Let’s escape into the past for a moment—if only to torpedo whatever nostalgia you may still hold for the cherished oldies of your youth.
In 2000, as I recall it and likely you do too, pop music (which we then called “teenpop,” naively doubting its demographic reach) dominated the airwaves with made-in-Sweden synths that crunched and stomped like rock guitars once had.
So why, when I looked at the list of every song that had made it to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart that year, were there so many dinky ballads? Where were the big stars who sold so many albums 20 years ago? Where was Britney? Where was Eminem?
You will not find the answer to that mystery here. But you will find every song that topped the Hot 100 in 2000, ranked. The great songs on this list are very great indeed. And the duds? Well, at least we don’t hear them as often anymore.
18. "With Arms Wide Open," Creed
Christian rock’s answer to Pearl Jam denied they were ever Christian rock, and I’m sure if anyone asked His opinion on Scott Stapp’s oily messianic bleat, Jesus would have all too happily agreed. After this, Nickelback felt like a groan of fresh air.
17. "Amazed," Lonestar
I don’t think Garth done it this way.
16. “Everything You Want,” Vertical Horizon
The Creeping Charlie of radio pop-rock—seemingly innocuous but sinking weedy tendrils of melody into your memory cells till nothing beautiful and wholesome can survive.
15. "I Knew I Loved You," Savage Garden
Australia’s answer to Sweden wrote their own songs. English was Max Martin’s second language, boys. What’s your excuse?
14. "Incomplete," Sisqó
Next time someone calls Sisqó a one-hit-wonder, play them the overheated, undercooked R&B ballad that actually placed higher on the charts than the future Minnesotan’s genius “Thong Song”—preferably not while you’re in the same room.
13. "Come On Over Baby (All I Want Is You)," Christina Aguilera
TRL’s answer to Mariah rarely had as much fun as her songs wanted her to. The friskier the beat, the more she insisted on playing grownup with her voice.
12. "Be with You," Enrique Iglesias
Heterosexuality’s answer to Ricky Martin delivered all the florid drama that the music industry demanded from “Latin pop” at the time with none of the camp delight. I guess he did have better beats than his dad though.
11. “Maria Maria," Santana featuring the Product G&B
Wyclef Jean still had enough pull in the biz in 2000 that he could nudge this flavorless act into the spotlight, with Carlos relegated to a sound effect on his own record. Clever of somebody to rework the hook from "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta F' Wit” into a guitar riff, but I prefer it in the context of DJ Khaled’s “Wild Thoughts.” Rihanna makes everything better.
10. "Thank God I Found You," Mariah Carey featuring Joe and 98 Degrees
In which Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis set out to prove they can write a less obnoxious ballad for the diva than either David Foster or Diane Warren. If only they’d aimed for a more memorable one.
9. "Smooth," Santana featuring Rob Thomas
Works better as a meme than it did as a hit, I’ll give it that.
8. "What a Girl Wants," Christina Aguilera
The lyric may be about a boy, but she sings like the answer is a Best New Artist Grammy.
7. "Doesn't Really Matter," Janet Jackson
Second-tier Janet, maybe, but the many splendid details show just how hard the rise of Timbaland made Jam & Lewis work to keep up: a nice bit of water droplet percussion, a tempo downshift, strings deployed with charming versatility. Sometimes it takes a little competition to keep geniuses honest.
6. "Independent Women," Destiny's Child
Independent like Charlie’s Angels? A lot to unpack there, children.
5. "It's Gonna Be Me," NSYNC
Roses are red. April is gray. The next time you leave your house...
4. “Bent,” Matchbox Twenty
In 2000, Matchbox 20 celebrated its newfound success by renaming itself matchbox twenty. I’ve yet to hear an explanation for this momentous defiance of AP style, but there were audible differences between the two incarnations. With “Bent,” the band’s earlier, casually Hootie-fied jangle gave way to high rock drama, a confused riff attempting to pluck itself out of a sonic cavern while the drummer slapped it about from underneath. (And that’s just the intro—it gets busier from there.) As for Rob Thomas, the candid high-maintenance mewl of “Could you sympathize with my needs?/I know you think I need a lot” was a tiny crawl forward for the big baby. If “Bent” sounded bigger, dumber, and more dysfunctional, so did Thomas, and that’s how I like him. Would I rather hear him get all worked up about his muñequita in the summertime? Fawgetahbohwdit.
3. "Music," Madonna
The more the actual lived ’80s shrink in our rear view mirrors, the more the defining hit of Madonna’s heyday seems not the image-making “Like a Virgin” or the dynamite electro hits that predated it, but the home-alone rumpshaker “Into the Groove.” With that track, Madonna answered every parent who wondered why the kids didn’t jitterbug in couples anymore, conceptualizing dance not as mating ritual, but as solitary self-expression, an intimate relation between you and your mirror. “Music” is more social than that, and more utopian. Like “Holiday,” it dreams that the solo dancer’s epiphany of self-possession can be multiplied communally on the dance floor—Madonna always did take disco’s spiritual sloganeering to heart—even as the casual “Hey Mr. DJ, put a record on, I wanna dance with my baby” keeps this manifesto safe from overinflated pretensions. Like any pop star who thrives beyond her imperial phase, Madonna had a great ear and an ability to synthesize disparate elements in way that amplified the most pleasurable bits of each: In addition to Mirwais’ French disco, “Music” also reminds us of the oft-overlooked First Age of Auto-Tune at the turn of the millennium. Oh, and those also those pastel cowgirl hats. As for that line about “the bourgeoisie and the rebel,” I dunno—maybe she wanted to make sure Camille Paglia was still paying attention.
2. "Try Again," Aaliyah
The frictional warmth of those digital squiggles—like being enveloped in a roomful of horny balloons—announced “Try Again” as the culmination of Timbaland’s ’90s, an exponential rise in tricky twitchery that simultaneously bade farewell to that aesthetic, as he prepared to sally forth to pillage global beats. “Try Again” also unmistakably marked Aaliyah’s coming of age, generating a mood of both seduction and suspicion as she foresaw the essential theme for the R&B woman in the age of hip-hop: how to lay down with dawgs yet wake without fleas.
1. "Say My Name," Destiny's Child
This was a golden age of pop R&B suspicion, from Before Dark obsessing over the name of the other woman on “Monica” after finding “six strands of her hair” to Mya monitoring her man’s questionable play-dates on “Case of the Ex (Whatcha Gonna Do).” But “Say My Name” is something more, in a class with those other masterpieces that spotlight the paranoia at the heart of so much African-American popular music—“I Heard It Through the Grapevine” or “Billie Jean” or “Backstabbers.” Tricks and traps riddle Rodney Jerkins’ track: that fantastic wah-wah, those string punctuations, the electronic percussion that actually flutters. Deep below it all, that bass, loping inexorably forward with a sense of tragic inevitability, repeatedly tangles with a taut, Timbaland-caliber snare-stutter. And I haven’t even mentioned this girl group’s lead singer: Her gospelly ad libs on the chorus are impressive enough, but it’s the rap-adjacent rhythmic attack on the verses and the effortless falsetto flip on “times too” that establish her unique vocal identity. Keep an eye on that one.