After a frenetic, bursting-at-the-seams couple of years at the turn of the century, pop music started to settle into a calmer groove in 2001. Boy bands and teen pop stars were still enormous, but not necessarily the world-swallowing force that they had been. Some of the biggest hard rock bands sanded down their edges a little and invaded top 40 in the process. And some of the defining rappers and R&B stars of the early decade found common ground in massive pop jams, setting the precedent of crossover-courting collaboration that would last throughout the decade.
But even if the musical year was defined more by its stability, it certainly wasn’t without its excitement. Super-producers Timbaland and The Neptunes continued to expand hip-hop in all directions, with signature sounds that were nonetheless constantly shape-shifting, and increasingly fruitful artistic partnerships with some of the most open-minded and limber-tongued MCs of the new century. The underground rock scenes of New York and Detroit produced breakout bands whose back-to-basics approach and casual swagger electrified fans (and over-excited critics). And a pair of robots made the trip over from France to provide pop fans with a tantalizing glimpse of electronic dance music’s future.
Of course, for all the fun there was to be had in 2001 pop music, it was still a year largely defined by tragedy. One of the leading lights of popular music, 25-year-old R&B star Aaliyah, died in a plane crash in August, just a month after her career-defining self-titled third album was released. And then of course, a few weeks later, the music world ground to a halt — along with every other part of American life — by the catastrophic terrorist attacks of 9/11, with many left wondering how a return to pop frivolity would ever be possible after such a core-shaking event. But by year’s end, the industry had regained its footing, with many of its biggest artists leading the way both in charity efforts to help benefit the victims and first responders (as well as their families and communities), and in the music that helped uplift the nation during one of the worst crises in its then-225-year history.
This week, Billboard pays tribute to the music of the alternately smooth and tumultuous 2001, with a series of stories about and interviews with the makers of some of the year’s most memorable music — and first, with a list of our staff’s 100 favorite songs from the year. Aside from songs that were released in 2001, songs were counted as being from ’01 if they debuted on the Billboard charts (or if they hit No. 1 for the first time) that year. But if they first debuted on or topped the charts in 2002 — like Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle” or Ja Rule and Ashanti’s “Always on Time” — we’ll wait till next year to celebrate their turning 20.
Check out our list below — with a Spotify playlist of all 100 songs at the bottom — and get your damn hands up for some of the best anthems of a formative year for 21st century pop music.
100. Smash Mouth, “I’m a Believer” (No. 25, Hot 100)
Originally a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 by The Monkees in 1966, Smash Mouth brought the pop-rock perennial into the 21st century with a glossy, mainstream radio-friendly face lift. Made an inextricable part of countless Gen Z youths via its inclusion on the original Shrek soundtrack, its verging-on-cheesy organ line and karaoke-ready vocals never lose their charm. But then again, the internet would have you believe that nothing from Shrek ever really does, including “All Star,” Smash Mouth’s much more enduring hit also featured in the film. — JOSH GLICKSMAN
99. S Club 7, “Never Had a Dream Come True” (No. 10, Hot 100)
It’s a torch song that reads like a lightbulb joke: The British pop group had a full bench of members, but it only took one to land the group’s sole U.S. hit. “Never Had a Dream Come True” is an unabashed solo showcase for standout Jo O’Meara, who soars over some textbook turn-of-the-millennium pop production with dramatic ad libs (“no no no no!”), and a thoroughly satisfying key change ripped straight from the diva playbook. — NOLAN FEENEY
98. Ja Rule feat. Case, “Livin’ It Up” (No. 6, Hot 100)
In the middle of a three-year run in which Ja Rule was a part of seven top 10 hits on the Hot 100 chart, “Livin’ It Up” served as his giddiest smash, a toast to the party life that juxtaposed a weightless flip of Stevie Wonder’s “Do I Do” with Ja’s thick-as-molasses flow. Twenty years later, the horns that open “Livin’ It Up” remain an undefeated soundtrack to the start of a weekend. — JASON LIPSHUTZ
97. Elton John, “I Want Love” (No. 6, Adult Contemporary)
Though John’s longtime songwriter partner Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics, “I Want Love” felt brutally autobiographical for John as a man “dead in places,” plaintively longing for an impossible love. The gorgeous first single from Songs From the West Coast, produced by Madonna collaborator Patrick Leonard, evoked the warmth of John’s classic early work — but while sonically inviting, the lyrics offers no resolution, just a palpable emptiness. — MELINDA NEWMAN
96. Ginuwine, “Differences” (No. 4, Hot 100)
While we may never know why the title is “Differences” rather than the fan-endorsed alternative, “My Whole Life Has Changed,” what we do know is that in August 2001 Ginuwine gifted us with a quintessential R&B love song. From the simple, memorable lyrics — dedicated to his daughter, ex-wife and lost loved ones — to the gentle, almost childlike Rhodes melodies repeatedly sampled over the last 20 years (including on Pop Smoke’s “What You Know Bout Love,” a recent Hot 100 top 10 hit for the late rapper), the track continues to tug on our collective heart strings. The “Pony” sex symbol once said he hoped the world would remember him for this vulnerable ballad, and boy, do we ever. — NEENA ROUHANI
95. Spoon, “Everything Hits at Once” (Did not chart)
One of the 20th century’s most consistent bands at writing punchy, smart pop-rock blasts, nothing from Spoon’s last two decades have been quite as much of a fist to the gut as Girls Can Tell lead single “Everything Hits at Once.” Over a sticky, steady groove of smooth bass and staccato electric piano, lead singer Britt Daniel embraces his inner Elvis Costello for a testimony of post-up breakup devastation that’s wrenching from its unforgettable opening: “Don’t say a word/ The last one’s still stinging.” — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
94. Carlos Vives, “Déjame Entrar” (No. 1, Latin Airplay)
In the late ‘90s, Carlos Vives single-handedly revolutionized the tropical scene with his modern take on traditional vallenato and cumbia music. By 2001, he was a household name, dropping the slow-tempo, vallenato “Dejame Entrar” with an alternative twist. The timeless gem endures 20 years later not only because of its rhythmic melodies but also because of its romantic lyrics, about entering someone’s heart and never leaving. Produced by Emilio Estefan, Jr. and Sebastián Krys, “Dejame Entrar” nabbed Vives his second No. 1 hit on Billboard‘s Hot Latin Songs chart. — JESSICA ROIZ
93. Petey Pablo, “Raise Up” (No. 25, Hot 100)
If you find the dance moves of “Cha Cha Slide” too hard to follow, the gruff-voiced Petey Pablo has the easier instructional hit for you. “North Carolina! Come on and raise up/ Take your shirt off, twist it ’round your hand/ Spin it like a helicopter,” shouts the MC on the Timbaland-produced “Raise Up,” Pablo’s riotous first single from his debut album, Diary of a Sinner: 1st Entry. With the UNC Tar Heels marching band featured on the hook, the jumping track is such a celebration of the state that the North Carolina tourism board should add this hometown hero to its payroll. — CHRISTINE WERTHMAN
92. Toby Keith, “I Wanna Talk About Me” (No. 28, Hot 100)
A song with such a sneeringly narcissistic title from such a heel-ish country star as Toby Keith should simply not be anywhere near this likeable. But the frenzied frustration of “I Wanna Talk About Me” wins you over by the end of the first chorus — mostly because of Keith’s sheer commitment to the vocal, whether interrupting the chorus melody to yelp “but occasionally!!” or stretching the final “me” to a three-syllable yodel. — A.U.
