My Top 20 Pop Songs of 2002
by Matthew Webber
1. Eminem - "Without Me"
My artist of the year? Eminem, without question. No other artist had as much impact on the culture this year, for better or for worse, than Slim Shady. He made us laugh, he made his ex-wife cry, and he criticized the media like a foul-mouthed Noam Chomsky. Several hit singles, a starring role in a Curtis Hanson-directed feature film, two number one albums (The Eminem Show and the 8 Mile soundtrack) - nobody's had this good of a year since the Normans in 1066. "Without Me" was his pop song, the one that prepared us for the more serious "White America," "Cleaning Out My Closet," and "Lose Yourself," all of which I would have included here if I wasn't limiting my list to one single per artist. What's more ingenious: Rhyming "Chris Kirkpatrick" with "get your ass kicked," belittling Dick Cheney's heart problem, or sugar-coating a fuck-all-y'all rant with a singsongy chorus? You're right. It's a tie. 2002 would have been so empty without him.
2. Nirvana - "You Know You're Right"
My favorite rock song of 2002 was recorded in 1994. "You Know You're Right" gets my vote for most depressing single of the year, not necessarily because of its lyrics but because of how much it reminds me of Kurt Cobain's wasted potential. Thankfully, Courtney Ono and the remaining members of Nirvana settled their lawsuits and released this song, the most kick ass three minutes of angst since anything from In Utero. Every other rock band in the universe has had eight years to top this - why have so few of them even tried?
3. Norah Jones - "Don't Know Why"
I don't know why the multiplatinum status of Norah Jones' debut album, Come Away With Me, was so surprising. She plays her own piano, the songwriting and production on her album are stellar, Jones' voice has the kind of tone and phrasing you can't teach in singing lessons, and, if that weren't enough, she's pretty. She's the type of artist for whom success should be inevitable. Oh, now I get it. She didn't flash her panties in her video, and she didn't feature Redman. Her bad. All she did was sing this song, which still gives me chills when she hits her high notes in the second chorus. I love this song as much as I think my grandpa might have, or as much as my grandson will when he hears it. Mariah Carey would go crazy, Kelly Clarkson would risk censure from Paula Abdul, and TLC would burn down a house to sing a song this timeless. May Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes rest in piece, but may Mariah and Kelly learn how to sing in one octave. Please.
4. Avril Lavigne - "Complicated"
I heard this song for the first time yesterday, and I thought to myself, "You know, I bet if some radio DJ heard this he'd run it into the ground. Why haven't I heard this before? Well, anyways, it's a good thing I'm the only one who's aware of this girl whose first name means 'April' in French. I'd hate to see this become another 'Hero'."
5. The White Stripes - "I Fell in Love with a Girl"
I stopped caring about whether Jack and Meg White were siblings when I started to care about their songs. These two people rock hard enough for four. They cram more rock into two minutes than other bands squeeze into six. If your KAF (Kick Ass Factor) equals your volume (with 11 being the highest) divided by your song's running time divided by the number of members in your band, then by my calculations, "I Fell in Love with a Girl" (with its KAF of 11/1.83/2=3.01) outrocks Pink Floyd's "Echoes" (6/approx. 25/4=0.06) by a magnitude of 50!
6. Missy Elliott - "Work It"
I heard that if you play this song forwards, you'll hear Satanic messages. Also, once you picture its accompanying image, you will never forget the lyric, "Go downtown and eat it like a vulture." Missy, defeating anybody who's ever played that "Six Degrees of Separation" game, connects Prince to Kunta Kinte in just this one song. Was it worth it? For a song this dope, definitely.
7. Cake - "Meanwhile Rick James…"
Although this song wasn't a single, it should have been. Although it came out in 2001, I did buy Cake's Comfort Eagle album this year. It makes the list because it has the funkiest bassline and saddest lyrical couplet of any song I heard in 2002. Although different web sites transcribe the chorus differently, when I hear John McCrea cry, "Meanwhile Rick James takes her nude/And there's nothing I can do," I want to weep. I mean, if Rick James takes your girlfriend nude, what can you do? He's superfreaky, yow. I guess you can't do anything except write a song about it. And if McCrea is referring to the washed-up, has-been, recovering drug addict, 2002 Rick James, then what does his taking your girl nude say about you?
8. Justin Timberlake - "Like I Love You"
The best Michael Jackson song since "Billie Jean."
9. Michelle Branch - "Goodbye to You"
The simplicity of this song is what makes it so powerful, and Michelle sounds empowered when she's singing it - and when I am singing along. My guiltiest pleasure this year was liking all of the pixie pop singer/songwriters. Of the Avril/Michelle/Vanessa trinity, Michelle was definitely my favorite, probably because she was the least annoying. Actually, I didn't find her irritating at all, since unlike Avril, Michelle can actually write a song without the help of her expensive producers. Unlike the songs of her doppelganger, Vanessa Carlton, Michelle's songs sound like something I would actually want to play on my guitar instead of like someone's elementary school piano recital. Did I actually learn to play "Goodbye to You"? Guilty. Did I develop a slight schoolboy crush on this cute brunette? Guiltier.
