In 2003, American troops invaded Iraq, action star Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor of Kahleefawnia, and two former American Idol contestants released soon-to-be hit records in the same week. (Has it really been a decade since we first heard the name Clay Aiken?) If it seems like these 10 songs – among the most popular in 2003 – are still new, you might be stuck in a time warp. Or maybe you just stopped caring after grunge died.
“Rock Your Body” by Justin Timberlake
When we first heard Justin Timberlake was going to release a solo album, many of us knew that he’d been in a boy band. We didn’t necessarily know which one – it could have been 98 Degrees, the Backstreet Boys or Menudo, for that matter – we just knew that 12-year-old girls had posters of him, and that was reason enough to believe his solo album would suck. So when the ‘N Sync member released this solo disco tune, co-written with the Neptunes, even the most ardent haters gritted their teeth and conceded that it was actually quite catchy. The song purposefully channeled Michael Jackson, and Timberlake performed it when MJ’s sister Janet had her infamous “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.
“Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera
Just three years after a teenaged Aguilera released the bubblegum pop song “Genie in a Bottle,” the former Mickey Mouse Club star began referring to herself as Xtina, donned assless chaps and released a video for her song “Dirty” that could make a Mouseketeer’s ears blush. The move backfired, making Aguilera the butt of SNL jokes. Luckily, her next single was this Linda Perry-written song – appropriately about believing in yourself no matter what others think. “Beautiful” became an anthem in the gay community, and made us forget all about that “Dirty” video (OK, except for the mud wrestling scene).
“In Da Club” by 50 Cent
When we still weren’t quite sure if it was cool to call him Fiddy, Curtis Jackson – a.k.a. 50 Cent – was an underground rapper with a Rasputin-like fortitude, having once survived nine gunshot wounds. But after releasing this fun-at-the-club song – produced by Dr. Dre, on Eminem‘s label – the only thing getting shot up was Fiddy’s bank account. The album it appeared on sold 872,000 copies in its first four days, and “In Da Club” became ubiquitous. When an MTV news correspondent went to Kuwait City to report on the pending war, “In Da Club” was the first song he heard on the radio, showing the international appeal of “gettin’ rubbed.”
“The Game of Love” by Santana, featuring Michelle Branch
When Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears were sexed-up girls with methodically-made pop careers, Branch was a dressed-down girl-next-door, an Arizona teen who played guitar and wrote songs about anguish and young love. In 2002, the lucky teen was asked to record with Santana, who had recently enjoyed huge success with guest singers. Branch – now a 30-year-old mom – belted out the vocals admirably, and the song gave Santana another huge hit in 2003.
“Travelin’ Soldier” by the Dixie Chicks
As Natalie Maines introduced this anti-war song during a 2003 concert in London, she uttered the now-famous words, “We’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” And just as these Texans were enjoying their first Number One single, the band’s career was turned upside down. Country stations refused to play their songs, fans boycotted their music and death threats were levied. While artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Merle Haggard rushed to their support and the documentary Shut Up and Sing offered their side of the story, the Chicks have not had a song in the Top 20 country charts since Maines dissed Dubya.
“Jenny From the Block” by Jennifer Lopez
Ten years ago, you couldn’t find a tabloid that didn’t mention J. Lo. A successful singer and movie star engaged to another movie star (Ben Affleck), she had her own line of clothing, a perfume named after her and lots and lots of money. Still, despite all her bling – and the diva rap – she wanted us to know that she was still just a nice girl from the Bronx, singing, “Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got . . . No matter where I go, I know where I came from.” After the Bennifer breakup, she married singer Marc Anthony and slipped away from the grocery line press. But she returned to the tabloids at the end of the decade – she had twins, got divorced and joined the judge’s panel for one season of American Idol.
“Clocks” by Coldplay
While the band’s debut album, Parachutes, was a hit in the U.K., most Americans still didn’t know about Coldplay until this song started showing up in films, TV shows, commercials and movie trailers. Featuring a hypnotic piano riff, the song helped make Coldplay ginormous. The band that performed at the 1,150-seat Showbox in Seattle in 2001 would eventually play to nearly 60,000 fans at the Acer Arena in Sydney.
“Hey Ya” by Outkast
Unless you weren’t born yet, chances are you heard the lyric “Shake it like a Polaroid picture,” made popular in this funk- and rock-influenced song, and repeated it more times than you needed to. Still, it was fun and infectious and helped make Outkast a huge act in 2003. Andre 3000, who performed all the song’s instruments, told Rolling Stone that the chords – the first he’d ever learned – were inspired by the Smiths, the Ramones and the Buzzcocks. Just as their fame skyrocketed, Outkast fell to the earth, and their follow-up album in 2006 was their last.
“Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes
As popular music steered heavily toward pop and hip-hop, many rock purists saw a beacon of hope in the White Stripes when they heard the now-familiar guitar riff that opened this song. Recalling garage rock, British blues and punk, the song’s genesis came during a sound check in Australia. Before long, it could be heard blasting at sporting events worldwide. As we kept wondering if Jack and Meg White were siblings or lovers, this song became their signature tune. Later we learned that Jack and Meg White were married for four years. Their band lasted 14.
“Where Is the Love?” by Black Eyed Peas
Before this song came out, most people associated black -yed peas with Southern cooking, and the only Fergie they knew of was the Duchess of York. But when Stacy Ferguson joined the Black Eyed Peas, a struggling hip-hop group on the brink of breakup, a second Fergie was born. And this, their first single together, blew the lid off of the music industry. As more hits followed this pro-love song, it was obvious that Fergie would soon put out a solo album (appropriately titled The Duchess), as would group co-founder will.i.am. But these peas would return to their pod.