AKA a Best Music Of The Decade post
“I must find the 2000s. I must write how I will remember them. I must say goodbye.”
The Harvard Crimson:
Best Album You Heard Thirty Years Ago: The Strokes, Is This It
Best Album To Name-Drop: Radiohead, Kid A
If someone had forewarned me in 2000 that, ten years on, the inane corporate “punk” of Greenday, massively irritating in 1994, would be one of the decade’s best-selling acts; that U2 and their devil’s progeny Coldplay would still be on magazine covers; that divas unworthy of the term—the tacky Shakira and the increasingly anodyne Beyonce—would annexe the popular consciousness; that The Pixies would be six years into a reunion tour that kick-started an entire Indie Rock Heritage Circuit… well, it’s lucky that no one did serve me notice of these inauspicious cultural signs, or I would have been an even gloomier 19 year old than I already was.
Previously on Pah
I have written about the thinness of albums this decade. The shape of this decade will be remembered in singles. In surveying the decade’s music I found that I had little desire to rip songs from albums I’ve already nominated as great. Somehow in those works the songs work so well together that I am loathe to listen to one without listening to them all. Then again, most of those albums did not have formally released singles, so the weirdness is not mine alone. And perhaps it will be a relief for you to see a list from me without any Mike Patton.
I live in Australia. Our charts take from the rock-oriented US charts and the dance-oriented UK charts and add our own Aussie spin. This means that we have a slightly different perspective than either of our colonial masters. Previously I would have said we take the wheat and leave the chaff, but this decade has been much more about LCD chaff.
This is not an ordered top ten or even a top seventeen (even ignoring the missing album tracks). Though they are the best, and some are better than others, I cannot bring myself to sort them. I leave markers where relevant, but the list appears in chronological order.
Two Song Theory
To me there were two big songs that defined the 90s: Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991) by Nirvana, and Breathe (1996) by Prodigy. These are two awesome songs in their own right, but also leaders and exemplars of movements in that decade.
I’ll give away the “end” here by saying the best song of the 2000s is Hey Ya (2003) by Outkast.
But the other defining song of the decade isn’t so awesome. For a second tent pole, I’d pick Sex on Fire (2008) by Kings of Leon. This is not a great song. I hate this song. But it is unquestionably representative of the retrogressive/nostalgic/reheated quagmire that bands like Outkast couldn’t quite give us enough thrust to escape. You might argue then that I should be picking a Strokes or White Stripes song, but the thing about this movement is that the longer it goes on, the less original it gets, the more it succeeds in its goal. Which is to unhinge the industrial production of pop music from high art so that it can be more perfectly sold in cyclical seasons, like yoyos. The future of music will be an endless recycling of certain pasts that younger people haven’t happened to have heard before and older people will never get tired of. So that it can be used to sell you stuff.
But there is still Hey Ya. The charts haven’t quite gone yet. We’re not all alone with our iPods.
And so, without further ado, the good songs…
Get Ur Freak On (2000) by Missy Elliott
I’ll get off to a lazy start by letting Anwyn handle this one.
It Wasn’t Me (2000) by Shaggy, featuring RikRok
Shaggy writes about the dark heart of RikRok’s sultry R&B voice. This is the theme song of the 2000s. Children overboard, global financial crisis, priestly paedophilia, Copenhagen: it wasn’t me! Its status was confirmed in 2001 when Michael Jackson selected it as a personal favourite at his 30th anniversary celebrations.
Stan (2000) by Eminem
Eminem could have been the artist of the decade, but his rapping slowed, and America chose George W Bush over him. It’s hard to remember how controversial he was in the early 2000s, and how his fights with Moby, Jay Z, and Triumph gave some life to music news. It’s true he was a white boy appropriating black music, and I might not have been as interested if I’d listened to Wu-Tang Clan… but I might never have listened to them if not for him, he did bring Dr Dre and D12 with him, and he did have his own ideas to offer. This is his masterpiece, fast postmodern lyrics telling a story with a gift for detail, juxtaposed with the inspired selection of a sample from Dido’s Thank You, building to one of the most horrific climaxes ever to make it into the charts.
You Can Fall (2000) by Broadcast
This song opens up an alternative history of pop. What if, instead of listening to Bob Dylan in 1964, the Beatles had watched Doctor Who instead? Perhaps we might have had more bands like Broadcast, who sound like their realisation has been provided by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
Harder Better Faster Stronger (2001) by Daft Punk
Daft Punk showed that it was possible to use a vocoder for good, not evil. Here they turn a funky minimalism into accretion and recombination that just makes me want to dance. Kanye West made the second worst sampling faux pas of the decade when he thought he could use this as background (Black Eyed Peas made the worst when they used Miserlou).
I Can’t Get You Out Of My Head (2001) by Kylie Minogue
Kylie has always been an actor, submitting herself to songwriters and producers, without the continuity of personality like Madonna. That tendency finds its perfect expression in this song, where she swaps pop vitalism for a flattened affect subsumed by the music. This is Human 2.0, love-as-pathology, the will-to-cyborg. It was a signal that many would follow (e.g. Hung Up by Madonna, Toxic by Britney).
Crazy In Love (2003) by Beyonce, featuring Jay Z
Another key signal for pure pop practitioners: contra Freud, there are two libidos, and one of them is female. Christina Aguilera’s Candyman and Pink’s U + Ur Hand come from here. Yes this is still just a love song and needs validation from Jay Z, but the energy has reached what before might have been deemed an unseemly level, and maybe all that shaking might just be for Beyonce’s own pleasure.
