I won’t waste your time introducing this list. Except for some disclaimers. So I guess I will waste a little of your time. I honestly believe that no list of this magnitude is complete without covering all the bases. It would be be dishonest and pretentious to completely disregard country or “stoner music” simply because, so I tried my best to make this list as diverse as possible while simultaneously retaining 50 of my favorite songs of the decade. I also am 100 percent serious when I tell people I listen to everything. Will I gravitate towards certain styles and artists? Of course. But from Ke$ha to the London Symphony Orchestra, from Skrillex to Shadia Mansour, all the music I was exposed to was taken into consideration.
Main Attrakionz “Perfect Skies”
In the film Zombieland, the main character Columbus adds the rule “enjoy the little things” to his list of survival guidelines. Not only does this help him relieve stress in a post-apocalyptic world, but it also keeps him appreciative of living life. “Perfect Skies” begins with the line “I just want to kick my feet up / stack some cheese and light my weed up with my niggas.” While some people might view marijuana and money as sinful “little things” to enjoy, putting your legs up and reclining in a comfy chair in the company of friends is definitely universal. Squadda B and Mondre Man–the duo that make up Main Attrakionz–work really hard and will continue to strive towards a higher goal by doing something that they love. And on the way there, they’ll enjoy the little things:
“My heart’ll feel lucky, still striving with a blessing
But I’ll always want more, so I’ll never meet perfection
Collected all my colors, the canvas is white
Rep that shit in here, a Perfect Sky”
Bombadil “A Question”
This technically isn’t a meet cute since it appears the two people involved know each other, but I challenge you to find a declaration of attraction in song form that is both more adorable and amusing than “A Question.” Spoiler alert: you will not.
Nicki Minaj “Super Bass”
Nicki Minaj’s claim to fame was to occupy a space that badly needs filling. Other then Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing),” and Missy Elliot’s “Work It,” Nicki Minaj is the only female rapper to reach Billboard’s podium. That said, Nicki Minaj is not afraid to flaunt the Pop Diva within her, and “Super Bass” is the perfect blend of both genres.
Metric “Black Sheep”
Sometime during the first of a dozen viewings of the film Scott Pilgrim Vs The World I had one obsessive recurring thought: “They’ve hyped up this mysterious band that is fronted by our protagonist’s ex girlfriend SO MUCH that the song they play better not be a let down.” When the time finally came to hear it, I was not disappointed. Actress Brie Larson brings Metric’s song to life so well that it ends up fitting the plot and scene flawlessly. “Now that the truth is just a rule that you can bend / You crack the whip, shape shift and trick the past again,” are two lines that hold true to every you-said-this-at-one-point relationship spat and are so relevant to the film’s central themes that it’s hard not to place this song above the other two movie songs on this list.
Danish String Quartet Sønderho Bridal Trilogy, Pt. II
Normally these guys play Beethoven, but when they decided to play some traditional music from the place they call home, their true beauty was brought to light.
Skrillex “Scary Monsters & Nice Sprites”
In a Pitchfork interview Skrillex explained that DJ’ing was the least egotistical thing to do because when done right and to perfection you played what the audience wanted to hear. He’s not choosing what to play, the crowd is. It was this sort of attitude I tried my best to emulate when I worked Fourth Meal at Oberlin. In the student manager position I could DJ and play music while people ate their food and socialized. There is no better feeling in the world than when you string together a bunch of songs that ease the pressure of school and make people laugh and dance. So when Sonny Moore’s project Skrillex took off, he didn’t feel too comfortable. Dubstep has become such a phenomenon that artists like Taylor Swift have incorporated it into their songs. Hits like “I Knew You Were Trouble” would not exist without “Scary Monsters & Nice Sprites.” To this day Sonny Moore does not feel entirely at home being the center of the EDM landscape, but he takes comfort in knowing that he brings his fans joy.
I remember seeing the full Daft Punk pyramid show in 2007. I went alone, drove up in my Honda Fit, bought a ticket off a scalper for $150, got on the floor, and had the best time of my life. I didn’t have a drink, no drugs. But I was high out of my mind. It changed my life. This is gonna sound really lame, but try to take it the right way: There have been a couple times where I’ve been so proud of what I’ve done live, like I feel like I’ve given someone the same kind of feeling I got at that Daft Punk show. And that feels so good.
