Best of the Decade: Musical artists

Chris Richards and David Malitz
Washington Post staff writers
Wednesday, December 16, 2009; 2:00 PM

Who were the most influential musical artists of the decade? Music critics Chris Richards and David Malitz were online Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss their picks. Weigh in with yours in the chat and nominate your favorite song of the decade in our Best of the Decade discussion group.

A transcript follows.

Check out the new Click Track blog for the latest music news and Chris Richards's top ten albums of 2009.


Chris Richards: Welcome, chatters!

David Malitz and I are here to discuss the most influential pop artists of the almost-over aughties AND the launch of Click Track - The Washington Post Pop Music Blog.

We'd like to take this opportunity to remind you that the ten artists included in our poll weren't necessarily our favorite artists of the decade -- just the ones we thought had the most pull. Who did we leave out?

As for Click Track, we're pumped about it! The blog will be a hot source for local and national music news, as well as a place where our readers can share ideas. This discussion is part of that and we're curious to hear your thoughts on a decade that's about to go poof.

Oh, one last thing: This morning, we leaked my Best Albums of 2009 list on Click Track. Let me know what you think.

Let's go!


Arlington, Va.: Wow--where's J Free when you need a little elitism. This list is flawed.

I'll give you Britney and esp. Kelly--simply because of her trajectory via American Idol. Lady Gaga is only influential as of the past year--and perhaps she sets the stage for what's to come. But she has predecessors in 00's... namely Karen O, when we think about her "uniqueness".

What is influential about Shakira? Taylor Swift? Both are ridiculous--I don't think record sales indicate influence. If they do, where's Eminem? He outsold Jay-Z.

If we're looking for a true cross-over talent, Outkast is noticeably absent from this list.

Also, where is Arcade Fire, or any number of bands (pick one that came first) that brought us the Canadian indie sound resurgence in the past decade? Even if it had roots in the nineties, the ten-to-a-stage show is a product of this decade and almost typifies the indie scene.

And Beyonce is a product, not a pioneer, of the decade. Each album changes with the tide.

Chris Richards: We're elitists! Promise!

But that said, I think the same logic that puts Lady Gaga on this list earns Taylor Swift a spot, too. She embodies the idea that we seem to ask a lot of our pop stars as they're taking their first baby steps - something that we saw at the beginning of the decade with one Britney Spears. Not to mention the fact that Taylor is radically altering the landscape of country music as we speak (type).

As for Shakira, her influence on a global scale is not to be underestimated. Worldwide, she's one of the highest selling artists out there.

OutKast, I agree, absolutely worthy. Arcade Fire, certainly influential in that they inspired a lot of really crummy music. A micro-version of U2, in that sense.

And I would argue that Beyonce's ability to move with the shifting currents is exactly what makes her influential. But I still think her debut was her best.


Silver Spring, Md.: Hands down best of the decade is Matt Pryor of The Get Up Kids, The New Amsterdams, a solo album, and two children's albums under a band titled The Terrible Twos.

Followed by Lou Barlow of Sebadoh, Dinosaur Jr., Folk Implosion and solo works.

And Mac from Superchunk and Portastatic.

All else is corporate rock, over produced and radio friendly to the lowest common denominator, the public.

David Malitz: Well. I saw all of those bands LAST decade -- even, regrettably, the Get-Up Kids. As for the '00s, Superchunk played one of my favorite shows of the decade at the Black Cat in April 2000. And I saw them twice this past July and they were still awesome. Dinosaur Jr. was definitely one of the best alt-rock reunions of the '00s.

Chris Richards: Just to earn (or perhaps lose) some cred: I saw the Get Ups play to a dozen people in a warehouse in Kansas City in the summer of 1997.


Silver Spring II (on your poll): You forgot the none of the above option.

There's a difference between entertainment/record sales and talent.

Learn it, then live it.

Chris Richards: Again, this chat isn't about the most talented, most visionary, best dressed, best selling or best smelling artists of the decade. It's about influence.

SSII, who do you think belongs on here?


4th Floor, 15th and L: If your song of the decade is anything but the "Ignition" remix, you're wrong.

"Hey Ya" is a close second.

Chris Richards: I like you, 15th and L.

Wait, I work on the 4th floor!

Are you me?

You can't be.

You would have picked "I'm A Flirt (Remix)" and "B.O.B."


Omaha, Neb.: Two older acts are bigger than ever at the end of this decade: Bruce Springsteen and U2. Both released great music, used their status for the greater good and are poised to do more in the next decade. Springsteen's "The Rising" "Magic" and "Working on a Dream " connects so many of the events from Eugene Robinson and others' biggest events of the decade (9/11, economic crisis, wars, Katrina)

David Malitz: As the comment section of our concert reviews can attest, Springsteen and U2 are certainly as big as ever. Save for "The Rising" I'm not sure any of the albums they released this decade will get too many spins from the kids who discover them in 20 years, though. And it's also interesting to note that both the Boss and U2 seemed to have a surge in popularity after 9/11. Maybe would have happened anyway, but I definitely got the sense people liked the familiar feel of old favorites.


