Long ago, I came to grips with the fact that when it comes to pop music, and admittedly probably a lot of other things too (but don’t pile on more at a time when I’m so obviously vulnerable), I am no longer cool. And while I understand that there are a bevy of available services that could readily help me with this problem for a reasonable fee (or more than that, #Tidal4All), my music of choice today still comes direct from my carefully constructed “Shake Ya Tailfeather” Pandora station, which is funny because 1) it means that I rely on a song off the Bad Boys II soundtrack, which apparently intentionally and willingly featured solo tracks from Freeway and Loon, to curate my musical tastes and 2) I still use Pandora in 2015, which really only further strengthens the thesis that, again, I am not cool.
While my devotion to the best of big-budget Will Smith vehicles may put me firmly out of touch with what the kids listen to these days, it also means that my appreciation for Jermaine Dupri-produced R&B crossover hits, crunk-rap one-hit wonders, Diddy ad libs, vaguely Middle Eastern-sounding Timbaland beats, and other staples of the mid-2000s music scene remains as fervent as ever. Fortunately, Billboard apparently has a very generous maintenance policy when it comes to its chart history; if you go to the current chart and tweak the dates in the URL, in fact, you can call up any weekly top 100 chart that your heart desires. Thanks to this and the magic of YouTube and Vevo, I have, in a last-ditch effort to savor what little remains of my affiliation with relevant pop music, gone through the top 20 songs as they stood ten years ago today. I laughed, I cried, and I went ad-lib for ad-lib with Diddy. Let’s see what we got.
- 50 Cent, “Candy Shop.” Candy Shop! Really? That’s been the reaction of everyone (both people) with whom I’ve shared this thus far. I was little shocked at first to see that this one was ever so high — this wouldn’t even come close to my top 10 Fiddy songs (if you insist: 10. “Straight To The Bank,” 9. “OK You’re Right,” 8. “I Get Money,” 7. “Wanksta,” 6. “If I Can’t,” 5. “Patiently Waiting,” 4. “Disco Inferno,” 3. “Window Shopper,” 2. “In Da Club,” 1. “Outta Control (Remix)” feat. Mobb Deep; “Magic Stick” need not apply). Upon further reflection I vaguely and begrudgingly recall it being huge, which was actually a major coup for 50 at the time because he was just entering the stage of his career where he was trying to move away from making cookie-cutter gangster rap songs for suburban high school kids to crank while driving their parents’ minivans (note: I was fully complicit in this trend, as evidenced by the list above, and I am sorry) and more into mainstream pop by incorporating a smooth, sexy, Olivia-fueled R&B lovin’ sound (kidding, she sounds terrible). This was 50 going all in on a mainstream shift. The fatal flaw in this plan was that it almost immediately became clear that he was not one bit comfortable with this new subject matter, principally in his mouthful-of-marbles performance in this and “Just a Lil’ Bit” and a few years later in the flop single “Amusement Park.” And as he awkwardly mumbled his way through every line like a hyper-self-aware teenager (the “Yeah…uh-huh….so seductive” intro sounds like either a 13-year-old boy calling a sex hotline while his parents are away for the weekend), for the first time we fully realized that, yeah, this guy is not a lyricist. Extra minus points for his attempt to pull off the rhyme-the-word-with-itself trick twice (“you be a nympho, I’ll be a nympho”; “You ain’t never heard a sound like this before / Cause I ain’t never put it down like this before”). Still, 50 can and should be proud of his legacy, which is convincing a generation of kids that screaming the name of a record label imprint at strangers like you had a severe stutter (“G-G-G-G-G-G-G-u-NIT!”) made you, at the very least, an honorary member of the group, and certainly more of one than Tony Yayo.
