NPR’s Songs of the Decade, From Boy Bands to ‘Single Ladies’

Becky Bain | November 23, 2009 2:48 pm

You already know the end of the year/decade will bring no shortage of best-of lists from perfectly nice people who still think it’s all about the Strokes or Neko Case. But the most interesting decade-in-review feature we’ve seen yet isn’t a countdown—it’s just a smart look back at the biggest hits of the decade by the whiz kids over at NPR.

For the last two weeks, the music crew that puts together NPR’s Song of the Day segment, has taken a smart look back at the best and brightest in pop smashes from the aughts – one song and one year at a time. Check out their ten picks for the songs that summed up the 00’s, complete with a brief write-up (full song-by-song analysis can be seen at the source). Apologies to those with an aversion to Britney Spears and Idol alumni: this just wasn’t your time.

2009: “Single Ladies” – Beyoncé “Beyoncé has given us, finally, a dance craze that requires little more than the deployment of jazz hands with a wrist twist, thus inspiring countless episodes of behind-the-wheel above-the-waist breakdowns and an unfortunate number of full-body dance-floor takeovers. Not least because she had one of the best videos of all time.”

2008: “Teardrops on My Guitar” – Taylor Swift “During a decade in which teenagers learned to express the most intimate details of their lives through social media, it’s nice to know that their confessions can still be universalized in an age-old tool of expression: the three-minute pop song.”

2007: “Umbrella” – Rihanna “‘Umbrella’ reads at first as ineffably strange, metaphorically obvious, darkly futuristic… here, [Rihanna]’s piercing yet even-keeled alto plays the role so well that we hardly notice its profound lyrical triteness.”

2006: “Crazy” – Gnarls Barkley “Built around a Spaghetti Western sample, the band’s first single… was an instant viral hit. For what seemed like years, the song wound up hanging over the popular consciousness like a wistful being bearing its soul.”

2005: “Since U Been Gone” – Kelly Clarkson “[Kelly] belts out one of the decade’s finest pop anthems, following a familiar formula — jilted ex-girlfriend indignantly declares independence — but infusing it with energy, charisma and full-throated intensity. Sure, the over-the-top, loud-louder-loudest production helps. But it’s an unmistakably great pop-rock song, thanks most of all to an unmistakably great pop-rock singer.”

2004: “Toxic” – Britney Spears “‘Toxic’ is as addictive as the ‘poison paradise’ it imbibes. The buzzing, rockabilly twang and now-classic four-note string interludes still sound fresh and futuristic. Spears’ breathy vocals grapple perilously and pleasurably.”

2003: “In Da Club” – 50 Cent “The beat which drives “In Da Club” could fairly be called harsh or elegantly spare; it sounds as if it were built out of Duplos and the most Midi handclaps ever. Naturally, it helped set off the ringtone craze, becoming so ubiquitous that just two years later, it was a tongue-in-cheek, kind of retro move to still have it vibrating the table when your mom called.”

2002: “The Middle” – Jimmy Eat World “It was a high-school outcast’s anthem with a start-stop hook that hiccuped its way through the chorus; who could resist? The accompanying music video even encouraged fully clothed non-conformity in a sea of underwear-clad young people. (Seriously.)”

2001: “So Fresh, So Clean” – OutKast “Dre and Big Boi intermingle not only their points of view in each verse, but also attempt to unpack the differences between commercial gangsta rap and more socially conscious hip-hop.”

2000: “Bye Bye Bye” – ‘N Sync “‘Bye Bye Bye'” demonstrates that, while trends come and go, a propulsive and almost demonically infectious pop tune can still sear itself into a listener’s memory with only the slightest provocation. Just referencing that chorus — ‘It ain’t no lie / Baby, bye bye bye’ — is enough to drill the song into all nearby skulls for hours, if not days.”

There’s no denying that many of the songs on this list were merely the most ubiquitous hits for the years in which they were released—but, sorry Taylor Swift, 2008 totally belonged to Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl.” (Taylor had a darn good ’09, of course, and she just might take the cake in 2010, though, if the myriad of awards bestowed upon her this year are any indication.) Read the full commentary of each track at NPR and relive the Noughties all over again.