at some point. The song was the lead single to her album Good Girl Gone Bad, which says something considering all the other hits it featured.

“Umbrella” topped the charts in nine different countries, including the UK, which was experiencing rainstorms at the time. The song earned two MTV Video Music Awards and a Grammy!

Pink – “Raise Your Glass”

Pink sings at the 2010 AMAs.
Getty Images
Getty Images

The ultimate Millennial and Gen Z underdog anthem has to be Pink’s “Raise Your Glass.” The song is all about being shamelessly rebellious and having a good time, two messages that will forever appeal to youngens.

As such, it was the first single off Pink’s first greatest hits album and peaked at number 3 in the US. The song is so fun and upbeat that it was used in multiple comedy film trailers, including Bridesmaids and New Year’s Eve.

Florence + The Machine – “Dog Days Are Over”

Florence and the Machine performs in London in 2009.
Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images
Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images

If there is only one song that a Millennial or Gen Z’er has ever heard from Florence + The Machine, it’s likely “Dog Days Are Over.” Though the song debuted at number 89 on the UK Singles Chart, it jumped to number 23 after its use in film commercials boosted its popularity.

The song peaked at number 21 in the US two years after its initial release and has since sold more than 3 million downloads in the states alone.

Kelly Clarkson – “My Life Would Suck Without You”

Kelly Clarkson performs at the 2009 AMAs.
Jeff Kravitz/AMA2009/FilmMagic/Getty Images
Jeff Kravitz/AMA2009/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Kelly Clarkson’s “My Life Would Suck Without You” loaned some validity to the Millennial/ Gen Z’ers who find themselves in off-again, on-again relationships. Though the song debuted at number 97, it skyrocketed to number 1 the very next week!

The single’s rapid climb up the chart broke Clarkson’s own record for the largest Billboard Hot 100 jump. It was also number 1 in Canada, Hungary, and the UK and made it to the top ten in six other countries.

Beyoncé – “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”

Beyonce performs at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards.
Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images
Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images

Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” has become one of her most quintessential hits. The upbeat song emphasizes confidence and independence, two things that Millennials and Gen Z’ers are all about.

The hit topped the Billboard Hot 100 list for four non-consecutive weeks and sold more than 6 million digital copies in 2009 alone. The song won three Grammys, including Song of the Year. It also won three MTV Video Music Awards, one of which was for Video of the Year.

Fall Out Boy – “Light ‘Em Up”

Fall Out Boy performs at the 2013 MTV EMAs.
Paul Zimmerman/WireImage/Getty Images
Paul Zimmerman/WireImage/Getty Images

Technically, the complete title of Fall Out Boy’s 2013 hit is “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light ‘Em Up).” However, most Millennials and Gen Z’ers will probably only know the second part of the title since it’s repeated over and over in the chorus.

The song was Fall Out Boy’s first single after a three-year hiatus and ended up spending twelve consecutive weeks in the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Train – “Hey Soul Sister”

Train performs in London in 2010.
C Brandon/Redferns/Getty Images
C Brandon/Redferns/Getty Images

“Hey, Soul Sister” became Train’s highest-charting single after reached number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was also iTunes’ best-selling song (in the US) in 2010 and won a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

Lead singer Patrick Monahan explained in radio interviews that his inspiration for the song’s lyrics came from imagining what the music festival Burning Man would be like. No wonder it was such a hit among Millennials and Gen Z’ers!

Justin Bieber Ft. Ludacris – “Baby”

Justin Bieber performs in New Jersey in 2010.
Mark Von Holden/WireImage/Getty Images
Mark Von Holden/WireImage/Getty Images

“Baby” was the lead single off of Justin Bieber’s debut album, though he was far from being the new kid on the block at the time. Not only did the song feature Ludacris, but the music video also had cameos of Drake, Lil Twist, and Tinashe.

The song hit number 1 in France and Scotland and it was in the top ten in 11 other countries, including the US. The simple and repetitive lyrics ensured that Millennials and Gen Z’ers would easily get the song stuck in their head, even if they didn’t want to.

Owl City & Carly Rae Jepsen – “Good Time”

Adam Young of Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen perform on NBC's "Today" in 2012.
John Lamparski/WireImage/Getty Images
John Lamparski/WireImage/Getty Images

“We don’t even have to try/ It’s always a good time” promises the lyrics of Owl City & Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Good Time.” The happy-go-lucky song practically became the summertime anthem for Millennials and Gen Z’ers (it was cleverly released at the end of June).

