Saturday, August 31, 2013

The "Best" Songs Of The Century

"Hey Ya" won, and deservedly so, thus giving Grantland's "Best Song Of The Millennium" bracket a bit of credibility.  Still, good lord, the logic behind the selection of these 64 competing songs was questionable at best, laughable at worst and an abomination in the eyes of God and man at the capital-W Worst.  Not that I consider Grantland to be the best-all and end-all of pop culture and musical criticism, but it really kills a lot of respect I had for their tastes that this staff of supposedly thoughtful, musically-inclined people not only gave "Ignition (Remix)" a #1 seed, but were then shocked that it didn't rout its way through the competition.

It's impossible to agree on something as subjective as a) music, and b) what the word "best" means in context of 13 years' worth of songs.  File-sharing, YouTube, Spotify, and ok, basically just The Internet has made music fandom as varied as it has ever been, so combing through this fractured mess and picking a lone "Best" song is an impossible venture, let alone 64 of them.  As I noted, "Hey Ya" was an awesome choice yet its victory seems somewhat muted given some of its challengers.  If you invited Roger Federer to your tennis tournament and he won, then that's great, but it's not quite as impressive if his run through your bracket involves wins over a ball machine and Milos from Seinfeld.

First, let's look at the songs in the tournament that were performed by musicians who had other songs that were at least equally good, or possibly WAY better.

* Outkast, "Hey Ya" and "International Players Anthem"
Let's start with the champs.  I can't stress enough what a quality choice "Hey Ya" was, and yet it's bizarre that it was Outkast's ONLY entry on this list.  (I don't even count the UGK song since they were just featured artists on that track.)  Where was "Ms. Jackson"?  Where was "B.O.B."?  I won't lie, I'm not the biggest hip-hop/rap aficionado in the world, but surely either of those songs carry more import and are just fucking better than some of the anonymous one-hit hip-hop tunes that did make the cut. 

* Robyn, "Dancing With Myself"
Ok, it's probably a tossup between this and "Call Your Girlfriend" in terms of cultural import in North America but put it this way, which video did Taran Killam feel the need to emulate in the SNL offices at 4:30 in the morning?  I rest my case.

* Kanye West, "Jesus Walks, "Mercy," "N****** In Paris" (as part of Watch The Throne)
It's hard to say Kanye was under-represented but…if you were summing up the Kanye West experience, would Jesus Walks, Mercy and Paris be the first three tracks that leapt to mind?  Keep in mind that if you were ranking a bracket of the millennium's best albums, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy would be an easy #1 seed and yet nothing from that album made the songs list.  No "Power," no "Monster," no "All Of The Lights," no "Runaway," nothing.  This isn't even mentioning arguably his best single of all, "Gold Digger."

* Jay Z, "99 Problems," "Empire State Of Mind," "N****** In Paris" (as part of Watch The Throne)
Again, you can't argue that Hova didn't make a racket in the bracket anyway, but I would've liked to have been "Numb/Encore" get in there.  Not only was it important as one of the major rap/rock remixes of the modern era, but it also would've gotten Linkin Park into the bracket.  They seem like an omission given their importance and influence in rock music…I'm not a big LP fan but even I acknowledge they were a big deal.

* Daft Punk, "Get Lucky"
Can't help but think that recency bias plays a factor here, since "One More Time" was easily Daft Punk's biggest hit of the last 13 years.

* The White Stripes, "Fell In Love With A Girl"
This is an interesting selection that maybe was also made due to recency bias; everyone loved Silver Linings Playbook, after all.  And really, if I ever made a best White Stripes song list like I did for some of my other favourites, FILWAG is higher than "Seven Nation Army" simply by dint of being a better song.  That said, SEVEN NATION ARMY, people.  The most covered rock song of the decade and probably just most covered song, period, of the decade.  It's this generation's "We Will Rock You."  It should absolutely have been here and been a top-three seed at minimum.  

* Adele, "Rolling In The Deep"
This not only made the bracket, it earned a #1 seed and finished second in the entire thing.  Am I the only one in the world who doesn't care for this song?  Or were people just voting it along since they generally love Adele?  (Or because the song faced some cake competition along the way.)  "Someone Like You" probably wins the bracket if it's entered, I'm just saying.

