040. “Ms. Jackson” Outkast (2000)
Outkast truly are hip hop’s dynamic duo, and their hit “Ms. Jackson” is the kind of song that exemplifies the genius they embody when they get together. The track is a polite plea for forgiveness and understanding that is riddled with southern charm, but not from the protagonist’s baby’s mama but his “baby’s mama’s mama.” With heralding synths and splashes of spitfire raps and bright melodies, it’s that chorus that lingers on in an incredible way.
039. “Music” Madonna (2000)
When Madonna entered into her third decade as the Queen of Pop, she threw on a cowgirl hat and expectedly took the bull by the horns. “Music” was the kind of pop song no one had ever heard before. Was it electro pop? Was it hip hop? And all the while she was dressed up for a full on country throwback! Of course it all worked flawlessly, and the song instantly joined her elite line up of undeniable classics. This is forward-thinking pop at its finest.
038. “She Wants To Move” N.E.R.D. (2004)
Pharrell Williams was one of the decade’s hottest commodities as a producer, songwriter, and featured guest, but his own material was surprisingly sparse. However, his group N.E.R.D. crafted one hell of a masterpiece in the form of “She Wants To Move.” The song is awesomely enormous and bold with blistering electric guitar, driving bass, a beat that walks the line between rock and hip hop, and Pharrell’s affected vocals. It’s a groovy, funky rock triumph for pop music.
037. “Kids” MGMT (2007)
There just aren’t enough adjectives to properly describe MGMT’s sound, but one listen to their single “Kids,” the third lifted from their debut Oracular Spectacular, and it all makes sense. The track has an effortless indie pop vibe built around a repeated progression whose launching pad is a synth hook the 80s are clearly envious of. It just oozes some sort of paradoxical melancholy jubilation that all you can do is throw your arms up in the air and emote.
036. “Fallin'” Alicia Keys (2001)
Very few artists get to sit on top of the charts and have critics simultaneously wetting themselves with their debut single, but Alicia Keys isn’t just anybody. “Fallin'” is the kind of song that timelessly captures the essence of soul without having to sacrifice any commerciality. Between a tight drum look, sparkling piano, easily memorable hook, and gospel-fused climax, the song is the perfect R&B offering for the pop charts you could ever imagine.
035. “Since U Been Gone” Kelly Clarkson (2004)
The original American Idol herself, Kelly Clarkson, was one of the show’s few alumni to properly live up to the title, and there was no bigger moment for her to revel in it than “Since U Been Gone.” The Max Martin and Dr. Luke penned/produced pop rock hit is a triumph for an otherwise lackluster genre that will forever go down as a classic. When it explodes into the chorus, there is just no way to avoid getting swept away by it’s tidal force of awesomeness.
034. “All These Things That I’ve Done” The Killers (2004)
It takes one listen to the Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done” to know it’s a classic designed to be an epic setlist closer. The song builds and builds through a series of now-textbook belted Brandon Flowers melodies, but it’s when everything comes to a stop and the immortal “I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier” hook kicks in only to grow into an even bigger, chilling climax. The track lives on as one of the greatest concert sing-alongs in rock history.
033. “B.O.B.” Outkast (2000)
“B.O.B.” (short for “Bombs Over Baghdad”) was Outkast’s statement that rap and hip hop didn’t have to be so typical anymore. The track features everything from a Hendrix-inspired screeching guitar to anthemic gospel hooks that are all laid on top of one of the most frenzied beats imaginable. It moves so fast that there’s no time to stop and think, and instinct is always going to drive us to move crazily and love it. It’s like church.
032. “The Rising” Bruce Springsteen (2002)
If there was one American artist we could all agree had the authority to properly capture the sentiment surrounding the attacks on September 11, it was Bruce Springsteen. His 2002 single “The Rising” was the kind of anthem only the Boss could craft, but it was unlike any of his previous powerful rallies. The track itself is joyously liberating and evokes everything from sadness to pride to, most importantly at the time, hope without having to directly reference the attacks.
031. “Don’t Know Why” Norah Jones (2002)
When Norah Jones took us back to basics on her classic debut Come Away With Me, we were all reminded of how great music could still be with all of the excess stripped away. Her first single, the jazzy and bluesy “Don’t Know Why” gave pop music a run for its money. The instruments are so crisp that you’d almost believe you were sitting in some obscure jazz club, but Jones’ superb voice elevates the song to genius status.