91. O-Town, “All or Nothing” (No. 3, Hot 100)
Snarking on O-Town was an effortless task in 2000: the boy band, formed on the reality TV series Making the Band and boasting a debut single titled “Liquid Dreams,” confirmed the manufactured nature and slapped-together songwriting for those who loathed the turn-of-the-century teenybopper craze. Then “All Or Nothing” came along in 2001 and changed O-Town’s fate: A pristine pop ballad, with a chorus ripe for friend-group sing-alongs and a late key change designed for dramatic arena performances, the group’s second single has endured long after the bubblegum moment in which it was created. — J. Lipshutz
90. Juan Gabriel, “Abrázame Muy Fuerte” (No. 1, Latin Airplay)
Juan Gabriel’s music was often emotional, personal and achingly sad. “Abrázame Muy Fuerte” was no exception. One of JuanGa’s most memorable songs, thanks to its emotional lyrics and his mighty delivery, the power ballad starts off with Gabriel almost whispering, “When you are with me, that’s when I say all I’ve suffered was worth it” over a melancholic piano tune. Mid-song, his soft vocals turn into a belting emotional plea: “Hug me, because time is evil and a cruel friend.” — GRISELDA FLORES
89. Afroman, “Because I Got High” (No. 13, Hot 100)
It is legitimately difficult to think of another song that so perfectly encapsulates its title: a barely-there beat, a sing-song melody, lyrics that were written in a few minutes and inspired by Afroman not wanting to clean his room. It is simply the perfect stoner anthem for those who would rather, well, get high, and the fact that it came to popularity through a combination of Napster and The Howard Stern Show — and then managed to nab a Grammy nomination to boot — scores it a bingo of turn-of-the-century pop culture references. — DAN RYS
88. American Hi-Fi, “Flavor of the Weak” (No. 41, Hot 100)
With “Flavor of the Weak,” American Hi-Fi smashed radio airwaves with an unbeatable hook and the angst of seething with unrequited love. The track also saw a major influx of attention when it landed on the American Pie 2 soundtrack alongside alternative all-stars including Weezer, Blink-182 and Sum 41. The plight of seeing a crush fawn over a philanderer is universal and, 20 years later, the song still makes you want to hit up a Warped Tour pit and mosh it all out. — TAYLOR MIMS
87. Freelance Hellraiser, “A Stroke of Genius” (Did not chart)
One of the first mashups to gain national attention, and still one of the purest examples of what the form can be at its best: an unlikely 2 + 2 = 5 equation that prioritizes discovery over novelty. With its skittering beat and squelching synths, Christina Aguilera’s original “Genie in a Bottle” was a tightly wound tease — but laid by producer Roy Kerr over the motoring alt-rock hum of The Strokes’ “Hard to Explain,” new levels of relaxed sensuality are unlocked in Aguilera’s vocal, making each “ohh-ooo-woahhh” in the pre-chorus sound positively rapturous. Two decades and a million flashier mashups later, it’s still a revelation. — A.U.
86. India.Arie, “Video” (No. 47, Hot 100)
Reminiscent of Bill Withers, singer-songwriter India.Arie introduced her guitar-bred, no frills R&B sound and talent for insightful lyrics with this first single from her Motown debut album Acoustic Soul. Boosting the song’s instant appeal was its earworm chorus, trumpeting the timeless themes of self-love and empowerment: “I’m not the average girl from your video/ And I ain’t built like a supermodel/ But I learned to love myself unconditionally/ Because I am a queen.” “Video” later earned four Grammy nominations, including record and song of the year. — GAIL MITCHELL
85. Sugar Ray, “When It’s Over” (No. 13, Hot 100)
The bittersweet first single from Sugar Ray’s self-titled album wasn’t all that different from the four previous hits that turned the amiable band of O.C.-natives into a pop radio fixture: a breezy earworm kinda about regret, but also kinda shruggy about it, designed for laid-back singalongs driving with the top down. Two decades later, singer Mark McGrath is still booking TV and radio gigs off that charmingly chill vibe, but more of the hosting variety — “When It’s Over” proved a little too prescient, as it would be Sugar Ray’s last real pop success before a slow decline in the coming years. — REBECCA MILZOFF
84. Chely Wright, “Jezebel” (No. 23, Country Airplay)
The spiritual heiress to Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” Wright’s “Jezebel” is a foot-stomping romp with harmonies and fiddle that rivals the best of The Chicks. Wright turns her twangy vocals into a weapon, warning the eponymous Jezebel to stay away from her man (“I do not forgive and I do not forget/ I will fight for love until the death”). Add in a little pleading and a lot more gumption, Wright refuses to lose this romantic fight — and you just know she ended up victorious. — DENISE WARNER
83. N.E.R.D. feat. Vita & Lee Harvey, “Lapdance” (No. 29, Rap Airplay)
The same year the Neptunes ratcheted up their pop radio invasion with Britney’s “I’m a Slave 4 U,” N.E.R.D. (Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo’s side project with Shay Haley) began pointing the way to music’s genre-agnostic future on “Lapdance.” With a reverberating guitar riff and sense of creeping danger, their debut single was lumped into the bin of latter-day nu-metal songs by critics at the time; in retrospect, its blend of funk, alt hip-hop, rock and electronic seems like the start of an entirely fresh sound, one that everyone from Tyler, the Creator to Twenty One Pilots is still exploring. — JOE LYNCH
82. Modjo, “Lady (Hear Me Tonight)” (No. 81, Hot 100)
They didn’t have anywhere near the game-changing impact of Daft Punk, but another French electro-pop duo combined a skipping beat, a ringing two-chord guitar hook (borrowed from Chic’s Nile Rodgers) and an eight-measure romantic proposition into one of the most addictive worldwide hits of 2001. Simple and unmistakably of its time, “Lady (Hear Me Tonight)” has nonetheless endured as an irresistible invitation, sampled in simultaneous hits as recently as 2017. — A.U.
81. *NSYNC, “Pop” (No. 19, Hot 100)
By 2001, *NSYNC had established themselves as an unavoidable component of turn-of-the-century pop culture — though with such fame comes inevitable criticism. The aptly titled “Pop” is a clever kiss off to those rejecting the genre’s takeover, and the song’s attention-commanding and wildly catchy lyrics rubs it in even more. Overall, “Pop” makes us feel it when our body starts to rock, and Justin Timberlake’s beatbox solo alone merits it a spot on this list. — RANIA ANIFTOS
80. Jewel, “Standing Still” (No. 25, Hot 100)
This sleek, propulsive track, the lead single from Jewel’s third studio album, This Way, was one of Jewel’s most polished singles. Co-written with veteran hitmaker Rick Nowels, “Standing Still” marked a transition between Jewel’s initial folk-accented adult alternative radio fixtures and the full-blown top 40 pop of her 2003 hit “Intuition.” Now will somebody please explain why this excellent single stalled at No. 25 on the Hot 100? — PAUL GREIN
79. Rufus Wainwright, “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” (Did not chart)
The Canadian-American troubadour firmly established himself as a Cole Porter for his generation — an acerbically witty, prodigiously talented pianist and composer with a taste for the decadent — on his second album, Poses, and no more so than on its first single, “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk.” In his sonorous, slightly nasal baritone, backed by vaudevillian piano plinks, Wainwright sings of “a couple of my cravings,” which over the course of the song evolve from merely “a little bit harmful” to “a little bit deadly.” Over the following year or so, life imitated art as Wainwright slid into crystal meth addiction — but like the resilient protagonist of “Cigarettes,” Wainwright ultimately proved to be a survivor by all measures. — R.M.
78. Backstreet Boys, “The Call” (No. 52, Hot 100)
If boy band fare of the early ’00s tended to revolve around men pining for the women in their lives, “The Call” flips the script with a fateful tale of a debaucherous night that ends in infidelity. “The Call” captures the forbidden desire of someone new and the desperation of regret, packaged in a tidy (if somewhat hilariously melodramatic) pop tune with a rollicking beat that challenges the typical narrative of romance and love. Oh, and producer Max Martin used BSB member Howie Dorough’s fart as part of the backbone of the song. — D.W.
77. Trick Daddy, “I’m a Thug” (No. 17, Hot 100)
Millie Jackson’s “Cheatin’ Is” warned how “Cheatin’ is a game where nobody wins.” Unless of course, you’re Trick Daddy. The Florida MC snatched the warm groove and fluttering guitar part from Jackson’s original and turned it into the foundation for “I’m a Thug,” which gleefully shared the third-party perspective on infidelity: “My name alone/ Been known to break up happy homes.” The sweet sounds of children’s voices carried the chorus, giving the song a playful innocence that contrasted with Trick Daddy’s choice words for the members of the criminal justice system: “Motherf–k the po-po’s!” — C.W.
