The 2000s were a unique decade when it came to music. From the ambient noises of Brian Eno to festival smashers like DeadMau5 and the Foo Fighters. Obscure acts like Gorillaz and Skrillex were able to go from nowhere to chart-topping success.
Of course, there were GaGa, Bieber, Lil Wayne, Radiohead, Coldplay, and numerous others scorching the charts across the world. So, it pays to take a minute and reflect on that incredible time for music. And what better way to do this than to reflect on some of the greatest hits from the 2000s?
It’s impossible to get them all on one list. But I figure I can give it a go. So, in no particular order, here are my picks of the best songs of the 2000s.
Top 15 Best Songs of The 2000s
Viva La Vida By Coldplay
Album: Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends
It’s fitting to kick off our list with a piece of music that has to do with the boldness in the heart of an artist. The best way to translate the Spanish title of the song is “Long Live Life.” It draws inspiration from the painting of the same name by Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.
Lead singer Chris Martin was inspired by the boldness of Kahlo, painting about the celebration of life while she was in deteriorating health and living in poverty almost:
“She went through a lot of pain, and then started a big painting in her house that said ‘Viva la Vida’, I just loved the boldness of it.”
Bold as life…
“Viva La Vida” does cheer folks up when they hear it. That looped string section will always be a timeless sound. The song was a massive international success, becoming the band’s first #1 in the UK and America on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the UK Hot singles Chart.
It was a chart success in many other countries as well and won the Grammy for Song of the Year in 2009. As a result, it is one of the best pop songs of the 2000s.
Back To Black By Amy Winehouse
Album: Back To Black
Amy Winehouse was one of the greatest artists of her time. And the fact that she was only able to record two studio albums is still one of the saddest things in music.
This fantastic song from the 2000s comes from the 2007 album of the same name. That album was written mostly during a period of separation between Winehouse and Blake Fielder-Civil. He had left Amy for an ex-girlfriend, and this inspired her to explore themes of guilt, shame, heartbreak, and infidelity on her next album.
Sweet, soulful sadness…
Written in the key of D-minor with elements of old soul numbers, “Back to Black” is a sad and dark number. But, the resoluteness of the protagonist, keeping her head held high and taking comfort in her inner strength, makes the song warm up to you if you let it.
“Back to Black” was a massive success and later became one of Amy’s Signature songs. The song peaked at #8 on the UK singles chart, and it also entered the Top 10 in Israel, Switzerland, and Italy.
Furthermore, it has been certified platinum in Greece, Switzerland, Italy, and the United States. In the UK, it has been certified double platinum.
Umbrella By Rihanna
Album: Good Girl Gone Bad
Some of the greatest songs in history are written so fast that it doesn’t bear thinking about. This was the case with this monster of a song from Rihanna’s third studio album, Good Girl Gone Bad.
In January of 2007…
The dream trio of Christopher “Tricky” Stewart, Terius “The-Dream” Nash, and Kuk Harrell got together in Triangle Studios in Atlanta to see if they could come up with new material for singers.
Tricky was playing around with a high-hat sound that he had found in GarageBand’s free library. The next thing they knew, there was a beat that had pop to it. Within the next hour, the trio had chords and lyrics to go with the beat and put together a rough demo of what would become “Umbrella.”
After being rejected by both Britney Spears and Mary J Blige, the song eventually came to the ear of Rihanna, who was working on her third album. Needless to say, she was hooked on it and started recording it the next day.
The rest is history…
“Umbrella” was released to massive success. Topping the charts in Australia, Canada, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The music video won several awards, and the song was nominated for quite a few as well.
In the UK, the release of the song coincided with a lot of flooding and rain, which only added to its success, and it managed to stay at the top spot on the UK chart for ten consecutive weeks. No doubt, one of the best songs of the 2000s.
Kids by MGMT
Album: Oracular Spectacular
This spectacular track from the American Indie-Rock sensation MGMT was the third single for their groundbreaking debut album, Oracular Spectacular. In terms of tone, it’s one of the quintessential tracks of the Indie-Rock movement that broke in the first half of the 2000s.