Washington, D.C.: Although I realize that most people won't even recognize the name, how about Damon Albarn? One Blur album (and well-received reunion concerts), two popular Gorillaz albums, the underappreciated the Good, the Bad and the Queen, and - to top it all off - a critically acclaimed opera about a Chinese.

Chris Richards: LOVE this nomination. In the land of pop music, Albarn really proved to be a true maverick (before another decade-defining figure hijacked that title). As a concept, I think Gorillaz is still very ahead of its time.

Let's meet up in 2020 and see how thing shook out!

David Malitz: And I still think it all peaked with "Modern Life Is Rubbish." And I'm angry there were no Blur concerts in America!


Does wapo realize: How many of its readers hate "pop music."

There's a reason the black cat, dc9m the rock and roll hotel, st stevens church survive doing punk and indie shows.

We hate pop music.

Chris Richards: Fair nuff. But I would argue that punk and indie (and any genre, really) began to fall under the umbrella of "pop music" over the course of the decade. The internet has really dismantled pop music's master narrative and I feel like any form of music dug by a capacity crowd at DC9 qualifies as "popular."

That said, who were the most influential stars in your punk and indie galaxies?

And did you see Blake Schwarzenbach (formerly of Jawbreaker) at St. Steven's on Saturday? I'm still kicking myself for missing it.


KG in DC: Surprised to not see The Strokes on the list. They put NYC indie rock back on the map (for better or worse) and paved the way for the White Stripes rise to megastardom.

David Malitz: Pretty much everyone agrees that the first Strokes album is one of the decade's best, and with good reason. I liked the second one better than most people but since then it's been a whole lot of nothing. They did pretty much set the stage for the garage rock/indie rock revival of the next however many years, but the White Stripes (well, at least Jack) managed to make it to ROCK STAR level that the Strokes never got to.


Dallas, Tex.: I like the White Stripes, but what about Green Day? Two great, bestselling albums and sustaining the punk mantra for the entire decade?

David Malitz: Not a huge fan of either of the rock operas, but will always have a soft spot for Green Day. But became more of a "good gateway band" than "good band" by the end, I think. I saw them this past summer and there certainly wasn't anything punk about that show. It was pure, scripted arena rock spectacle, not much different than the Jonas Brothers show I saw in the same arena a few weeks earlier.

Except with a whole lot more cursing and less dousing fans with soapy suds.

Chris Richards: As a drooling superfan of The Clash, I repeatedly tried to get into Green Day's aughties output. It just never took.


Female Leads: Couldn't you have put Madonna on this list since Britney and GaGa are her spawn ?

Chris Richards: We tried to stick with artists that emerged in the aughties, but you make a good point. But that said, we'd also have to include Michael Jackson. So much of this decade's music seems impossible without him.


ACK!: Where are the Black Eyed Peas?

David Malitz: On a soundstage in L.A. filming an ad?

Chris Richards: Influential or merely ubiquitous? That is the question.


Washington, DC: I'm not a huge fan, but I don't see how you can't have Coldplay on the list. They're a popular band by any standard, and they were part of the first wave of indie groups that are now pretty much the standard for rock.

David Malitz: Coldplay's like the Eagles of the '00s. Maybe? OK, that might be mean. But let's not get crazy and say they were an "indie" group. Back in the olden days that "indie" was short for "independent" and Coldplay was never on anything resembling an independent label. But now "indie" is just like "alternative" in the '90s. (/Grandpa Simpson voice)

I did think their Verizon Center show I caught a year or two ago was nice and pleasant and pretty good, though.

Chris Richards: I think the line that divides Coldplay's influence and U2's influence is too blurry to get Mr. Martin on this list.


Bethesda, Md.: I love the White Stripes, but do you really think they've been that influential? I think what makes them one of the best of the past decade is that they didn't start or follow any trends, even when people tried to lump them in with the Strokes/Vines/Hives/etc.

David Malitz: I remember at the beginning of the decade when those were the four big bands -- Strokes, Stripes, Hives, Vines. I always liked the Strokes the best but you got the feeling that the Stripes could take it to another level, and then "Elephant" came out and that proved to be true. As far as follow-ups-to-breakthroughs go, "Room on Fire" (Strokes) was pretty much a more compressed (still great!) carbon copy and "Elephant" was just this swaggering, sprawling monster.