76. Sum 41, “In Too Deep” (No. 10, Alternative Airplay)
The second single from full-length debut All Killer No Filler, “In Too Deep” turned out to be one of Sum 41’s most enduring hits. It’s no secret that soundtrack placements can etch a song into our memories forever, and the track’s ties to titles like Malcolm in the Middle, American Pie 2 and Cheaper by the Dozen helped make that possible — as did a very 2001 outsiders vs. jocks music video, in which Deryck Whibley and co. compete in a high-dive competition (they’re “In Too Deep” and “going under,” get it?) Carried through with catchy guitar riffs, relatable lyrics and a perfect chorus, the track lives today as the group’s most-streamed song on Spotify. — BECKY KAMINSKY
75. Hoku, “Perfect Day” (Did not chart)
Best remembered for soundtracking the opening scene of Legally Blonde, “Perfect Day” bottles up Elle Woods’ sparkling energy, shakes it and pops it like champagne. The sunny pop song is pure, wholesome optimism: “Nothing’s standing in my way/ On this perfect day/ When nothing can go wrong,” Hawaii native Hoku sings, convincingly, in the chorus. Hoku, also known for her 2000 hit “Another Dumb Blonde,” subsequently exited the music business and is now happily a stay-at-home mom, but the eternal sunshine of “Perfect Day” has never left. — TATIANA CIRISANO
74. The Calling, “Wherever You Will Go” (No. 5, Hot 100)
L.A. post-grunge band The Calling’s towering power ballad topped Billboard’s Adult Top 40 chart for a staggering 23 weeks, making it ubiquitous in 2001. In addition to Alex Band’s moody baritone, the appeal of “Wherever You Will Go” lies in the cryptic nature of the lyrics. Has the protagonist died and is pledging love eternal or is the reason for the separation something much more earthbound, a mere break-up? Twenty years later, it remains a mystery. — M.N.
73. Craig David, “Fill Me In” (No. 15, Hot 100)
Undoubtedly the greatest pop song whose hook comes from the perspective of a concerned parent. “Fill Me In,” the breathtakingly smooth R&B hit from British singer Craig David, channels its responsible parent-daughter questioning (“Why were you creeping ’round late last night? / Why did I see two shadows moving in your bedroom light?”) through David’s beguiling sing-rap approach, which pre-dated artists like Drake and The Weeknd by nearly a decade but laid the blueprint for the sound they were about to ride to global superstardom. — J. Lipshutz
72. Dave Matthews Band, “The Space Between” (No. 22, Hot 100)
This moody ballad from adult alternative stars Dave Matthews Band gave U2’s “Walk On” a run for its money as the year’s most elegant rock track. Co-written by Alanis Morissette collaborator Glen Ballard, the dreamy “Space” became the biggest hit from Everyday — DMB’s second No. 1 album on the Billboard 200, and its only album to date to spend two weeks on top — and received a Grammy nod for best rock performance by a duo or group with vocal. – P.G.
71. 112, “Peaches & Cream” (No. 4, Hot 100)
Following featured appearances on two smash weepers in the late ’90s (“I’ll Be Missing You” with Diddy and Faith Evans and “All Cried Out” with Allure), as well as a handful of silky R&B hits of their own, vocal quartet 112 pivoted to the bedroom-via-dancefloor for “Peaches and Cream.” Riding a rim-rattling, mischievous bass, the quartet oozed a slick, boisterous confidence that listeners lapped up, making it their highest-charting hit as a lead act (No. 4). Proof positive that peaches were good and dirty years before Call Me By Your Name entered the scene. — J. Lynch
70. Nickelback, “How You Remind Me” (No. 1, Hot 100)
Nickelback’s lone Hot 100 No. 1 hit thrives in its deft recipe of restrained verses and pre-hooks that build to a rollicking chorus — including a final one that’s all-too-ready for car dashboard drumming and full throttle shout-alongs. Speaking of which, the more gravelly you can make your voice, the better it’ll serve you for song-opening lyrics “Never made it as a wise man/I couldn’t cut it as a poor man stealing,” and during Chad Kroeger’s hazy, rotating affirmations and refutations in the post-chorus. — J.G.
69. Mary J. Blige, “No More Drama” (No. 15, Hot 100)
Mary J. Blige’s pairing with the legendary production duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis resulted in another classic added to her own growing repertoire with this sweeping single. Featuring an ingenious sample of The Young and the Restless theme song and underscored by her personal experience with sexual harassment and abuse, Blige’s gutsy vocals transformed the uplifting mid-tempo plea into a female power anthem that resonates even more loudly now. — G.M.
68. Paulina Rubio, “Yo No Soy Esa Mujer” (No. 7, Latin Airplay)
Songs such as Paulina Rubio’s woman empowerment anthem “Yo No Soy Esa Mujer” soundtracked the golden age of Latin pop in the new millennium, with artists like the “Golden Girl” herself at the forefront. Included in Paulina, which peaked at No. 1 on both the Top Latin Albums and Latin Pop Albums charts, the track kicks off with a laid-back guitar loop that serves as the canvas to Rubio’s raspy voice and her honest lyrics: “I’m not that woman, that lost girl that signs a paper and gives her life away.” Still to this day, it’s a go-to karaoke song. — G.F.
67. Cake, “Short Skirt /Long Jacket” (No. 7, Alternative Airplay)
If you’ve ever wondered what John McCrea wants in a romantic partner, look no further than this uber-specific (if largely tongue-in-cheek) musical checklist, in which the Cake frontman details his dream girl, from her titular sartorial choices to her practical desire for a “car with a cupholder armrest.” Add in a wailing trumpet line, McCrea’s droll delivery, and a VMA-nominated video (where random people on the street share their wide-ranging opinions of the track) and you have another quirky treat and alternative radio smash from the California rockers. – KATIE ATKINSON
66. A*Teens, “Upside Down” (No. 93, Hot 100)
It’s not often that you see a tribute band cross over into mainstream pop success — and yet when the Swedish ABBA cover band A*Teens debuted their first-ever original song “Bouncing Off the Ceiling (Upside Down),” it suddenly brought them into the international conversation. The irresistibly fun dance-pop single, telling the saccharine story of a schoolyard crush, was the exact kind of feel-good, sugar-pop sound that would make them Radio Disney centerpieces until their disbanding in 2006. — STEPHEN DAW
65. Staind, “It’s Been a While” (No. 5, Hot 100)
For true grunge 1.0 heads, the angst of the second wave of flannel-flying bands felt like second-hand news that could never compare to St. Cobain. But Massachusetts’ Staind, fronted by sad-eyed singer Aaron Lewis, scored their biggest hit in 2001 — No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 — with an aching, spiraling tale of woe that crawled through the noise, presaging Lewis’ second act as an unplugged/country act. Its self-help lyrics are thick with regret about addiction, shattered hearts and daddy issues, with Lewis taking all the blame. The moody, minor key arrangement surges back and forth in quite-loud-quiet waves that never overwhelm the powerful truth telling of the final, haunting chorus: “It’s been awhile/ Since I could hold my head up high/ And it’s been awhile/ Since I said I’m sorry.” — GIL KAUFMAN
64. Diddy, Black Rob & Mark Curry, “Bad Boy For Life” (No. 33, Hot 100)
Arriving perhaps at the height of rappers making songs (and in some cases, entire albums) celebrating their record labels, the most enduring legacy of “Bad Boy For Life” is almost certainly its instantly recognizable, funky guitar-led beat by Megahertz. Few other songs are as anthemic and universal as Diddy’s declaration of dedication to what he himself built, while its music video — with cameos including Dave Navarro, Xzibit, Ben Stiller and Pat O’Brien — is a snapshot of a moment in time that could never be repeated. — D.R.
63. Alan Jackson, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” (No. 28, Hot 100)
Less than two months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks had ripped a hole through America, Jackson debuted this song live on the CMA Awards. Deliberately non-sensational or jingoistic, the song tried to make some sense of the worst attack on American soil, asking where you were when the Twin Towers fell, and how did you react? Jackson has no answers, only questions — and the belief that love is the way forward — but the gentle humility that he brings to the song, and the plain-spoken raw emotion the (occasionally somewhat clumsy) lyrics evoke instantly transport the listener back to that painful time, even 20 years later. — M. Newman
62. Jill Scott, “A Long Walk” (No. 43, Hot 100)
On Jill Scott’s mesmerizing third single from her debut album, she draws in her lover for a long walk consisting of a little conversation, some verbal elation — and about six more rhyming propositions. In addition to the incredibly effective grammar lesson, Scott’s hip-hop-flavored cadence, dipped in smooth, decadent melodies, provided us with a long-enduring neo-soul classic. Above all, Scott taught us the most charming way to tell someone to zip it: “Or maybe we could… just be silent?” — N.R.
61. Alien Ant Farm, “Smooth Criminal” (No. 23, Hot 100)
Looking back, Michael Jackson’s 1989 hit “Smooth Criminal” makes perfect sense as an alt-metal song, with its lyrics about “blood stains on the carpet” and “it was your doom” — but Alien Ant Farm didn’t just cover the pop hit as is. Twelve years after the beloved original hit No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, Alien Ant Farm delivered the same lyrics and backbeat, with a newfound sense of gore and tension. While plenty of nu-metal acts tried their hand at ’80s pop classics in the ’00s, Alien Ant Farm’s cover best exemplifies how younger artists can leave their mark on seasoned hits. — T.M.
