The Top 19 Singles of the Year
Christopher R. Weingarten
Snarky journalists and clueless hipsters may snicker at today’s midriff-bearing pop stars in favor of their midriff-gazing indie-rock heroes. Metal bands may plead for the “return of the rock” and rappers belabor the idea of “keeping it real.” Warp Records even signed a clamorous hip-hop/glitch hybrid called Antipop Consortium. But considering even the stickiest bubblegum like Britney or ‘N Sync can cuddle up to critically acclaimed beat progressivists like The Neptunes and BT, it kind of makes the concept of being “anti-pop” kind of, well, silly.
Most of the most dramatic musical moves of 2001 weren’t made in smoky clubs and college radio stations – it was all there, plain as day, on the Billboard charts. No longer is it necessary to scour the import bins and the NME for the hottest new sounds. Timbaland’s avant-garde Prince-isms, BT’s hyper-kinetic two-step, The Neptunes’ futurist electro-funk, Mirwais’s Gallic stutter-step, Automator’s musical film noir – they were all right there on your radio, your MTV, and your 11-year-old sister’s Walkman.
1991 was “the year punk broke,” but 2001 was the year pop went post-punk. The most damning things turned out to be really popular, and the most popular things turned out to be really damning.
This year, if your ever-cynical, sweater-clad, Ink 19-reading, faux-hipster ass made some snide comment deriding radio/MTV/pop/the mainstream/the zeitgeist, you made a fucking empty threat, holmes. It’s time to face the music: derivative pop from Britney is blissful and cathartic because new-millennial self-awareness admits its derivativeness. Which is more than you can say for The Strokes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Coldplay, Travis, and most of Vagrant Records’ and all of Drive-Thru Records’ rosters.
Did you ever wonder why, this music gets you high?
1) Missy Elliot, “Get Ur Freak On” from Miss E• So Addictive
A place where everything is as larger-than-life as Missy’s garbage bag suits and sequined Motorhead jerseys. Three notes pulsate hypnotically like a John Cage tape-loop experiment; sexy tablas belabor sixteenth-note syncopation; thick bass lines weave slalom-like through even thicker beats; systematically unsystematic silences swallow the thing whole, leaving Missy alone in void to release a solitary “Holla!” that simultaneously echoes through every dance floor, car stereo, and the same corner of your cerebellum that held a mere three notes in front of you like a carrot-on-a-stick since May. Repeating endlessly for all eternity. Amen.
2) ‘N Sync, “Pop” from Celebrity
As skittery as an Autechre B-side, as ADD-friendly as vintage Zappa, as tech-savvy as the Nintendo Game Cube, as addictive as black tar heroin, and your guiltiest pleasure since your clandestine 6th grade whack-off sessions. BT provides an epileptic-fit-inducting two-step production that stays constantly ill-at-ease. Tack on the most charismatic boy band in the land, and you’ve got one for the history books. Just don’t hold your breath for that Christina Aguilera/Kid 606 duet.
3) N.E.R.D., “Lapdance” (single only)
A multi-culti wet dream – head-bang-worthy, sexy, and secretly political. This is asphyxiating funk, drilling itself into your spine, bringing on temporary paralysis followed by uncontrolled ass-shakery.
4) Bubba Sparxxx, “Ugly” from Dark Days, Bright Nights
The cultural makeup of the small-town southern high school I attended consisted mostly of rednecks, black kids, and white kids that earnestly tried to act like the black kids. The clever, twangy, instantly lovable Bubba Sparxxx would have been a shoo-in for class president or patron saint.
5) Radiohead, “Pyramid Song” from Amnesiac • 6) Tool, “Schism” from Lateralus
Radiohead sailed the same confounding, stammering, piano riff for five minutes, searching earnestly for shore through ever-mistier seas; Tool wrestled in molasses for seven minutes, engaged in a gloriously bloated tug-of-war, equal parts chops and mind-fuckery. Both got their intellectual freak-ons, sneaking itchy updates of Can’s hypnotic kraut-rock and King Crimson’s convoluted prog-metal onto the mainstream menu. Neat!
