These Songs Could Have Changed Your Life: The Best Rejected Songs of the MillenniumFox Searchlight
In which 20 Grantland writers wipe their eyes, put on their headphones, take a walk, and attempt to process the most egregious omissions from the final Top 64 Best Songs of the Millennium list.
[Scroll to the bottom for the NIT Spotify Playlist.]
The Shins, “New Slang”
Steven Hyden: Let’s acknowledge a few of the biases inherent in the creation of this bracket. There is no metal. There is only a smattering of country. Rock music is consistently relegated to the lowest seeds. Pretty much anything played on an acoustic stringed instrument is apparently verboten. Bands you might like — Spoon, the National, the Hold Steady, Queens of the Stone Age, the Flaming Lips, Modest Mouse, Drive-By Truckers, Bon Iver, Mastodon, Fucked Up, TV on the Radio, Muse — are nowhere to be found. This is a list where “great song” is synonymous with “rap and pop bangers that were popular on the radio once.” That doesn’t mean the bracket is terrible, necessarily — just that if you happen to be among the troglodytes for whom “rap and pop bangers that were popular on the radio once” does not constitute quality listening, sorry, you are left out. Perhaps this makes you feel like a sad-eyed man filling out paperwork in a doctor’s office while a dog sexually assaults your leg. Maybe you’re looking for an improbably attractive crazy woman to place a pair of headphones on your head so that you can feel connected to something again. Remember when this song was supposed to change your life? It’s still awesome! Sure, it’s wimpy. And acoustic. And the lyrics aren’t meme-friendly. And maybe it’s a little sad or (gasp!) depressing. But it’s a well-written, highly durable, catchy, and really great song, with a chorus and verses and whistling! Can we honestly say the 64 tunes that made it into this bracket are better songs than “New Slang”? No. No we can’t.
Bill Barnwell: Like a baseball Hall of Fame voter who doesn’t bother to vote for the Madduxian candidate who’s definitely going to be elected, I almost didn’t nominate “Grindin'” when I sent in my list of nominations for this bracket. Sure, I probably had to go to bat for “Queen of Hearts,” but “Grindin'”? The best beat the Neptunes ever committed to tape? The one that just about anybody who was in high school or college in 2002 can re-create with a school desk and a pen from memory alone? The one that is a guaranteed tear-the-house-down beat to this day, and that I saw dudes going nuts for in a Bourbon Street bar last weekend? The one that turned Clipse — obtuse, bleak, otherwise critical darlings Clipse — into household names? We left that off for late-period Britney Spears? For maybe the seventh-best song on Is This It? The Yeah Yeah Yeahs song that everybody couldn’t wait to stop playing in Rock Band? Nah. We did Pusha and Malice a disservice here. And by “we,” I mean “the people who voted on these nominations in Grantland’s conference room whose names, phone numbers, and addresses should be revealed to the public for the inevitable prank calls and civil disobedience campaigns to come.” That site jumped the shark a couple years ago anyway.
Cali Swag District, “Teach Me How to Dougie”
Alex Pappademas: From the passenger seat, half-awake, Iris asked “Why are we stopping?”
Her father said, “I want you to see this.”
Iris looked around as they pulled over. Bare trees, chain-link fences, factories behind them, long dark, their windows soaped or broken. No sign of life, except for the stray dog regarding them warily from behind a pile of old mattresses, gnawing on what had once been the frames from an old pair of bright-red Ray-Bans. Her father opened the door, got out of the car, said “Come on.”
Iris was used to his impromptu history lessons by now, but rolled her eyes anyway, on general 17-year-old-girl principles. She got out. “What am I looking at, Dad?” she asked with a heavy sigh. Her father had wandered out into the empty street for an unobstructed view: miles of warehouses and factories, all quiet and disused, stretching off into the distance. “This was it,” he said. “This was the Cali Swag District.”
“It’s a bunch of broken-down buildings,” Iris said, crossing her arms, wishing she hadn’t left her sweater in the car. “I feel like we’re going to get mugged.”
“This used to be the biggest swag district in the country,” her father said. “Back in the 2000s, these factories ran 24 hours a day, cranking out pure swag.”
“What happened to this place?” Iris asked.
