The 100 Greatest Songs of the 21st Century... So Far (Ranked by Martin Canine)Approximately half a year ago, the biggest music magazine in the world, Rolling Stone, released a list called “100 Greatest Songs of the Century - So Far”. For future readers, we’re in December 2018 right now, and the century in question therefore is the still young 21st one, which by now started 18 years ago. Although still very young, the dawn of a new era could be felt: first downloads, and then streaming took over the markets of the world, some quicker (USA) than others (Austria), hip hop grew to be the chart dominating genre and a subculture called emo left an impact on mainstream culture. In the meantime, pop music that used to be a merely danceable genre started interpolating influences of other genres and started dealing with serious subject matter. Even though it is debatable whether it makes sense creating a list about the century in such an early state and at such a random year, I think we can agree that enough has happened and enough material has already been released to justify picking favorites.
With the premise of the list being just fine, the 100 songs Rolling Stone compiled for theirs is… solid, but not great. They consulted “artists, producers, critics and industry experts”, and I think that their list is an accurate depiction of pop culture with all important sections covered. Rolling Stone is not a subjective blog, their goal is to represent a wider audience, so naturally, they focus on songs that are “great” in the general consensus - either by combined success and public appreciation, or wide acclaim from the press. As with previous lists by them, I noticed that whoever they talked to when making the list have a questionable talent for selecting the wrong songs by the right artists. In my humble opinion, their number 1 song isn’t even among the best songs by the respective singer. Said musician also appears three times on my list, only one of these songs is also among the ones Rolling Stone picked. Of course, the list is also America and Great Britain centered, largely leaving out the rest of the world - but would it be fair to criticize that? You naturally choose what you have access to, and in almost all parts of the world, the music of the USA and the UK are highly popular, in addition to local celebrities. They are the common demeanor, and if Rolling Stone has the mission to find something that’s universally acknowledged, they will have to scrap parts of the world.
That being said, I apologize for my version of the list not being balanced either. Although it does include a wider spectre of nationalities, it is still rather apparent that it is written from a Central European point of view. But to craft this list, I solely considered my own music library. I am not a music magazine, if anything, you can call me a blogger. I do not know every song released in the past years. That is not to say I didn’t spend a large amount of time on this work, browsing through the gazillion of songs of the past 18 years I have heard in my (admittedly young) life to detect all songs worthy of being called the best of the decade. The genre was irrelevant - there will be pop, hip hop, symphonic metal, emo and several nostalgic throwbacks to 60s soul. Most important was that a song is musically pleasing within their respective genre - often great lyrics or a special message adds to that and increases its quality further. Although my texts will give insight to the impact some tunes had, this is irrelevant for the ranking and just a nice addition. Popularity or critical acclaim was not necessary to make it into my list, and I can give away that my number 1 song wasn’t even a single at all.
Rolling Stone included songs from the year 2000, I didn’t. One reason is that it would be factually wrong (the 21st century started in 2001), although it is absolutely clear that it feels more complete taking the year into account that first had a “2” at the beginning. But that’s when the other reason comes in: I would have needed to exclude more great songs from the list because of awesome music from 2000 being better. But to not leave them unmentioned, here are the songs from 2000 that were most likely to have made it into my list if I did include that year (in alphabetical order based on the artist):
Björk feat. Thom Yorke - I’ve Seen It All
Eminem feat. Dido - Stan
Kōji Wada - Target ~akai shōgeki~
Kylie - Your Disco Needs You (Casino Mix)
M2M - Mirror Mirror
R. Kelly - I Wish
Rednex - Spirit of the Hawk
Robbie Williams - Supreme
Within Temptation - Deceiver of Fools
So, here are my 100 picks for the greatest songs of the 21st century so far, in reverse order to make it more exciting. For song details and texts, check out the main list.
