This was a brutal exercise, listening to at least large chunks of every Number 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 for the years between 2000 and 2010 (I should have stopped at 2009, but I’m a glutton for punishment). Anyway, in order to avoid repetition, if a song was a Number 1 in more than one year (carried over from a previous year), I only considered it for the first year in which it hit the top spot. I thought I might see some kind of trend in quality of pop music, but no such luck—highs and lows abound throughout.
Best: “Smooth” by Santana featuring Rob Thomas. Rob Thomas tries really hard to wreck this song with his awful singing, but it’s still really catchy. Sorry Rob, but I’ve come from the future to tell you that you’ll have more success offending listeners with your solo record.
Worst: The epic and universal terribleness of “Arms Wide Open” by Creed beats out such dreck as “Everything You Want” by Vertical Horizon and a song called “I Knew I Loved You” by a band that wrote the name “Savage Garden” on a piece of paper, looked at it and said, “Yes. Let’s name our band that. That’s not totally stupid at all.”
Dishonorable mention: “Independent Women Part 1” by Destiny’s Child, for opening the song with a shout out to Charlie’s Angels, the movie in which it is featured, and for kicking off the verse with the lyric, “Question: Tell me what you think about me.” Yeah, that’s not a question, that’s a command. What do I think about you? I think that you’re too pushy and have a tenuous grasp on parts of speech.
Best: “Fallin’” by Alicia Keys. Oooh, yeah, soulful, sultry, nice.
Worst: What kind of sonic shit does it take to beat out Nickleback for worst Number 1 single? “Butterfly” by Crazy Town. The erasure of this song from history should be the top priority of the United Nations.
Best: “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. Even out of the context of the film (8 Mile) from which this song comes (and fits so well), it’s a tense and compelling track that highlights Eminem’s lyrical strength. That he can be so earnest in the chorus without a hint of self-consciousness is refreshing and comes out as celebratory. An anthem.
Worst: And yet there’s so much down here at the bottom. But let’s just go with Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This,” a song so overwrought, saccharine and superficial that even producers at Disney gagged a little. More than a million music-haters bought this single. Thanks, Simon Cowell!
Best: “Hey Ya!” by OutKast. This has to be one of the songs of the decade. What a hook. A club hit driven by acoustic guitars and a simple kick and snare drum beat? Unlikely and ICE COLD.
Worst: Well, I hate to bash on American Idol, really I do—no, really, I really do—but we as a culture have no choice but to accept “This Is The Night” by Clay Aiken as the worst Number 1 single of 2003. This is music for people who like to have noise in the background but don’t want to actually feel anything. Just leave the Golf Channel on in the background, Grandma. Wait, are people buying this for their dog to have company when they’re not home? It suddenly all makes sense.
Best: “The Way You Move” by OutKast. The other half of OutKast, Big Boi, leads the way on this one, which features a sweet contrast between his low-key flow and the smooth, harmony-laden hook of the chorus and bridge.
Worst: Man, where was I in 2004? Did I black out? I’ve never even heard of some of these people. Is someone playing a joke on me? Ciara? I thought that was an erectile dysfunction medication. Well, apparently she’s a person and recorded a song called “Goodies,” which, according to several leading studies, actually causes erectile dysfunction.
Best: “Gold Digger” by Kanye West. This is a damn good track with some great sounds (despite Jamie Foxx’s Ray Charles impression serving as the hook) and it showcases Kanye’s unique style. Of course, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard the dude from Glee try to sing the censored version.
Worst: This was a big year for bland, formulaic R&B. As much as I’d like to say Chris Brown had the worst Number 1 of the year (cause fuck that guy, like, forever, you know?), it’s really a toss-up between Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together” and Mario’s “Let Me Love You.” Take your pick. Come on, 2006, help me out here…
Best: “SexyBack” by Justin Timberlake. Hot.
Worst: “You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt. Appalling.
Best: “Makes Me Wonder” by Maroon 5. Hey, no one’s more surprised than me. I barely remember this song, but it sounds good right now. Maybe just by contrast. Well-executed groovy pop music.
Worst: I really didn’t like Rihanna’s dumb “Umbrella,” and the enormous popularity (and ubiquity) of the song made it worse, but I at least understand why people liked it. No, the worst single of 2006 is Fergie’s “Glamorous,” a contrived piece of pop fluff nothingness so vapid that it makes her other Number 1 of the year, “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” seem like an important work of art. It’s not, by the way.
Best: “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” by Beyoncé. What a weird song. She’s kind of a weird lady. I like it. Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” is pretty good, too. Toss-up.
Worst: “So What” by P!nk. I don’t know what she’s on about, but that melody is just too annoying for words.
Best: Slim pickings this year. “Crack A Bottle” by Eminem, 50 Cent, and Dr. Dre? Maybe?
Worst: Jay Sean’s “Down” is the epitome of unimaginative, mid-tempo, thoughtless, bullshit, auto-tune abusing and disposable muzak.
Dishonorable mention: “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. OK, everyone, that’s it, no more songs about fucking New York. Yeah, yeah, dreams come true in the concrete jungle. Big lights will inspire you. How original.
BONUS YEAR: 2010
Best: All the other artists forfeited this one to Eminem’s “Not Afraid”.
Worst: Bruno Mars, Ke$ha and The Black Eyed Peas all turned in some really terrible music this year, but Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” sank quickly to the bottom of this particular barrel. I’m not sure if there has ever been a more transparent attempt to record a hit song with so complete a disregard for substance, quality or even basic human dignity, but, hey, mission accomplished, you monster. And Snoop? Et tu, Snoop?