Like many great songs, there is a strong instrumental hook. It comes in the form of a catchy synth part that soars over the softly compressed, almost 80s drum machine-sounding rhythm section.
Take only what you need from it…
Lyrically, “Kids” is an open book. Is it about the loss of innocence and sense of spontaneity that comes with growing up? Perhaps it’s about misunderstood children from one generation to the next? Whatever the meaning is entirely up to you.
The song was used as campaign music by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Subsequently, it became the subject of a legal dispute which only added to its popularity. It was also nominated at The Grammy’s for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
Clint Eastwood By Gorillaz
I’ve come across few songs with such a solid connection to the 2000s as this incredible tune. “Clint Eastwood” is an artwork that encapsulates so much of the global conscience at the dawning of the 2000s.
Even when the lyrics are left out, the composition and sounds used are tips of the hat and cultural references in themselves.
As much visual as musical…
A large part of what makes Gorillaz appealing is the visual aspect. This is why the group’s music videos (known for featuring the four fictional members of the virtual band) are so central to their content.
When watched even now, the music video is relevant and entertaining. There’s a T-Shirt referencing Resident Evil, a dance sequence that resembles Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and of course, the classic Western film “The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly” as the main metaphor.
The song was #1 in Italy and #2 in Germany. As well as in the Top 10 in seven other countries. “Clint Eastwood” peaked at #$ on the UK Singles Chart and #57 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It has been certified platinum by the BPI.
Cry Me a River By Justin Timberlake
One of the most popular and controversial break-up R&B numbers ever. It also happens to be one of Timberlake’s biggest hits. A brilliantly written and produced song, sung by a great singer. However, it was not without a bit of controversy.
“Cry Me a River” was written and produced by Scott Storch and the legendary Timbaland. With some superb production, it’s an R&B song through and through. But, it’s also filled with many other musical elements and sounds you wouldn’t expect.
Along with Justin’s voice, the listener is treated to electric piano, beatbox, guitars, synthesizers, Arabian-inspired riffs, and Gregorian chants. The result was one of the most popular songs from the 2000s.
But what about that controversy?
The song was inspired by Timberlake’s breakup with Pop singer Britney Spears. But initially, he did not make this known. The highly provocative music video was subject to many comments, including a response by Spears herself. However, the song’s success overshadowed any of that other noise.
“Cry Me A River” won Justin Timberlake a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. And, keep in mind that Justified was his debut solo album.
The track peaked at #3 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and Pop Songs charts and charted in the Top 10 in other countries. It’s been certified platinum in Australia ad the United Kingdom.
Pumped Up Kicks By Foster The People
As far as bass lines go, “Pumped Up Kicks” will go down as one of the most iconic of the century. This track had you hooked within the first few seconds. If it didn’t, you had some serious unresolved issues.
Despite being such an upbeat tune musically, “Pumped Up Kicks” has a dark subject matter. It revolves around the thoughts of a disillusioned teenage boy named Roger, who seems to be having homicidal thoughts.
A sleeper hit…
The original version helped the band get a record deal. And when it was released on their debut album, it received a lot of airplay and ended up becoming one of the biggest songs of 2011. Likewise, it became one of the best songs of the 2000s.
“Pumped Up Kicks” spent eight consecutive weeks at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It was the first Billboard Alternative Songs #1 single to crack the US Top 5 since Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody.”
Love Generation By Bob Sinclar feat Gary Pine
Album: Western Dream
“Love Generation” is the first track on this list that could fall under the Dance banner. That being said, it crossed over like few other tracks from the same genre did. The French artist teamed up with Gary Pine (who is featured on many of Sinclar’s other songs) for this smash hit from his fourth album.
The song’s sonic character is one of large spaces being explored and discovered in a spirit of youthful happiness. This might seem like a very specific image, and it is. That’s because it’s what you see when you watch the fantastic music video, which was shot across various locations across the US.
