Discman Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
By James L. Knobloch

…because who doesn’t love a throwback?

It is the humble opinion of this writer that the late ‘90s and early 2000s were the pinnacle of unapologetically awful, and thereby, completely amazing, guilty pleasure pop music. Yes, the good old days of illegally downloading music on LimeWire and burning a mix CD to enjoy in your Discman.

The technology has changed, but there’s still no feeling quite like strutting down Madison Avenue to your favorite song (that you wouldn’t be caught dead owning up to) blasting through your earbuds.

And of course, this is by no means a definitive list — because really, this list could go on and on. Instead, I’ve decided to forgo the obvious, though no less deserving, candidates of pop-tastic royalty like Mandy Moore, Jessica (and Ashlee) Simpson, Avril Lavigne, and the Spice Girls for some that are more often overlooked. Let this be your starter kit to building that perfect nostalgic playlist to take to Sheep’s Meadow for a picnic brunch.

I submit to you, without further adieu, my Sorry-Not-Sorry-Pop-Starlet-Guilty-Pleasure-Early-2000s-Oh-Yeah-I-Remember-That-Song List:


1. “I Wanna Be Bad” by Willa Ford

Look closely and you can’t help but notice the foreshadowing: duck face, white girl twerking, and Auto-Tune-baby-voice all make appearances in this first selection.

If Aubrey O’Day were somehow to be crossed with Ke$ha (yes, before she dropped the “$”) and smothered in highlights, a spray tan, booty shorts, and everything else that cliché upper-middle-class white girls think will make their fathers weep while going through their rebellious phase, the result would look a lot like the video for Willa Ford’s “bad girl” anthem, “I Wanna Be Bad.” Because nothing says, “I don’t give a f*ck” like showing up to “da club” on a motorcycle while rocking side boob and a nose ring. Take that, dad.


2. “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops!)” by Blu Cantrell

Years before Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable,” jilted lovers turned to one Blu Cantrell for advice in dealing with an unfaithful partner.

While technically classified as R&B, no cringe-worthy throwback playlist is complete without “Hit ‘Em Up Style.” Besides, if there’s one thing I can relate to, it’s buying (more specifically, eating) my feelings.


3. “He Loves U Not” by Dream

Diddy may have created Danity Kane, but it was Puff Daddy that was responsible for what is perhaps the most wonderfully obnoxious girl group bubble gum pop explosion of all time: Dream.

Featuring Auto-Tune-baby-voice’s cousin, Auto-Tune-sexy-whisper-voice, Dream’s “He Loves U Not” is essentially a Frankenstein-esque mix of every pop music act of the day that we loved to hate — S Club 7, A-Teens, 3LW, Nobody’s Angel, and B*Witched — dipped in pink and covered in rhinestones and too much eye shadow. Think of Dream as the Times Square of 2000s girl groups – over-sexed, over-wrought, and trying way too hard.

But much like the Poo-Chi, it may not have made much sense, but it sure was catchy.


4. “(There’s Gotta Be) More to Life” by Stacie Orrico

The video for Stacie Orrico’s “(There’s Gotta Be) More to Life” runs rampant with more over-acting, wig changes, and various minimum wage jobs than one by Britney Spears, but will always hold a special place in my heart.

“(There’s Gotta Be) More to Life” was one of my go-to post-exam jams, and even to this day, there are few throwback songs better for motivating you to climb the endless flights of stairs to your fifth-floor walk-up. And that key change two minutes in? Let go and let Stacie.


5. “Gotta Tell You” by Samantha Mumba

Perhaps the most obscure to make the list, Samantha Mumba might be my favorite of the freshly new millennium’s guilty pleasure offerings. To quote SNL’s Stefan, “it has everything.” Teen pop, faux R&B pop, dance pop, and even gospel pop…you name it; Mumba offered more varieties of “pop” than Coca-Cola.

If a bare midriff-ed, half-Zambian, half-Irish pop star strutting and smizing for her life is wrong, then I “Gotta Tell You,” I don’t wanna be right.


Well, folks, there you have it – some of my favorite guilty pleasure songs of the early 2000s. And as a connoisseur of bad pop music, I’m always open to suggestions to add to my playlist, so feel free to leave them in the comments below…or just tell me in person if you see me humming Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” to myself on the E train.

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