At the time, 2008 didn’t particularly seem like a golden age of pop.
But 10 years later, looking back, the songs that topped the charts in 2008 are surprisingly consistent. No dreadful, treacly ballads. No groaning post-grunge buttrock. No Black Eyed Peas.
But which song was the best? Which song was the worst? The only way to find that out is to make a list. So here we go: every number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 from 2008, ranked.
14. Katy Perry – "I Kissed a Girl"
Our neediest pop star got her start marketing PG PDAs to tweens as naughty transgression, a Girls Gone Mild act that dared you to be shocked at a single same-sex smooch.
13. Usher featuring Young Jeezy – "Love in This Club”
Maybe not the dullest possible song about public sex, but for sure the dullest Usher song about public sex: I prefer “Love in This Club Part II,” in which Beyoncé fends Ush’s offers off while Lil Wayne croaks lewdly in the shadows.
12. Leona Lewis – "Bleeding Love"
This hyperventilating X Factor champ-een continued to score British top ten hits till 2013, but in the U.S. she’ll be remembered, if at all, for this Ryan Tedder/Jesse McCartney composition, which was redeemed slightly for me when it soundtracked one of my favorite So You Think You Can Dance routines.
11. Rihanna – “Take a Bow"
An adequate ballad, notable for how Ri hovers dangerously at the lower end of her range, but her “please” and offhand chuckle just made me wonder what Beyoncé could have made of its “You’re so ugly when you cry” and warning about sprinklers.
10. T.I. featuring Rihanna – "Live Your Life"
If you say so, Tip.
9. Beyoncé – "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)"
Yeah yeah, Ye, one of the greatest videos of all time, if you insist. The high-stepping video-game beat is infectious and Bey’s ability to work an MC’s sense of flow into her singing is astonishing. But this isn’t as personal as the material on Beyoncé or Lemonade, not as exuberant as the singles from 4, not as anthemic as “Irreplaceable” or as irrepressible as “Crazy in Love.” And (tsk tsk) it’s not very #feminist.
8. Rihanna – "Disturbia"
Rihanna’s transformation from lightweight Caribbean cutie into haunted softcore dominatrix begins in earnest here. Her vocals, electronically modulated to an ominous wobble, embody the song’s description of a woman made a monster by her surroundings, and Chris Brown steals the best lyric of his career from Eiffel 65’s “Blue (Da Ba Dee).”
7. T.I. – "Whatever You Like"
T.I.’s charming bid to leave the trap behind for good casts the MC as a sort of mack Willy Wonka, laying out a spread of earthly delights for some lucky lady over a smoothed out Jim Jonsin beat. Enjoyable as an elegant fantasy on its own, it also inspired the best political song of 2008.
6. Mariah Carey – “Touch My Body"
On the most playful track of her career, Mariah sounds, for once, comfortable in her power, so she doesn’t need to flex her vocal muscle. She’s a self-assured woman declaring her sexual prerogatives, and a newly lithe interpretive flexibility accompanies that confidence. The way the light swagger of “‘Cause if you run your mouth and brag/ About this secret rendezvous” slows to the husky, declarative “I will hunt you down” demonstrates the technique of a smart singer, not merely a physically gifted one.
5. Coldplay – "Viva la Vida"
A revolutionary fantasia from the perspective of a king who thinks he deserves to be deposed—my friend Anthony Cohan-Miccio says Chris Martin is channelling George W. Bush, I hear a unique twist on rock star paranoia from a Gen-Xer whose mild yet constitutional unease with fame makes him ashamed of his insatiable drive to be Bono, but who was born too late (and too sane) to counteract his ambition with grunge self-laceration. Any way you listen to it, though, weird enough to remind you that they didn’t have to be the dullest band on earth—that was a conscious choice.
4. Pink – "So What"
Bratty Pink is the best Pink, and with its na-na hook and staccato roller-rink keyboard, this is the best kiss-off the Offspring never recorded.
3. Flo Rida featuring T-Pain – “Low”
Sure, if I spent more time in strip clubs, I’d probably be sick of this one. But I don’t. And I’m not. T-Pain describes a woman’s outfit as painstakingly as if he was filing a police report, Flo slavers after booty like the nicer Ying Yang cousin you could take home to meet your folks, and the beat drops.
2. Britney Spears – "Womanizer"
Britney’s first chart topper since (believe it or not) “...Baby One More Time” found her still in the defiant lash-back pose she’d struck on “Gimme More” and “Piece of Me” the year before. The taunting way she fits those extra syllables (“I, I know just, just what you are”) to the rhythm of the chorus reminds us that she loves the players and you love the game. (P.S. Lily Allen does a cool version too.)
1. Lil Wayne featuring Static Major – "Lollipop"
This grotesque abuse of Auto-Tune is about as erotic as a cystoscopy, with Weezy so determined to discover every microtone his voice is capable of emitting I’m not even sure he remembers he’s even rapping about getting head half the time. Number-one songs don’t come much uglier or weirder, and sometimes I think I hate it. But somehow “Lollipop” sounds both like the Rosetta Stone for the next decade of avant-garde rap and even more alien than it did when it was released.