Anyone who attended prom in the early 2000s knows that the best part about the experience was the music.
Back then, pop culture phenoms like Nelly and Eve 6 were in their prime and producing songs that we'll remember pretty much forever. For one night, we got dressed up and boogied down with our closest friends without a care in the world, thanks to these carefully crafted melodies and bass-thumpers.
From Usher to Green Day, these are the songs that you’d expect to hear at every older millennials’ senior prom.
Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz featuring the Ying Yang Twins
Not only did Lil Jon & The Eastside have everyone excitedly pointing “From the window to the wall” before making some sort of ridiculous motion to indicate the next part of those magnificent lyrics, but it also gave students an excuse to terrify faculty and chaperones by shouting “skeet” repeatedly for over four minutes. The song of 2002’s Kings of Krunk served as a launching point for Lil Jon and the Ying Yang twins, allowing them to write only slightly more coherent songs later in their careers. All we have to say is “What? Okay!”
Usher featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris
This is arguably the greatest song of all time. What else is there to say? By the second note of the 2004 single, everyone is out on the floor and grinding. If twerking were as mainstream as it is today, there would’ve been a lot of strained backs at school the following Monday. When the forces that are Usher, Ludacris, and Lil Jon teamed up, you knew you were in for a troublesome good time. Frankly, Usher hasn’t released a song of the same caliber since.
“Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”
Momentarily stepping away from their punk rock roots to slow it down, Green Day’s 1997 hit “Good Riddance” — a.k.a. “Time of Your Life” — became the unofficial, sentimental theme for graduating high schoolers everywhere. To this day, it would be practically sacrilegious to not have it played at prom. The acoustic guitar and violin accompaniment combined with the vulnerability in Billie Joel Armstrong's voice were perfect for slowing things down on the dance floor and awkwardly swaying side-to-side to one of the saddest songs ever.
“Hey Ya!” was the pop-friendly calling card from one of the highest grossing hip-hop (double) rap albums of all time, 2003's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Played at proms and parties around the world in the early aughts, it spoke to anyone celebrating a momentous occasion and had everyone trying to “shake it like a Polaroid picture.” Thanks to the popularity of that the song — and that lyric — Polaroid eventually caved and used it to promote their iconic instant film.
Before the reins were handed off to Beyoncé, Britney Spears was leading the way for risqué dance numbers and sexually empowering lyrics. Naturally, it only made sense that you’d hear 2003’s “Toxic” while celebrating the end of your high school career. Dancing to the track was fun for everyone, since girls wanted to emulate her and, well, guys thought she was hot. Truthfully, we were probably too busy trying to seductively mouth the lyrics to worry about our uncoordinated moves, but we didn’t care.
Read on for more early aughts prom playlist essentials — including Nelly. Doi.
“Hot in Herre”
Back in the day when Nelly was one of the supreme rappers in the game, he single-handedly provided millennials with their first mainstream, raunchy song. And we loved every minute of it. Although it wasn’t likely that anyone was taking off their clothes at prom, the continuous gyrating induced by the song certainly made people want to do as the lyrics said and “Let it hang all out.”
“Don’t Stop Believing”
For all those teenagers reminiscing about feeling like a small-town girl living in a lonely world or a city boy born and raised in south Detroit, the only song anyone knows by Journey has been a prom staple since 1981. Whether they knew it from their parents’ record collection or a popular TV show, teenagers have been dancing it out to Steve Perry’s voice on prom night as they prepare to venture onto one of life’s greatest achievements — college.
“Rock Your Body”
Dear Justin Timberlake, your debut solo album Justified was exactly what we needed in 2002. Though your departure from *N’SYNC broke our hearts and left us fearful over the thought of a future without you, you reassured us with song after song, particularly when it came to “Rock Your Body.” With Pharrell Williams acting as the creative mastermind behind the track, there was no way you could do any wrong. Thankfully, we have fond memories of ourselves trying to bust a move to this uplifting tune, and for that we are forever grateful.
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K-Ci and JoJo
“All My Life”
Let’s be honest, we had no business slow-dancing to this song at the age of 17, but K-Ci and JoJo’s “All My Life” off of 1997’s Love Always was that infectious R&B jam that you couldn’t escape. Once that piano intro kicked in, not only did you feel a sense of pride over the fact that you secretly taught yourself how to play it, but as you embraced your date, you slowly twirled around and wondered when you’d experience a love for which songs like this were written about.
“Here’s to the Night”
Wonderful yet underappreciated, Southern California rockers Eve 6 gave us what was essentially the newer version of Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” If hearing that classic tune didn’t make you weepy, the DJ would later hit you where it hurt by putting on “Here’s to the Night” off of 2000’s Horrorscope. Typically played to wind down the evening’s festivities and encourage you to say your goodbyes, if there was ever a song capable of making you miss the people you’re literally standing next to and still have to see at school next week, it’s this one.