100. Natasha Bedingfield - Soulmate
99. Mary J. Blige - No More Drama
98. Gossip - Heavy Cross
97. Amy Macdonald - This is the Life
96. Justin Timberlake - What Goes Around… Comes Around
95. Kylie - Red Blooded Woman
94. Beyoncé - Formation
93. Britney Spears - Toxic
92. P!nk - Stupid Girls
91. M2M - Leave Me Alone
90. Scissor Sisters - Laura
89. Anastacia - Pieces of a Dream
88. Rihanna - American Oxygen
87. Kollegah - Bossaura
86. Britney Spears - Everytime
85. Nelly Furtado - Explode
84. Shakira - Don’t Bother
83. Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown
82. Nickelback - Believe It Or Not
81. Wir sind Helden - Gekommen um zu bleiben
80. Xavier Naidoo - Europa
79. The White Stripes - Seven Nation Army
78. Jay-Z & Kanye West feat. Frank Ocean & The-Dream - No Church in the Wild
77. Nightwish - Feel For You
76. Vanilla Ninja - Corner Of My Mind
75. Panic! at the Disco - Lying is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off
74. Seiler und Speer - Ham kummst
73. P!nk - Don’t Let Me Get Me
72. Eko Fresh - Köln Kalk Ehrenmord
71. Ciara - Like a Boy
70. Amy Winehouse - Back To Black
69. Marija Šerifović - Molitva
68. Xavier Naidoo - Sie verdienen einen besonderen Schutz
67. Unheilig - Feuerengel
66. Madonna - Love Profusion
65. Paramore - crushcrushcrush
64. Christina Stürmer - Ich lebe (2005 Version)
63. t.A.T.u. - Нас не догонят (Nas Ne Dagoniat)
62. Christina Aguilera - Twice
61. Herbert Grönemeyer - Mensch
60. Juli - Perfekte Welle
59. Fall Out Boy - The Carpal Tunnel of Love
58. Lana Del Rey - Summertime Sadness
57. Jamala - 1944
56. Evanescence - Everybody’s Fool
55. Stromae - Papaoutai
54. The Black Eyed Peas - Shut Up
53. Rihanna - Love on the Brain
52. Lana Del Rey - Salvatore
51. Muse - United States of Eurasia
50. Beyoncé feat. Kendrick Lamar - Freedom
49. Duffy - Warwick Avenue
48. Harry Styles - Sign of the Times
47. Adele - One and Only
46. Dat Adam - Sanageyama
45. Gorillaz feat. De La Soul - Feel Gone Inc.
44. Backstreet Boys - Incomplete
43. The Black Eyed Peas - Don’t Phunk With My Heart
42. Sarah Connor - From Sarah With Love
41. Annett Louisan - Das Gefühl
40. Nena & Kim Wilde - Anyplace, Anywhere, Anytime
39. Gwen Stefani - What You Waiting For?
38. Anastacia - Left Outside Alone
37. Kanye West feat. Chris Martin - Homecoming
36. Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper - Shallow
35. Cinema Bizarre - Lovesongs (They Kill Me)
34. Lupe Fiasco feat. Jason Evigan - Unforgivable Youth
33. Christina Aguilera - Oh Mother
32. Björk - Pagan Poetry
31. Jimmy Eat World - Pain
30. Kylie - Can’t Get You Out Of My Head
29. Annett Louisan - Das Liebeslied
28. Sarah Connor - Living To Love You
27. Rammstein - Donaukinder
26. Tokio Hotel - Don’t Jump
25. Cro - unendlichkeit (video edit)
24. My Chemical Romance - Helena
23. Robbie Williams - Advertising Space
22. Within Temptation - Angels
21. Beyoncé - Listen
20. Nightwish - The Poet and the Pendulum
19. Eminem - Sing For The Moment
18. Lana Del Rey - West Coast
17. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - Wing$
16. Ben feat. Gim - Engel
15. Linkin Park - What I’ve Done
14. Adele - Set Fire to the Rain
13. Xavier Naidoo - Dieser Weg
12. Vanilla Ninja - Blue Tattoo
11. MC Solaar - La vie est belle
10. Adele - Rolling in the Deep
9. Conchita Wurst - Rise Like A Phoenix
8. Coldplay - Paradise
7. Ich + Ich - Du erinnerst mich an Liebe
6. Ben Moody feat. Anastacia - Everything Burns
5. Madonna - American Life
4. Hozier - Take Me To Church
3. My Chemical Romance - Welcome to the Black Parade
2. Rammstein - Mutter
1. Nightwish - Ghost Love Score
A ten minute epic, the orchestral “Ghost Love Score” takes you on a journey that provides the excitement of a full length feature film: the joyous voyage has segments of quiet beauty, yet also tragedy, horror and sheer glory. Tuomas Holopainen composed a piece of rock music that equals the great classical symphonies, brought to life by Tarja Turunen’s soprano vocals and the majestic instruments of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Nightwish have repeatedly delivered great masterpieces of modern symphonic rock music ever since their debut album, but this song is where all their potential climaxed.
That Rammstein can also deliver poetic and melodic music next to their trademark cleverly provocative Neue Deutsche Härte songs has already been hinted at on their two previous albums, but it was the title track of their third record that first showed the extent of Rammstein’s emotional depth. The story about a clone that was artificially born and feels utter sadness and rage for the mother he never had, leading to a tragic end including a symbolic act of a murder-suicide (you should know that “Muttermal” means “mole” in German, but literally it’s “mother’s mark”) was inspired by Till Lindemann’s and Richard Kruspe’s own troubled relationship with their mothers.
