The popular music of the ’00s found its center in 2002. The teen-pop explosion of the late-’90s was officially over, with its original stars matured and the mainstream’s hottest new up-and-comers sounding more at home soundtracking malls and minivans than TRL. Emo grew into a truly mainstream concern, while the supposed New Rock Revolution (much hyped the previous year) also finally exploded on radio and video stateside, and the clubbier side of the New York underground merged the indie and dance worlds in ways that would have long-lasting reverberations. Meanwhile, old rock and country icons found new vitality reinventing themselves for the 21st century — a couple from beyond the grave, even.
But the biggest music story of 2002 was of rap cementing its status as the most essential genre of the decade. Eminem pushed his superstardom into multi-platform territory, officially becoming music’s biggest household mononym since MTV’s early years. Missy Elliott and Timbaland had some of their biggest hits yet going back to the future, both via their own teamups and through work with other kindred hip-hop and R&B spirits. The Neptunes, already riding a long winning streak of total pop ubiquity, had their biggest run ever, with both the biggest top 40 crossover hit and most acclaimed street banger of the summer to their credit. And Ja Rule, Ashanti and the whole Murder, Inc. family were simply on top of the world, a commercial peak that wouldn’t last too long beyond 2002 — thanks in part to a feud with another ascendant New York star, whose own mainstream rise begin in earnest that year — but which defined the period as much as anyone.
This week, we’re flashing back to a defining year in 21st century popular music with a number of 2002-themed articles to be found on Billboard.com, detailing some of the most compelling stories of that pivotal period. First, though, our list of the year’s 100 greatest songs — a mix of enduring classics, forgotten gems, and loveable one-offs that simply couldn’t have happened at any other moment in pop history. Aside from singles that were released in 2002, songs were counted as being from ’02 if they debuted on the Billboard charts (or if they hit No. 1 for the first time) that year. But if they first debuted on or topped the charts in 2003 — like t.A.T.u.’s “All the Things She Said,” Coldplay’s “Clocks” or B2K’s “Bump, Bump, Bump” — we’ll commemorate their 20th next year.
Check out our list below — with a Spotify playlist here of all 100 songs — and get ready to lose yourself in the music of the year where the ’00s officially became the ’00s.