10 of the Most Underrated Choruses of the 21st Century: Staff Picks
We've spent all week discussing the best choruses of this century here at Billboard, keyed around our ranking of the 100 absolute greatest refrains since the turn of the millennium. But inevitably, while our list skewed toward the crowd-pleasers and the obvious hits, some of our staff's individual favorites were invariably left by the wayside.
To right this wrong, we had our staffers write about their personal chorus sing-alongs of choice -- gems that were a little too well-buried to make it to our big list, but still shine too brightly to be totally ignored. Here are 10 of our lesser-known favorites.
The Veronicas, "Revolution"
Lyndsey Havens: Australian pop-rockers The Veronicas -- made up of twin sisters Lisa and Jessica Origliasso -- delivered a high-energy, heart-racing debut with 2005’s The Secret Life Of… The fourth single released from the album still proves to be the duo’s most relevant and rallying, with a chorus that dares listeners to listen up: “Hold on tight, I’m a revolution,” the sisters sing before asking, “Why do I have to explain who I am again and again?” It makes abundantly clear that these sisters -- much like this chorus -- refuse to be forgotten.
Wilco, "Ashes of American Flags"
Gil Kaufman: This funereal waltz from Wilco’s best-selling album sounds like what singer Jeff Tweedy’s notebooks would whisper if you fished them out of the dirty ashtray by the window. “I shake like a toothache when I hear myself sing/ All my lies are always wishes/ I know I would die if I could come back new,” he sings on the heartbreaking chorus, from the last album the group released before Tweedy went to rehab to kick a long-running addiction to prescription pain pills. The soul-crushing poetry in those three simple lines about deep-seated self-loathing, yearning to turn deceit into something life-affirming and the promise of rebirth, makes for one of the purest examples of Tweedy’s plainspoken complexity.
Vanessa Carlton, "White Houses"
Jason Lipshutz: While every inch of the song “White Houses” is impeccably crafted, the amorphous chorus impresses most of all. The verses of Vanessa Carlton’s masterpiece are steeped in teenage detail -- a spin-the-bottle game, the cracked leather seat of a dude’s car, an underage adolescent with beer shooting through their nose -- while the chorus pans out, as most good choruses do, and examines the larger meaning of her journey through jealousy, lust and becoming an adult. “It’s all right,” Carlton shrugs on the first chorus, “and it’s nice not to be so alone”; by the end of the song, the same melody carries the line “So I go, and I will not be back here again.” The “White Houses” chorus literally grows, but keeps returning to the titular phrase because Carlton herself cannot escape its meaning.
Annie, "Chewing Gum"
Joe Lynch: In 2004, indie dance-pop diva Annie rectified the historical tragedy that there wasn't one stone-cold classic bubblegum pop song about literal bubblegum with "Chewing Gum." Over a bed of effervescent synths fizzier than a just-opened Coca-Cola, the Norwegian queen calmly coos, "You think you're chocolate when you're chewing gum" like it's the world's sickest burn. What does that mean, precisely? Don't ask. When a chorus is this delectable, you just let it stick.
Midtown, "Like a Movie"
Chris Payne: I’m going with Midtown’s “Like a Movie” -- a hook-filled, absolutely unstoppable early 2000s pop-punk jam from the band unfairly footnoted as simply “the band that had Gabe from Cobra Starship before Cobra Starship.” But pretty much everyone in Midtown sang, which allowed them to close out their songs with adorkable boy-band-ish harmonies. “Like a Movie” has the band’s best chorus, so it’s a shame it’s tougher to find in karaoke books than their usual go-to, “Give It Up,” which probably gets an extra push from having been on the Spider-Man 2 soundtrack.
Side note: While heading to karaoke last New Year's Eve with a bunch of of people -- including former Midtown drummer Rob Hitt (haha, hi Rob) -- Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” came on the taxi radio and I very drunkenly joked to him, “Why couldn’t Midtown write songs like this?” I think he knew I was joking, but I’m not positive.
Angie Martinez feat. Sicario and Lil Mo, "If I Could Go"
Adelle Platon: Early-'00s hip-hop might be best remembered for an explosion in classic Rap&B collaborations, from formidable pairs like Ja Rule and Ashanti, but it also saw a short-lived rap career from Angie Martinez. Best known for her two-decade tenure as Hot 97's resident interview phenom, the "Voice of New York" -- who currently works at Power 105.1 -- managed to score a Hot 100 hit and an eternal summer jam with the breezy number "If I Could Go," featuring Sacario and Lil Mo.
A staple on all vacation playlists, the song featured Lil Mo's Spanglish hook that sent travelers hopping on the next thing smoking: "If I could go contigo/ I'll pack my things, soon as you say/ Baby vamos we'll fly away like there is no, no tomorrow." While Angie Mar's stint as MC is often hidden in the depths of YouTube (her second and final album was 2002's Animal House), the "If I Could Go" chorus still conjures up visions of dream getaways over a decade later.
Banks, "Beggin for Thread"
Leslie Richin: Any artist who titles their (debut) album Goddess is ready to make a statement -- and has a lot to live up to. The single introduced Banks as an empowered artist with no filter, whose "words can come out like a pistol" got the country's attention -- and earned Jillian Rose Banks her closest thing to a crossover hit to date. Not only does the singer-songwriter deliver a clever play on words -- "You got me beggin' for thread/ To sew this hole up that you ripped in my head" -- the chorus has been stuck in my head, beggin' for repeat, since 2014.
Future, "Perky's Callin"
Dan Rys: With the caveat that this question is too massive for me to consider completely accurately, I’ll go with my favorite hook from Future, who has been the most reliable rapper on the planet for at least four years now. And “Perky’s Callin’” isn’t even my favorite song on Purple Reign -- that would be “Inside the Mattress.” But the hook to this one is all about the feeling and sentiment behind it -- Emotional Future -- and the timbre of his delivery, which seems to waver with the gravity of the situation he’s describing.
It’s easy to dismiss the lyrics as another drug-addled rapper talking about the merits of promethazine and percocets, but that would be to miss the universality of the broader idea: Change is hard, sometimes nearly impossible, and leaving behind an old life of addictions and friends from a past lifetime -- escaping the place from which you emerged, essentially -- will always be the toughest, with something inside you always trying to tug you back. The fact that he leaves the result open-ended, never commits fully to either side, is what makes it so malleable, and so wrenching.
The Drums, "I Felt Stupid"
Andrew Unterberger: It only takes about an hour's study to imitate a New Order chorus, but to truly invoke one takes a lifetime's worth of hard-lived research. Credit to Jonny Pierce of The Drums, who evidently endured the necessary new-wave rites of passage to tap into a refrain glorious and heart-rending enough to slot in on side two of Substance: "If it's good or bad, come be with me/ And I'll give you every key to my hea-hea-hea-hea-hearrrrrrt..." It's potent enough to turn anyone listening into Andie and/or Duckie for 3:49.
Tegan and Sara, "Back in Your Head"
Denise Warner: From breaking up to making up and everything else in between, Tegan and Sara have built an excellent catalog based around the ups and downs of relationships. But “Back in Your Head” -- about someone begging their lover to remember the good times -- boasts the most memorable chorus of all their songs: When they wail “I just want back in your head,” and cry “I’m not unfaithful but I’ll stray,” you feel like they are asking for your forgiveness.