60. Busta Rhymes, “Break Ya Neck” (No. 26, Hot 100)
Plenty of Busta Rhymes singles sound like unadulterated shots of adrenaline, but “Break Ya Neck” is the only one that commands its listener to nod their head rapidly enough to cause bodily harm. With Dr. Dre and Scott Storch teaming up on one of the slinkiest beats of the early ‘00s, Rhymes unleashes his bullet-time rapping to mesmerizing effect; the only time he pauses in the music video is to square up and butt heads with a CGI ram, because he’s simply that jacked up. — J. Lipshutz
59. Radiohead, “Pyramid Song” (Did not chart)
Radiohead were in such a recording zone at the turn of the century that they had enough leftover recordings from the sessions for 2000 masterpiece Kid A to release Amnesiac, its lumpier but nearly as brilliant companion set, just a year later. The most transcendent cut from the follow-up was lead single “Pyramid Song,” a near-hymnal piano ballad with a slippery time signature but an inescapable undertow, with frontman Thom Yorke describing what could be a religious epiphany and/or a suicide attempt (“Jumped into the river/ Black-eyed angels swam with me”) in a hauntingly assured tremble. — A.U.
58. Basement Jaxx, “Where’s Your Head At” (No. 3, Dance Club Songs)
Back in the early 2000s, we were all ravers for a minute, and this global smash by British dance duo Felix Burton and Simon Radcliffe was like a beat-infected kick to the head. Built around a growling sample of New Wave icon Gary Numan’s spooky “M.E.,” it ticks the boxes for a classic entry-level dancefloor banger: an easy-and-fun-to-shout chorus, irresistible beat and of course, a cheeky, insane video in which the musicians play record-scratching lab monkeys with human faces. In addition to its club chart success, “Head” also hit No. 39 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart in 2001, and still bangs just as hard today. — G.K.
57. Kenny Chesney, “Don’t Happen Twice” (No. 26, Hot 100)
With bottles of wine, Dixie cups, a little Janis Joplin and a first love, Kenny Chesney leans heavily on nostalgia in “Don’t Happen Twice.” It’s not a new theme for country music, but it works: It’s earnest and wistful without descending into the trite banality of a corny love song. “Twice” reached No. 1 on the Hot Country chart and No. 26 on the Hot 100 ultimately setting the stage for Chesney’s later run of sentimental hits from “Young” to “The Good Stuff,” and “Anything But Mine” — proving that while falling in love for the first time only happens once, lasting success can strike twice, or even more. — D.W.
56. Andrew W.K., “Party Hard” (Did not chart)
If there was one thing Americans needed in October 2001, it was some escapism and permission to have fun again. Andrew W.K.’s party metal anthem and personal mission statement was an absolute battering ram of aggressive, over-the-top hard rock, a pure blast of Jackass energy, and exactly the kind of motivating force people needed at the time. That said, “Party Hard” will outlive all of us: Your grandkids will still be fist pumping to this song at minor league hockey games decades from now. — SAMANTHA XU
55. The Corrs, “Breathless” (No. 34, Hot 100)
The Corrs, a quartet of three sisters and their brother, debuted in America in 1995 with all the musical charm of their native Ireland. That distinctive sound had been thoroughly sanded down by the power-ballad production of Robert John “Mutt” Lange (AC/DC, Def Leppard, Foreigner, Shania Twain) for the 2001 release of “Breathless” — but the result was the group’s biggest hit, and one of the year’s most immaculate pop-rock singles. After a short a cappella burst, this turn-it-up tale of love and desire is awash in arena-ready guitar riffs and booming drum and bass lines, beneath the Coors’ still-lovely harmonies. The track peaked at No. 7 on the Adult Top 40 chart and earned the foursome a Grammy nomination for best pop performance by a duo or group with vocals. — THOM DUFFY
54. Enya, “Only Time” (No. 10, Hot 100)
Irish icon Enya — who lives an extremely private life in a literal castle with her cats and approximately £100m fortune to keep her company — has long cornered the market on dreamy new age mini-epics. One of the most memorable of those is obviously “Only Time,” which was heavily used in 9/11 media coverage and in ads for shows like Friends, and still resonates today as a soothing meditation about the mysteries of life. It’s also the only time (sorry) Enya’s had a top 10 single on the Hot 100 as a solo artist to date. — GAB GINSBERG
53. Missy Elliott feat. Ludacris, “One Minute Man” (No. 15, Hot 100)
After the scorching success of Missy’s “Get Ur Freak On,” she followed it up with the raunchy anthem “One Minute Man.” Missy’s demands were straightforward: “Break me off, show me what you got.” And she didn’t mince words either — if men failed to live up to the expectations, they got the boot. “One Minute Man” was strengthened by Timbaland’s electric production and a stellar appearance from guest-feature savant Ludacris, who debunked any fears of his abilities, dubbing himself an “all-nighter.” — CARL LAMARRE
52. Michael Jackson, “You Rock My World” (No. 10, Hot 100)
“You Rock My World” was arguably the final track of MJ’s career sure to make every “essentials” playlist — and it came in swinging. The Darkchild-produced record was fully equipped with a Chris Tucker intro, thickly stacked, infectious harmonies, a couple “woo”s and enough “shamone”s to last a lifetime. But if that wasn’t enough for you, Michael then presented us with a star-studded, 13-minute long music video laden with his signature spins, pelvic thrusts AND a dance-off/bar fight combo scene in matching fedoras. What more could we have asked for? — N.R.
51. City High, “What Would You Do?” (No. 8, Hot 100)
There are certain hooks that flow so well and so effortlessly that they get stuck in the mind without much thought to them. But despite its catchiness, the “What Would You Do?” chorus is a bit of a Trojan Horse, as the actual lyrics are devastatingly sad, describing a young single mother trying anything she can to try to provide for her child no matter what. What makes it such a great 2001 song, though — in addition to its soulful and serious tackling of an all too common scenario — is that, halfway through, the song completely breaks down and producer Wyclef Jean stitches in a snippet of Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode,” totally out of left field, which somehow weaves itself back into the hook for the race to the finish. Bizarre, outlandish, and yet nobody really batted an eye because it worked so well. — D.R.
50. Crazy Town, “Butterfly” (No. 1, Hot 100)
The instantly recognizable guitar intro transports you back to 2001 — and even beyond that, perhaps to 1989, with its sample of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Pretty Little Ditty” instrumental. With its undeniable hook, innuendo-filled lyrics (“Come my lady, you’re my pretty baby / I’ll make your leg shake, you make me go crazy”) and inspired sample, the song stands as a fundamental example of the crossover potential of the rock-rap genre: Call Crazy Town a one-hit wonder if you wish — but put an emphasis on “hit,” because “Butterfly” peaked at No. 1 on the Hot 100, something virtually none of their nu-metal peers (or even RHCP themselves) managed. — B.K.
49. Manu Chao, “Me Gustas Tu” (No. 27, Latin Pop Airplay)
With artists such as Aterciopelados, Enanitos Verdes and Jarabe de Palo, Spanish rock was having a moment in the early 2000’s — and the legendary singer-songwriter Manu Chao also did his part to help. With basic guitar chords and catchy lyrics, the reggae melody and world beats in “Me gustas tú” made the song a global favorite. In the intro, the French-born musician connects parts of the world including La Habana, Cuba, San Salvador, El Salvador, and Managua, Nicaragua, to set the message for the rest of the song: “I like planes / I like you / I like to travel / I like you” — a simple but honest and direct love song. — J.R.
48. Lifehouse, “Hanging by a Moment” (No. 2, Hot 100)
Not the most obvious song to end up as the No. 1 on Billboard‘s year-end Hot 100 for 2001 — in large part because the song never actually topped the weekly chart — minivan rockers Lifehouse’s breakout smash achieved ubiquity through sheer unkillable crossover stubbornness, standing there until FM directors made it move. But the song earned its overplay, with a lyric that took more than a few listens to fully reveal itself, a melodic unpredictability that meant it never quite took you where you expected to go, and a leveling chorus whose mysteries never cease to intrigue and delight. Two decades and hundreds of listens later, we’re still falling even more in love with it every time we hear it. — A.U.
47. Blu Cantrell, “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops!)” (No. 2, Hot 100)
On the scale of wound-licking elegies to steely never-needed-you-anyway anthems, Blu Cantrell’s signature breakup tune works the middle: light-hearted verses set to a dizzying, chipmunk-soul-style Frank Sinatra sample, an anguished pre-chorus delivered on the verge of an ugly-cry, a refrain of triumphant spending-spree resolve. Fraud alerts may have rendered its fantasy void, but its message endures: Forget staying gracious — the best revenge is his paper. — N.F.