The song appeared on both Owl City and Jepsen’s 2012 albums and it reached the top ten in numerous countries, including the US. The hit was number 1 in Jepsen’s home country of Canada, as well as New Zealand and South Korea.

Nicki Minaj – “Super Bass”

Nicki Minaj performs in Philadelphia in 2010.
Bill McCay/WireImage/Getty Images
Bill McCay/WireImage/Getty Images

Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” had plenty of musical elements to appeal to a younger crowd: bubblegum pop, electronic, hip hop, and rap. Only Minaj could put those genres in a blender to come up with a smash hit.

The song peaked at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was also in the top ten in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the UK. The catchy chorus is fun to sing or dance to, making it a party favorite still today.

Taylor Swift – “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”

Taylor Swift performs at the 2012 iHeartRadio Music Festival.
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Clear Channel
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Clear Channel

Taylor Swift’s hits almost exclusively fall into one of two categories: love songs and breakup songs. As the title suggests, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” falls into the latter.

Millennials and Gen Z’ers were thrilled to have an upbeat song with easy-to-follow lyrics about unabashedly leaving someone for good. As such, it became Swift’s first number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent ten weeks at the top of the US Hot Country Songs list.

Maroon 5 Ft. Wiz Khalifa – “Payphone”

Maroon 5 performs at a private concert in Paris in 2012.
David Wolff – Patrick/Redferns via Getty Images
David Wolff – Patrick/Redferns via Getty Images

Maroon 5 has had plenty of hits over the years, but “Payphone” will forever be their first single to reach number 1 in the UK! It also set a record for best sales week for a digital song by a group, selling almost half a million copies in its first week.

In the states, the song debuted at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 before inching up one more spot. It also spent two months straight at number 1 in Canada.

Foster The People – “Pumped Up Kicks”

Foster the People performs at the Shoreline Amphitheater in 2010.
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” serves to prove that not all hits have to be danceable, or even relatable. The lyrics are very dark but are buried under playful music.

Gen Z’ers and Millennials must have been unsure about this mix at first because it was a sleeper hit. Though it took several months, the song eventually made it to number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it remained for two months straight!

OneRepublic – "Counting Stars"

OneRepublic performs at The Greek Theatre in 2013.
Noel Vasquez/Getty Images
Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars” quickly became one of the band’s most successful singles. Both the catchy tune and the relatable lyrics make it appealing to Gen Z’ers and Millennials.

As the band has explained in interviews, the lyrics are about stressing over daily responsibilities while holding onto passions, hence “counting stars” instead of sheep. The hit made it to the top ten in numerous countries, and the YouTube music video has more than 3 billion views!

Bruno Mars – “Grenade”

Bruno Mars performs at The Grove in 2010.
Brian To/FilmMagic/Getty Images
Brian To/FilmMagic/Getty Images

“Grenade” was Bruno Mars’ third single to hit number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also spent three weeks at number 1 in Canada and topped the charts in another 13 countries!

The hit was certified diamond and was the second best-selling digital single of 2011. The song earned Mars two Grammy nominations. Gen Z’ers and Millennials could appreciate the heartbreak ballad, which addresses unrequited love and giving your all to someone who doesn’t reciprocate.

Daft Punk Ft. Pharrell Williams – “Get Lucky”

Daft Punk performs at Coachella in 2014.
C Flanigan/FilmMagic/Getty Images
C Flanigan/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Daft Punk benefitted from the vocals and songwriting skills of Pharrell Williams to produce one of their most successful songs: “Get Lucky.” The hit reached the top ten in more than 30 countries.

It also won two Grammys, one for Record of the Year and the other for Best Pop Duo/ Group Performance. Plenty of Millennials and Gen Z’ers were grooving to the hit, leading to a plethora of covered versions and parodies despite it being critically acclaimed.

Carly Rae Jepsen – “Call Me Maybe”

Carly Rae Jepsen performs at the 2012 AMAs.
Kevin Mazur/AMA2012/WireImage/Getty Images
Kevin Mazur/AMA2012/WireImage/Getty Images

If there was ever a song Millennials and Gen Z’ers jointly got stuck in their heads, it was “Call Me Maybe.” The hit put Canadian Idol alum Carly Rae Jepsen on the map, climbing to number 1 in 15 countries, including Canada and the US.

The hit was nominated for two Grammys and was named MTV’s Song of the Year for 2012. It was the best-selling single of the year, worldwide, and went on to become the best-selling single of the century by a female artist.

