The 2000s ushered in the dawn of the blog and the age of the iPod, sending the music industry into a chaotic spiral; suddenly, it seemed every niche pocket of the industry now had a fighting chance at making it big. What ensued was a glorious 10-year run where rap and hip-hop reclaimed commercial success, indie rock leaned into its subversive pop side, and pop music had to rethink its dependency on the mass-produced boy band blueprint.
To celebrate the early aughts in all its expansiveness, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite songs of the era: from Timbaland and Pharrell’s back-and-forth beats to pop princesses Britney and Christina and the ever-adapting indie mainstays like Animal Collective and The White Stripes, here are our picks for top songs of the 2000s.
“Toxic” by Britney Spears
Britney Spears has lived many lives. From enduring the suffocating, squeaky-clean pop princess frame, to finding some freedom as a sexually liberated grown woman, to all the shaky moments in between, every step of Spears’s iconic career has been lived out in front of us. “Toxic” sits at the intersection of her many sides, as her signature airy baby-girl vocals clash with unexpected violins and an insanely high falsetto.
“Rock the Boat” by Aaliyah
In her entirely-too-short career, Aaliyah gave us a lifetime of material. “Rock the Boat” was one of her final gems: a sun-soaked, breezy anthem to making love that made its obvious euphemisms feel cozy and natural with Aaliyah’s undeniable charm.
“Lose Control” by Missy Elliott featuring Ciara and Fat Man Scoop
“Lose Control” packs in its excellence from all sides. Missy Elliott’s unpredictability, Fat Man Scoop’s hypeman hollers, and Ciara’s silky-smooth hook somehow seamlessly combine to produce a mind-melting dance track.
“Drop It Like It’s Hot” by Snoop Dogg featuring Pharrell
At some point in the early 2000s, hip-hop beats embraced a homegrown, almost experimental aspect to them, as Timbaland and Pharrell incorporated beatboxing, hydraulics, and the sound of a baby wailing into their catalogue. “Drop It Like It’s Hot” followed suit, constructed with tongue pops and an elongated, falsetto “Snoooooop!” Paired with a user-friendly dance, “Drop It Like It’s Hot” is a downright classic.
Related article: Pharrell’s Skincare Line Humanrace Is Finally Here
“Fighter” by Christina Aguilera
Christina Aguilera, who spent her preteens as a prominent presence on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, alongside stars like Spears and Ryan Gosling, endured a restricting early career that found her churning out bubblegum-pop hits, like “Genie in a Bottle,” before really hitting her own stride. By 2002, Aguilera had rebranded herself as a fully liberated woman with Stripped, a record dedicated to the new Christina, a young woman who was bolder … and a bit dirtier. “Fighter” celebrates her new freedoms and acknowledges the power in learning from the past: “’Cause if it wasn’t for all of your torture / I wouldn’t know how to be this way now,” she sings.
“We Belong Together” by Mariah Carey
In the ’90s, Mariah Carey was the It girl. She was a fresh-faced, doe-eyed vocal assassin, gracing the hook of every rap song that was smart enough to have her and shocking the nation with a register that was so expansive it made almost no sense. But by the 2000s, Carey was a certified icon, a grown woman who knew her worth and asked for what was rightfully hers. This made “We Belong Together” an even more noteworthy performance, as Carey stripped herself back a bit, offering a moment of unexpected, angelic vulnerability.
Related article: Mariah Carey Opens Up About Her Battle With Bipolar Disorder
“Bootylicious” by Destiny’s Child
Without the consummate harmonies and the convincingly sharp confidence, it might be hard to sell a word like bootylicious or make a statement like, “I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly,” sound anything but incredibly cringe. But with a perfectly timed Stevie Nicks sample and Prince-like squealing ad-libs, Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland, and Michelle Williams were able to do just that.
“Maps” by Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs
“Maps” is a lasting haunt, a devastating song that lingers in the subconscious well after it’s finished. Karen O, a queen of the post-punk revival of the early aughts, warbles through the first verse before succumbing to a wave of vulnerability, repeating the iconic plea (immortalised nearly 12 years later in Beyoncé’s “Hold Up”): “Wait, they don’t love you like I love you.” Between the airtight drumming and building propulsion of an electric guitar beneath her, “Maps” captures the despair and rage that comes with unrequited love, while still honoring the preserved power in O’s emotional ownership.
“My Boo” by Alicia Keys and Usher
Schoolyard love will forever hit different. “My Boo” is the official puppy-love anthem centering on first kisses and playground flirtation, and the special spot those memories hold.