46. Incubus, “Drive” (No. 9, Hot 100)
This mellow ode to breaking free from the masses and taking control of your own destiny also happens to be the song that the masses turned into Incubus‘ biggest hit, steering it all the way to the Hot 100 top 10 in the summer of 2001. The song’s understated acoustic-guitar-and-DJ-scratched track puts Brandon Boyd’s pleading vocal front and center as he wrests back control of his life from fear in the AIM away message-worthy lyrics (“Whatever tomorrow brings I’ll be there/ With open arms, and open eyes”). — K.A.
45. Usher, “U Remind Me” (No. 1, Hot 100)
This breezy-but-melancholy romp led the parade of five singles spun off from Usher’s multi-platinum 8701 album. He’s singing here to a woman who’s caught his eye — but because she reminds him of his ex, he moves on. The Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis co-produced midtempo jam pinpoints why Usher became an R&B standard-bearer during the genre’s late ‘90s and early ’00s heyday, thanks to his suave vocals and sexy dance moves a la Michael Jackson. The Hot 100 No. 1 ultimately won Usher his first Grammy for best male R&B vocal performance. — G.M.
44. Fatboy Slim, “Weapon of Choice” (Did not chart)
“Weapon of Choice” is maybe the third or fourth best Fatboy Slim song, with its funky drum shuffle and slamming horn hook — sampled from the Chambers Brothers and Sly & The Family Stone, respectively — as well as its Bootsy Collins-provided spoken-word instructions. But it will forever be linked to its legendary music video, directed by Spike Jonze and starring a jaunty Christopher Walken dancing and flying around an empty hotel, therefore making it the actual best Fatboy Slim song. Merely hearing the song on the radio made you feel like you were missing a vital part of the experience; Walken and Jonze should get a cut of the song’s royalties! — S.X.
43. System of a Down, “Chop Suey!” (No. 76, Hot 100)
System of a Down’s metal masterwork only made it to No. 76 on the Hot 100 after it landed on a Clear Channel list of songs that were deemed questionable for radio play following the 9/11 attacks. But in the decades since, audiences did indeed “wake up!” to the song, whose raucous video hit over a billion views on YouTube at the end of 2020. Produced by Rick Rubin along with band members Serj Tankian and Daron Malakian, “Chop Suey!” gives listeners whiplash as it jumps from frantic shouts to stone-faced singing, which gets crowds going to this day, whether in a mosh pit or in a karaoke room. — C.W.
42. Daft Punk, “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” (No. 3, Dance Club Songs)
It’s no surprise that “Harder, Better, Faster, “Stronger” has inspired redos and remixes from Kanye West, Diplo, The Neptunes and more. Over a sample of Edwin Birdsong’s “Cola Bottle Baby,” the futuristic toe-tapper walks the line between cheerful and dystopian, as a vocoder infectiously chants, “More than ever, hour after hour/ Work is never over.” The result is hardly demoralizing, though: The bouncy song actually brightens up every room, and while the remixes are great, nothing quite beats the original. — R.A.
41. Bruce Springsteen, “American Skin (41 Shots) (Live)” (Did not chart)
The incantation of that phrase –“41 shots…41 shots…” — is repeated by Springsteen and his band, as if in disbelief. It is the beating heart of his somber and soulful song about the 1999 killing of Amadou Diallo in a hail of police bullets, as the African immigrant reached for his wallet in a Bronx doorway. Released by Bruce via an urgent Madison Square Garden live recording in 2001 (and as a studio recording in 2014), “American Skin (41 Shots)” was powerfully covered in 2016 by Mary J. Blige with an added rap by Kendrick Lamar. The song has, sadly, become only more relevant through repeated police killings of Black Americans in the more than two decades since Springsteen first performed it. — T.D.
40. Jagged Edge feat. Nelly, “Where the Party At” (No. 3, Hot 100)
This So So Def smash is the answer to its own title question: The party is wherever this song is played. It’s all right there in an under-four-minute package — from the sing-along “oh-oh-oh-oh“s to the “left side”/”right side” shout-outs to the call-and-response “hell yeah!”s to wrap it up — so a DJ is virtually required to play this summer jam from start to finish. And just like the chorus says, the Hot 100 No. 3 hit can’t possibly forget about the girls and the thugs, making sure everyone is covered, thanks to the silky-smooth vocals of Jagged Edge, and a showstopper verse from Nelly in his can’t-miss prime. – K.A.
39. The White Stripes, “Hotel Yorba” (Did not chart)
In 2021 very few music lovers would question the greatness of The White Stripes, but 20 years ago the rising duo was plagued with naysayers when they hit the mainstream with “Hotel Yorba.” There were critiques about the lack of bass and Meg White’s simplistic drumming, but there was no denying that “Yorba,” the first single off White Blood Cells (The White Stripes first appearance on the Billboard 200 chart) was a rollicking good time. The lightly thrashing singalong previewed what The White Stripes could do with just two instruments and forged a path for one of the greatest rock bands of the 21st century. — T.M.
38. Blink-182, “The Rock Show” (No. 71, Hot 100)
Mark Hoppus will tell you that “The Rock Show,” Blink-182’s lead single off of Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, was written in 10 minutes, intended as “the cheesiest, catchiest, throwaway f–king summertime single you’ve ever heard.” He might not have meant that entirely as a compliment, but Hoppus mostly achieved his goal — from beginning to end, “The Rock Show” is a jam-out, easy-to-swallow pop-punk song based around the simple premise of falling in love at a concert. Sure, it’s commercial and conventional, but it demonstrates that Blink-182 always had a particular knack for writing the kinds of hooks that remain locked in your brain for years after. — S.D.
37. Darude, “Sandstorm” (No. 83, Hot 100)
Finnish DJ Darude released “Sandstorm” on wax in 1999, but it wasn’t until he made it available on MP3.com for free that this urgent, pulsating trance track – centered around what sounds like a cyborg frog’s insistent robo-ribbit – became one of the first dance songs to go global on the Internet. Much like the composition’s heart-pounding peaks and take-a-breather valleys, “Sandstorm” steadily built to a feverish pop culture whirl, appearing in the pilot for Showtime’s Queer as Folk, cracking the Hot 100 and working teenage millennials into a footloose sweat thanks to its inclusion in the wildly popular Dance Dance Revolution series; even now, it remains an Internet meme culture mainstay. — J. Lynch
36. Sade, “By Your Side” (No. 75, Hot 100)
After eight years of virtual silence from the venerated Sade Adu, a musical icon known nearly as much for her reclusiveness as her artistry, we were given the ultimate comeback song. In a promise to never leave our side, the band stepped away from their jazz-centric roots, stripping back to a bare, pop-tinged ballad, centering Adu’s silky tone and reassuring lyrics. While the track topped out at No. 75 on the Hot 100, it has long outlived much of its competition, reconfirming the British band’s understated, undeniable influence. — N.R.
35. Coldplay, “Yellow” (No. 48, Hot 100)
It almost feels unfair that “Yellow” served as a breakthrough hit for Coldplay, rather than a single that arrived after the band achieved its dominant global following. Even if it remains one of the group’s best songs to date, it peaked at just No. 48 on the Hot 100, despite its enduring popularity among fans and casual listeners alike. Listen to those well-paced, yearning lyrics! Float to that ethereal guitar riff! Look at Chris Martin’s goofy smile and windswept hair in the music video! TikTok, do your thing — give “Yellow” the inescapable commercial moment that it deserves. — J.G.
34. Enrique Iglesias, “Hero” (No. 3, Hot 100)
“Hero” was released Aug.31, 2001, two weeks prior to 9/11, and although the song really had nothing to do with heroic actions, the title alone — coupled with its plaintive melody and Iglesias’ husky voice — struck a universal chord. “Hero,” also recorded in a Spanish-language version (“Héroe”), rose to No. 3 on the Hot 100, and helped propel the fortunes of Iglesias’ second English-language album, Escape, even making it a rare British success for a Latin release. But it was stateside, in the aftermath of 9/11 that “Hero” truly made its mark: Iglesias performed the song live for the first time at the two-hour broadcast of America: A Tribute to Heroes to over 60 million viewers. If the casual listener mostly knew Iglesias up until to that point as Julio Iglesias’ son, after that night, he simply became Enrique. — LEILA COBO
33. OutKast, “So Fresh, So Clean” (No. 30, Hot 100)
Before “drip” stumbled its way into the hip-hop lexicon, back in the day, people praised their swagger by labeling it as “fresh.” So when the Atlanta super duo recorded this timeless ode to style, this was quintessential music for anyone looking to boost their ego before a party. Big Boi and Three Stacks ran laps around the funk-forward production, handled by regular collaborators Organized Noize. Not only did the duo give the track a nice A-Town stomping with their Southern flair, but they also reminded us how good they looked while doing it. — C.L.