Eminem Ft. Rihanna – “Love The Way You Lie”

Eminem and Rihanna perform at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards.
Getty Images
Getty Images

Critics found “Love the Way You Lie” to be one of the best songs of 2010 and of Eminem’s career. Both Rihanna and Eminem had a personal attachment to the song’s lyrics, which describe being stuck in a volatile relationship.

Millennials and Gen Z’ers must have related as well because the hit remained at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks. It was Eminem’s best-selling single and received five Grammy nominations. The music video featured star actors Dominic Monaghan and Megan Fox.

Colbie Caillat – “Bubbly”

Colbie Caillat performs on "TRL" in 2007.
Michael Loccisano/FilmMagic/Getty Images
Michael Loccisano/FilmMagic/Getty Images

“Bubbly” came off of Colbie Caillat’s debut album and is still her biggest US hit to date. The song made it to the top ten in several countries, including the US where it peaked at number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The single made it to number 1 in Australia and Brazil and was certified platinum. The 2007 song is both heartwarming and family-friendly, making it well-known among the oldest Millennials and the youngest Gen Z’ers.

B.o.B. Ft. Hayley Williams – “Airplanes”

Hayley Williams and B.o.B. performs at Z100's 2012 Jingle Ball.
Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Clear Channel/Getty Images
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

The idea of wishing on a star was made new again thanks to B.o.B.’s hit “Airplanes.” The song came off of the rapper’s debut album and featured Hayley Williams as the vocalist.

Between the soft melody and relatable rap lyrics, Gen Z’ers and Millennials had plenty to love about this song, launching it to number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song’s sequel added Eminem into the mix, which led to a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.

LMFAO – “Party Rock Anthem”

LMFAO performs at the UC Davis Pavilion in 2011.
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” is exactly what the title suggests it is, making it a headbanger for Millennials and Gen Z’ers alike. The song reached number 1 in 13 countries, including the US!

The hit became the best-selling single of all time in Australia and the third best-selling digital single in US history. LMFAO has Gen Z’ers to thank for their 2012 “Favorite Song” win at the Kids’ Choice Awards. The song also appeared in 21 Jump Street, which won the MTV Movie Award for Best Music.

Ed Sheeran – “Thinking Out Loud”

Ed Sheeran performs in Milan in 2014.
Mairo Cinquetti/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Mairo Cinquetti/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” proves that even party-loving Millennials and Gen Z’ers can appreciate a sappy love song. The hit peaked at number 2 on both the US and Canada Hot 100 charts.

It also made it to number 1 in 8 other countries, including Sheeran’s country of origin, the UK. To top it off, it became the first single to remain in the UK Top 40 for a year straight! The song also won a Grammy for Song of the Year and another for Best Pop Solo Performance.

Paramore – “Still Into You”

Paramore performs at Z100's 2013 Jingle Ball.
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Clear Channel
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Clear Channel

Paramore’s “Still Into You” has a youthful sound despite covering a more mature topic: the up and downs of a long-term relationship. The upbeat hit sends a positive message about holding out for the long haul, which many Millennials and Gen Z’ers still desire in a relationship.

The hit ended up being one of the most successful songs from the rock band. It peaked at number 8 on the Billboard Hot Rock Songs and reached number 1 on the UK Rock & Metal chart.

Lady Gaga – “Born This Way”

Lady Gaga performs at the 2011 iHeartRadio Music Festival.
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Clear Channel
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Clear Channel

Lady Gaga’s empowering message in “Born This Way” made the single a chart-topper in more than 25 countries! It was her third single to make it to number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The song has sold more than 10 million copies and was part of Gaga’s halftime show during Super Bowl LI. The song set the record for fastest-selling iTunes single as more than a million copies sold in the five days following its release.

Katy Perry – Teenage Dream

Katy Perry performs at the 2010 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.
Theo Wargo/Getty Images
Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Being that younger Millennials and older Gen Z’ers were in or near adolescence in 2010, it’s no wonder that Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” was a hit among the generations.

The song became Katy Perry’s third to top the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified eight times platinum in the US. The hit garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Billboard named it the second-best song of the 2010s and it also appeared on Glee.

Jason Mraz – “I’m Yours”

Jason Mraz performs in the UK in 2007.
C Brandon/Redferns/Getty Images
C Brandon/Redferns/Getty Images

Jason Mraz first released “I’m Yours” as part of an EP, so the song was already popular by the time it became the leading single off his third studio album in 2008.

The high-spirited love song was a crowd favorite across generations, garnering two Grammy nominations and breaking the record for the longest time on the Billboard Hot 100. The song is Jason Mraz’s most successful yet with more than 12 million downloads sold worldwide.