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Eight Instant Classics: The Best Songs of the 21st Century (so far)

Updated on December 16, 2010

The top 8 hits since 2000

When it comes to music, I have to be brutally honest here - I'm not a fan of most of the pop hits that have dropped during this new millennium.

At all.

I have always preferred the classic songs from the mid-1960s through the 1970s. In my opinion, all-time greats such as the Rolling Stones, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Chicago and especially the Beatles were more about substance than style, unlike now; even acts like U2, Sting and his former band the Police were great about having substance in their recordings during the 1980s.

None of those people needed circus-like overproduction to get themselves noticed. Just their music was enough; no over-the-top stage extravaganzas or looking like space aliens like Lady Gaga.

And as for those boy bands that were so popular during this past decade, don't even get me started on them. Those so-called groups were bad producer's compilations whose lack of musicianship made me want to hurl - and still do.

Despite all of that, there are some songs in my book made since the turn of this century that are absolutely brilliant, performed and - unlike those pretty little boy bands - written by folks who actually dictated what their recordings should sound like, unlike too many singers today who leave all that to producers like Timbaland.

In reverse order, best going last, I though I'd reveal my list of the songs from this century that are not only musically outstanding but also had substance, so much so that it sometimes induced tears in my eyes when I heard them:

8. Love's Divine, Seal (2003)

It's impossible to make a list like this without the inclusion of something from this man.

After the brilliance of his smashes like "Crazy" and the Oscar-winning "Kiss From A Rose", the husband of supermodel Heidi Klum did not disappoint with this single from his Seal IV album; it's an understatement to say that it was most uplifting with messages of love and tolerance that Seal is famous for.

The fact that about 95% of this Londoner's songs are his own lyrics are great as well; it's just about him, his band and his voice, which is the way it should be.

7. Beautiful, Christina Aguilera (2002)

Of all those teenybopper pop princes and princesses out there, this former Mousekateer, because of her incredible voice, is the only one whom I respect.

Although her friend Linda Perry wrote it, this song, which reached number two on the pop charts and won a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal in 2004, forced me to take Ms. Aguilera seriously once and for all.

"Beautiful" is the quintessential esteem-raising anthem of this 21st century to date, with a theme of how no matter how different one may be, they are "...beautiful in every single way, and words can't bring you down."

Let's put it like this: Remember around ten years ago when fans were arguing over who was better, Christina or her old Mouseka-best friend Britney Spears, being that both of them became stars at about the same time?

Christina won, and this song was the one that clinched it.

6. Lose Yourself, Eminem (2002)

Due to the fact that rap and hip hop has been the dominant musical genre for the past quarter of a century, to not include any songs from this genre would be very ignorant of me.

This cut from the soundtrack of the movie 8 Mile was significant, and not just because it was #1 on the Billboard charts for 12 weeks - a record for a rap song - or because it won two Grammy awards. It's significant due to the fact that it's the first rap tune to ever win an Oscar for Best Original Song, a most tremendous feat.

People were touched by the theme of grit and determination in the face of tough times - very tough times - that Marshall Mathers conveyed through this smash and in the film, which is the reason why it was such a classic right away and will go down as exactly that.

5. In Da Club, 50 Cent (2002)

This would be the hip hop song I would choose as the best of the 2000s so far, if I was forced to make such a choice.

The background rhythm and beats made by Curtis Jackson, who was discovered by Dr.Dre of N.W.A. fame and Eminem, are intoxicating and was the main factor in this debut single breaking out so big, spending nine weeks at #1 on Billboard while earning a Grammy nomination.

The muscular 50 Cent was named by MTV as their Best New Artist as well as giving him the award for Best Rap Video during their 2003 Video Music Awards, but he was completely robbed at the Grammys that year when Evanescence, a group that I had never even heard of, beat him out for that Best New Artist trophy; I think they should give him that little statue, as he was clearly the breakout act that year due to this song alone.

4. Hey Ya, Outkast (2003)

I vividly recall when this single and accompanying video first came out; it got so quickly huge that it seemed that nothing else was being played on the radio or on MTV's Total Request Live.

The video of this smash was a particular classic, with all of Andre 3000's energy that he exuded; I even found myself shimmying a bit whenever it came on, and I hate to dance - that is saying something.