“Well, it was one of those things — the country just forgot how important swag was,” her father said. “It started when some website tried to determine the best song of the century and left ‘Teach Me How to Dougie’ off the list. Like, they didn’t even put it to a vote, let the people decide — they didn’t even give it a chance. They thought it was a dumb novelty hit — a song that was an anthem for a whole industry, people with families, working swagmen and women who got up early and punched a clock because they believed in the importance of the Dougie.
“It was this immense symbolic abandonment, and the ripple effect was catastrophic for swag,” he said. “Within a year they’d stopped teaching the Dougie in schools. You know Justin Bieber, the famous rare-earth mining tycoon? He used to do music, believe it or not. Swag died and he had to change careers. By 2015, maybe 2016, all the swag districts in the country had shut down. Remember the end of The Lorax, where they’ve killed all the trees and the Once-ler’s family just cuts and runs? That’s how fast it happened. It was like this whole part of the city just died of a broken heart.”
From a nearby roof, a flock of pigeons took wing. Iris’s father realized the sun was going down. “I’m sorry, honey — I get too worked up about these things. Let’s go home. Your mom’s waiting for us.” They drove home in silence, and a few weeks later President Rihanna started the Second Nanodrone War.
The White Stripes, “Seven Nation Army”
Mark Lisanti: Not to pull back the curtain on our selection process and expose the Sharpie-woozy vote tabulators scribbling numbers like “38&%)$@@” and “cake” on the Big Board, but “Seven Nation Army” bit the dust because of the dreaded “marching band penalty.” You know: If you can play it at midfield with tubas and French horns and socially awkward people in hats that have that weird strap that hangs down below the nose, it can’t possibly be a good song. It’s a Jock Jam. It’s halftime entertainment.
Let me just say this: “Seven Nation Army” would still be amazing on the kazoo. Coming through the broken rear-left speaker in a Target elevator. On the MOON. It is the fight song of the Confederate Steampunk Army as it high-steps into battle, armed only with those one-rotten-board-and-a-wire-and-a-9V-battery log-guitars Jack White improvises at the beginning of It Might Get Loud. It is the sound of victory. And of an injudiciously deployed Whammy pedal. White likes all sorts of weird shit that makes his thrift-store axes sound like black-market dentist drills coming to annihilate your cavities. I think he might have dabbled in oral surgery during his Detroit upholstery shop phase.
Marching band song, though. Keep going with that.
Jimmy Eat World, “The Middle”
My Chemical Romance, “Helena”
Andy Greenwald: Of all the travesties perpetrated by this Best Songs of the Millennium bracket — and there are many (Miley and M.O.P: You will be avenged!) — the one that hit me hardest was the complete erasure of an entire decade of
bros whining about their girlfriends pop/punk. Look, I can’t pretend I don’t have some lightly bruised skin in this particular game, but you can’t talk about the 2000s without at least mentioning a genre responsible for (a) some great songs, (b) some hilarious hair, and (c) the last dying gasp of anything resembling “mainstream” rock music.
The omission of Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down” and just about anything released by blink-182 during this period (“First Date”? “Feeling This”?) is so egregious that each deserves its own champion. Instead, I’ll just strap on my white belt and make the case for the two tracks I had on my own ballot. Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle” is both a perfect pop song and the pinprick that launched a thousand bleeding hearts. Do you remember the video? And how it turned macho convention on its head (but also showed plenty of midriff)? Do you remember when we said things like “do you remember the video”? And My Chemical Romance’s “Helena” closed the feedback loop on all this emo silliness, connecting heretofore unnoticed dots between drama geekery, heavy metal riffage, and grandma nostalgia. Real G’s aren’t afraid of guitar solos or Busby Berkeley musicals.
These were songs fueled by teenage fatalism and adult ambition. They sounded great in the moment and they sound even better all grown up. The field of 64 is demonstrably weaker without them. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to make like my mascara and run.
