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50 songs that defined the noughties (2000s)

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Back in September, the Telegraph published its list of the 100 songs that defined the noughties. Reading through it, I found myself nodding in agreement at times and throwing my arms up in shock and disapproval at others.

A few days ago I tweeted the story to my followers, asking them for the songs that had defined their decade. After a few days work, I’ve come up with 50 of the songs that have defined my decade. These are the songs that, in my opinion, tell the story of the noughties—from 2000 to 2009—and will be remembered for years to come, whether because of their artistry, their controversy, or their relevance.

A few things to remember about my list:

  • I grew up with music from both the US and UK, so the list will reflect that fact.  This means you may not have heard of some of these songs.  If not, I highly suggest you listen to them.
  • This list is by no means authoritative or complete.  Choosing 50 songs of that define a decade is nearly impossible, as everybody’s songs are colored by their own experiences.  I’m no music critic–just a fan–so keep that in mind.
  • The songs are grouped by years, but that’s it; there is no ranking, no rhyme or reason why songs are ordered the way they are.
  • The annotations are accurate, as I have done my research.
  • Not all songs on here are songs I necessarily enjoy, but may be songs that have simply impacted pop culture in general.
  • I tried to only pick one song from an artist–the exception being Justin Timberlake, who appears on the list as a member of *NSync and later as a solo artist.  If I hadn’t, for example, Leona Lewis’s cover of Run would have made the list, as would have Everytime by Britney Spears
  • I tried to keep it to five songs per year, but as you’ll see, this didn’t completely work.
  • I highly encourage you to debate my choices, comment with your own, and compile your own list.  The more music we can remember, the better off all our playlists will be!

With that, I give you my top 50 songs of the 2000s.

“Bye, Bye, Bye” by *Nsync

A catchy song about breaking loose of a no good lover, it garnered the boyband a Grammy nod for Record of the Year and is arguably their most memorable song.

“Wonderful” by Everclear
“Please don’t tell me everything is wonderful now…” sings a boy to his emotionally absent parents. This song got me through the darkest hours of my life.

Britney Spears in her iconic music video for "Oops!... I Did it Again"

“Oops!… I Did it Again” by Britney Spears
The lead single from Britney’s sophomore album, it remains one of the most infectious pop songs of the past 30 years.

“I Hope You Dance” by Leann Womack
Still Womack’s only number one hit, “I Hope You Dance” was—and still is—played at high school graduations across America.


“Island in the Sun” by Weezer

Though it never cracked the Billboard Hot 100 in the US and only charted at 31 in the UK, “Island in the Sun” proved that Weezer was still “hip, hip” and provided some musical escapism in the aftermath of 9/11.

“Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)?” by Alan Jackson
It’s impossible to discuss 2001 in music with out mentioning Alan Jackson’s moving tribute to the 9/11 attacks. Eight years later, it is still the most poignant song to be written about that day.

“Fallin’” by Alicia Keys
Establishing Keys as the preeminent songwriter of our generation, “Fallin’” captured the 19 year old the Grammy for Song of the Year.

“Ms. Jackson” by OutKast
Not their biggest hit, but for a generation of high school students, “Ms. Jackson” provided a sick beat and a warning about the risks of teenage pregnancy. It also foreshadowed the great work OutKast would produce later in the decade.


“I’m With You” by Avil Lavigne
Lavigne’s work leaves much to be desired, but there’s no denying the emotions behind her lyrics and vocals in this piece, which may epitomize the year between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq.

“Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera
Released on Christmas Eve, “Beautiful” is arguably Aguilera’s most artistic moment—and the video doubtlessly her most daring. A song that inspired all those “othered” by society.

“Clocks” by Coldplay
It captured the Record of the Year Grammy for Coldplay. More importantly, it was heard in practically every film trailer and television show for the next two years, and it has one of the most memorable melodies of any song this decade.

“Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)” by Toby Keith

If Alan Jackson penned a moving tribute to 9/11, Toby Keith penned a shameful rallying cry for revenge against… well, he never really figured that part out. Still, even to this day, something about this song compels me to listen.

“Unchained Melody” by Gareth Gates
Admittedly more of a personal choice than anything, for a great number of Millennials (especially those from the UK), Gareth Gates is inexplicably connected with their adolescence.


“Miss Independent” by Kelly Clarkson

The song that established Clarkson—the first
American Idol—as more than a one-hit wonder, she showed the world that she would be around for years to come.

“Hurt” by Johnny Cash
Daring to cross genres and defy stereotypes, “Hurt” introduced Cash—and his amazing collection of songs—to a new generation of fans. It’s also one of the most moving songs of the decade, made all the more jarring because of the parallels with Cash’s own booze-soaked life.

