10 Great Pop Songs from the Noughties

It’s been a day for celebration as the Chilean miners have begun their ascent. My mate Kenny reckons he liked them when they were still underground – but now everyone’s talking about them …

Kenny’s weird. He doesn’t like pop. I mean, granted, most pop’s rubbish, but every now and then a pop song makes the charts that’s as weird and wonderful, complex and exciting as any other style of music. Here, to remind us, are some of the best.

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Gwen Stefani – What You Waiting For? (Love. Angel. Music. Baby., 2004)


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The story behind this New Wave treat goes that Stefani’s first day in the studio with the legendary Linda Perry was disastrous, with Gwen breaking down in tears of self-doubt. Perry played her a tune the next day, which Gwen really loved, and Perry said, “Well, what are you waiting for?” The pair then documented Gwen’s emotional state to form the lyrics. It is unknown whether white rabbits were involved in the proceedings.

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Sugababes – Stronger (Angels With Dirty Faces, 2002)


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Back when the Sugababes made truly excellent records, this ripped off Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy to devastating effect. Lush strings complement the fine three-part harmony against a languid trip-hop beat. This song is a great reminder of how they used to sound before they lapsed into bland, shallow elevator muzak.

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Robbie Williams – Tripping (Intensive Care, 2005)


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Robbie’s probably the most frustrating pop star of all – a career defined by intense mediocrity punctuated with occasional moments of brilliance. This is one. Tripping blends The Clash with Gary Clail in a bizarre “cabaret act reggae” song about gangsters. He sings about how they “don’t kill their own and they all love their mothers”, while strings lazily do their own thing. The song is so wilfully strange, unexpected and downright fascinating – I just wish all his songs were this great.

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Kelis – Milkshake – (Tasty, 2003)

That instantly memorable sub-bass and completely unexpected chord progressions makes a “perfect blend” with Kelis’s sultry vocal. Written and produced by The Neptunes, a duo consisting of Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, the “milkshake” has been claimed to be that special combination that makes a woman unique – or just a random word picked on a whim.

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Robbie & Kylie – Kids (Sing When You’re Winning, 2000)


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This sizzling duet is absolutely spellbinding. The song’s a potent blend of Rolling Stones attitude and Grease soundtrack karaoke appeal. It’s a song Primal Scream would be proud to have written. Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers wrote this for Kylie at her request, but then Robbie suggested a duet. The lyrics wryly poke fun at both their careers, and the whole thing bounds along with the playful exuberance of a puppy.

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Lady Gaga – Paparazzi (The Fame, 2009)


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The creepiest love song in history sounds divine when belted out on the piano, but the pared down electronics on the single evoke Fame-era Bowie (though not as much as other tracks on the album). Lady Gaga is the least convincing pop star I’ve ever seen – an obvious rock star playing dress up in pop clothes to earn a few quid. Still, it’s that very tension that makes Gaga so bewitching – she’s clearly too clever, able and confident to be a real pop star, which makes you wonder if she’d be nearly as interesting if she’d stuck to rock.

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Beyoncé – Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) (I Am … Sasha Fierce, 2008)


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What I love is how this starts off as classic Motown before that brutal sub-bass kicks in and expands the song into a very 21st century dimension. Singer-songwriter The-Dream came up with the concept, which Knowles then recorded following her then-secret marriage with Jay-Z. The video was inspired by the Bob Fosse choreographed performance by Gwen Verdon in Mexican Breakfast. Beyoncé’s $5 million wedding ring is camoflaged against her titanium glove in the iconic video.

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Rihanna – Umbrella (Good Girl Gone Bad, 2007)


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If Lady Gaga’s songs are growers, Umbrella has the disctinction of being a song almost everyone hates on first listen but suddenly falls in love with halfway through and adores it by the end. The sheer diversity of cover versions (including one by the Manic Street Preachers) demonstrates how great the songwriting is on what initially seems to be infantile in its simplicity. It reminds me a lot of Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day – especially in that delicious build towards the end. Rihanna’s en pointe dancing was her own suggestion. At 10 consecutive weeks, Umbrella had the longest run at number one in the UK charts that decade.

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Black Eyed Peas – Shut Up (Elephunk, 2003)


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Fergie was recruited especially for this song, which wasn’t initially released in the US but became a huge hit internationally. It’s difficult to say just why this is so special, but it’s something to do with the playfulness of the interweaving sections of vocals and instrumentation, the laidback approach to rhythm, mixing in strings and surf-rock guitars, which sounds both classic and contemporary in a way that only Outkast managed at the time. It’s a feat they’ve never bettered, nor even come close to matching since.

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Britney Spears – Toxic (In the Zone, 2004)


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Co-written and produced by Bloodshy & Avant, the song was initially offered to Kylie Minogue, but she rejected it. Spears has named Toxic as her favorite song from her career, and originally had to convince her record label to release it as a single. It sounds like prime Danielle Dax infused with funky bhangra. What’s not to love?

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One comment on “10 Great Pop Songs from the Noughties

  1. Pingback: Top 10 Posts 2010 « Reinspired

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