The Knife, “Heartbeats”
Emily Yoshida: Here is the thing about getting a bunch of opinionated people to agree on 64 songs to represent 13 years of music while trying to maintain critical integrity: Everyone gets their feelings hurt. Admitting that any song may bring you more joy or hit you in your goopy emotional space more violently than, say, “Ignition” is asking to be mocked by your peers and readers. For what it’s worth, “Idioteque” beats “Ignition” for a Final Four spot in my personal bracket, but I was too embarrassed to campaign for it on Twitter, because ultimately it’s easier and more fun to argue with your head (I’ve got 2,000 words about why “Toxic” should have beat “Cry Me a River”) than with your heart. (From 17 to 27, “Idioteque” has been on my soundtrack for late-night drives into existential wilderness, but nobody cares about that, and also how obvious, and also I’m already wondering if I should have admitted that in public.)
Similarly, two alt-dance-pop sleepers were in our voting pool, songs that were music-snob darlings at the time of their release but also have the stigma of being music-snob darlings at the time of their release, and songs that are not nearly as fun to go hard for as “TiK ToK.” (Please, please continue to vote for “TiK ToK.”) Context doesn’t matter, but of course, context always ends up mattering. Still, if you woke someone up who had been in a coma for the past 50 years and played the Knife’s “Heartbeats” and Annie’s “Heartbeat” for them, I’m pretty sure they’d feel the same way I did when I first heard them as a college radio geek. They wouldn’t know that they both placed high on the Pitchfork lists for their respective years, or that they came from a part of the world that is known to be scarily good at creating euphoric, timeless pop. Or that both songs are named for the thing that has suddenly started pounding in their chest. They’d probably just want to dance.
The Walkmen, “The Rat”
Amos Barshad: Listen: Your favorite band writes terrible lyrics. I mean, no, I don’t actually know what act it is you love and cherish more than anyone (and no, I’m not just assuming that it is Linkin Park). I’m just saying, it’s a safe bet. Let’s be honest: Roughly 95 percent of rock-and-roll lyrics, from today and back into time immemorial, are trite, or meaninglessly impenetrable, or idiotic, or all three at the same time. Strip them away from the music, lay them bare on a lined piece of paper, read them out loud in a quiet room with good acoustics, and what you’d hear reverberating off those walls would embarrass us all.
And that’s totally OK. In fact, that’s sort of the point. Because when they’re cooed just so, accentuated with grunts or shoved forward onto the lip of the stage or reluctantly coughed up, all phlegm-riddled, they achieve, despite — no, because of — their triteness or their impenetrability or their idiocy (especially their idiocy) transcendence.
But forget about that for now. Here, we’re talking about the other 5 percent.
On “The Rat,” Hamilton Leithauser spends most of his time attempting some catharsis through anger and bulging his neck vein at potentially lethal artery-busting levels to get there. There’s a girl, see, and she’s calling again, after a long while, and it’s seriously fucking with him, because after all those times he’d bloodied his hands on her front door, how dare she do this to him now? And then comes the bridge, and Leithauser exhales. “When I used to go out, I would know everyone that I saw,” he tells us, plaintively. “Now I got out alone, if I go out at all.” He repeats himself a couple of times, even trying to work up some more rage here and there. But it’s not to be had. Because it’s just those words. That’s what loneliness sounds like.
Nelly, “Country Grammar”
Tess Lynch: It has come to my attention that we, in making this bracket that has already caused you so much Facebook distress, have put you in an impossible situation. We’ve asked you to choose between Nelly and Radiohead. We’ve only given you one chance to say, “Hey, Nelly, I love you. I loved you then and I love you now. I love ‘Hey Porsche’ and the remix of ‘Cruise’ and I tried to drink your Pimp Juice.” I just want you to know that I had no hand in that. The voting process only gives us a few four-point votes to spend on our favorites: I spent half my all-mighty vote-crushing fours on Nelly, and if I had had infinite fours, I’d have blown them all on his entire oeuvre. When “Country Grammar” dropped, our high school volleyball team put this single on their warm-up mix and my friends and I would drive down Sunset Boulevard in Volkswagens blasting it while playing the McDonald’s Monopoly game. Fries, youth, good cheer. Good times! Hey, aughties! We stole this song from St. Louis and applied it liberally to our L.A. teenage evenings. Just because “Hot in Herre” is lyrically superior doesn’t mean that we should ask you to ignore the clicks and pops that make “Country Grammar (Hot Shit)” the banner ’90s-’00s bridge that it is. This is the road to Nellyville, to “Ride Wit Me” and “Air Force Ones.” It’s fucking seminal! Also, the video makes me laugh. Wig shopping and iguanas.