- The Game, “Hate It Or Love It.” Oh, how fickle those petty, probably contrived major-label imprint feuds can be! When “The Documentary” was first released, the buzz was that G-Unit finally had the missing puzzle piece: its long-awaited West Coast representative. But people, and by people I mean other white suburban kids I knew at that time, talked about this territorial expansion (in the most generous sense of the term) in legitimately reverent tones, like it was a presidential candidate locking down the final key swing state, and that President-Elect G-Unit was now inexorably hurtling toward becoming the long-awaited national unifying force in hip-hop that would end the genre’s provincialism once and for all. Of course, not long after “Hate It Or Love It” started to chart, 50 Cent decided that he, well, hated it, and by “it” I mean The Game, and he promptly “dismissed” The Game from G-Unit at a news conference probably attended by four people. In addition to being hilarious, like G-Unit membership was a coveted seat at the Round Table or the United Nations or something, this event also gave rise to a splinter cell of The Game supporters for whom the rallying cry of choice morphed into a defiant “G-G-G-G-G-G-G-u-NOT!” (See what they did?). The whole saga is exhaustively explained in this Wikipedia page casually titled “G-Unit – The Game feud” that, incidentally, doubles as the strongest argument I can think of for donating to Wikipedia the next time Jimmy Wales asks. But I still remember walking into biology class to hear some dude sharing that The Game had been excommunicated from G-Unit in the same trembling, hushed voice that he would use if he were sharing news of the assassination of a world leader. I have no idea how this breaking news moment happened in retrospect, since the Internet did not follow us everywhere in our pockets yet, but I’ll admit to remembering exactly where I was when 50 Cent kicked The Game out of G-Unit, and to the fact that at the time I too thought, yep, everything has changed. What passes for a seminal historical moment in the lives of upper-middle class suburban teenagers is why the terrorists hate us.
- Kelly Clarkson, “SINCE U BEEN GOOOOOOONE!” The original American Idol (sorry Justin), still a cultural touchstone in 2015, but only #3 here! Unbelievable. Even today, if a DJ makes the ill-advised choice to put this on, the Volatile Single Girl Closest To You At the Bar will start shrieking in a pitch that only dogs can hear and dragging her girls to the dance floor right now, come on Jill, we are going to DANCE! One day historians will almost certainly attribute the fact that The Game at some point in history was apparently more popular than Miss Independent herself to some sort of grave accounting error caused by a pre-smartphone over reliance on the then-ubiquitous, dubiously reliable solar-powered Casio calculators.
- Akon, “Lonely.” I am firmly in the pro-Akon camp (fun fact: Akon’s real, awesome name that is better than your name is Aliaune Damala Bouga Time Bongo Puru Nacka Lu Lu Lu Badara Akon Thiam). Akon spent his childhood years in Senegal learning to play instruments not often heard in modern pop music, skills that would eventually play key roles in establishing his unique, pioneering sound. Then he came to America, teamed up with Gwen to give us “The Sweet Escape” (still a great chorus to whoop along to in the car), made a bunch of money, and left us with a brilliant encore via the universally recognized ultimate honor in pop music that cements one’s all-time great and senior statesman status: a Lonely Island short. I’ll never say no to more Akon in my life, and neither should you, provided that you are both safely off the stage and out of arm’s reach.
- Frankie J feat. Baby Bash, “Obsession (No Es Amor).” Eh, I guess. Frankie J and Baby Bash put out some reasonably solid work product together, but neither of them managed to break out on their own — Frankie J doesn’t even have his own separate “Frankie J discography” page, putting him below even Lindsay Lohan in the musical hierarchy. In fact, both were so impossibly anonymous on their own that if you were to see them in concert, you would probably have NO idea who was who until one launched into, probably, the first verse of “Suga Suga.” I sometimes wonder if they started out together by just flipping a coin, and the loser had to be the R&B singer who warbled the hooks while the other one got to be the coolrapper rocking Killa Cam’ron-style mink furs in the summertime.
- Green Day, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” Time has not been particularly kind to Green Day’s genre in the realm of pop music, but they nailed it with this one. (Counterpoint via my girlfriend Jenna: “Actually, there very well could be bands like Green Day and it’s just that you are not nearly cool enough to have heard of them.” FAIR.) Billie Joe and the boys managed to adapt American Idiot into a Broadway musical that ran for almost six years. It’s a really neat trick to adapt an album into a series of songs when it is…already a series of songs (estimated adaptation time: probably 30 minutes over beers). Also, there was a fair amount of speculation at the time that the song was inspired by Telegraph Ave in Berkeley, so it happened to come out at the perfect time for me, during fits of teen angst, to listen to “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” (likely on a MiniDisc player) while I walked down the boulevard of broken dreams! This was very heavy stuff for an overly introspective 18-year-old writing bad poetry in composition notebooks, especially when, frankly, Telegraph had long passed its 1970s heyday such that in 2005 that somber walk was really just a trip to buy deodorant and dorm shower sandals from Walgreen’s.