“Mad World” by Gary Jules
Surprising everyone by taking the Christmas number one on the British charts, Jules’ version is arguably the most moving rendition of this song—including the original.

“American Life” by Madonna
Released on the heels of the invasion of Iraq, Madonna coupled it with a video so controversial even she decided to reshoot it. No song defines the Bush years better, proving even in a new century, Madge is still relevant.

“Leave Right Now” by Will Young
The first Idol ever—anywhere—produced one of the most emotional farewell songs in years.


“What Became of the Likely Lads” by the Libertines

As Pete Doherty’s life spun out of control, he penned this lament about a friendship lost. (In this case, with fellow Libertine Carl Barat.) Fittingly, though sadly, it was the group’s last single.

“She Will Be Loved” by Maroon 5
Not Maroon 5’s biggest hit, though possibly their most memorable, “She Will Be Loved” defined my first year of college.

“Redneck Woman” Gretchen Wilson
Say what you will about Gretchen Wilson, but “Redneck Woman” introduced Nashville to the Musik Mafia and brought about a renaissance in country music.

Brandon Flowers of The Killers from their video for "Mr. Brightside," one of the biggest hits of 2004

“Mr. Brightside” by the Killers
Las Vegas’ best resurrects glam rock. Enough said. Though not the first single from the Killers, “Mr. Brightside” is the song that cemented their place in the pantheon of noughties rockers.

“If Heartaches Had Wings” by Rhonda Vincent
You’ve probably never heard of this song, about a woman full of regrets, and that’s okay. Still, it is the best bluegrass song of the decade. Plus, the video stars Miley Cyrus before she was Miley Cyrus.


“Gold Digger” by Kanye West
Kanye is one of the most controversial artists of the decade (to put it mildly), but “Gold Digger” was one of the biggest songs of the year. And rightly so, as it’s just as catchy as the rest of West’s work.

“Baby Girl” by Sugarland
Though released in 2004, Sugarland’s debut single didn’t climb the charts until early 2005, inaugurating lead vocalist Jennifer Nettles as the newest diva in the country music pantheon. On a personal note, the lyrics to this song was the first text message my grandparents ever received; I sent it to them requesting money.

“I’m ‘n Luv (Wit a Stripper)” by T-Pain ft Mike Jones
Admit it—you were singing along with the rest of us.

“Wake Me Up When September Ends” by Green Day
A song about the death of Billy Joe Armstrong’s father, the video was yet another slap in the face of the Bush administration by the preeminent rockers of the day. The song struck a nerve with a nation growing weary of war.

“You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt
Blunt’s debut single may have made it hard to believe he is a former soldier, but it introduced him as one of the sappiest crooners of the decade.

“SexyBack” by Justin Timberlake
We didn’t even know sexy had left until Timberlake told us so. With that voice and those beats, though, we believed him.

“Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol
One of the most romantic songs of the decade, this was the track that finally propelled Snow Patrol to mainstream American success.

“Rehab” by Amy Winehouse
Besides resurrecting 1960s soul, Winehouse’s salute to alcoholism and broken hearts established her as one of the most talented—and tragic—stars of the decade.

“I’m Not Ready to Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks
After being shunned—and threatened—by country music fans for speaking out against the Iraq War in 2003, Natalie Maines and the Dixie Chicks came back with a vengeance, speaking for disgruntled progressives everywhere and nabbing five Grammys in the process.

“Last Request” by Paolo Nutini
The first single released from Nutini’s inaugural effort, this aching plea for one last night with a lover broke hearts across Britain. Though he’s struggled to find mainstream success in the US, “Last Request” has still managed to win over countless Yanks.


“Rule the World” by Take That
A perfect song to accompany acclaimed fantasy film Stardust, “Rule the World” helped reestablish Take That as a premier British band—and is the song I will dance to at my wedding.

“Bleeding Love” by Leona Lewis
The biggest thing to come out of a television talent show on either side of the Atlantic, Leona Lewis scored a massive hit with her debut single, penned by Ryan Tedder and Jesse McCartney. Arguably the most memorable song of the decade, “Bleeding Love” established Lewis as the definitive diva of her generation, thrusting her into the same league as Whitney, Celine, and Mariah. (Note: Yes, it didn’t come out in the US until 2008, but it was a massive hit in the UK in the autumn of 2007—which is when I first heard it.)

“Umbrella” by Rhianna

Rhianna's "Umbrella" was the defining song of summer 2007

An annoying but catchy tribute to unyielding friendship, with this song Rhianna told the world she wasn’t going anywhere. Plus, as the Telegraph pointed out, it provided the perfect soundtrack for a rain-soaked summer.

