There are few better snapshots of popular culture than the charts, and few better measures of how music is changing than viewing the charts over time. Here we look at how the best of popular music is changing. Our source is the top 50 tracks in VH1’s Greatest Songs Of The 2000s, which we compare to the top 50 in VH1’s Greatest Songs Of The 1990s.
Three trends stand out. First, the shift from groups to individual artists. 35 of the best songs of the 2000s are performed by artists, compared to just 17 of the best songs of the 1990s. This could be due to the straightened economics of music industry – there are fewer royalty checks to write and fewer egos to manage with an artist than a group. More likely, it reflects the second trend: the shift from rock to pop. The 50 greatest songs of the 2000s include 20 pop tracks and 11 rock tracks – the numbers are exactly reversed in the 1990s. The 2000s belongs to Poker Face and Sexy Back; the 1990s to Smells Like Teen Spirit and Losing My Religion. The final shift is from male to female led acts. The 50 greatest songs of the 2000s are performed by 25 male-led acts, 23 female-led acts and two mixed acts (The Black Eyed Peas and The White Stripes.) The male to female ratio for the 1990s is a far less even 34:15.
Hip-hop and R&B songs are a more consistent presence in the greatest songs of both decades: 18 in the 2000s and 15 in the 1990s. It’s a mark of hip-hop’s importance that Outkast’s Hey Ya (#2 in the greatest songs of the 2000s) and Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy (#16) are both forays into pop music by great hip-hop acts. The most powerful figures in the 2000s chart are Jay Z and Beyoncé: together then contribute six tracks to that decade’s top 50 (Crazy In Love at #1, Empire State Of Mind at #8; Umbrella at #11, Single Ladies at #16; Bootylicious at #19 and 99 Problems at #21.) For context, acts from every country in the world outside the US contribute only six songs to the top 50.
Talking of consistency, nine acts appear in the top 50 of the 1990s and 2000s: Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Dave Grohl (as Nirvana and The Foo Fighters), Destiny’s Child, Eminem, Madonna, Mariah Carey, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and U2.
One trend from the 1990s that doesn’t make it into the 2000s is the one-hit wonder. VH1 gives six places on the 1990s chart to one-offs such as Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back (#6), MC Hammer’s Can’t Touch This (#16) and Hanson’s Mmm-Bop (#20.) Pop music will always be a moment in time, but hip-hop is in better hands today than it was with Vanilla Ice.