“Hot in Herre” by Nelly
While Gen Z might be more familiar with the Nelly track for its “Buss It” infamy on TikTok, “Hot in Herre” had a life of its own in the early aughts. With an almost comically straightforward hook and poetic, painfully relatable conversations among friends about butt size, Nelly offers a simple solution to the all-too-familiar, too-hot-in-the-club problem: Just take off all your clothes.
“My Girls” by Animal Collective
Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion redefined the idea of commercial indie music. As their unofficial magnum opus, the album amplified their already-unhinged sound to unheard-of new levels, while simultaneously ushering in pop-adjacent, approachable melodies that were never on previous projects. Through the multiple layered vocal tracks, hand drumming, and warped instrumentals, “My Girls” is a whimsical sing-along with lyrics focused on life’s simple pleasures: “I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things … I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls.”
“Me, Myself, and I” by Beyoncé
For all of Beyoncé’s high-energy empowerment anthems and dance tracks, there’s the rarer side of her that’s present on songs like “Me, Myself, and I.” A woman eerily calm in the face of infidelity, Beyoncé proves her composure through reserved vocals and angelic whispers of self-actualization as she makes a promise to herself to protect her heart in the future.
“Someday” by The Strokes
In his signature sleepy drawl, The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas works his way through a series of fleeting promises, questionable proclamations, and backward figures of speech. Sparing the usual lofty romanticism, “Someday” indulges in the realistic longevity of a fun relationship, offering no long-term vows. It’s a beautiful summation of The Strokes’ appeal: honest and straightforward rock and roll with no added frills, just endearing realness.
“What You Waiting For” by Gwen Stefani
“What You Waiting For” was Gwen Stefani’s explosive step into her own path. The opening song of the former No Doubt front woman’s first solo record, the track is a saucily sleek and urgent take on electronic pop.
“Cry Me a River” by Justin Timberlake
Everything Timbaland touches is gold. In the early 2000s, there wasn’t a track that Timbaland couldn’t make hot, and somewhere in the mix, Justin Timberlake became one of his most effective vehicles. With the help of Scott Storch on lyrics, “Cry Me a River” is a timeless and ruthless cut on the consequences of adultery.
“I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” by Arctic Monkeys
Before Alex Turner coiffed his hair and cleaned up the Arctic Monkeys’ sound to something a bit slinkier, there was 2006’s “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.” Propelled by madman Matt Helders’s impossibly fierce drumming, the track is a supercharged anthem for the lads that fills every crack and crevice with grime and noise, as Turner drunkenly “makes the eyes” with someone flirting at the bar.
“My Happy Ending” by Avril Lavigne
Avril Lavigne’s aesthetic promised a much harder sound than her actualized prowess as a pop superstar. But Lavigne didn’t owe us anything, and this is a fact she didn’t let us forget, as she cosplayed a petulant punk girl with a pink tie and pin-straight waist-length hair for much of the early 2000s. “My Happy Ending” is Lavigne at her best, as she trash-talks an ex and his “dumb friends” on a punchy ballad.
“Love” by Keyshia Cole
Keyshia Cole’s “Love” is a vocal performance for the ages, but you don’t need to have require her pipes to sing along. From karaoke basements and sticky bar floors, “Love” is the undisputed people’s anthem, as every woman, man, and child can seemingly relate to falling in love with an unavailable partner.
“Always on Time” by Ja Rule featuring Ashanti
Ja Rule and Ashanti were the 2000s’ Sonny and Cher, or Marvin and Tammi. With nearly 10 collaborations between them, Ja Rule’s gruff New York style of rap is the sonic equivalent of a fine wine when paired with Ashanti’s ethereal hot-girl vocals. “Always on Time” interpolates between Ja yelling about “late-night loving” and Ashanti smoothly swearing to be better about answering calls.
“I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)” by Jay-Z featuring Pharrell
Rick James’s “Give It to Me Baby” was the ultimate ’80s horny anthem, making it the perfect callback for Jay-Z and Pharrell at the height of their himbo stage. With an endearingly off-key wail from Pharrell on the chorus, “I Just Wanna Love You” sticks out as one of the best in a handful of collaborations between the two.
“Can’t Get You Out of My Head” by Kylie Minogue
“Can’t Get You Out of My Head” followed its title: a groovy, disco‐fueled dance track that seems to embed itself into the deep crevices of the subconscious. Kylie Minogue picks the perfect moments to pull back vocally, opting for an occasional smooth and quiet vibrato, making the moments of intensity hit even harder.
“Ms. Jackson” by OutKast
On “Ms. Jackson,” Big Boi and André 3000 take on the tall task of apologizing to single mothers everywhere on behalf of absent fathers who are elsewhere, as they delicately work through the plights of thoughtless young love and its consequences. Over a beat that audibly warps as the song progresses, André 3000 speaks on a tender sentiment that remains largely untouched in hip-hop, adding Beach Boys-esque dog barks over mentions of “puppy love” and apologies.