One heck of a music video…
A young boy wakes up and follows his normal routine of going to school on his bike. But, at the school gates, he decides to go elsewhere and ends up traveling the entire globe, making friends and memories as he goes.
He returns home (somehow in time for the school to come out) and stares at a toy globe beside his bed as he falls to sleep in his bed, and the song comes to an end.
Hard not love…
“Love Generation” was #1 in various European countries, including Austria, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Germany, and Hungary. It was also a chart-topper in the US and Australia. And it is still one of the best dance tunes from the 2000s.
It has been certified platinum in Denmark, Australia, and Belgium. A new version was released by Sinclar in 2006 to coincide with the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
Smooth Criminal By Alien Ant Farm
When this American Hard Rock group decided to record their version of the King of Pop’s classic track, they had already released their first album. The decision came from the band noticing fans asking them to play the entire song instead of just warming up with the riff before their gigs.
The cover appeared on Alien Ant Farm’s second album, and it blew audiences away. Sometimes, far-out ideas are what’s needed to get noticed. Since then, the band has had great success with original material. But I’m sure they’ll remember the tip of the hat to Mr. Jackson, that got them started.
It peaked at #1 on the US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. “Smooth Criminal” was also #1 in Australia for eight weeks. In the UK, it made it to #3, and in various other European countries, it got into the Top 10. It has been certified platinum in the UK and double platinum in Australia.
Poker Face By Lady Gaga
Album: The Fame
From the queen of all things fabulous comes one of the biggest singles in human history. And it’s one of the defining songs of the 2000s. “Poker Face” was the fanfare that announced a phenomenon to the world.
Lady Gaga has since become one of the biggest names in the music industry and has shown no loss of momentum – A force more than a person sometimes.
An irresistible track…
The track has been said to have its inspiration in bisexuality, exotic sexual acts, and also a “tribute to rock n roll boyfriends.” That said, the meaning is whatever you want it to be.
The musical tone of “Poker Face” was darker than Gaga’s previous hit single, “Just Dance.” Yet, you can hear a clear progression in a story suggested by the production as well as the music.
“Poker Face” is one of the most successful singles of all time, with over fourteen million copies sold worldwide. It sold 9.8 million in 2009, making it the most successful song for that year worldwide. In 2015, it was certified diamond and won the Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording.
Where’d You Go By Fort Minor (Feat. Holly Brook)
Album: The Rising Tied
Nostalgia is one of the most powerful things that music can inspire. But, like fine wine, it takes time. A song needs time to fade from your mind after the initial hit. That way, when you hear it again, it knocks you back. And that’s what this song did to me when looking for tracks to put on this list.
Mike Shinoda described the inspiration behind the song as trying to put himself in someone else’s shoes:
“A lot of people write songs about being on the road, but I wanted to do this song from the opposite perspective: the people who are at home, your friends, your family, your loved ones who are at home.”
Dripping with memories…
“Where’d You Go” has an epic piano hook. One that will surely raise a heartfelt “ooohhhh yeah” the moment it comes on over the speakers. For me, it’s a sad and beautiful piece of writing and production.
“Where’d You Go” was an international hit peaking at #4 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and eventually being certified platinum. It also entered the Top 10 of several other countries.
Paper Planes by M.I.A
Moving from something very personal to something much more political. This epic number from British artist Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, better known as M.I.A., dominated airwaves in 2007. And, it still evokes great praise whenever it comes out of the speakers at a party.
“Paper Planes” was written by M.I.A and American DJ and producer, Diplo. It combines elements of world music, Hip-Hop, and rap, with a sampling of The Clash’s 1982 song “Straight to Hell.”
Compared to the rest of her material at the time, it was much slower and not so dance-oriented. Although, it ended up being a big decision that would pay off.
For lyrical inspiration…
M.I.A drew upon her feelings of frustration at obtaining a visa to stay in the US. This resulted in “Paper Planes” becoming a satire on American perceptions of immigrants from Third World nations.