32. Michelle Branch, “Everywhere” (No. 12, Hot 100)
With a title mirroring its success, “Everywhere” by Michelle Branch was indeed everywhere in 2001. Branch’s romantic lyrics, powerful vocals and electric guitar, building up to one of the most upbeat pop-rock hooks of its time, still makes us feel like we’re standing hair brush in hand, performing for a sold-out show to the posters in our room. There are some songs you can’t help but belt along to, and whether it’s a track on a throwback playlist or your go-to karaoke number, “Everywhere” reminds us that nostalgia lives in the chorus of our favorite songs. — KATIE SPOLETI
31. No Doubt feat. Bounty Killer, “Hey Baby” (No. 5, Hot 100)
By 2001, No Doubt — and, thus, Gwen Stefani — had already been through a couple lives, so when Stefani started showing up on high-profile pop collabs, it hinted at a day when she might move beyond No Doubt. But her next album with the band, Rock Steady, and its smash lead single “Hey Baby” proved that hadn’t come quite yet. Recorded largely in Jamaica, its dancehall-centric sounds felt like a natural next step beyond the group’s ska roots, and the presence of dancehall legend Bounty Killer on this raucous hit provided an appropriate hat tip to the genre. Stefani would try out solo stardom soon after — and face accusations of cultural appropriation less subtle than those some critics leveled at Rock Steady — but at the time, little stood in the way of the album’s commercial explosion after “Hey Baby.” It’s become No Doubt canon since, a bonafide era in the band’s history. — R.M.
30. *NSYNC, “Gone” (No. 11, Hot 100)
Originally written by Timberlake and collaborator Wade Robson to be a teamup with Michael Jackson, “Gone” instead ended up essentially serving as JT’s solo debut, with the rest of *NSYNC essentially serving as his backing vocalists on the song’s chorus. Timberlake can’t be too regretful about how that turned out, as the acoustic torch song essentially proved he was ready for the spotlight on his lonesome, with a brilliant vocal performance that twists the knife deeper with every ad lib (“My best to be a maaaaaannnn!!!“) But don’t forget about the rest of the group just yet, since it’s their ghostly, falsetto’d “GONE!” gasps that truly make this one sound like a breakup ballad from beyond the grave. — A.U.
29. Ludacris, “Rollout (My Business)” (No. 17, Hot 100)
When you’re in the public eye, fans expect to know absolutely everything about your life, from how much money you’re spending and who you’re dating to where you go shopping or, simply, what in the world is in that BAG? Ludacris has a simple answer to all those prying questions in this hilarious clapback of a song: “Stay the f–k up out my BIZ-NESS.” Over a typically thumping Timbaland beat, the Atlanta rapper shoots down busybodies with one-liner after one-liner, showing off his perfect blend of lyrical skills and laugh-out-loud sense of humor. — K.A.
28. Dido, “Thank You” (No. 3, Hot 100)
We “Stan” Eminem for bringing Dido‘s ode to much-needed relationship comforts to the attention of U.S. audiences, but the English artist gets all the credit for writing a tune that still endures on its own. Her hit’s theme of having a no good, very bad day brightened by a call from a loved one continues to resonate, especially during a global pandemic. So much so, Anuel AA borrowed the aching beat for his 2020 track “Me Contagie 2” to sing about his own solitude. — ANNA CHAN
27. Gorillaz, “Clint Eastwood” (No. 57, Hot 100)
Blur frontman Damon Albarn got it right on the first try on his second time around with “Clint Eastwood,” debut single from his then-new virtual supergroup’s self-titled debut album. An eerie, seductive blend of reggae, electronic, funk and hip-hop — with animated bars from Del The Funky Homosapien — “Clint Eastwood” sounded like nothing else that came before it, and nothing has quite matched it since. Paired with a nightmarish cartoon music video, the song became Gorillaz’ first entry on the Hot 100, where it peaked at No. 57 and became an essential building block in music history, even before the collective’s brilliant next two decades. — T.C.
26. The Shins, “New Slang” (Did not chart)
As the story goes, James Mercer’s band Flake opened for Modest Mouse on a few tours in the late ‘90s, and Mercer passed Isaac Brock a burned CD of his then-side project called The Shins. It included “New Slang,” a folk-leaning track about wanting to leave everything behind, in demo form; Brock gave the CD to Jonathan Poneman at Sub Pop, who quickly signed The Shins, as anyone in their right mind would do. A few years and 100,000 records sold later, the song was esteemed enough to make a key appearance in 2004’s Garden State — not merely on the Grammy-winning soundtrack, but actually written into the script for Natalie Portman’s character to rave about — and The Shins had a true stealth hit. Twenty years later, the sound of Mercer’s sublime vocals over tranquil acoustic guitar is just as affecting. — G.G.
25. Nelly Furtado, “I’m Like a Bird” (No. 9, Hot 100)
Nelly Furtado appeared to come out of nowhere in 2001, becoming a critical and commercial sensation almost instantly. But the vulnerable lyrics of her breakthrough hit (“And though my love is true, yeah / I’m just scared / That we may fall through”) paired with a folk-hop bounce and the crystal clear crescendo of her “I’m like a bird” declaration, made it a standout on top 40 radio that year. The song was unavoidable in 2001, going on to earn several Grammy nominations and a win for best female pop vocal performance. It’s hard to believe it never reached the top five of the Hot 100, but luckily, the world had yet to see the last of Nelly Furtado. — B.K.
24. Train, “Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)” (No. 5, Hot 100)
Iconic lyrics? Check: From planetary imagery to more earthbound references to fried chicken and soy lattes, “Jupiter” has something for everyone. A heartbreaking backstory? Check: Pat Monahan recently told Billboard that he wrote the song after the death of his mother from cancer. A feel good, upbeat tempo that reminds you of a bright Spring day? Check. Winning two Grammys (best rock song and best instrumental accompanying vocalists) and nominated for three others, “Drops” also reached No. 5 on the Hot 100, while also receiving heavy critical derision for its obvious lack of self-consciousness. But tell me, in the last two decades, did you ever get a chance to get this song out of your head? — D.W.
23. Jennifer Lopez feat. Ja Rule, “I’m Real (Murda Remix)” (No. 1, Hot 100)
If you were a 12-year-old in 2001, you probably used to confuse J-Lo’s popular R-U-L-E line in “I’m Real” with “Are you Ellie?” Though it may have taken us a while to register her shout-out to Ja Rule, it didn’t take long to appreciate the killer remix orchestrated by Irv Gotti and company. Lopez’s “Jenny From The Block” image meshed perfectly with Ja’s street appeal and propelled the song into elite territory during the summer of ’01. Despite coming from two different musical worlds, Ja and Jenny’s melodic chemistry and back-and-forth role-play were beyond irresistible. — C.L.
22. Destiny’s Child, “Bootylicious” (No. 1, Hot 100)
When the song “Bootylicious” came with the disclaimer “I don’t think they can handle this,” fans should have known Destiny’s Child was going to deliver. The track off their third studio album Survivor sampled Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” and quickly became one of Destiny Child’s many classic songs of personal uplift and self-worth. While the term “Bootylicious” had been used as a demeaning term before the single, Destiny’s Child reclaimed it with lyrics celebrating women’s bodies and sexuality. And of course, following the single, the term had to be added into the Oxford English Dictionary — as an adjective meaning “sexually attractive.” — T.M.
21. Janet Jackson, “All For You” (No. 1, Hot 100)
This glimmering dance-pop track, produced by Jackson along with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, arrived not only as a certified hit (it climbed to No. 1 on the Hot 100), but also a can’t-miss rulebook for flirting. “Don’t try to be all clever, cute, or even sly/ Don’t have to work that hard/ Just be yourself and let that be your guide,” Jackson instructs over a rapturous post-disco groove, lifted from Change’s “The Glow of Love.” It’s a tried-and-true lyrical format that still reigns today (see: Dua Lipa’s “New Rules”) and will surely continue for years to come because let’s face it, everyone could use a little help in that area — and even more so after a year of isolation. — LYNDSEY HAVENS
20. Sum 41, “Fat Lip” (No. 66, Hot 100)
When Sum 41 exploded onto the scene with the iconic guitar riff that kicks off “Fat Lip,” they became the poster boys for the nexus of skater punk, rap-rock (though decidedly not the Limp Bizkit kind) and metal attitudes that defined turn-of-the-century Island Records. The anti-establishment ethos of its lyrics — “I’ll never fall in line / Become another victim of your conformity” — and its clear-eyed genesis (“Heavy metal and mullets, it’s how we were raised/ Maiden and Priest were the gods that we praised”) helped to define the pillars around which an entire suburban music scene rose. Maybe the best part of the song is its bridge, a lilting, mournful departure from its distorted power chords, which is nevertheless thrown completely out the window with the full mosh of the song’s third verse. For a minute there, Sum 41 defined rock music — and to a certain age group, it probably still does. — D.R.