“Grace Kelly” by Mika
You can’t be faulted if, upon first listen, you thought someone had resurrected Freddie Mercury. With “Grace Kelly,” Mika helped usher in the era of wonky pop.

“With Every Heartbeat” by Robyn
Heartbreaking and infectious, Robyn proved that the Scandinavians are still better at making quality pop records than we are.

“Flourescent Adolescent” by the Arctic Monkeys
Not their biggest hit, and perhaps not even their best song, but “Flourescent Adolescent” still managed to define 2007 for those who rebelled against the previous five songs. Plus, with lyrics like “everything’s in order in a black hole/nothing seems as pretty as the past though/That Bloody Mary’s lacking in Tabasco/Remember when you used to be a rascal?” it was the perfect accompaniment to the onset of the Great Recession.


“Love Story” by Taylor Swift
Swift’s biggest single up to that point, “Love Story” helped propel her out of Nashville and introduce her to an international audience. It also proved Swift as one helluva songwriter.

“No Air” by Jordin Sparks ft Chris Brown
The best duet of the decade, hands down. Though Chris Brown is now more infamous for domestic violence than famous for his music, the blended vocals of Sparks and Brown illustrate why they’re both young stars on the rise.

“I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry
Offensive to the gay community or an innocent anthem for bicuriosity? Either way, “I Kissed a Girl” was the song of summer 2008 and propelled Perry to stardom.

“My President” by Young Jeezy
Never a huge hit, but there is something special in remembering the election of America’s first black president—a defining moment not just of the noughties, but of modern history. This song is the celebration of a milestone preceded by centuries of struggle.

“Paper Planes” by MIA
No song better describes Britain’s and America’s irrational fear of brown people than does this anthem for immigrants and oppressed minorities everywhere. The gunshots and ringing cash registers only serve to make the song all the more memorable—and relevant.

Beyonce's video for "Single Ladies" is one of the most iconic of the decade. Just as Kanye West.

“Single Ladies” by Beyonce
God, this song is annoying, but Kanye was right—Beyonce
did have one of the best videos of all time. Besides, you have to admit, it’s catchy as hell.

“Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus

If the noughties defined Miley Cyrus, Miley Cyrus defined the noughties. Surprising, well, everybody, Cyrus managed to actually produce a quality pop record that, probably unintentionally, embodied the optimism of youth in the Obama era.

“TikTok” by Ke$ha
If you haven’t heard this song yet, go listen. I don’t know what the future has in store for Ke$ha, but this is one of the best night-out-on-the-town songs to come along in years.

“Never Forget You” by the Noisettes
Sure, Duffy’s throwback to 60’s soul is more successful, but nobody, except maybe Winehouse, can touch the artistry of Shingai Shoniwa.

“Just Dance” by Lady GaGa
When I heard this song on the radio in January, I told my best friend it was the first song that made me feel like it was 2009. Turns out, 2009 was the year of GaGa. If the forecast “Just Dance” provides is any indication, the teens will be dominated by Lady GaGa.

“Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum
An understated, underappreciated single from an underrated group, Lady Antebellum proves they are the future of country music with “Need You Now.” An aching song about longing for an old flame, it’s the best song Nashville has had to offer in 2009.


Why the National Equality March was a success

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By the time I got home Monday morning, I was totally exhausted, having driven the nearly 700 miles from DC back to BG the night before.  However, the sheer magic of the day before was still with me, and I couldn’t help but forget how I had felt looking up at the flag flying over Capitol Hill.  “This,” I thought, “is America.”  Looking around me, I saw people of all races, all ethnicities—men and women from all 50 states marching together in the name of equality.  That was the magic and beauty of Sunday’s National Equality March.

That’s a nice feeling to have, considering I was skeptical, to say the least, when the march was first proposed by David Mixner and Cleve Jones back in May.  Don’t get me wrong, I love big dramatic displays, and this march certainly had all the pageantry one could hope for.  But I didn’t think it was necessarily pragmatic.  Would they come?  Sure.  I mean, Mixner and Jones are the closest our movement has to elder statesmen, and the youth (myself included) were and are restless with the lack of progress being made, our passions being ignited or reignited following Prop 8.  But was a massive march on Washington really going to make a political or strategic difference?equality

In reflecting on the weekend, the short answer is “no.”  Congress wasn’t in session, they’re preoccupied with healthcare reform, and President Obama, while giving a lovely speech to the Human Rights Campaign on Saturday, still hasn’t acted on any of his promises and refuses to lay out a timeline for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, among other issues.  Yes, the Matthew Shepherd Act has inched closer to passage, and while welcome news, it is more an attempt to placate LGBT activists than anything.