Album: The Black Parade
Often, a concept album has a very strong opening song or ends up in one grand finale, but the best moment on “The Black Parade” is the semi-title track that kicks in at number five on the tracklist. Possibly the ultimate emo song ever written, “Welcome To The Black Parade” has the triumphant aesthetics of a marching fanfare, the rock and roll spirit of punk and a chorus that can compete with every pop tune. The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Queen are cited as major influences for the album. Especially the latter’s impact can be felt on the song, while still sticking to My Chemical Romance’s own personal style. An important moment of depth in the storyline, the Patient (the album’s protagonist) re-lives a childhood memory of him having visited a parade with his father.
Album: Hozier (2014)
Hozier wrote “Take Me To Church” as a response to religiously motivated hatred towards LGBTQ+ people. The song itself can be attributed towards all kinds of loathing aimed at couples that don’t get the appreciation of closed-minded people and are despised as “sinful”. Hozier makes very clear what he thinks of that: his idea of a church is based around embracing all kinds of love and views sex as something natural. Like every great song with amazing lyrics, it’s supported by astounding music - this is modern soul at its most perfect.
Album: American Life
Long before Gaga, long before Kanye, Madonna showed that a single can be both most experimental and challenging in its content and still be a huge hit - except for the USA, where Madonna’s songs were prohibited from the radio after her harsh words towards George W. Bush. In 2003, the Queen of Pop unleashed an angry arsenal of unpredictable siren-like synths, folk guitars, bizarre vocal filters and one of the best rap verses ever performed by a non-rapper, while lyrically destroying the modern zeitgeist that is more bothered by superficial status signs than the ongoing chaos and destruction in the era of the Iraq war.
Album: Fantastic 4 - The Album (compilation)
Often, great movies and great soundtracks go hand in hand. In this case, the theme song outdoes the mediocre film it originates from by universes. Former Evanescence guitarist Ben Moody wrote the angsty ballad about a woman feeling suppressed, that will ultimately demonstrate her power to the world, and also performed a part of it, but the spotlight belongs to Anastacia’s gripping voice that seems to contain every bit of feeling she sings about.
Album: Ich + Ich
In 2005, the singer-songwriter of a legendary German 80s new wave band teamed up with a former member of a barely successful, short lived boyband and enchanted the music world of the second half of the 2000s with a wide spectre of influences (most notably soul and indie rock) and poetic lyricism. “Du erinnerst mich an Liebe” is one of the most honestly bittersweet songs of the century, being about a man who has been depressed for a long time and lost all joy in his life, who meets someone that reminds him of a time when he knew love. The heavy strings and Adel Tawil’s alternating between apathetic and desperate vocals make it hard not to shed a tear.
NOTE: The audio sample is an acoustic live version, the original studio recording was not available.
Album: Mylo Xyloto
Sometimes, we wish we were somewhere else. The world just grows too difficult for us to handle. So we start dreaming. “Paradise” captures this intense feeling of letting it all go and losing yourself in imagination like no other song. Not only due to its lyrics (“life goes on, it gets so heavy / the wheel breaks the butterfly / in the night, the stormy night, she closed her eyes”), but because its vivid, fresh soundscape of strings, pianos and synths paint a truly mind blowing picture for us, no matter how we envision our own paradise.
Album: Conchita (2015)
When a song single-handedly revolutionizes the LGBTQ+ representation and acceptance of an entire country and becomes a highly symbolic Europe-wide hit after its Eurovision Song Contest win, you are sure to have an iconic moment of the decade. But even if all of this never happened and the tune went by unnoticed - damn, did you hear what a massive song this is? Elegant and classy, it starts with a vulnerable verse sung by a beaten person, and evolves into an anthemic arrival of the almighty phoenix, with full blown orchestra and strength is every note - all within three minutes. But fact is, it WAS a hit, and when the queen entered the stage, it moved the European LGBTQ+ groups. “You threw me down but… I’m gonna fly! ”
Album: 21 (2011)
Earlier this year, a great legend left this world when Aretha Franklin died. But as long as we have Adele, we can be sure the spirit of soul lives on for generations to come. A powerhouse of a singing talent, she has both the sensitivity and the swagger, as well as the ability to hit the right notes even at full throttle, that it takes to convey the incredible feel of a big diva of soul. And most importantly: she never hides her skills behind stomping club anthems or silly pop numbers. Her biggest and best song (yes, sometimes both can apply) “Rolling in the Deep” would have worked 50 years ago next to tunes like “Respect” as it did in the early 2010s, and it sure as hell will work in the years to come.