Hey Ya (2003) by Outkast
At the start of this decade, a small child opined to me that hip hop wasn’t music because it didn’t have a melody. This was obviously her parents’ opinion and I hope she’s grown up and out of it by now. This song has such a fantastic beat that even small children are helpless before it. Of course this song can’t be reduced to just its beat, it has such a richness of sound. It’s funny to think that under all those synth splodges and overdubs, an acoustic guitar provides the basic accompaniment to the singing. The effect is one of laidback high energy. Its weakness is its singular nature. Even Outkast don’t sound like this (and I’m thankful that it’s not poisoned by testosterone like the rest of The Love Below). It stands alone, an outlying forerunner of a (still?) possible future.
The Nosebleed Section (2003) by Hilltop Hoods
A lot of its power comes from the sample of Melanie’s 1972 The People in the Front Row (but being a DJ means being a smart curator). The rest comes from its (in more ways than one) Australian accent (this is how it must have felt listening to the Streets in Britain). Afterwards I listened to Australian hip hop on the radio for months. But only this made it to the big time; mainstream radio stuck with Australian Idol and the diminishing returns of past stars.
Dr Who on Holiday (2005) by Dean Gray
Mashups deserve greater recognition. I’ve heard many great mashups this decade and this (an Oz/US collaboration) is the greatest. The Bush/Dalek juxtaposition sends chills down my spine. I particularly like the subtlety of not just mashing together Green Day’s Holiday and the Timelords’ Doctorin’ the TARDIS, but also going back to the latter’s source of Gary Glitter’s Rock and Roll part 2. There’s a lot that Green Day and Murray Gold could learn from this song.
The Beekeeper (2005) by Tori Amos
Tori’s uncanny adaptation of Death: The Time of Your Life. Beautiful work by Amos on the Hammond, bass from Evans, Chamberlain on the drums, squelchy guitar bits from Aladdin…
Archangel (2007) by Burial
I heard it on the internet and dismissed it, then encountered it being pumped to the street from an Asian cafe, whereafter it stayed with me, distorted sounds repeating on me. I can’t exactly discern what dubstep is from other electronic microgenres, but “hauntological” is a better label for this.
Heartbroken (2007) by T2, featuring Jodie Aysha
Electronica does itself a disservice with too many microgenres, but somehow I found myself listening to a set of mixtapes featuring bassline, and fell in love with it. Unlike most dance music, I could listen to this stuff all day long. The speed and layering, the distinctive computer-generated bass, the sped-up female vocals. It’s a crime that there’s been no official albums out of this scene, though this awesome single reached #2 in the British charts.
Piece Of Me (2007) by Britney Spears
Here’s the ultimate response to those Kylie and Beyonce signals I mentioned earlier. On the one hand, Britney’s damaged-affect voice is just a building block to be used by the producers. On the other hand, this is a raw assertion of self as subject. She’s her own subject and ours too, it’s all tricky stuff, and handled perfectly here. For this song she is the most rock act of the decade.
Sorry You’re Not A Winner (2007) by Enter Shikari
The only piece of actual rock on this list. Instead of retreating into the past, Enter Shikari follow in the footsteps of nu metal, beefing up the metal-influenced content. I spent the middle years of this decade wishing for something like this outside the local Melbourne scene. And I got this. But only this. (Pink, for instance, put out some good rock too—Sober is particularly good—but she’s working with established forms in a way that doesn’t distinguish her enough from the decade’s regressive background to make it on this list.)
The Way I Are (2007) by Timbaland, featuring Keri Hilson & DOE
I heard this on So You Think You Can Dance, the only television show to really respect music this decade. Using two singers is probably what seals the deal and makes this stand out from similar songs. I love how the two vocals and all the sounds weave in and out of each other.
Umbrella (2007) by Rihanna
No one sings of the pathology of love like Rihanna. It can be a disease or an addiction. Even when, as here, she sings of lyrically straightforward love, she turns it away from notions of naive choice. She has a beautiful voice, but instead of indulging in mellifluous tones or melisma she offers something that’s almost bored or robotic. The key there is almost. She walks that modern line between chance and nihilism. We are compelled but we choose every minute of it. She has a serial killer’s delivery and she’s loved like Dexter. This is the perfect complement to Hey Ya and comes in a (very close) second place for best song of the decade.
Out of 17 songs…
9.5 songs from the United States, 4 from the United Kingdom, 2.5 from Australia, and 1 from France.
9 songs featuring women, 7 featuring people of colour.
4 songs from 2000 and another 2 from 2001… these are songs that I might call “90s music”… but then the 90s start with a lot of “80s rock”, so let’s call it even…
A big spike in 2007 with 6 songs. I feel like the zeitgeist took pity on me and gave me a gift.
So that’s my story. That’s my 2000s. Producers, complexity, postmodernism, strange sounds, flattened affect, energy and the female libido—versus—reformations, revivals, Australian Idol, and MOR. Unfortunately the former, Cnut-like, is a taker of arms against the latter’s sea of troubles. I don’t blame bad taste or failing talent or reduced possibility for the situation. I just think that we are no longer interested in music as an ends, or music as a means to something transcendent. Our focus is elsewhere. Fair enough. It’s a medium that didn’t exist sixty years ago and nothing lasts forever. But I will be sad to see it go.
If it is as I say. Perhaps you think differently. What’s your story?