Radio Hits One: VH1 Takes On The '00s Pop Canon

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VH1 spent last week counting down what the channel, and its panel of celebrities and "experts," consider The 100 Greatest Songs of The '00s. They certainly haven't been the first to assemble such a list—Rolling Stone and Pitchfork and every blog under the sun had their say about two years ago, and I recently put together a list of my 522 favorite singles of the decade. But VH1's take is noteworthy because the network has become the highest-profile outlet for the kind of listmaking that's gone from a music-geek compulsion to watercooler fodder in the decade since High Fidelity was adapted into a Hollywood movie.

The channel known as Video Hits One (from which this column takes its name) originated in the mid-'80s as a baby-boomer-skewing alternative to MTV. Since then, hip-hop and alternative rock have become mainstream enough that VH1 freely celebrates both, at least in their most accessible incarnations. So this list is pretty close to the one MTV would probably make, except MTV would probably swap in Paramore and Lil Wayne for Bruce Springsteen and Train. And since VH1 is, even in its reality-show-dominated present, more about about music and pop culture than the vague "youth culture" brand MTV has moved toward, it's free to build the '00s pop canon without competition from its sister channel.

That canon—headed up by Beyoncé's Jay-Z assisted "Crazy In Love"—is very, very populist, almost mathematically so: 37 songs on the list hit No. 1 on the Hot 100; the majority of the rest were big Top 40 hits; only two of the included songs missed the Hot 100 entirely (though both are pretty well known, largely because of their videos: Johnny Cash's "Hurt" and Andrew WK's "Party Hard"). The only song in the top ten of VH1's list that wasn't a No. 1 smash is Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone," which peaked at No. 2.

There's a 40% crossover between VH1's list and Billboard's list of the 100 biggest hits of the decade. And a lot of the big Billboard hits that VH1 snubbed are simply other songs by artists already represented on the list. Generally, VH1 seems to have allowed each artist to appear on the list a maximum of two times, although some got in more on technicalities: Jay-Z has four thanks to a couple of guest verses, Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake each have three including the groups that made them famous, and Virginia superproducers Timbaland and the Neptunes have five each.

There are questionable judgments throughout, like "Trapped In The Closet" as R. Kelly's sole entry, or "SexyBack" in the top ten. And sometimes it doesn't even seem VH1 enough; how could adult alternative blockbusters by Lifehouse and The Fray get snubbed, especially when the songs in question seemed to get hourly play on the channel back in the day? But for the most part, this top 100 is about as close as you're going to get to an accurate snapshot of the decade's pop-music zeitgeist reflected through the quickly changing collective memory of that era.

Given that VH1 made their list nearly two years after the decade in question ended, there might be a bit of stretching to make it feel more current—both the last No. 1 of 2009 and the first of 2010, Jay-Z's "Empire State of MInd" and Ke$ha's "Tik Tok," are on the list. One imagines Adele's "Chasing Pavements" might not have been on the list if it had been compiled before she experienced her huge success in 2011. (Although this is VH1, so it might have made the cut anyway.) Lady Gaga, who was only a star for the last 18 months of the decade, is on the list twice. It may be strange to think of those artists as already in the pantheon, but odds are in ten years we'll be shaking our heads as "Pumped Up Kicks" and "Party Rock Anthem" get the "Best Songs Of The '10s" accolades.


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