* Eminem, "Stan"
Man, I don't even like Eminem and I love "Lose Yourself," for pete's sake.  It won a friggin' Oscar.  Perhaps the litmus test here is that at a recent karaoke night, some guy went up to perform "Stan" and it just brought things to a screeching halt.  It wasn't even that bad of a performance, but the song just dies a slow death live.  Whereas if a guy had gone up there to perform "Lose Yourself" and nails it, the place goes nuts.  "Stan" is a relic of its time, whereas "Lose Yourself" is timeless, which is kind of ironic given that it basically just recaps the movie.

* Gorillaz, "Feel Good Inc."
This is the one I'm least upset about, perhaps just out of pure shock that Gorillaz made the bracket at all (shock in a positive way, it was a cool choice).  I could argue for "Clint Eastwood" but again, it's not a major snub.

(There are other artists who could've had 'alternate' song choices on the list but overall, Grantland probably made the right call in picking the best representative of that artist's oeuvre.  For instance, "Bad Romance" is probably the best choice for Lady Gaga.)

Ok, so those are the musicians who at least had something show up, even if it wasn't their best effort.  But what of the notable 21st century musicians who didn't even get an invite to the dance?

* Coldplay.  Possibly the most head-scratching omission, since while it's cool to dislike these guys, it's impossible to argue against their popularity or influence in the last 13 years.  I'd choose "Fix You" as their best track, personally.
* Dixie Chicks.  Country music was, in general, only given a couple of token entries in the bracket and the choices were quickly dispatched.  While I'm not an expert on their discography, the Dixie Chicks probably should've had something in this tournament, right?  "Not Ready To Make Nice" was technically their biggest single, though I'm not a fan of that song; I'm more of a "Travelin' Solider" kind of guy.
* Missy Elliot.  Some other Grantland writers discussed Elliot's omission with the logic being that she was penalized for being "too" ahead of her time.  As in, her production values and musical stylings have been so copied and normalized today that her actual stuff doesn't sound quite as fresh since 75% of the artists in hip-hop are doing today what Missy was doing 10+ years ago.
* Green Day.  Legit shocked that neither "American Idiot" or at least "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" didn't make the cut.
* Gwen Stefani.  No songs for Gwen?  That shit is bananas. 
* U2.  Well of course I'm going to complain about a lack of U2 songs!  "Beautiful Day" should've absolutely been here, no questions asked.  "Vertigo" has a great case as well given that it's a great song, a hit song and The Song That Launched The iPod in terms of cultural import.
* Nickelback, Justin Bieber, Pink, Black Eyed Peas.  Ugh, I know, but I guess if you're going by sheer popularity and cultural import…good lord, wait, this was a bad idea, just pretend I didn't bring this category up.

And our final category, just a bunch of really good, or really big, or really big AND really songs that were omitted entirely since someone at Grantland just had to insist on "Oxford Comma" by Vampire Weekend to be included.  Good lord.

"1, 2, 3, 4", Feist
"Airplanes," B.o.B/Hayley Williams
"Before He Cheats," Carrie Underwood
"Bodyrock," Moby
"Crazy," Gnarls Barkley
"Dog Days Are Over," Florence & The Machine
"Do You Realize," The Flaming Lips
"Fuck You," Cee-Lo Green
"Get Low," Lil Jon
"Here It Goes Again," OK Go
"Hurt," Johnny Cash
"It Wasn't Me," Shaggy
"No One Knows," Queens Of The Stone Age
"Promiscuous," Nelly Furtado/Timbaland
"Pretender," Foo Fighters
"Right Here Right Now," Fatboy Slim
"The Seed, v. 2.0", the Roots
"Somebody That I Used To Know," Gotye
"Tick Tick Boom," The Hives

"Before He Cheats," "Hurt" and especially "Crazy" stand out as the ones that were just flat-out impossibly egregious snubs.  When I first saw the link to this songs bracket on the Grantland website, the first song that popped into my head when considering the millennium's best was…well, okay, it was "Hey Ya," but the second one in my brain was "Crazy."

I look forward to Grantland's next music bracket, which will probably be the best 64 remixes of the Ignition remix. 

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