“Chasing Pavements” by Adele
Devastating and arresting, “Chasing Pavements” was Adele’s first major entrance into pop culture’s continuum. Just a teenager at the time, her emotional depth and soaring vocal range was well beyond her years, and captivated us all.
“No Letting Go” by Wayne Wonder
If we’re being technical, “No Letting Go” is a ballad. Flooded with the already effervescent stylings of traditional dancehall production, Wayne Wonder’s earnest proclamations of love (“very special, really and truly”) seem to pour out of him, and yet for all the self-indulgent romanticism, Wonder still lets the beat rock enough to save some room for shaking ass.
“Electric Feel” by MGMT
MGMT’s “Electric Feel” was an omnipresent force when it dropped in 2007. The song offered a new era of psychedelic, synth-heavy pop rock that called back to the psych dawn of the ’60s, but the reception alone proved that the band was onto something with their groove renaissance.
“In Da Club” by 50 Cent
Sandwiched between a song about nearly being shot to death and a track about constantly being high lies 50 Cent’s biggest commercial success. “In Da Club” was 50’s crossover from beloved rap icon to household name, and though the radio still had to edit out his drug offerings and weapon talk, it was continued proof that the “gangster rap” of the ’90s was not some sort of subculture dying out anytime soon.
“So Sick” by Ne-Yo
“So Sick” is a breakup song meant for a very specific moment in the healing process. It’s a track that laments on that stage of melancholy when there seems to be nothing left to cry about, but there’s still somehow a lot of self-indulgent sadness left. “I’m so sick of love songs / So sad and slow / So why can’t I turn off the radio?” Ne-Yo asks, before succumbing to fantasies of what could have been.
“New Slang” by The Shins
Among the insurgence of pop punk, rap, and manufactured pop, The Shins’ presence in the early 2000s felt like an unintentionally subversive breath of fresh air. “New Slang” is a standout from their 2001 record Oh, Inverted World, a delicate, folky pop morsel with soft hums and softer guitar strums.
“Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira feat. Wyclef Jean
“Hips Don’t Lie” is a fusion of horns and hips with a delightfully catchy hook, thanks to an unforgettable trumpet loop and the perfect pairing of the Fugees’ Wyclef Jean and Colombian icon Shakira. While the song was originally written to spark a Fugees revival, Wyclef had to flip it quickly, adding Shakira as a writer and a producer, making its backstory nearly as fascinating as the song itself.
“Leave (Get Out)” by JoJo
JoJo was just 13 years old when “Leave Get Out” reached the top of the Billboard charts. For someone who was barely a teenager, the R&B-minded pop star somehow captured the rage of an unhealthy relationship, famously asserting, “You were just a waste of time.” The song’s success catapulted her into well-deserved fame.
“Fell in Love with a Girl” by The White Stripes
“Fell in Love with a Girl” is the pulsing, head-banging single from The White Stripes that came at a moment when the band still hadn’t completely earned their Hall of Fame plaque in indie rock. Meg White’s searing but straightforward drumming is perfectly timed with Jack White’s wails, as he begs to be freed from a brain completely taken over by a new love.
“Family Affair” by Mary J. Blige
Mary J. Blige is a beacon of hope, a fabled success story that includes rags to riches and triumph over tragedy. For all that she’s been through, Blige’s moments of bliss seem to hit even harder. “Family Affair” invites us to dance with her as she sails over a Dr. Dre beat, leaving us with an iconic request: “Don’t need no hateration, holleration in this dancerie.”
“I Write Sins Not Tragedies” by Panic! at the Disco
Every era has its own version of teen-angst music. For the mid-2000s, it was the very online branch of emo pop punk. “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” somehow made its way to the mainstream, becoming an unexpected ubiquitous smash hit. And it still finds itself a fan favorite at karaoke joints and sticky college bars across the country.
“All Falls Down” by Kanye West
Despite the shakiness of his political legacy in 2021, Kanye West’s 2004 track “All Falls Down” is an evergreen sociopolitical portrait. Co-written by none other than The Ms. Lauryn Hill, the track is a two-person perspective on the plights of consumerism and status as a Black American, oscillating between both a man and woman’s perspective. “We buy our way out of jail but we can’t buy freedom,” West quips.
“Like Glue” by Sean Paul
omewhere in the early 2000s, dancehall made its way to the United States, ushered in by its unofficial ambassador Sean Paul. “Like Glue” remains one of its brightest moments, as he delivers three straight minutes of absolute sunshine.
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US