Spending nine weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and winning a Grammy for Best Urban/Alternative Performance, in addition to becoming Video of the Year at MTV's 2004 VMAs, to say that it was an instant classic would be a gross understatement.

And to not include this song on this list would be a blasphemous crime as well as a heinous sin.

3. Game of Love, Santana featuring Michelle Branch (2002)

I was in tears when I first heard this song and for many times afterward, for several reasons:

First, seeing a legend like Carlos Santana, who played at Woodstock for God's sake, still making relevant music four decades after beginning his career, was incredible to see; he's as much of a guitar virtuoso now as he was during his "Evil Ways" and "Oye Como Va" days.

And second, it was ecstatic to see someone like Michelle Branch's (who provided the song's vocals) talent and especially musical ability. Being that it was in the time of popettes like Britney Spears and a young lady who once had trouble telling chicken from fish, Jessica Simpson - check out her Newlyweds show with her ex Nick Lachey sometime - I exclaimed upon first hearing and seeing Michelle, "Finally! Someone who actually plays an instrument and doesn't use 20 dancers!"

To put it bluntly, this girl was GOOD, the track being near-perfect in winning a Grammy and peaking at #5 on the pop charts.

And on top of everything else, the video was outstanding, as it featured just Michelle and Carlos Santana on their guitars singing with their backup band and shots of couples showing their love to each other, no elaborate dance numbers or anything like that.

Which pop music SO needs more of - much more.

2. Diary, Alicia Keys (2003)

When this artist's first album, Songs In A Minor, came out, I was so exceedingly glad that there was at long last someone out who, unlike far too many of her contemporaries, was a true musician. It greatly pleased me that here was a young lady who did not need fifty background dancers in her concerts - just her, her piano, and her band.

Though it is most folks' opinion that "If I Ain't Got You" is Alicia's best work, I feel that this title track to her follow-up record, which won a Grammy for Best R & B Album and debuted at number one, was a bit more touching as it peaked solidly in the top ten.

In addition to all of that, this New York City piano prodigy is not only very pretty, she also gives an impression of being very cool; thank the Good Lord that there are still people like her in show business.

After giving it some thought as to which song is the best of this century to date, I realized that it wasn't really that close...

1. Ordinary People, John Legend (2005)

This debut single by this musician - and that's exactly what he is in the purest sense - had such a brilliance to it that I recently shed tears while listening to it online.

This ballad featuring his voice, his piano and nothing else, which won the Grammy in 2006 for Best Male R & B Vocal, has a beautiful message of love, relationships and persevering through tough times, so much so that marriage counselors ought to consider using it in their practices.

The song's simplicity and lyrics make it the perfect track, a symphony of four-and-a-half minutes that was like a perfect meal to my ears. This lyrical sample should convince everybody:

"And though love sometimes hurts / I still put you first / And we'll make this thing work / But I think we should take it slow...

We're just ordinary people / We don't know which way to go / Cuz we're ordinary people / Maybe we should take it slow..."

Needless to say, this song will undoubtedly make many all-time top 100 lists if it hasn't already done so. I'm most looking forward to the day it does.

There they are - my list of the best songs of this young millennium.

Due to the fact that it's strictly my views being expounded here, I am positive that I'll get disagreements from at least a few sources, particularly among the worshippers of Rhianna, Beyonce, Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, and others of that ilk. I can hear them now:

"Where are Britney and the great Lady Gaga?!  Why on earth are they not on this list ?! And where the hell is Taylor Swift?!!"

I'm also expecting some preteen in upper grade school or middle school to angrily jump my case for not including the Jonas Brothers, Justin Bieber, or Hannah Montana (or should I say Miley Cyrus). I'm sure I'll hear it from Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato disciples, too.

By having these musicians on this top-8 list, however, I can hopefully remind people that artists who play their own instruments, write their own material, and go on stage without lavish sets still exist.

And that rather than be a huge production like a Busby Berkeley-style musical on Broadway, music is meant to be listened to.

Which one of these songs do you think is the best?

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    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      I think what you've said is relevant, but Taylor Swift plays guitar, writes/co-writes her songs, and has managed to turn that into mass appeal. Justin Timberlake is a multi-instrumentalist and co-writes his material. Yes, they both have lavish sets but they also have other sides to them too. But I like the fact you picked simple songs with heart. Interesting and voted up.


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