030. “Beautiful Day” U2 (2000)
Leave it to U2 to crank out a behemoth stadium anthem twenty years into their career that trumped their entire selection. “Beautiful Day” is the the musical definition of lightning in a bottle when that chorus kicks in. As Bono effortlessly showcases his range as a vocalist, it’s the Edge’s searing guitar, Adam Clayton’s thumping bass, and especially Larry Mullen’s booming drums that work together to create a wall of sound Phil Spector would even envy.
029. “Pyramid Song” Radiohead (2001)
By 2001, if you didn’t know Radiohead were masters at taking alternative rock to its most experimental boundaries without having to sacrifice their musical integrity, then you were sorrily detached. Their first chilling single lifted from Amnesiac, “Pyramid Song,” was the kind of song that resonated instantaneously. With looping piano chords that leave so much space for Thom Yorke to fill with his haunting voice (which he obviously does,) it just drips of brilliance.
028. “Last Nite” The Strokes (2001)
The Strokes’ “Last Night” is the kind of song that will forever define a generation. Between a melody so grand you can almost hear hundreds of thousands of fans singing along in your head and an almost empty guitar sound that feels like it was taken right out of the garage, the track is an undeniable anthem. By keeping it simple and bouncy, the band was really able to let their charisma do all of the work, and it led them to create a classic.
027. “Poker Face” Lady Gaga (2008)
Upon her arrival (from God knows what planet,) Lady Gaga had literally everyone’s attention with her outlandish fashion, but she was changing pop music. Her second international single “Poker Face” was the curveball of the decade that made everything stop and shift direction. The euphemistic lyrics dazzle in the limelight of dancy synths and clever hooks that come together in such an awe inspiring way that pop hasn’t been the same since.
026. “Take Me Out” Franz Ferdinand (2004)
Scottish newcomers Franz Ferdinand managed to capture everything there ever was to love about post punk and dance rock, add a modern twist, and turn alternative rock on its head with their single “Take Me Out.” The guitars on the track are so mind-blowing that the dancy beat and bassline, which are both stellar in their own right, are reduced to mere binding agents to hold it all together. And, oh yeah, the track is deliriously catchy from start to finish.
025. “Cry Me A River” Justin Timberlake (2002)
Justin Timberlake and Timbaland are truly a pairing that will go down in pop history. Ripely picked right from JT’s debut solo album, “Cry Me A River” was the tour de force that established him as an artist we could all take seriously. The funk/R&B ballad is driven by beatbox percussion, emotive strings, and (of course) stellar production, but it’s Justin’s unbelievable faucetto that moves from catchy hook to catchy hook that makes it so iconic and, well, perfect.
024. “Umbrella” Rihanna featuring Jay-Z (2007)
“Umbrella” is the track that will always define Rihanna’s overly-successful career, and she should feel quite good about that. Kicking off with a verse from Jay-Z, it’s captivating right from the beginning, but what it manages to grow into is an atypical pop juggernaut that soars above the rest. Not only is the progression masterful, but the stacked, futuristic production allows space for RiRi to engagingly elongate the title into an obscene amount of syllables.
023. “Hurt” Johnny Cash (2003)
Who else but the incomparable Johnny Cash could take an industrial rock anthem and ingeniously transform it into a simple country lament? With his cover of Nine Inch Nail’s “Hurt,” the Man in Black reflectively captures the beauty of the track in his last true classic. The last minute of the track painfully crescendos into something headed towards climactic, but abruptly tails off leaving us with a sense of longing; it’s one of the decade’s greatest moments captured on record.
022. “Gold Digger” Kanye West featuring Jamie Foxx (2005)
Who knows how to craft an authoritative, bold hip hop record catchy enough for radio to obsess over better than Kanye West? His “Gold Digger” was instantly welcomed as a classic and has never looked back since. There are more zingers stuck in there than anyone probably realizes, but that’s only because we’re too busy getting lost in that infectious beat. West’s most genius move, though, was brining in Jamie Foxx to carbon copy an interpolation of Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman.”
021. “Not Ready To Make Nice” Dixie Chicks (2006)
The Dixie Chicks may be country megastars, but sometimes making a song that matters doesn’t need to be genre-focused. Their 2006 masterpiece “Not Ready To Make Nice” paired the ladies with producer Rick Rubin, and together they made a statement. The bitter, angry, but empowering tune swirls with enormous strings, roars with guitar, and certainly twangs with a country flair, and when that chorus kicks in, it lands right in your gut.