It peaked at #4 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and has since built up a legacy as one of the greatest international songs of the 2000s. Certified multi-platinum in the US, Denmark, and the UK. It also earned a Grammy nomination for Record of the Year.
And of course, who can forget those two great films, “Pineapple Express” and “Slumdog Millionaire,” that featured this track. Without question, one of the best songs of the 2000s.
Crazy By Gnarls Barkley
Album: St. Elsewhere
When I began shortlisting songs for this article, a friend came up to me when I had already compiled my final list. She took the paper from my hand, scanned it, and then looked up at me and said, “You’d be crazy not to include Crazy.” She was right, of course.
This track is from Gnarls Barkley, a duo comprised of Ceelo Green and Danger Mouse. At its core, it is a ridiculously simple composition. When those wonderfully vague and mysterious lyrics are laid over the foundation in a falsetto, what we get is pure magic.
Everyone was crazy about it…
“Crazy” is one of those tracks that everyone at school would listen to. No matter if they normally couldn’t agree on the shape of the earth or the time of day, much less music. Yet, this one track would carry everyone’s approval. Now that’s called crossing over.
It was one of the biggest songs of the 2000s. Upon its official release in 2006, it became the first single ever to reach #1 on the UK Singles chart on downloads alone. The track managed to stay at the top spot for nine weeks. A record that lasted until 2007 when Rhiana’s “Umbrella” knocked it off the top spot.
The song won a Grammy Award for Best Urban/Alternative Performance in 2007 and was also nominated for Record of the Year. “Crazy” has been certified quadruple-platinum in the US and triple-platinum in the United Kingdom.
Where Is The Love By Black Eyed Peas
When this song came out, I can remember friends and family who didn’t even like rap or Hip-Hop music, expressing a fondness for this tune purely based on its message. Powerful words can carry a song. And, few songs hit as hard in such a subtle way as this masterpiece from 2003.
Some trivia about the tune…
Justin Timberlake is an un-credited co-songwriter and also did vocal work on the track. It is also the first song by the Black Eyed Peas, which features Fergie as an official member of the group.
The track came at a fortuitous time for the group. They had had no success with their previous releases. Will.I.Am noted the September 11 attacks, in particular, spurring the anxiety which would lead to the birth of the track:
“On our last day, as I was packing up my equipment, then I saw the first plane fly through the World Trade Center. I really thought it was a film. The fear of driving back home, you know going over San Francisco bridge. The 10-minute drive across the bridge felt like an hour.”
Inspiring a generation…
“Where Is the Love” was a massive hit making it to #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the charts in Ireland, the UK, and Australia. Additionally, it was the biggest selling single of 2003.
And it also earned the group (and Timberlake) two Grammy nominations for Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.
Big City Life By Mattafix
Album: Signs of a Struggle
Not much can be said about the composition and inspiration of this low-key number from the English electronic duo. One thing that is very evident to anyone who listens to it is the number of influences you can pick out. They include Hip-Hop, R&B, Reggae, Dancehall, Blues, Jazz, and Soul.
The chorus (which many of us may know but have no idea what it means) is sung in Jamaican Patois. Once again, we have a powerful tune that is musically quite simple.
Simple, but enduring…
There are many reasons I can cite for this track being on the list. But, mostly, it’s for those late night/early mornings, sitting next to your friends and having your last drinks while they chase you out of the club. It’s a song that just has a place in all our hearts.
“Big City Life” topped the charts in Austria, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, and Switzerland. And it peaked at #15 in the United Kingdom.
Looking for Awesome Songs?
We can help with that. Take a look at our detailed articles on the Best Songs About Romeo and Juliet, the Best Songs About California, the Best Songs About Monsters, the Best Songs About Tequila, the Best Songs about Cars, and the Best Songs About Heroes for more great song selections.
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Best Songs of The 2000s – Final Thoughts
The 2000s delivered songs that will endure far beyond the decade they were created in. And they will garner new lovers as the years go on. But, those of us who were there can hear the first few bars of any of these songs and feel a special warmth grow in our chests. Viva the 2000s.
Until next time, happy listening.