When I was tasked with summarising an entire era of music, I knew it would be hard not to generalise. After all, the music of the 2000s meant many different things to many different people. For me, it was about one thing in particular: pop-punk. With the rise of snot-nosed superstars such as blink-182 in 1999 (Enema of the State selling millions), by the early 2000s, it seemed that the proverbial floodgates had opened.
2002’s Pop Disaster tour – with blink-182 and Green Day co-headlining – was a bona-fide success, selling out arenas all around America. From here, there came a new, younger wave of pop-punk. It was more gothic; unapologetically theatrical. Pop-punk proudly embraced the often derisive label of emo – though one would be hard pressed to find any resemblance between these bands and emo’s earlier iterations, artists such as Moss Icon or Cap'n Jazz. To a young queer child such as myself, these artists were everything.
Awash with melodramatic names such as Panic! at the Disco and My Chemical Romance – styled in dark, tight-fitting clothes and regularly adorning make-up – these men were a vision of masculinity untethered from that which surrounded me. The music was shameless, filled with petty neuroses and camp declarations of angst. But more than the angst (and there was a lot of angst) there was also a vulnerability. In a world which teaches men to be stoic, unfeeling and cold, here was a movement which seemed to proclaim very loudly: “I am sad, please listen to me”. And people did!
Outside of pop-punk, pop music itself was undergoing a change. The pop of the 2000s was big, loud and bold. Choruses were brash and anthemic, every instrument pushed to the front of the mix – all treble and no bass. It was the era which cemented Britney Spears' status in the pop canon. Janet Jackson treated us to her sensual masterpiece Damita Jo and Beyoncé’s career outside of Destiny’s Child kicked off with Dangerously in Love, her reign as Queen Bey solidified with every new release.
What I really want to emphasise – and celebrate – about the pop music of the 2000s is that at all times, it was truly doing the most. In an era where the pop landscape is now scattered with tasteful acoustics and restrained balladry, all elegance and no fun, it is refreshing to return to a sound which most definitely does not make accommodations to high taste. “Tik Tok”, “Evacuate the Dancefloor”, “Hollaback Girl”. These songs wear their pop credentials on their sleeve, and they are all the better for it.
Though the ’90s was generally dominated by hip-hop from America’s East and West Coast, with the rise of artists such as T.I., Lil Wayne and Outkast, music from the South had begun to make its way into the mainstream. In the world of hip-hop, auto-tune was also making its presence known. Though unfairly derided by many at the time, artists such as Lil Wayne and T-Pain were pushing the boundaries of what hip-hip could feel and sound like, setting the stage for much of the melodic trap music of today.
Of course, I can’t write about the 2000s without mentioning the saviours of rock and roll, The Strokes? After the release of Is This It in 2001, rock music seemed to be making a comeback. The angsty grime of grunge had worn off. Guitar riffs were cool again, and MTV aired the band’s now iconic ‘$2 Dollar Bill Concert’. Though Is This It may remain The Strokes most “iconic record” (and deservedly so), I’d actually argue it’s one of their least interesting – so perfectly crafted and tightly wound that there’s very little one can say but: “This is great”. Many of the artists this rock-revival inspired may not have stood the test of time (my apologies to The Hives), but it also gave us Interpol, Arctic Monkeys and of course, The Strokes.
The 2000s also appeared to mark the high-point of indie music as a cultural phenomenon. Animal Collective, Vampire Weekend and Sufjan Stevens seemed ever-present. Radiohead released another opus in In Rainbows. An album with the title, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, was a genuine sensation. Though nowadays indie music may have lost a certain amount of mainstream sway, I would argue this has less to do with its irrelevance, and more to do with its complete subsumption into the mainstream. After all, who’d have thought that Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig would end up writing one of Beyoncé’s most iconic choruses?
So, what was the music of the 2000s? It was confusing and new. Angsty and tasteless. The musical horizon of the 2010s was becoming ever-clearer, while the lingering influence of the ’90s were slowly being shed. But above all, the 2000s’ music was the absolute most, and I loved it.
Written by Luke McCarthy, a filmmaker, writer and critic based in Naarm (Melbourne). Follow him on Twitter @lukempmccarthy.
Watch Back & Beyond on MTV (Foxtel: 122, Fetch: 104 and Sky: 015) and MTV Hits (Foxtel: 801, Fetch: 237 and Sky: 022) every Saturday in August.
Listen to MTV Sounds on iHeartRadio
More good stuff: