So you thought we were done discussing the music of the decade? Well, think again. We didn’t get to what is arguably the most important list of all: The Best Songs of the Decade. When Tim introduced Aught Lang Syne last week, he discussed how certain cultural events will always be linked to events in our lives. Songs may be the best example of this phenomenon. Unlike albums or even music videos, which are generally experienced individually, we tend to listen to songs in groups: They’re on the playlists at the parties we go to; they’re in the background of the bars we drink in and the restaurants we eat at; they’re the songs we dance to when we go to clubs; they’re on the radio when we take road trips. In short, they are the soundtrack of our memory. These are the songs that we will inevitably remember when we think of the Aughts.
Of course, out cultural memory does not always have the best taste: It will probably be impossible to remember the Aughts and not think of the Black Eyed Peas, but God knows I’ll try. What follows, then, is not an attempt to capture the most popular, memorable, or iconic songs of the decade; it is merely a list of the 25 Best Songs. Nevertheless, it is often difficult–and generally undesirable–to dissociate a song from the positive memories of the context in which you heard it. So even without actively trying to incorporate these qualities, the Best Songs of the Decade will inevitably include some of the Most Popular, Most Memorable and Most Iconic.
Anyway, on with the list: Continue reading »
I’ve never been a big fan of Kanye West. I generally think he’s overrated,* and I find his antics off-putting. None of his big singles—“Jesus Walks,” “Through the Wire,” “Gold Digger”—ever really resonated with me; I didn’t really think they were bad, but I never went out of my way to listen to them (not that I ever had to). But when I first heard “Stronger,” I remember thinking that West had trapped some kind of “cultural sound” in a bottle (I didn’t think it in those words, exactly; it was probably something more like This song is awesome!). “Stronger” was the kind of “cutting edge” song that sounded both ahead of its time and of the moment.
*Truthfully, this impression is mainly of College Dropout, which I really didn’t like. Most of his work since that is more or less accurately rated.
Rock music stopped being the most interesting genre of pop music at least ten years ago. This isn’t to say that there are no more good rock and roll bands, or that rock music has nowhere left to develop—both of these statements are flatly false—but simply that the dominant sounds of popular culture were not rock and roll this decade. Part of this is rock’s own fault: Watch a movie from that late 1990s and you’ll hear what a lot of “rock” sounded like then—a lot of Third Eye Blind, Sixpence None the Richer, Vertical Horizon, and, of course, Barenaked Ladies. Not exactly riveting stuff.
But even more of it had to do with the flourishing of other genres, most notably rap and hip hop. Almost every artist to get that elusive combination of commercial and critical success this decade was working within those genres: Jay-Z, Kanye, Eminem, 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, Usher, etc. The only rock bands to approach the success of those acts in the 2000s were Coldplay and Green Day…and those bands fucking suck. Continue reading »