19. P!nk, “Get the Party Started” (No. 4, Hot 100)
In a time when pop and rock were dominating the airwaves, P!nk decided to ditch her R&B stylings and reinvent herself. “Get the Party Started” served as her arrival into this new sound, with its opening lines “I’m coming up, so you better get this party started” announcing her as the next big thing in the mainstream. Written and produced by soon-to-be-certified hitmaker Linda Perry, “Get the Party Started” fused pop with rock with dance with funk, all to make for an infectious track that would take P!nk from being “that other one on ‘Lady Marmalade’” to a pop culture mainstay. — S.D.
18. Mary J. Blige, “Family Affair” (No. 1, Hot 100)
When “Family Affair” was released in 2001, Mary J. Blige had been a known quantity in music for nearly a decade, her albums satisfying hardcore R&B fans while producing the occasional crossover hit, like “Real Love” or “Not Gon’ Cry.” Yet “Family Affair,” her first (and to date only) Hot 100 chart-topper, introduced her as a full-fledged pop star. A dance cut courtesy of producer Dr. Dre, with string stabs and a bumping rhythm, “Family Affair” allowed Blige to inject her soulful voice into top 40 radio catchphrases like “Don’t need no hateration, holleration in this dancery,” and highlight dance parties in the middle of a career full of top-notch slow jams. — J. Lipshutz
17. Linkin Park, “In the End” (No. 2, Hot 100)
You could say that “In the End” has taken on new resonance since the death of Linkin Park lead singer Chester Bennington, and you certainly wouldn’t be wrong — but you’d also be implying that there was ever a time when “In the End” wasn’t totally devastating. That said, the fourth single off the band’s Hybrid Theory debut took them to new heights on the Hot 100 even as it plumbed new emotional lows for mainstream rock, because its potent vocal interplay, brilliant melodic layering and staggering production depth all culminated in an anthem for hopelessness that couldn’t help still be inspiring and life-affirming through its sheer magnificence. In the end, it may or may not have mattered for Bennington himself, but for tens of millions of Linkin Park fans, it forever will. — A.U.
16. Aaliyah, “Rock the Boat” (No. 14, Hot 100)
If Aaliyah’s first two albums’ worth of hits as she rose to superstardom weren’t mesmerizing enough, her third album’s “Rock the Boat” certainly does the trick. The hypnotizing groove and sensual lyrics radiate the ultimate laid back vibe, which the beachside music video Hype Williams shot in the Bahamas expertly captures. Unfortunately, an airplane accident after filming this very video would result in the Princess of R&B’s tragic death on Aug. 25, 2001. But the Grammy-nominated song lives on, via samples on Kanye West’s “Fade” and The Weeknd’s “What You Need.” –– HERAN MAMO
15. Weezer, “Island in the Sun” (No. 11, Alternative Airplay)
Coming on the heels of 1996’s Pinkerton — famously a critical/commercial flop-turned-cult-favorite — Rivers Cuomo basically gave up and said, “You want a f–king pop album? Fine. I’ll make you a f–king pop album.” So Weezer reunited with Blue Album producer Ric Ocasek, made another self-titled set (this one commonly referred to as the Green Album), and released three punchy singles, including the transportive “Island in the Sun.” The upbeat yet laid-back tune spawned two music videos (three, if you count the secret Dave Grohl one), got a performance with Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live, and at one point, was the band’s most-licensed track. For some snooty fans, it was the nail in the sellout coffin. For the rest of us, we respect it as the timeless feel-good vacation anthem it was always meant to be. Hip hip! — G.G.
14. Usher, “U Got It Bad” (No. 1, Hot 100)
With a desolate wind howling at the top, a skittering 808 rhythm, a music video starring TLC’s Chilli and a fourth-quarter guitar solo you probably forgot about, “U Got It Bad” was a surefire hit on paper – but in Usher’s hands, it was elevated to R&B Heartbreak Valhalla. There’s a restrained nuance to his performance, with his soft, obsessive vocal conveying a fractured, sleepless emotional state without ever delving into histrionics, or even rising above a pensive croon; when his voice does hop up for a half-second (“If you miss a DAY without your friend your whole life’s off track”), it low-key rends your heart. No surprise, it became his third Hot 100 No. 1, just a few months after his 21st birthday. — J. Lynch
13. Nelly feat. City Spud, “Ride Wit Me” (No. 3, Hot 100)
From the moment that the opening guitar riff hits, it’s a party. “Ride Wit Me” is littered with lyrics primed to get stuck in your head until the next time you get to scream them at full volume, from its DeBarge-interpolating line “I like the way you brush your hair/And I like those stylish clothes you wear,” to its tongue-in-cheek tease “I know something that you don’t know/And I’ve got something to tell ya,” to, of course, its anthemic “Hey, must be the money!” Combine that with a radio-friendly hook and clapping production to keep listeners grounded, and you have an undeniable, career-defining hit. — J.G.
12. Christina Aguilera, Lil Kim, Mya, & P!nk, “Lady Marmalade” (No. 1, Hot 100)
As is true of any successful sports team, star power and roster balance goes a long way — and when you have an all-star lineup of Xtina, Lil Kim, Mya and P!nk (plus production from Missy Elliott and Rockwilder) it’s near impossible to lose. Originally recorded by Labelle in 1974 (and later rerecorded in 1998 by All Saints), “Lady Marmalade” can be considered a rite of passage in popular music. And not only did this updated version, which added hip-hop to the original’s thick brew, benefit from its association with Moulin Rouge! — the hit soundtrack for which it was recorded — but with four powerhouse vocalists roaring alongside each other and elevating one another’s games, there was no way to ignore it, as the song topped the Hot 100 for the second time. — L.H.
11. Shaggy feat. Ricardo “RikRok” Ducent, “It Wasn’t Me” (No. 1, Hot 100)
You know you’ve landed on a forever anthem when the title of your biggest hit becomes a global shorthand for sexual indiscretion. Reggae pop veteran Shaggy finally broke through in 2000 with this global No. 1, a bouncy, beat-heavy song featuring a totally relatable scenario: one bud asking another what to do when your lover finds out you’ve strayed with the girl next door. Shaggy, in his signature throaty, just-drank-milk voice, offers up his simple, sneaky deny, deny, deny advice to every one of RikRok’s scenarios: “It wasn’t me.” The title dodge has become so ubiquitous that Slate writer Josh Levin coined the phrase “Shaggy Defense” to describe when someone — say, R. Kelly, or disgraced Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam — tries to baldly deny evidence that is clearly damning. Bangs on the charts and under the gavel. — G.K.
10. Jay-Z, “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” (No. 8, Hot 100)
In 2001, the self-proclaimed 8th Wonder of the World delivered a drubbing over a soulful, Jackson 5-lifting Kanye West beat with this instant anthem from his game-changing Blueprint LP. Penciling a slick singsong hook for the Hot 100 top 10 hit — his first as a lead artist — Hov schooled young students on the do’s and don’t’s of the street. Whether ruminating on his one-time charges or old drug dealing ways, Jay celebrated his triumphs and newfound music dominance with unflinching confidence, proving he had the power to make his haters disappear in a flash, like “Poof — Vamoose, son of a b–ch.” — C.L.
9. The Strokes, “Last Nite” (No. 5, Alternative Airplay)
The one-note opening riff of the Strokes’ Is This It hit is instantly recognizable, even two decades later. In an era where soft rock and nu-metal were unavoidable in popular music, “Last Nite” injected some fun back into rock – thanks to Nick Valensi’s bluesy, fiery guitar solo and Julian Casablancas’ howling vocals. And while the angsty lyrics lament feeling depressed, misunderstood and confused (“Well, I’ve been in town for just about 15 whole minutes now/ And baby, I feel so down/ And I don’t know why”), the song’s lively nature makes it perfect for drunkenly singing at a bar with friends, creating a timeless, healing juxtaposition. — R.A.