10. Nelly - "Hot in Herre"
In case you'rre wonderring, not all St. Louisans inserrt an extra "r" into "herre" when they say it. Most of us, howeverr, bumped this song all summerr. Unforrtunately, as scorrching as the Neptunes' beat was, it neverr inspirred any fly ladies in my carr to take off all theirr clothes. Rumorr has it this is Christina Aguilerra's favorrite jam.
11. Dashboard Confessional - "Screaming Infidelities"
With just this one song, Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carrabba became one of my new favorite singer/songwriters. I can see where a critic could accuse him of being overwrought, but that doesn't prevent me from commiserating with him. This is a song I wish I had written. Or this is a song I've written several times. When your ex-girlfriend's "hair is everywhere, screaming infidelities, taking its wear," it's torture.
12. Abandoned Pools - "The Remedy"
This is my favorite song I heard less than ten times this year. Every other song on this list is ineligible. I don't know who Abandoned Pools are, or what any of their other songs sound like, but if they all sound this sweetly sour, then Abandoned Pools are the greatest band I've never heard.
13. Mystikal - "Bouncin' Back (Bumpin' Me Against the Wall)"
Whom didn't the Neptunes improve this year? Beats this potent were prohibited in the 1920s. I never really cared for Mystikal's James Brown/Micro Machine Man rap before, but when he scatted over this jazz beat, I guzzled it.
14. John Mayer - "Your Body Is a Wonderland"
John Mayer is another one of my new singer/songwriter heroes. He looks like a nice enough boy, he sings sweet odes to girls, and he's dating Jennifer Love Hewitt. This could be my life. Discussion question: "Your bubblegum tongue" - savvy or sappy?
15. Korn - "Here to Stay"
Korn's reign as one of the top-selling rock bands is no longer, um, here to stay. One of the reasons for Korn's decline is that nothing else on their Untouchables album combines their elements so skillfully: tortured lyrics, a wailing melody, and a skull-pounding wall of sound. My prediction for 2003 is an increase in Korn albums in used-CD bins.
16. 311 - "Amber"
I never liked this band before, and I may never like them again, but when I hear that extra syllable in "Who-oa," I feel as warm as an amber aura. When I hear, "Amber is the color of your energy," I think it's the sweetest thing I will never say to a girl.
17. Jurassic 5 - "What's Golden"
Is it old school? Is it new school? It's both, and it's awesome! I love this single, I love Jurassic 5's Power In Numbers album, and I love the gruff-voiced Chali 2na more than I love almost any other current MC. I saw them live in Lawrence, Kansas, and it was the most energetic rap concert I've ever attended. In a just world, J5 and Ja Rule would switch sales figures, because these guys are as "real hip hop" as they claim.
18. Tori Amos - "A Sorta Fairytale"
Sure, it's a great song, but I expect that from Tori Amos. As excited as I am about new Tori music in general, I'm even more ecstatic to hear one of her songs on the radio and see one of her videos on VH1. My hope for the new year is that millions of record buyers will discover what Tori's fans already know: She's sorta amazing on record, and just shorta heavenly in concert.
19. Foo Fighters - "All My Life", Queens of the Stone Age - "No One Knows"
Appropriately enough, it was Dave Grohl who got me excited about rock radio this year. All my life I've wanted more bands to rock this hard. No one knows why they don't. Take note, all you Creeds and Puddles of Mudd. Grohl earns bonus props for adding the punch to the great new Queens of the Stone Age song, which would have been awesome anyway.
20. Santana and Michelle Branch - "The Game of Love"
I'm not breaking my one artist/one song rule here. Technically, it's a Santana joint featuring Michelle Branch. I like this song so much primarily because of how certain I am it was written by Gregg Alexander of the New Radicals. The first time I heard it, I was sure. The production was similar to the New Radicals' one hit, "You Get What You Give"; but more than that, it was in that jubilant pre-chorus when Michelle stretched out the word "why" into multiple syllables when I recognized the genius of the songwriter of one of my favorite one-hit wonders. I've tried to play detective on the Internet, and I've found that the writer of "The Game of Love" is listed as one Alex Ander, which I just think is a really cool pseudonym. Discussion boards about Gregg Alexander have confirmed my suspicions, which kinda makes me feel smart. And it's not as if I don't like this song. After all, I sing along to it, although that might be a symptom of having it heard it dozens of times.
E-mail me your questions, comments, and suggestions at popculturejunkie.com.