- 50 Cent, “Disco Inferno.” Two months ago I went to see a Sam Hunt show at the Fillmore Silver Spring, a reasonably small (2000-seat capacity) indoor concert venue just outside of D.C. We loved Sam, a new-ish artist who blends country, rock, Drake-style hip-hop, and shocking, almost Tim Riggins-esque levels of handsomeness (Jenna, abruptly, while staring at Sam: “I’ll absolutely leave you for him.” ALSO FAIR.). I bring this up not to talk at length about a man crush hierarchy but instead because a few stray posters still up on the Fillmore walls indicated that the show the previous weekend was: 50 Cent and G-Unit! Plenty of good seats still available, folks! My first thought was, whoa, how the mighty have fallen, but my second thought was absolutely I really would have liked to be there screaming “G-G-G-G-G-G-G-G-u-NIT.” 50 Cent just has so much damn money at this point anyway that I assume he just comes on to do “In Da Club,” peels off his shirt to show the bulletproof vest while everyone goes crazy, and then saunters off and lets Lloyd Banks and Young Buck take over to tepid applause for the rest of the night.
- Ameri(i)e, “1 Thing.” People loved this, which is fine, because I respect the fact that other people are entitled to wrong opinions, but the fact is that this is one of the worst songs in human history. She audibly strains to stay on key during the bizarrely aggressive staccato chorus, and the drums are lazily ripped from “Crazy In Love.” It’s her best shot at filling Ashanti’s “Mid-2000s Attractive Yet Kind of Generic R&B Singer a Cut Below Beyonce, Alicia Keys, and Mary J” shoes (see also: Keyshia Cole, Cassie, Nivea, Blu Cantrell, and the immortal Tweet). Although Amerie gets bonus points for suddenly announcing that she had become Ameriie in 2011, matter-of-factly explaining that she added the extra i to “reflect positive energy” and/or to let people know she was still alive and/or because she is an Apple product.
- Rob Thomas, “Lonely No More.” Poor Rob; listening to this in 2015, it’s definitely a song that everyone would have loved if Maroon 5 had done it (if Rob’s voice were an octave higher, you would absolutely believe that this is Adam Levine on a deep cut off an overseas deluxe edition of Songs About Jane). Rob Thomas, though, never had a prayer. However, this one has admittedly found a comfortable niche today as a song that you readily agree that you hate when you hear it in the Hair Cuttery, but that you also find yourself enthusiastically belting out when it comes on the radio and you’re driving alone. No one can see you. Let it fly. WHOA-OH, WHOA-OH, OH-WHOA-OH, OH-WHOA-OHHH.
- Gwen Stefani, “Hollaback Girl.” UH-HUH, THIS MY SHIT! Another worthy nominee for the battle cry of a generation, and, even today, very likely to instantly create a chorus of enthusiastically rapping white girls when played in any public space where cursing is even remotely socially acceptable. This has withstood the test of time and then some. “Hollaback” is also wonderful because it has one of my favorite often-forgotten songwriting backstories: it was a response to some disparaging comments made about Gwen by Courtney Love, which is funny because it reminds you that 2005 was a time when people listened to things that Courtney Love had to say. This feud ended up being pretty one-sided: today’s kids know Gwen as one of the kingmakers on The Voice, while Courtney is the weird lady on Facebook who thinks she found Malaysia Air 370 using Google Maps and MS Paint.
- Gwen Stefani feat. Eve, “Rich Girl.” A double dosage of Gwen! This Dr. Dre-produced track (seriously) was not nearly as well-received as “Hollaback Girl,” because it’s unquestionably poor form to make a song talking about what you would do if only you were a rich girl when you are, in fact, a very, very rich girl. The way more exciting appearance here comes courtesy of Eve, the undisputed queen of short-run UPN sitcoms and barbershop-themed ensemble comedies. “Who’s That Girl?” is actually one of the first music videos I can ever remember seeing on The Box (RIP) back in the day, along with “Danger” by Mystikal, which is the most famous musical infomercial for nipple covers in cable history.
- Will Smith, “Switch.” TURN IT OVER AND HIT IT! A pretty catchy beat still couldn’t save this number, the success of which depended entirely on the novelty of the fact that the person saying the lyrics was Academy Award-nominated actor Will Smith! An underrated aspect of Smith’s many forays into music was always that he was so, so determined not to jeopardize his family-friendly movie star reputation (since that’s where the money was for him) that he would go adorably out of his way to assure all potential listeners that whoa parents, don’t worry, I’m a wholesome guy, nothing wrong with your kids nodding their heads along to this one! To wit:
Hey! Huh, something sexy ’bout her
Girl on the floor, all her friends around her
I mean real clean, ain’t gotta touch or nothin’
It ain’t like I like a chick on chick or somethin’!
Wonderful. I really like to imagine, say, 2 Chainz hearing this today and just breaking down in uncomprehending tears.
- Weezer, “Beverly Hills.” Hi there, friend. It’s been ten years since you finally won the battle. This is a safe space. But you know what can happen when you’re not careful. I know the temptation is already there. So make this easy, for yourself and for everyone you love, and don’t click on that link and allow the chorus to burrow indelibly into your brain. It’s too late for me. I already wrote this paragraph. Save yourself.