8. Alicia Keys, “Fallin'” (No. 1, Hot 100)
Alicia Keys knew how to make an entrance. From the opening a cappella notes of the first single from her debut album, Songs in A Minor, she silenced the room with her flawless vocal run, turning “in” into a 10-syllable word. The thumping track seemingly interpolated James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World,” but “Fallin’,” written and produced by Keys, showed how the 20-year-old was out to make it all her own. In addition to her soulful voice, the singer/songwriter brought her classical piano training to the table, and filled the rest of the seats with strings, powerful backup singers and a message of love’s irresistible magnetism. According to Keys, people told her the song wouldn’t work as a single — but six weeks at No. 1 and five Grammy wins (three for “Fallin'”) later, detractors and fans alike knew whose world it really was. — C.W.
7. Eve feat. Gwen Stefani, “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” (No. 2, Hot 100)
When a pair of music icons offer to show off their talents, it’s best to take the invitation. Gwen’s breathy, slowed-down chorus (“It took a while to get me here, and I’m gonna take my ti-i-ime”) is the perfect complement to Eve’s effortless swagger, as she brag-raps about dropping glasses and shaking asses over one of producer Dr. Dre’s best beats, resulting in just under four minutes of pure sonic braggadocio. That’s not to mention the song’s playful music video, in which the duo — Eve with a hot pink pixie cut, Gwen in a signature bikini top — roll up to a formal party on motorcycles, and get escorted out by police. Among the best female hip-hop collaborations out there, “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100 and earned the inaugural Grammy Award for best rap/sung collaboration. — T.C.
6. Daft Punk, “One More Time” (No. 61, Hot 100)
It’s hard to remember now how shocking “One More Time” was upon its turn-of-the-century release: Daft Punk had made their name a half-decade earlier with a series of growling, nasty house scorchers that placed them at dance’s vanguard — making their return with this remorselessly cheesy uber-pop anthem an unexpected one, to say the least. But as always, the Robots were simply ahead of the game: The immaculate “One More Time” was the perfect song to lead the charge in the ’00s towards a more open-minded view of genres like disco, soft-rock, R&B and bubblegum pop as being just as potentially cutting-edge as anything with loud guitars, slamming beats or acidic synths. And if it jarred at first, it proved enchanting quickly thereafter, as its relentlessly skipping groove and Auto-Tuned Romanthony vocals popped further into your bloodstream with each “We don’t stop-puh… You can’t stop-puh…” croon. — A.U.
5. Shakira, “Whenever, Wherever” (No. 6, Hot 100)
Shakira’s maiden English language single was a smash that became her first charting title on the Hot 100. The lead single from her crossover English album, Laundry Service, Shakira wrote the lyrics first in Spanish, at a time when her English was still “precarious.” She asked pal Gloria Estefan to adapt the words to English –the only song where she needed that boost. “It was the kind of push I needed to jump into the water and begin to swim [in English] on my own,” Shakira said last year. With its Andean instrumentation (which Shakira insisted on), its unique lyrics (“Lucky that my breasts are small and humble, so you don’t confuse them with mountains”), and the enduring image of Shakira dancing off a cliff in the music video, “Whenever, Wherever” not only launched her international stardom but endured: Following Shakira’s 2020 Super Bowl performance, it was the most streamed song of the halftime show. — L.C.
4. Destiny’s Child, “Survivor” (No. 2, Hot 100)
One of the greatest girl group songs ever came about during one of the most turbulent times in Destiny’s Child’s career: Their constantly rotating roster of members had ultimately landed on Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams as a trio, while attracting snarky comparisons from onlookers to the TV series Survivor. Beyoncé & Co. flipped the comment into a Grammy-winning triumph, with a smash that also reached No. 2 on the Hot 100. “Survivor” might’ve had a music video reminiscent of the reality TV hit it shared its name with, where the three find themselves shipwrecked on an abandoned island. But the song was more notable for reinforcing the group’s sisterhood bond, as well as later serving as “a tool for national grief” in the aftermath of 9/11, according to music supervisor John Houlihan. Today, it remains one of the 21st century’s ultimate female empowerment anthems. — H.M.
3. Britney Spears, “I’m a Slave 4 U” (No. 27, Hot 100)
“All you people look at me like I’m a little girl,” Britney Spears cooed back in 2001. “Well, did you ever think it’d be okay for me to step into this world?” In the opening lines of “I’m a Slave 4 U,” the 19-year-old pop phenom made like the Burmese python that would soon be wrapped around her shoulders and shed her skin. Gone was the test group-approved girl next door, now replaced by a young woman embracing her sexual power, like it or not. Oozing with a hip-hop-meets-electronic flavor that was originally intended for Janet Jackson, “Slave 4 U” possessed a grown-up, sexy sensibility that singles like “Oops I Did It Again” and “Lucky” from just one year prior did not. Naturally, the single (and Britney’s iconic performance at the 2001 VMAs) immediately garnered controversy for the sexualization of America’s sweetheart. But looking back, it’s clear that not only is “I’m a Slave 4 U” one of Britney Spears’ greatest singles, it also blazed a new path for pop stars of the future, letting the world know that how an artist chooses to express themselves is entirely up to them, whether or not you “like that.” — S.D.
2. OutKast, “Ms. Jackson” (No. 1, Hot 100)
Stankonia‘s second single “Ms. Jackson” became OutKast’s first Hot 100 No. 1 in Feb. 2001, belatedly pushing the Atlanta duo into the pop mainstream after seven years of consistently raising the bar for Southern rap. Over a syncopated drumbeat, a warped sample of Brothers Johnson’s cover of Shuggie Otis’ “Strawberry Letter 23” and a softly cascading piano riff, André and Antwon candidly address their “baby mamas’ mamas,” with the former offering an apologetic olive branch (to Erykah Badu’s mom, FTR) while the latter taunts and castigates. If Big Boi is a firm, unmoving mountain, André 3000 is the ever-shifting river flowing around him, gradually eroding some of the hardness. Add in that laid-back groove and a few playful touches — from the yipping puppy to the Little Richard-styled oooo to a hazy guitar piss take on Wagner’s Bridal March at 3:00 – and “Jackson” remains an exemplar of OutKast’s brotherly yin-yang chemistry. — J. Lynch
1. Missy Elliott, “Get Ur Freak On” (No. 7, Hot 100)
When asked about the sexual-sounding title of “Get Ur Freak On,” Missy Elliott said in a 2007 Blender interview that the phrase is a lot more versatile than that. “It could be about dancing, the bedroom, whatever. You’re cleaning your house? Get your freak on!”
And that’s exactly what Missy and Timbaland did when they let their freak flags fly and created this unstoppable (and unmatchable) smash. While Elliott had little left to prove following back-to-back top 10 Billboard 200 albums, she’s clearly allergic to standing still, so she and Timbaland did what they do best on the lead single for her third album Miss E… So Addictive: They made a trailblazingly bizarre song that ended up setting the tone and the trends in pop and hip-hop for years to come.
The song’s global appeal begins with the many international sounds pulled together through Missy and Tim’s production, most notably its prominent Punjabi melody, as well as a sample of a Hindi-language new-age song and Japanese phrases bookending the track. Then there are the instantly quotable lyrics (“Is that your chiiiiiiiick?” in the radio version) and left-field vocal choices sprinkled throughout, like the shushing after “qui-et” or the hocked loogie following “spit it out.” All these elements might not sound like the makings of an R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart-topper or best rap solo performance Grammy winner (especially the loogie bit), but in the self-assured artistic hands of Missy and Timbaland, they add up to a stone-cold hit.
Of course, Elliott has always been a visual artist, so the hypnotic music video, full of painted dancers and countless cameos (Ludacris, Ja Rule, Eve, LL Cool J, etc.), became an instant MTV favorite and is inextricably linked with the song itself. Having lived with the song for 20 years, it’s hard to think back to hearing it (or seeing the video) for the very first time and recall just how mind-blowingly innovative it was. That’s because — despite Elliott’s warning that she’s “copywritten, so don’t copy me” — two decades of songs since have aimed to recapture the hit’s manic-but-controlled energy, to varying degrees of success.
But attempts at imitation are fruitless: “Get Ur Freak On” is the work of an artist at the peak of her craft whose disinterest in following any sort of playbook led to her rewriting the top 40 rules altogether. The track’s enduring appeal became crystal-clear in 2015 when Elliott joined Katy Perry on the Super Bowl halftime stage to perform a medley of hits, and “Get Ur Freak On” subsequently re-entered the Hot 100 top 40 — proving the song hasn’t lost any heat over the years, and in fact still has the power to inspire a new audience to figure out how to get their own freak on. – K.A.