The Hold Steady, “Sequestered in Memphis”
Brian Koppelman: Personal to Grantland Deputy Editor Dan Fierman:
When we were in your office flipping through old CD sleeves, you actually had me convinced you were a music fan. You were conversant about bands like the Replacements, knew that Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple were members of the dBs, not Nobel Prize–winning scientists, and seemed to have more than a passing familiarity with the National. So when you asked me to submit a list of best songs of the century, I complied. Willingly.
Don’t I feel like a dupe.
Looking at this list you “oversaw,” I am struck by the fact that it seems as though it were put together with the same thoughtfulness and care that the Timberwolves were.
I could easily write about the absurdity of not including any songs from Johnny Cash’s American IV: The Man Comes Around, the exclusion of which, in one quick move, excises Rick Rubin, Trent Reznor, and the Man in Black himself from the bracket. But I guess demographics have to be considered, and no one over at corporate is looking to grab the 44- to 105-year-old contingent.
But the thing that really kills me is that the Hold Steady’s “Sequestered in Memphis” is nowhere to be found. This song might actually be the best recording of the century when the century ends 87 years from now. Tad Kubler and Craig Finn capture, in one three-and-a-half-minute blast, exactly how desperate the wrong kind of weekend with the wrong kind of girl can leave you. And they do it with a ripping riff; snarling, Elvis Costello/Bobby D vocals; brutal, brilliant lyrics; and a melody you cannot get out of your head. When “Sequestered in Memphis” came out, I blasted it and nothing else for days. And still, years later, when I put it on, it thrills the fuck out of me.
I know, I know, music is personal and subjective and blah blah blah. But the Hold Steady are the best band in the world. And “Sequestered in Memphis” is their best song. They belong on the bracket.
Johnny Cash, “Hurt”
Holly Anderson: Brian points out that the exclusion of this song from the bracket takes out Cash, Trent Reznor, and Rick Rubin with one blow, and he’s not wrong, but what hit me first about “Hurt” making some kind of millennial list was how far displaced in time Cash is on it. That’s got to count for something. Hell, it was a song out of time when it dropped in 2003, a marquee shitkicker not liking what he’s left behind him and what that might mean further up on the road. Johnny wouldn’t give a damn about this bracket, but the man is a king. Show some respect.
Vanessa Carlton, “A Thousand Miles”
Wesley Morris: Maybe I’m only the person on earth who didn’t think about a grande caramel no-whip Frappuccino when I heard this song. I banged my head because this, in a demure way, felt like rock and roll. Carlton was no Tori Amos, but she wasn’t a choir girl, either. Oh, the days spent banging on an air piano, singing “sky-yy-yy.” Maybe the young-woman-mewls-at-instrument thing is now Taylor Swift territory. Maybe Carly Rae Jepsen has supplanted Carlton in the yearning-for-you division of pop. The song’s youth doesn’t hold up. You can really hear the cursive and glued-on macaroni in the lyrics now. But that piano riff? That’s still Walter White–quality stuff, something you’d walk a thousand miles to hear.
Missy Elliot, “Get Ur Freak On”
Morris: I’m guessing the reason no Missy Elliot song made the top 64 is because, like a lot of great songs, their DNA wound up with other, more “contemporary” people — Nicki Minaj, Ke$ha, M.I.A. Elliot was an elemental part of the late ’90s and early ’00s. (“Lose Control” is even purer perfection.) But what seemed so fearless and revolutionary about her then seems normal now. We take her sense of adventure for granted now because all her progeny are having a flashier time with bolder production. But it’s important to remember that in 2001 this song sounded like a space odyssey.
’N Sync, “Bye Bye Bye”
Shea Serrano: I was a sophomore in college when ’N Sync was really very unstoppably popular. This was back right around 2000, when their album No Strings Attached* released and shifted the continents several feet overnight. I didn’t like them very much. I didn’t like Justin Timberlake’s bizarro Afro or J.C. Chasez’s skeletal structure (I think his dad might’ve been the bad guy from The Time Machine) or Chris Kirkpatrick’s infinite corniness or Lance Whatever’s blandness or that Joey Fatone looked like someone’s fatter uncle.