- Mario, “Let Me Love You.” I think this one is great, but I’ll concede that this might be in large part because it had a profound meaning for me related to its unrequited love subject matter, and it’s possible that I used to lip sync it in my room late at night, I don’t remember for sure, it was a long time ago, hey what were we talking about? Let’s agree to focus on the happy memories that Mario gave to us instead, first and foremost of which is the immortal inquiry that caps the chorus on “How Could You”: “How could you put him up to the ghetto Kama Sutra?” How could you, indeed! It is amazing that still, ten years later, no enterprising individual has been sufficiently inspired by this line to give us a Ghetto Kama Sutra. I expected much more of the Internet.
- Trillville, “Some Cut.” One of the most uniquely enjoyable one-hit wonders in hip-hop history. The beat of this song is just a bed creaking (you know, like sex!). “Some Cut” doubles as one of the great “I’ve only ever really heard the edited version on the radio, I had no idea that those were the actual lyrics, and I deeply regret downloading it (thanks KaZaA) on the computer my parents also use” songs, along with Snoop and Akon’s “I Want to Love You,” Christopher Bridges’ “Splash Waterfalls,” and the undisputed champion, “Wait (The Whisper Song).” I can see my mom’s horrified look while I fumble in vain for the mute button even now.
- The Killers, “Mr. Brightside.” Huffington Post already did the hard work here, but this is a legitimate jam that holds up a decade later and would totally deserve to be in the mix for “Song of the Decade” accolades (even if said accolades are from something called “xfm”) if not for the fact that it was immediately and unequivocally eclipsed by its vastly superior Hot Fuss albummate, “All These Things That I’ve Done.” The brief but life-changing bridge on “All These Things” finally got the treatment it deserved in 2008 when Nike picked it to be the pulse-pounding soundtrack for an ad released during the Summer Olympics that still makes you feel like you could run a marathon uphill while dragging one of those semi-trucks on your back, for your country. Even watching it now I feel like I have some training to do (for what? Who cares! I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier!).
- Ciara feat. Ludacris, “Oh.” This song is basically just Ciara faking (?) an orgasm over a gigantic beat for 3:57, which makes the Ludacris cameo in verse three more than a little awkwardly jarring. I also remember this song fondly because it’s a hip-hop anthem to a place to which most of its audience has never been and cannot really appreciate, but don’t think for one second that these inconvenient truths stop suburban high schoolers from throwing up the A (note: yes, I was probably complicit in this trend, too; I am still sorry) and proudly name-checking Adamsville and Carver Homes right along with The Princess.
- Usher, “Caught Up.” Whatever. I had no idea this was even released as a single, and I assume he did it as a hey, why the hell not move after the song about him finding out that he’s having a baby by a woman he barely even knows and the other song about the similarities between fire and failing relationships combined to dominate 2003 but also to pretty well terminate his chances at convincing any other woman after that that starting a relationship with Usher would be a good idea. Oh, yeah, the “Burn” and “Confessions” guy — I can probably make an honest man out of him!
- Ciara feat. Missy Elliot, “1, 2 Step.” THE PRINCESS IS HERE — CIARA! I have never seen or heard any evidence that Jazzy Pha has ever said any words other than those. Wikipedia helpfully summarizes the theme of this song as follows:
Ciara gives a description of how the song’s beat feels as she demands party-goers to dance to the music.
Dance, party-goers! Dance! A little mechanical, but accurate enough. Also, a big warm misdemeanor welcome to all the kids who just learned who Missy Elliot is during the Super Bowl halftime show (friendly You Are Old reminder: anyone younger than high school age was not yet alive when Under Construction came out). Hopefully a new generation of fans can help finally decipher that line of the “Work It” hook that we all just know must be something really, really dirty.
- Natalie, “Goin’ Crazy.” Who? I thought I had the Junior Ashantis (TM) (we need to make t-shirts) down, but apparently I missed the Natalie train. Natalie sounds as if she, too, just missed her window, like she was the final cut at 3LW tryouts. But I’m still with this, and in terms of sanity-related music I rank it below “Crazy In Love” (Beyonce), “Crazy” (K-Ci and Jojo), and every Crazy Train song, but well above the insufferable “Crazy” (Gnarls Barkley). Natalie just goes to show that even ten years later, 2005 in music can deliver you something new. I’ll be adding Natalie to my Pandora station right after this ad for Panera Bread’s new artisan pasta salads.