7) G. Dep (featuring Black Rob and P. Diddy), “Let’s Get It” from Child of the Ghetto
In what felt like minutes after the trial, Puff emerges with a cocky new moniker, a mantra of “not guilty,” and some uncharacteristically non-bling production. In the passenger seat is nimble upstart G-Dep who, apparently, was born ready, and was already on fish and spaghetti.
8) P.O.D., “Alive” from Satellite • 9) System of a Down, “Chop Suey” from Toxicity
Nu-metal loses the umlaut for the two most adult moments in its limited shelf-life. The transcendent P.O.D. try to get as close to heaven as one can with power chords, untarnished groove and dazzling U2-isms. System of a Down curse their ability to meet P.O.D.’s God, by committing self-righteous suicide – and imploding like a self-satisfied train wreck redolent of Faith No More’s fusion-metal with coy emo moves wrangling their way out of spirited bursts of grindcore.
10) Squarepusher, “My Red Hot Car” from Go Plastic
One of the first tracks labeled IDM where the “D” wasn’t winking at you through a set of quotation marks. The Pusherman makes a run for the big time. Silly Tom, hits are for kids.
11) Gorillaz, “Clint Eastwood” from Gorillaz
Pomo hipsters hide cheeky austerity behind freaky cartoons, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien lethargically raps, Damon Albarn mopes, Jamie Hewlett draws an army of zombie gorillas. Platinum record sales ensue. Somewhere, The Archies shed a silent tear.
12) Afroman, “Because I Got High” from The Good Times
If Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic were directed by The Farrelly Brothers. For one week during the summer, this giddy pro-drug/anti-drug rant was more popular than weed itself. Worst parts: Dopey, sounds like anyone could have done it. Best parts: Dopey, sounds like anyone could have done it.
13) Aaliyah, “We Need a Resolution” from Aaliyah
It’s impossible to separate this song from the slithery, sultry snake stars of its video. Aaliyah and producer Timbaland are two snakes trying to eat each other, gently curling around each other’s melodies. She pleads, “Don’t get it twisted,” but we all knew it was from the get-go.
14) M.O.P., “Ante Up (Robbing-Hoodz Theory)” from Warriorz
Über-gangstas that makes Mobb Deep look as cuddly as a bunch of teddy bears. Jesus fucking Christ, did they just say “kidnap that fool?”
15) Madonna, “Don’t Tell Me” from Music
Madonna’s guitar player is broken. And apparently she has to start him up like a car. The whole mess sput-sput-sput-sputters about like a sexy vintage auto barely meandering through the autobahn, Maddy in the backseat blissfully unaware, spitting similes to her lover on the cell phone.
16) The Strokes, “Last Nite” from Is This It
Anything that pisses people off this much can’t be that bad. More posey than Parker, more catchy than herpes. Stock up on Stooges records for the oncoming apocalypse.
17) Daft Punk, “Digital Love” from Discovery
Disco, but made by robots.
18) Alicia Keys, “Fallin’” from Songs in A Minor
The reason Christina and Beyoncé do that histronic nonsense with their voice is ‘cause they’re trying to keep up with the girls who actually have the soul to make it convincing. And at 19, Keys is overflowing with the shit.
19) Ryan Adams, “New York, New York” from Gold
Decent Elton-isms notwithstanding, all Adams really had going for him was good timing. In fact, just replace this song with whatever artist you heard this year who’s songs had a new meaning after the events of September 11th; be it Bob Dylan’s “Honest With Me,” Le Tigre’s “Cry For Everything Bad That’s Ever Happened,” The (International) Noise Conspiracy’s “Capitalism Stole My Virginity,” Dilated Peoples’ “War,” The Moldy Peaches’ “NYC’s Like a Graveyard,” or even a dusty copy of “Imagine” or “American Pie.” This year, we all secretly chose this one ourselves. ◼