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Pop 10: The decade in chart-toppers

For some reason, I can always remember the year in which a movie came out - I can do this even for classic movies, made eons before my birth - but I can never remember in which year a particular song appeared.

This is a little weird, I find, given that, with music (or pop music, at least), the period in which I experience the product, again and again, tends to be in the months following its release, rather than at a random date perhaps years down the line, as with many films: movies float around on Netflix and television forever, whereas most songs played on the radio stick around for half a year and then disappear, and in this way they seem more tightly bound to their eras.

It occurred to me yesterday that, in an effort to better connect the music I've heard to the moments of my life in which I heard it, it would be a fun exercise to try to determine the best song of each of the last 10 years. If you want to play along at home (use Wikipedia for help), here's the big, important rule: every song has to have been an enormous pop hit, preferably of the kind that's played endlessly on teenybopper radio stations at the request of corporate music executives whose job it is to get together in a board room every three weeks and decide which of their shiny music-products we'll be forced to enjoy next. If it didn't chart, it doesn't count.

2011: "We Found Love" by Rihanna

An interesting thing about Rihanna is how she's steadfastly rejected the victimized-woman role thrust upon her in the wake of Chris Brown's abuse. It seems un-PC of her even to claim that their relationship was "love" at all, but this song, whose doomy music video features a blond, handsomer Chris Brown-type, goes further to proclaim Rihanna's complicity in a romance that spun out of control. It's a confession of pleasure and nostalgia; you have to respect it just for how wrong it seems.

2010: "Black and Yellow" by Wiz Khalifa

A wonderful thing about rappers is their ability to take a song about any subject and turn it into a song about their car (case in point: Young Jeezy's election-year anthem "My President," in which he somehow devoted more attention to the rims on his Lamborghini than he did to Obama). I'd listened to "Black and Yellow" at least 15 times before I realized that it was about Pittsburgh, not about the paint job on Wiz Khalifa's automobile. In any case, the phrase "black and yellow" appears 38 times in the song, by my count; if you say something enough, it achieves its own meaning.

2009: "TiK ToK" by Kesha

I hated this song for months, and then I saw the music video - in which, amid lyrics about partying like a rock star, we see a blowzy Kesha living with her parents and pedaling around her suburban neighborhood on a bicycle - and then I realized it was all a joke and loved it. These lyrics tell about the eternal, desperate quest we're on to convince ourselves that our lives are, in fact, "cool."

2008: "No Air" by Jordin Sparks (feat. Chris Brown)

My genuine affection for Jordin Sparks's music is one of the great mysteries of my life. I don't like R&B, I don't like "American Idol," and I don't like emotional pop singers belting out epic love ballads. Yet I think pretty much every single Jordin comes out with is awesome. (Sorry to have had to mention Chris Brown's name again - last time, I promise.)

2007: "This Is Why I'm Hot" by Mims

The fun part of this one was how, right around the time at which everyone was discovering Facebook's bottomless pool of conceit and bluster, the song's central line (with its unforgettable tautologies: "I'm hot cause I'm fly; you ain't 'cause you not") ironically highlights the baselessness of our collective vanity. We're hot because, well, we just are, OK?

2006: "Ridin'" by Chamillionaire (feat. Krayzie Bone)

One of the classic hood songs embraced by teenage suburban white girls, which is always kind of charming. It inspired one of the best Weird Al parodies, "White & Nerdy."

2005: "Sugar, We're Goin Down" by Fall Out Boy

 I couldn't go through the entire emo era without picking at least one representative anthem, right? Patrick Stump's enunciation here is so terrible as to inspire real awe. In 2005, I passionately hated this song, along with all the solipsistic melodrama of its genre, but now I look back on it sort of fondly, as I do with nearly everything I used to hate.

2004: "Dragostea din tei" by O-Zone

True, this didn't get that much airplay in the United States, but O-Zone is pure boy-band pop; they just happen to be Moldovan. The song was made famous as "Numa Numa" by the web-cam dancer Gary Brolsma, whose ecstatic home video provided a feel-good counterpoint to the mocking voyeurism of the previous year's "Star Wars Kid" phenomenon: here was an overweight, overzealous guy who had embraced his goofy energy.

2003: "Stacy's Mom" by Fountains of Wayne

Exactly what a pop song should be: beautifully trivial, relentlessly cheerful, full of desperate adolescent longing.

2002: "A Thousand Miles" by Vanessa Carlton

Yeah, I'm a 13-year-old girl, so what? The first time I heard "A Thousand Miles," actually, I was talking on AIM to the girl I had a crush on during the '01-'02 school year, and she told me it was her new favorite song and urged me to download it; I did, and I enjoyed it, but in my tiny eighth-grade brain, it seemed manlier to tell my friend that the song was lame and to tease her for liking it - which, of course, was exactly the wrong move. I've just remembered this all now, which I guess means that making this list was worth it.

Tagged: gen y, generation y