Thursday, September 3, 2009

Defining the Decade in Music

It started so simple.

While at lunch on Monday, I got a text from buddy Gray who was posing a simple question: In the future when they make movies set in the 2000s, what music will they use on the soundtrack.

I even chuckled at how simple the question was because for a movie set in the '60s or '70s or '80s or '90s you could spend all day coming up with great music from those eras.

But then I started to think about it... and think about it... and think about it... And then I got panicked, because I couldn't come up with anything beyond Coldplay and John Mayer.

And then I freaked out.

It's literally all I've been thinking about since. To the point where I spent ALL DAY yesterday bothering my friends with text messages, e-mails, Tweets, and Facebook updates on the subject.

I stripped down the question and made it even simpler: Name the best bands/artists AND songs from the 2000s.

It stumped everyone.

Here were some of the responses I got:

- "Chili Peppers, Britney, lots of dif rap"

- "Probably the crappy pop/rap music that dominates the radio... that or bands like Fall Out Boy"

-"Kid Rock, Killers, Maroon 5, Nickleback, Daughtry, Fray, Jay-Z"

- "U2 forever!"

Definitely some decent bands in there, but the more we all started thinking about it, the more we realized how generic this decade has been in terms of mainstream music.

Of course I couldn't leave it there, so I did some digging. I started googling "best songs of the 2000s" and most lists consisted of the following titles:

- In Da Club (50 Cent)

- Lose Yourself (Eminem)

- Gold Digger (Kanye)

- Mr. Brightside (The Killers)

- Feel Good, Inc. (The Gorillaz)

- Dani California (Red Hot Chili Peppers)

- Fallin' (Alicia Keys)

- Hey Ya (Outkast)

- Hollaback Girl (Gwen Stefani)

- You're Beautiful (James Blunt)

- Bad Day (Daniel Powter)

- SexyBack (Justin Timberlake)

- Oops! I Did It Again (Britney Spears)

- Beautiful Day (U2)

- Yellow (Coldplay)

- Say My Name (Destiny's Child)

- My Immortal (Evanescence)

Out of that list, can you name one song that defines this decade or could serve as the Song of the Decade?

Maybe "Yellow"? Maybe "Beautiful Day"?

Maybe "Hey Ya"?

Still not satisfied, I kept digging.

From an alt perspective, I received the following two lists from VA-Pilot reporter Mike Gruss and my buddy Jesse Phipps, respectively:


- From Mike: http://pitchfork.com/features/staff-lists/7693-the-top-500-tracks-of-the-2000s-20-1/

- From Jesse: http://www.vinylsurrender.com/Music/Decade/2000s.php

And as you can see, it's like a whole other era of music as the songs listed above. Jesse even went from saying this decade was the second worst only to the 1970s to reconsidering that it was the best EVER after looking through Mike's list.

At the end of the day, I still don't know how to define this decade in music in quantitative terms.

Here's what we know so far:


- The 2000s have given us some of the worst mainstream music ever.

- The 2000s have given us some of the best indie/underground music ever.

- The gap between indie/underground and mainstream has never been wider - meaning there are mainstream songs from the '90s that still hold up a decade later (i.e. "Wonderwall") where as "Hollaback Girl" isn't exactly going to go down as a timeless classic.

- In terms of influence, the 2000s have done nothing for music... so far (Whether you liked it or not, the '80s gave us Techno and Synth and the '90s gave us Grunge. What have we gotten from the 2000s? Lady Gaga? Please. But what if 10 years from now, we realize that the '00s were influential in making Dance more mainstream? Jury is still out on this one). Jesse even sent me a text this morning that I thought was spot on: "The last decade excels in this context - fidelity and depth with a higher price put on quality than on originality.

I STILL couldn't find peace so I had to bother my buddy Paul before bed (Gotta give Paulie credit for yesterday's performance - he woke up in Atlanta, flew to Ohio for business, flew back to Atlanta and still had enough to debate the decade in music with me for a few minutes before he crashed).

Here are the two things we discovered during our conversation:


1. I don't think this decade has/will have had one distinct, discernible sound. At the end of any heated debate, you can always wrap up any discussion about the '90s with one word: Grunge. The '80s were... The '80s! and that's definition enough. Everyone knows what sound you are talking about.

With the 2000s, we started with the boy-band-radio-pop sound, moved to a more of an indie-rock, and are finishing the decade with a Euro-pop- dance-heavy influence


AND, OH BY THE WAY, for the record I can only think of ONE BAND from this era (not even going to mention their name because I don't want to sound like a homer) that released three different albums over the past 10 years that each, individually so perfectly captured the three different vibes mentioned above: "Hot Fuss" = radio-pop, "Sam's Town" = indie-rock, "Day and Age" = Euro-dance-pop.

There's a reason why they're my favorite band.

I'm just saying.

(PS - My Wife and I are going to see them live next week in our first ever concert at Red Rocks. Everyone says your first concert there is a spiritual experience. I might just spontaneously combust. It is a VERY legitimate possibility at this point.)

2. And this point might be the biggest factor of all in this debate. Most of my friends (that I've been having this discussion with) and I are in that 25-30 age bracket. For me, I've spent my entire 20's in the 2000s and here is a quick breakdown of the life roller coaster that I've experienced in this 10 year span: in college, started comedy show, interned at Letterman, dropped out of school, engaged, broken engagment, drove across the country TWICE, tried to move to California, moved back home, went back to school, tried to make a magazine work, on TV and the radio, engaged, moved to Denver, Colorado, answering phones, MARRIED.

I'm a COMPLETELY different person now than I was at the start of this era, so it's not a leap to assume that will affect the way I listen to and view the music around me.

Is that the reason why we're all having a hard time defining this time of music because we're still trying to define this time in our own lives?

Maybe we're still just too close to it to see it for what it is and has been.

Only time will tell I suppose.

So to answer Gray's original question, we just don't know yet. You have to know if they remake "The Wedding Singer" in 2028, be prepared for a steady diet of hip-hop, Lady Gaga, and James Blunt. But if it's a emo, soul-searching film, I would expect a lot of The Shins, Snow Patrol, FedEx, and the Postal Service (oh wait, one of those isn't a real band name? Could have fooled me).

It will just depend on the movie I guess, just like it will depend on how we decide to look back at this era of music and this era of our lives.

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