The 2000s were, as is often said, a time of interconnectedness, myriad individual options and, as always, cultural change. The last remaining threads of innovative music mingled in this era, turning most genres into unremarkable mish-mashes. Pop music became more universal, but at this point, there was nowhere left to go with it.
As for this list, the focus is on albums as discrete, holistic artistic statements. This decade more or less marked the end of the album in the eye of the average listener. After the popularity of compact discs had run its course, digital sound files became ever more popular as the internet grew insanely huge. Once companies found a way to monetize and distribute these packets of information, a new musical economy was established. However, this liberating new medium to share data meant that the easier option was always better, and eventually it became incredibly difficult for labels and artists alike to make a profit from old physical media. Licensing, the hit single market, and pandering to lowest common denominator demographics were the only ways a surefire hit could still predictably happen.
After the litigious scare of Napster in the late 90s, the data available online grew to such extents that it became virtually impossible to contain and/or police it. So streaming and free downloads were just a given in the industry by the mid-2000s. There were a few renegades pushing their own albums without a label (which some businesspeople frowned upon) but other than that, the frontier of free music had been tamed by oversaturation. The dissipation and fervor over new and popular music was turbocharged, with new trends popping up overnight where they had previously taken weeks.
Having more or less run its course, lost its way and come full circle by 2000, rock music (and its offshoot, hip-hop) was an omnipresent force in western life in the 21st century. It had been canonized, and so people were more comfortable with leaving it as is. After the colorful indie pop renaissance of the 90s, many pop bands rebranded with a more modernistic, professional sheen.
This was epitomized by the throwback garage rock bands of the early 2000s. A craze sprouted, headed by the Strokes and continued by the White Stripes, the Hives, the Vines, and so on. The cycle of rock had come far enough that some new upstarts banked on the fact that the public had forgotten their cultural past, and needed reeducation. These grizzled, yet sharp-looking twentysomethings utilized brazen copycatting which found new life in simple, catchy, gritty tunes.
They were marketed as a true revolution, but they were not the revitalization rock needed. They were refreshing in and of themselves, but were yet another dead end in the art form’s development. That was okay, though, because their fun attitude made guitar music profitable and entertaining again. This outlook seemed to bleed through to other genres as well: in the 90s, because of the expanded memory space of CDs, the bloated, sprawling statement was king. In the 2000s, it was in vogue to make relatively short, focused albums again, which resulted in a glut of unoriginal, but fantastic music.
But because the amount of content was ballooning indefinitely across many insular subgenres and geopolitical interest groups, it was increasingly the case that only insipid, diluted and simplistic music consistently made money. Self-releasing music was a decent strategy for established groups, but it still didn’t solve everything. Meanwhile, promotion became more specialized than ever before: the internet allowed some market tailoring in this regard, but overall, the music industry and many struggling indie groups are still flailing around to make a profit.
Vinyl soon became a prized collector’s item, as people explored the history of the medium. It was at once a fresh perspective and exhumation of the past, leading to a very strange situation: The rebellion of each previous decade against the old values tapered off into a universal acceptance. Genres mingled into what was now a homogenous indistinguishable morass. Very few musicians stuck to just one basic style, and instead explored divergent territory and emulated their idols. Where the 90s were a decade of remixes, the 2000s were a time of repeats.
The irony and self-deprecation of the 90s toward its appropriations of the classics evolved into outright appreciation and reverence. In an era where everyone was savvy about rock business and stardom cliches, where the scene once teemed with irony, noise and disaffection, it somehow transcended that and became okay to feel and be natural once more. Things would never be quite the same, with the specter of the past looming over every new effort, but artists paying tribute to their idols didn’t let that keep them from trying. Despite the gradual collapse of the industry, great records were being put out with much fervor (simply because of the law of averages).
“Cool”, independent music became a large and viable subculture to counteract the inanity of mainstream pop, but its life cycle was negligible, overhyping too many things at once, then abandoning them and moving on before they had a chance to grow. The sad part was, many of these bands didn’t. They’d have one or two publicized records before shrinking back into obscurity. The 2000s had the breadth of numerous artists, but didn’t have the depth of many long-lasting, influential legacies. This indie scene was fostered by a new generation of culturally savvy, sensitive and moderately intelligent middle class youth: hipsters. They embodied a forward-thinking (some would say pretentious) lifestyle that championed irony and rawness, just like the music they were weaned on in the 80s and 90s. This predisposed them to jump on the indie bandwagon and just as soon cool off on whatever trend was out of fashion. This vicious predatorial cycle ensured that nothing culturally significant happened, and if it did, it was usually shrugged off. Meanwhile, hip-hop had skyrocketed in popularity to such an extent that by 2009, hit pop rock songs were the exception rather than the rule. Even early in the decade, it was a cultural staple that transcended race, class and location. It was, however, creatively stagnating to some extent. It had gone through its renaissance, silver age and fallow period in just a few decades and now joined rock in the doldrums of repetition that we still find ourselves in.
In conclusion, the 2000s had a lot of great music, but none as earth-shattering as the best of the 60s and 70s. Furthermore, the decade built its successes on the groundwork of the 80s and 90s. Just like those eras, by the end of the decade, current trends and novelties had worn themselves out. Rock and hip-hop needed a fresh start. But that’s getting ahead of myself. Next up are the scattered assortment of important records from 2000 – 2009.