Sufjan Stevens “Christmas Unicorn”
I’m just going to say it: this is the greatest non-classic Christmas song ever. Sufjan Stevens sings about his complicated relationship with the holiday with such wit and gusto that not one second of this twelve minute exploration of bastardized tradition overstays its welcome. It’s weird, because I just had a conversation about Valentines Day and St. Patrick’s Day and how they have been used to promote binge drinking and jewelry. There’s something that can’t really be put into words, some sort of inkling or urge to experience holidays even when we are guilty or complicit in anxiously promoting grotesque consumerism. Sufjan attempts to answer the question in one of the essays that accompany his Christmas set of EP’s:
In spite of my best judgment, in spite of public opinion, in spite of common decency, in spite of seasonal affective disorder, mental disease and Christmas fatigue, I’ve continued the musical tradition (ever onward forever amen), in pursuing all the inexplicable songs of the holidays, season after season (without rhyme or reason), relentlessly humming, strumming, finger-picking, ivory-tickling, finger-licking, soul-searching, fact-finding, corporate ladder-climbing, magic hatter rabbit hiding, rapping, slapping, super-sizing, miming, grinding, flexing, perplexing, plucking and strumming all the celestial strings of merriment with utmost Napoleonic fever. This tradition will not die.
What is it about Christmas music that continues to agitate my aging heartstrings? Is it the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen? Or the boundless Potential Energy inherent in this bastard holiday so fitfully exploited, subverted, confounded, expounded, adopted and adapted with no regard for decency. Christmas is what you make of it, and its songs reflect mystery and magic as expertly as they clatter and clang with the most audacious and rambunctious intonations of irreverence. And all its silly-putty, slippery-slope, slap-dash menagerie of subject matter (be it Baby Jesus or Babes in Toyland) readily yields itself to the impudent whims of its contemporary benefactors, myself included.
The Range “Jamie”
When I was in Champaign, Illinois for the Pygmalion Festival last year, I recognized James Hinton sipping on a beer across the street. I was eating dinner with my friend and we were all relaxing before the exciting night of music began. I nervously went over to tell him how much I loved his music. He was flattered and taken off guard, but it was awesome because we ended up talking about gang violence in Chicago and about a few specific songs.
I wouldn’t say that he was upset, but he was a little unsettled by the fact that I recognized him. His project The Range isn’t at all enormous, and I left his company thinking about the rap sample in this song. “The more people surround me the more lonely I feel,” the rapper laments. One of the biggest challenges for artists is dealing with that potential fame. Some friends turn to enemies and they become surrounded by a lot of superficial people who fluff and bluff to grab a piece of stardom. Because the pool of candidates grows, however, the opportunity to develop deep and lasting friendships increases. That’s why halfway through “Jamie” the key changes and we hear some optimistic notes of piano rise to the surface. The transformation is powerful, the kind that sticks with you long after listening.
Eric Church “Springsteen”
Eric Church sings the name Springsteen almost as an afterthought at the end of the chorus, but to see it that way would be a grave mistake. By uttering the name of The Boss, Church purposely triggers all associations with his music, and as a result makes us think of any memories and moments we have that involve “Born in the USA” and “I’m on Fire.” The music we listen to shape and mold our experiences and in turn our character and persona. Eric Church realizes this, and even though it’s a little bit of a cop-out to provoke our feelings about another musicians rather than his own, it is still genuine and from the heart. We associate the music we listen to with memories, and whether you hate this genre of music or not, you can appreciate the sentiment that comes packaged with this song about nostalgic auditory triggers.
Soulja Boy & Ester Dean “Grammy”
DeAndre “Soulja Boy Tell’Em” Way is one of those people of whom I am always thinking, “wow, we’re the same age.” At 24, Soulja Boy is somehow old enough to have lived an entire career arc. He made millions on the songs he recorded in his room and practically personifies that cursed “live fast die young” internet celebrity status which he still stubbornly struggles to regain. “I deserve a Grammy” is not a statement of arrogance but rather the defeated plea of someone who painfully acknowledges his wealth and best music is behind him. I can’t help but think to myself how many countless others were robbed of rightful accolades based on race and class.