This was a very difficult list to compile. I had to wrestle with some internal conflicts in order to narrow it down. As many of you know, I am not, as a rule, a fan of pop music or pop culture in general and thus am somewhat unqualified to be writing this article. But thanks to the pervasively poor taste of my schoolmates, my eardrums are assailed with the Top 40’s latest offerings no matter where I go. I can’t even eat dinner in the Caf without a gaggle of “Jersey Shore” rejects bumping the latest Ke$ha, or what-have-you, and singing along at the top of their lungs. If any of you twits who were perpetrating this impropriety around 7:15 p.m. last Saturday are reading this: You are jerks, real knee-biters. I would like to eat my tofu in peace, thanks.
Anyway, this list is not meant to include the best, or even the most popular, tunes of our time, but rather the watershed moments in our generation’s musical culture. For obvious reasons, I will focus on music from the late 1990s onward.
1. “Bye, Bye, Bye” by N’Sync
The boy band boom of the late 1990s represented the first time we really became aware of current music. Until then, most of the music we listened to was that of our parents, but the interchangeable, soulless sex symbols of N’Sync and their ilk popped our pop music cherries and led us into an auto-tuned coma. Why this specific song? It was one of their biggest hits, and more people care about Justin Timberlake than every other member of N’Sync or the Backstreet Boys combined.
2. “Break Stuff” by Limp Bizkit
This song is arguably the defining track of the Nü Metal movement and represents the precise moment it became impossible for the mainstream to ever take metal seriously. Whenever I mention that I am a fan of metal, people immediately think of mooks like LB, Korn, Slipknot and Mushroomhead. Metal has sadly been reduced in the public’s eye to wearing a stupid mask, screaming about being a psycho and beating on crap with a 2×4. It also does not help that the stereotype of a metal fan is a fat, neckbearded Internet troll with masculinity issues. The violence perpetrated during Limp Bizkit’s set at Woodstock ’99 the festival sustained property damage, one accidental death and three reported rapes represented the death knell of Nü Metal and the end of the optimism which defined the last decade of the 20th century.
3. “The Real Slim Shady” by Eminem
Our generation’s introduction to rap. Yeah, some of us went back and learned about Tupac, Biggie and Public Enemy, but for most of us, the earth was shattered when we first heard this horror-core-influenced weirdo from Detroit. Thankfully, Eminem had a bit more to him than some profane jokes involving aliens and lesbians and is still one of the best rappers out there.
4. “7 Nation Army” by The White Stripes
In middle school, the cool kids whose parents would let them read Rolling Stone introduced us to two bands: The Strokes and The White Stripes. It should go without saying that The White Stripes, despite functionally breaking up in 2007, have had a far greater impact on the aesthetic of rock in the coming decade. I would argue that they were directly responsible for paving the way for The Black Keys to become superstars and normalizing the heavy rock duo concept prominently exhibited by Japandroids and Death From Above 1979. Furthermore, their simple color scheme of red, black and white remains striking and unique.
5. “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers
The early 2000s indie scene was defined by two templates: the garage rock re-re-revival led by The Hives, The Strokes and The White Stripes and the Cure-aping 80s schmaltz of The Bravery, Interpol and The Killers. This song, however, transcends its moment and stands as one of the most beautiful pop songs ever written and my personal favorite of the last decade.
6. “I’m not okay I promise” by My Chemical Romance
This was the start of the new emo movement that really had nothing to do with the actual genre as it was developed in the 1990s by Weezer, The Promise Ring, Jimmy Eat World and Sunny Day Real Estate. Perhaps a suitable replacement label would be “Hot-Topic Core.” My Chemical Romance can largely take the credit for introducing guyliner and vampires to our generation. Sadly, the last two brilliant albums of their career were overpowered by the stench of temporary spray-on hair dye, and the culture at large dismissed both emo music and My Chemical Romance as a giant joke. Their loss.
7. “American Idiot” by Green Day
I really should not have to spell this one out. “American Idiot” is arguably the song, and album, of our generation. It is my choice for best record of the century so far, and as far as mainstream albums go, only Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy even comes close as a work of cohesive art.
8. “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga
The predominant formula among female pop stars today is bigger, louder, weirder and dumber with a nice dollop of warmed-over squelchy Europop. The mistress of the monsters is quite talented as a musician, but I really cannot stand her shtick. She sets herself up as this voice for the outcasts, but does not seem to catch onto the irony that she is part of the accepted status quo. Self-congratulatory subversion and “activism” doesn’t get you much respect in my book. I call that a cheap gimmick.
9. “Single Ladies” by Beyonce
Yes, Kanye, the video was kind of cool the first time I saw it. After that . . . meh. Having a bunch of dudes writing a female empowerment anthem is, well . . . just re-read the above. Same logic applies.
10. “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver
Justin Vernon, commonly known as Bon Iver, is brilliant. It is hard to believe that it has been six years since this record came out. In that time, the smart, but tastefully rugged, sensitive soul has been the controlling paradigm in alternative music. Unfortunately, flannel shirts only come in so many colors, and all the “quirky” twee bands he inspired start to blend into one chilled-out blur. Also, St. Olaf, congrats on bottling this guy off the stage when he played the spring concert many years ago. Pitchfork had not given you permission to think he was cool yet.
11. “Yeah” by Usher feat. Lil Jon
I cannot even hate here. Put this on the stereo now, and the party still starts jumpin’ like a seventh grader at his first school dance.
Well, I am out of snark and out of songs, so I think we are done here. Onto the next decade …
Graphic Credit: Isaac Burton/Manitou Messenger