The Seeds of Time

People remember 1982 for Men at Work more than they do for Elvis Costello or Gang of Four. Why should 2002 be any different?

Ryan Adams had the best quote of the year for elitist tastemakers. "I spent the '80s looking for alternatives to what was already happening," he said, atoning for his late-blooming love of Madonna singles and John Hughes flicks. "And now I'm going back and putting together the pieces of what was pop culture and realizing that I was wrong. Crocodile' Dundee is funny!"

So was American Idol in 2002 yet Kelly Clarkson's "A Moment Like This" surely won't wind up on any respectable music critic's "Best Of" list. And therein lies our folly. Two decades from now, when we're all opening up our own Two-Thousand-Zero-Zero Retro Cybercafes, we won't wanna be tacking up a copy of Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising" behind the dance floor. We'll want that Kelly Clarkson CD single. We'll want Crossroads movie posters. We'll want that Lance Bass cosmonaut bobblehead. So aesthetic good taste be darned! Here's the list of singles, news clippings and TV commercials we'll wish we stuck in a time capsule when we're all bidding for 2002 memorabilia on the eBay in our brain-chip computers ("You think it, you bought it" trust me, it'll happen) 20 years from now.

Best Reason Not to Judge a Book by Its Cover:

No guitars as undies for her: Michelle Branch breaks through.
No guitars as undies for her: Michelle Branch breaks through.

Heart-of-Gold Homies

2002 began with Murder, Inc.'s celebrated "hook girl" Ashanti cooling down thuggish rappers like Ja Rule and Fat Joe and ended with a swear-free LL Cool J pledging to "Luv U Better," Common signing in a video to a deaf paramour, "Come Close to Me," and Eminem making nice to gay co-workers in 8 Mile. But nobody could get sweeter than Lil' Romeo and Solange Knowles celebrating young "True Love" ("Your mom called us jellybeans, we stuck together"). Next year: hip-hop Hallmark cards.

Best Use of the Clean Edit:

Missy Elliott, "Work It"

Nowadays the sound effects used to mask the dirty words in radio versions of hip-hop songs can turn an otherwise smooth rap into something from a 1940s Spike Jones record. But Elliott made the necessary practice work for her by including animal noises and backwards vocals to her hit that actually had no X-rated counterparts. The elephant roar after "If you got a big . . ." on the radio edit was the same as on that nasty version you downloaded off the Internet. And, if you considered it in context ("Let me search it"), the missing word could only have been "trunk." Heck, she coulda said that on Radio Disney.

Best Celebrity Stalking by Another Celebrity:

India.Arie meets Stevie Wonder

India.Arie's 2001 debut album ended with "Wonderful" the gushiest musical fan letter to Stevie Wonder since Melissa Manchester's "Stevie's Wonder" in 1975. In 2002, she sang the song to her hero at BET's Walk of Fame tribute and ended the year singing "The Christmas Song" with Wonder himself in a Target commercial which wound up sounding amazingly good. Girls, get those odes to Usher in the works!

Most Opportunistic Mutual Friend:

Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes/N.E.R.D.

Having to work with both members of a recently split-up couple can be torturous just ask Dr. Phil. But Pharrell Williams of the ubiquitous Neptunes production team not only scored his own star turn in both Justin Timberlake's solo debut single, "Like I Love You," and the remix of Britney Spears' "Boys," he also managed to shamelessly push his own band in the raps he added to both hits. No telling which of the split-city kids got to keep the N.E.R.D. CD.

Hardest Song to Keep Your Kids From Singing:

Nelly, "Hot in Herre"

"The minute I heard that Nelly song, I just knew that my 6-year-old daughter was gonna want to sing it," Jurassic Five's Akil told New Times while discussing the challenges of parenthood in the 'hood. For sure: The St. Louis rapper's summer smash featured an irresistibly catchy R-rated chorus that must have given kindergarten teachers ulcers. But if parents listened through to the second verse, "Checkin' your reflection and tellin' your best friend/Like, Girl, I think my butt gettin' big,'" they would have actually been treated to the cutest tribute to the birthday suit since that puppy caught the Coppertone Girl.

Best Video Non-Appearance by a Dead R&B Star:

Tie: Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes (TLC's "Girls Talk") and Aaliyah ("Miss You")

Aaliyah's label managed to make a video without the tragically taken singer by having everyone from DMX and Lil' Kim to Dallas Austin and Jamie Foxx mouth the lyrics to her new single. But TLC solved the sticky issue of doing a video without Left Eye by accompanying her rap with shots of regular people bouncing along wearing Lopes' trademark greasepaint line across their left cheeks. Honorable mention goes to Naturi Naughton, whose appearance in 3LW's video after she was gone garnered more appreciation for her talents than ever before. The fact that Naturi didn't die, however -- just loudly quit the band following a nasty KFC food fight -- kept her from being immortalized on motorcycle jackets and fan Web sites.

Best Andalusian Pop Song:

Las Ketchup, "Asereje" a.k.a. "The Ketchup Song (Hey Hah)"

A novelty hit with a chorus harder to decipher than the latest Sigur Rós album "Asereje, ja deje tejebe tude jebere seiunouba majabi an de bugui an de buididipi!" the debut single from a trio of Spanish sisters born to flamenco guitarist Tomate (which actually translates to "Tomato") was the most annoying record unleashed on an unsuspecting world since "Macarena." This time, however, the melody was also available as a cell phone ring tone.

Best Proof That Teen Pop Is Not Dead:

B2K Creates Pandemonium! And Three Other CDs

Contrary to popular opinion, teen pop did not disappear in 2002 it just changed its complexion. In one short year, B2K released two CDs of original material, a remix disc and a Christmas album and still managed to tour. At B2K's summer concert in Phoenix, the crowd of predominantly young black females got so wild the group had to cut short its set because the singers couldn't be heard over the screaming. Finally, parents no longer have to explain what Beatlemania was like.

Best Argument for a Bass-Playing Barbie:

Teen Girls With Instruments

Inspired by the success of Arizona's own Michelle Branch (or maybe a delayed reaction to Joni Mitchell), young girls from Vanessa Carlton and Avril Lavigne to Hannah Tosco of justincase showed it was possible to look good and play an actual instrument at the same time. And nobody looked better than Branch strumming her acoustic guitar on a Chicago street with Carlos Santana. Sadly, this trend was cut short when Christina Aguilera showed up on the cover of Rolling Stone wearing a guitar as a teddy.

Best Reason to Like September Again:

James Taylor, "September Grass"

Just when it looked like we were doomed to greet every September with a barrage of somber meditations from the media, the man with the friendliest voice in pop kicked off his surprise hit album, October Road, with a song coaxing listeners to "lie down here right now in this September grass." Mmm. Anybody still smell smoke?

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