[*No Strings Attached sold 2.4 million copies in the first week, which is still a record, BTW.]
Now, I will admit: My dislike of ’N Sync was barely rooted in musicianship. Far as I could tell, they were comparably talented to Backstreet Boys. Mostly, my disdain for ’N was rooted in the fact that they usurped the Backstreet Boys as the most prominent band of boys on planet Earth. This was troubling because (a) at the time, I bore a noticeable resemblance to Backstreet’s A.J., so him being important made me feel important, and, maybe more importantly, (b) after three years of practice, I’d learned the dance from their 1997 single “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back).” But still, hatred never needs little more than a wick, and those ridiculous braids that Chris Kirkpatrick had weaved into his hair worked just fine for that.
So that was me. That was my life. But then this happened:
That’s a video of their performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, which hit its creative apex (and maybe the universe’s creative apex) during a redo of “Bye Bye Bye,” the single that exploded them into the cosmos.
It’s amazing. It’s wonderful. It’s just everything. Those four minutes and 13 seconds represented a cultural and ideological reallocation that neither I nor my endless dislike nor even Thor’s thundercock could undo. Nothing was ever the same after that moment. NOTHING. N-O-T-H-I-N-G. I can think of no greater crime than “Bye Bye Bye” not being included in the Battle for the Best Song of the Millennium. I have failed. You have failed. God has failed.
R.I.P., ’N Sync, but really, R.I.P., decency.
Gwen Stefani, “Hollaback Girl”
Sarah Larimer: Fun fact: When my buddies and I threw parties in college, we’d stick a few songs on our playlist that we figured would come on during Peak Inebriation. Stuff everyone knew but would be too embarrassed to sing sober. And for a fairly significant portion of time, the best of that group was “Hollaback Girl,” a song in which Gwen Stefani rhymes “So that’s right dude, meet me at the bleachers” with “No principals, no student-teachers,” because she is an artist. “Hollaback Girl” could not be topped, it was the queen of Drunk Mountain, and it brought nothing but joy to us journalism students in mid-Missouri. So I salute you, “Hollaback Girl.” You are
probably definitely not the greatest song of the millennium, but you made me laugh for years, so I’ll be your champion here and say that the exclusion of this instant Stefani classic is bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S.
Joe feat. Mystikal, “Stutter (Remix)”
Danny Chau: Congratulations to Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” for advancing to the Round of 32. It deserves it; it’s a great song. But as far as soulfully bitter responses to infidelity go, it might not even be the best song in the 2000-03 region. In 2001, a year before “Cry Me a River” was released, a remix of Joe’s “Stutter,” featuring Mystikal, topped the Billboard charts — something “Cry Me a River” never did, though Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” had a lot to do with that — for four consecutive weeks. This tied it with Usher’s “U Remind Me” for longest Billboard no. 1 run for a male artist in 2001. The numbers are there for “Stutter,” but even they don’t do the song justice.
The “Stutter” remix was a force, whereas the original was a tepid throwaway single. If there was a flaw in Joe’s career, it was that he was too smooth (well, that and his remarkably unimaginative moniker). The original “Stutter” was too soft, too unconvincing. There was no discord, no tension. It took a remix by Soulstar to give us a peek of aggression, of urgency, in Joe. But the song would be nothing without Mystikal crash-landing in the middle and destroying everything in his path. If Joe’s soothing monochrome is an indicator of something more sinister bubbling from within, Mystikal’s terrifying verse is the repressed id of the otherwise mild-mannered jilted lover. You don’t cross Mystikal. And you don’t leave this song out of a “best songs of the millennium” discussion.
Sean Fennessey: Remember these guys? Biggest rock band in the world? Earnest? Winsome? Tender? No? OK. [Cries wet, heavy Goop tears.]
Avril Lavigne, “Complicated”
Patricia Lee: When we first decided we were going to go with this bracket idea and were asked to send in our submissions for the best songs of the last 13 years, I was ecstatic. I (unashamedly) have a “2000s Throwback!” playlist on Spotify that is filled with Relient K, blink-182, the Fray, and Simple Plan songs. Needless to say, most of my 70 suggestions were typical angsty teen songs of the early aughts with a few Missy Elliott, Shakira, and Pink songs thrown in the mix. None of these, save “Toxic,” made it. The biggest omission?