Still, the march was a success.  Even if it doesn’t have direct political or legal implications for the gay community, it still did one important thing: it motivated and inspired millions.  Many of us, though passionate about the movement, have been pretty discouraged.  How could we not?  Marriage amendments in 37 states, including California thanks to Prop 8; no federal employment nondiscrimination law; violence and harassment in schools and workplaces; and no organized, cohesive movement pushing to change this.  We’ve seen our supposed leaders bickering over semantics and tactics and even duking it out for credit and glory, all the while forgetting this new generation.

I’ve been actively involved in the struggle for LGBT equality since 2004, when Kentucky passed its odious anti-marriage amendment.  Soon after, the gay movement in Kentucky fell apart, to put it nicely.  The leadership began shirking their responsibilities and a bunch of college students, including myself, really took up the mantle of leadership.  When Jason Johnson was expelled for being gay by the University of the Cumberlands in 2006, it was the Kentucky Collegiate Coalition, led by students from all over Kentucky, which took up the cause and staged the protest.  It was KCC that had conference calls in consultation with GLAAD.  Yes, the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, our statewide equality lobby, sprung for hotel rooms and “officially” cosponsored the rally with us, but it was Kentucky college students that led the movement against the University of the Cumberlands receiving public funds.

But eventually, we got burned out.  With no real support coming from the national organizations, which seemed unable to be bothered with a flyover state, and with our state organizations disintegrating into bickering and catty gay drama, the college students didn’t know where to go.  I’ll be the first to say that at 20 years old I was not prepared to be one of the statewide gay leaders.  The pressure got too much, and many of us simply moved on to other projects.  We lost a lot of bright young gay people to the environmental lobby, education lobby, and other progressive causes.  That’s not to diminish the importance of these other causes, but we need our best and brightest working for our equality, too.

The burnout experienced by many of us from 2004-2006 was replaced by rage and resolve after Prop 8.  We were aching for a way to involve ourselves, to be proactive, and to take this fight “out of the bars and into the streets.”  Prop 8 was a poorly run campaign, and the state leaders in California hardly deserve to be labeled as such.  The same seems to be true for most states.  The national organizations, on the other hand, took far too cautious an approach.  Perhaps they’ve been inside the beltway too long, but they are much more interested in playing the political game in DC than doing much of anything on the ground in a state like Washington, Maine, and certainly not Kentucky.

My generation—the Millennials—are a generation of “now.”  We’re not used to waiting.  If I want to know what my best friend is doing, I’ll text her.  If I want to hear Leona Lewis’s new song, I can download it on iTunes without leaving my bedroom.  If I want to read the latest news on Darfur, there are countless websites with endless updates.  We want things when we want them, and in our minds, patience isn’t a virtue—it’s unnecessary.

HRC, GLAAD, and the countless other organizations don’t seem to get this.  They counsel patience—patience with state laws, patience with Congress, patience with President Obama.  But patience isn’t a virtue learned by my generation, and in this case, it serves us well.  For we can ill afford to be patient any longer.  Not when our brothers and sisters are suffering.  Not when we are suffering.

Prop 8 woke up the gay community, especially Millennials, to the reality that equality doesn’t just happen.  We’re going to have to fight for it.  I think that was the point of the National Equality March.  It was to show the world that we’ve been awakened.  We get it now.

rainbow I’ve heard it said that this weekend was the passing of the torch.  The old guard has handed off the reins of the movement to a new generation of leaders, in our 20s and 30s, who are going to now do things our way.  I don’t know if this will happen right away, but I definitely think my generation is going to demand more of a presence at the table.  We want our voices heard, and our elders are going to have to listen.  Whether they will do this willingly is yet to be known.
What I do know, though, is what was evident in the eyes of the young college students I traveled with.  Yes, they went for Lady Gaga.  Yes, they went to be a part of history.  But something happened while they were there.  I saw in them an awakening, an understanding, a deeply personal connection forged to their cause and their identity.  I saw the tenacity of their convictions in their eyes, heard the resolve of their commitments in their chants, and felt their deepened understanding of the stakes and the movement.  They get it.

This is why the National Equality March was a success.  For the first time, the Millennials were given an avenue to show what they have to offer our movement, and I have to say, we showed everyone else up.  Where the national leaders have been content to wait, the Millennials descended on DC to show that we will wait no longer.  It’s not our forte.  We don’t even like to wait for espresso, so why would we wait for equality?  It’s true that the march may not change the hearts and minds of politicians.  But it did something just as important: it opened and inspired the hearts and minds of LGBT youth.

Written by skylarjordan

October 13, 2009 at 5:25 pm