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The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far

We polled artists, critics and industry insiders to create a list of the era’s truly essential moments

The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far

The 2000s has produced a shocking amount of incredible music – and since changes in technology have made it all pretty much free, we’ve been able to hear more of it than ever before. We’ve been lucky enough to see some larger-than-life superstars roll through, from Beyoncé to Drake to Jack White to Adele, and we’ve seen greats from the previous century like Beck, Outkast and U2 change and re-up their game.

It’s been 18 years teaming with great indie-rock guitar bangers, overwrought dance anthems, heart-on-sleeve punk rock and emo, genre-mutating R&B and sonically adventurous, politically radical hip-hop. Kanye West has also been somewhat productive throughout this period.

To compile our list the “100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far,” we reached out to a large group of artists, producers, critics and industry experts who sent us ranked lists of their favorite songs. We tabulated the votes. Our own editorial list might look a little different, but the result is an excellent reflection of an incredible period in music history.

You can also read the list in the July issue of Rolling Stone. We’ve relaunched the magazine with a new look and we think this list perfectly embodies our commitment to giving you the deepest sense of the best music happening now and shaping the future.

The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far

“Hannah Hunt,” Vampire Weekend

2013 | XL; Highest Chart Position: Did not chart

After starting off as Afropop-loving collegiate-pop aesthetes, Vampire Weekend grew up fast, and by the time of their third album, Modern Vampires of the City, they were writing about what singer Ezra Koenig described as “growing up, starting to think more seriously about your life and your faith.” That sense comes through powerfully on “Hannah Hunt,” a hauntingly pretty song about a cross-country trip, tinged with Dylanesque indecision. It remains their best marriage yet of smarts, soul and sweetness. 

The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far

“We Belong Together,” Mariah Carey

2005 | Island; Highest Chart Position: 1

Carey spent the early 2000s in a career rut, but she came back big with “We Belong Together,” a piano ballad perfectly balanced between R&B grace and hip-hop toughness. “I was driving in Miami and I pulled up to a stop,” recalled record executive L.A. Reid, who has worked closely with Carey for decades. “A lady pulled up beside me singing the song at the top of her lungs and her windows down. I said, ‘I’ll be damned, she cracked the code.'”

The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far

“I Love It,” Icona Pop w/Charli XCX

2012 | Ten; Highest Chart Position: 7

“You’re from the Seventies, but I’m a Nineties bitch,” the synth-pop duo holler – and the non-Nineties bitches in the club ran for the hills. “I Love It” was also a breakout of sorts for innovative U.K. pop singer Charli XCX, who wrote the song, which was about the frustrations of being in a relationship with an older person. “We want people to feel the anger behind it,” the band later explained. “People hear we were going through love drama, and we were pretty tough and angry. It feels good when we meet those pigs and we can thank them, because they were a big reason behind it.”

The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far

“My Shot,” Original Broadway Cast of ‘Hamilton’

2015 | Atlantic; Highest Chart Position: Did not chart

“I fall in love with storytelling regardless of genre,” Lin-Manuel Miranda told Rolling Stone. With lyrical nods to Eminem (“Lose Yourself”), Biggie (“Going Back to Cali”), Nas (“Ether”) and Oscar Hammerstein II (“You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” from South Pacific), in a posse-cut structure equal parts Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario” and Stephen Sondheim, Lin-Manuel Miranda fired Hamilton’s kill shot. The American musical, and hip-hop, would never be the same.

The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far

“One More Time,” Daft Punk

2000 | Virgin; Highest Chart Position: 61

Daft Punk made the leap from the house and techno scene into fully realized pop music on this elastic disco epiphany, one of the decade’s most surprisingly influential songs. The French duo sprayed Eighties metal-guitar cheese all over the galaxy on “One More Time,” perfectly in step with the nostalgic mood of the moment, and the liberal use of talkbox presaged the rise of Auto-Tune. Those talkbox vocals on the song were handled by New Jersey singer-producer Romanthony, who passed away in 2013. 

The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far

“Lost Cause,” Beck

2002 | Geffen; Highest Chart Position: Did not chart

Moving past the winky bravado of his 1999 album Midnite Vultures, Beck stripped down his songwriting and got real on this beautifully frayed breakup autopsy. He said he was trying to write a song “that could’ve been written 40 years ago.” “Lost Cause” was the luminous lead single from his 2001 Sea Change, one of his most intimate albums, recalling the California singer-songwriter comedown vibe of classic artists like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. “This record is more like what you’d hear if you just heard me playing in a room with an instrument,” Beck said.   

The 100 Greatest Songs of the Century – So Far

“New Slang,” The Shins

2001 | Sub Pop; Highest Chart Position: Did not chart

Natalie Portman gave the Shins a huge boost when her character in the 2004 movie Garden State said “New Slang” will “change your life.” Shins frontman James Mercer said he wrote it to sum up the “angst and confusion about what my future was going to be. The Shins weren’t anything when I wrote that song. There wasn’t any hope for anything like a music career.” By summing up shaky generational aspirations with lines like, “I’m looking in on the good life I might be doomed never to find,” he arrived at nothing less than an Aughts mumble-folk “Sounds of Silence.”