Thinking some more about the decade just ended, one thing seems clear: Girls Aloud were the band of the decade; indeed, I can’t think of any other group that’s even a contender. Well, as long as by “band of the decade” we mean, if not the best band of the decade, the band that encapsulated the most positive aspects of the decade. If “band of the decade” simply means the band most symptomatic of the decade, of course a much more depressing candidate appears: U2. U2 are certainly the worst band in recent memory, and I think are strong contenders for worst group in the history of popular music (reading Phonogram recently reminded me of the existence of Heavy Stereo and Northern Uproar, onetime bywords for terribleness; but, in part for that very reason, they don’t approach the apocalyptic awfulness of U2)
Thinking about what might be an album of the decade, I’m hampered by the fact that very little of the music I like is made by album artists; you could cobble together the best album ever from the tracks Britney released in the past decade, for instance, but none of the albums she actually put out is all that impressive considered individually. Following the same mixed criteria of quality, influence, and zeitgeistyness (Zeitgeistlichkeit?), the one album that seems to stand out is FutureSex/LoveSounds. It showcased the R&B/rave template that has since taken over the charts, and in many ways does more with that template than anything else so far, exploring the range of emotional textures that can be constructed out of differing proportions euphoria and dissociation. Track of the decade is even harder to adjudicate; very few single tracks can bear the weight of a whole decade. Bat’s suggestion of “Umbrella” is pretty hard to argue with, although I think my favorite track of the past ten years is “The Show.”
Switching to look at just 2009, there’s another obvious standout: no other song from last year comes close to the brilliance of “Fight for this Love.” Regrettably, most of the rest of Cheryl’s album is painfully mediocre, though “Happy Hour” has a pleasing hint of Wu-Tang to it. I’m surprised to discover that my other two favorite tracks of 2009 are also big slabs of R&B sentimentality, Keri Hilson’s “Knock You Down,” and The Saturdays’s “Deeper,” the latter of which takes the R&B/rave crossover to new heights by sounding like a collaboration between Eternal and Force and Styles; I don’t think I’d have predicted, in 1999, that that’s what I’d be listening to ten years later.
Other stuff from last year I didn’t get around to writing about includes the Ghostface album (more R&B sentimentality that I didn’t warm to when it came out, but listening to again yesterday is actually really great; Ghostface somehow keeps managing to come right up against the limit of mawkish); Sa-Ra Creative Partners (who I find too tasteful to be terribly interesting; working in a similar retroafrofuturist zone as Janelle Monáe, but without her self-conscious artifice); Timbaland’s Shock Value II (it’s no coincidence, I’m sure, that the JT, JoJo, and Miley Cyrus tracks are by some distance the best things on the album); Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II (which doesn’t actually sound like a record from ten years ago; cleverly, it sounds like what we now imagine an album from ten years ago would have sounded like); and a last-minute entry Philthy Rich’s brilliant gangsta-rave album, Funk or Die (“I Represent It” and “Throw it Back” give a pretty good taste).
I’ve also failed to write about Lady GaGa; although The Fame came out in 2008, it was only last year that I really began to properly appreciate GaGa, and I’ve seen very little written about her in this corner of the blogosphere, something I’ll try and rectify shortly. There’s also Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato, concretizations of the bizarre political economy of the Disney Channel which, again, I hope to investigate shortly.