MY GIRL AVRIL LAVIGNE.
A few life lessons to take away from her songs:
On freaking out:
Chill out, what you yellin’ for?
Lay back, it’s all been done before
On never relinquishing your youth:
Singing Radiohead at the top of our lungs
With the boom box blaring as we’re falling in love
Got a bottle of whatever, but it’s getting us drunk
Singing here’s to never growing up
And last, but not least, on raising your children:
He was a boy
She was a girl
Can I make it any more obvious?
He was a punk.
She did ballet.
What more can I say?
Trillville, “Some Cut”
Molly Lambert: During the 2000s, when it came to new music I only really listened to rap and pop. The Bush years were depressing enough already. I wanted to hear things that made me feel awesome and invincible, not mopey and contemplative. I listened to hyphy, crunk, and Houston screw music, in rotation with Britney’s Blackout album. Trillville formed in 1997 in Atlanta when they were in ninth grade, and got signed by Lil Jon, who released their first album as a split double album with Lil’ Scrappy. Their first single, “Neva Eva,” should also be on this list, but the third single, “Some Cut,” is the one that really stole my heart and remains in my top 10 all-time most played on iTunes. Maybe it’s the squeaky bed-springs beat by Lil Jon, or the filthy (but also funny) lyrics. Maybe it’s the fact that Dirty Mouth compares his bedchamber to a multi-supervillain lair. Maybe it’s just that I never so much as pass a mall without thinking about following that ass in it. Yeah, it’s probably that.
Cam’ron, “Hey Ma”
Andrew Sharp: Let’s be clear: There should be more than one Dipset song on this list — Cam’s “Halftime Show” freestyle; Jim Jones rapping over the Beverly Hills Cop theme song; Jim Jones and Hell Rell with “Eastside Birdgang”; Weezy and Cam on “Touch It or Not”; that time they rapped about selling cocaine over the Sesame Street theme song; “White Christmas,” which is about exactly what you think it’s about; “Welcome to New York City”; “Down and Out” (that 1970s heroin flow); “The Roc,” because the Just Blaze beat alone will end your whole life; Juelz sampling Billy Joel for “U Oughta Know.” Cam’ron really did used to drop Lewinsky off at the White House.
Look, I get that we couldn’t have an entire region dedicated to Dipset with this tournament. I understand. But “Hey Ma” was supposed to be the compromise.
EVERYONE LOVES “HEY MA.”
We can all agree on “Hey Ma.”
“Hey Ma” would’ve won the whole damn tournament.
But, somehow, amazingly, “Hey Ma” got left off the list.
This is bullshit. I quit. Me, Rem, Katie, Barnwell, Cho, and hopefully Chris Ryan. We all quit. We’re all going to start Dipset Grantland. “Sports, Drugs, and Entertainment” will double as our mission statement. We’ll interview athletes about Dipset. We’ll interview Dipset about athletes. Every pop culture reference we make in any article will be about Dipset. Every post will be printed on a purple background and rendered mostly unreadable. We’ll expense fur coats, we’ll do a deep dive into Cam’s second “What Means the World to You” verse and how it changed Penny and Tim Hardaway’s lives. This video of Kanye and Cam’ron rapping about sizzurp will be locked permanently atop the new Hollywood Prospectus blog. It’ll all be great. And in retrospect, we’ll all be better off. Good-bye, Grantland. It’s better this way.
Long live the Dipset millennium.
Rembert Browne: I had prepared a long list of excuses for why Outkast’s “B.O.B.” didn’t make the cut and why that’s not the end of the world, but while typing them I realized that they’re all useless.
Because it is the end of the world.
The song that verbalized the end of one millennium, in the beginning of the next millennium, did not make this list. The song that, while not a monster radio single, was a definite turning point in music, did not make the list. The song with one of the most insanely creative music videos ever did not make the list.
I blame no one but myself. I can never show my face in Atlanta again. Delta just put me on a blacklist. My mother probably won’t even let me come home for Christmas.
Things are worse than ever.
But, seeing how the first round was voted on, it probably would have lost to “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” in a landslide. So there’s that.