But yes, the Stripes have always kind of kept you guessing and marched to the beat of their own drum. Which I guess is ironic since their drummer only knows one beat.


How is Taylor Swift Changing Country Music?: Sorry guys, this one really confused me. Of course the whole Taylor Swift thing confuses me. I don't understand how she's "changing country music" at all. For that matter, I don't understand how she's even considered a "country music artist."

She always struck me as the genre of "girl with an instrument" music. See: Michelle Branch, Old Jewel (before she did turn into country), etc. IOW, generic soft pop - Why does Taylor Swift get to retain Nashville Street Cred?

Chris Richards: I think Taylor keeps her cred because she keeps it real. Country music has always been guided by the notion that singers should create music that's true to their experience.

Taylor sings about dramarama in the halls of her high school and it resonates with fans who are going (or went) through something similar.

But yes, the "girl-with-guitar"-isms you mentioned have made her a controversial figure in country, for sure. Many criticize her for being too pop. But she cleaned house at the CMAs and is likely to do the same at the Grammys in January. She identifies as a country artist and considering her incredible success, the country establishment wants to claim her as one of their own.


Arizona Bay, Ariz.: In addition to my previous submission that Tool, is hands down the best, I'd also like to make a suggestion. To all these people picking Outkast because of "B.O.B" or "Hey Ya" try going back and listening to anything off of ATLiens, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, or Aquemini. Than you'll see just how bad "B.O.B" and "Hey Ya" are compared to their earlier stuff.

Chris Richards: I adore OutKast's entire discography -- okay, not "Idlewild" -- but I strongly disagree with you here.

"Stankonia" is just a smidge better than "Aquemini" and I'd put "Speakerboxx/Love Below" a click below.


Austin, Tex.: Not really too familiar with much on the list, but I'd add Tool to the decade's most influential in the respect that they actually brought the post-metal genre to a place where it is easily accessible and wildly successful. Yes, they were around in the 90's, but I'd argue that they moved from alternative success to mainstream success with the Lateralus album.

The amount of post-metal (or progressive metal) out there right now is staggering. And that's a good thing, moving traditional metal to a slightly more cerebral and interesting place. Most of it is still relatively underground, but it's a vibrant scene with a lot of really good new bands.

Chris Richards: Arizona Bay! It's good to see you here. (Ladies and gentlemen, this chatter is a legend from the days of Freedom Rock - my predecessor's old web chat.)

AB, can you tell us WHO you think Tool has influenced? I'm not contesting. But I'd love to hear who you think is following in Tool's footsteps. I think metal has morphed into some incredible and varied shapes over the past couple years (Baroness, Wolves in the Throne Room, SunnO)))) and I'm interested in your take.


15th and K: How about Radiohead? Always delivers, great live band, and kind of set a trend with allowing us fans to pick a price for InRainbows-these guys really haven't made a bad album yet, and at least 2 of their cd's stay in my player @ all times.

David Malitz: And that's why they are on the list! Hey, someone agrees with us on one. I say this as someone who is not even a Radiohead fan but the most impressive thing about Radiohead in the '00s is that it was with "Kid A," the album when they shifted from more standard rock music to the theoretically less accessible tense/claustrophobic/millennial stuff that they went from Radiohead to OMGRADIOHEAD!!9! They've always seemed one step ahead.


Chris Richards: Whoops! Austin, Texas, I confused you with Arizona Bay - a regular around these parts and a fellow Tool enthusiast.

Sorry for the error! We're hustling to answer all of these questions. Keep em coming!


Arizona Bay, Ariz.: Sorry but Tool blows pretty much all of those artists out of the water. Whether it be the albums they put out or the live concerts they perform.

Shoot, Volto! is better than most artists on that list.

Chris Richards: Ah, Arizona Bay. Here's your original post. Sorry for the case of mistaken identities, everyone!


Holy Tool!: Wow look who/what the cat dragged in! Arizona Bay ---- what a blast from the past. Is Long Beach in the house, too? Can we get some "Afternoon Delight"?

Chris Richards: Order is restored.


Boise, Idaho: Why was U2 omitted?

Chris Richards: See Coldplay post above and change "Mr. Martin" to "Mr. Hewson."


Best of decade: What about MIA??

David Malitz: Here's one where I the 00-09 rules of decade list making hurts. "Arular" came out in 2005. She only had half a decade to do her thing! I'm betting if we did this list in 2014, for a 2005-2014 influential thing, she'd be on there.

We both love M.I.A., of course.

Chris Richards: I second this emotion. "Kala" was one of my favorites to arrive this decade.


Austin, TX: Just to clear the record, I'm not Arizona Bay....Just some guy in Austin who must have posted a similar suggestion as A.B.

Chris Richards: Gotcha - we're clear. (I hope.)


Austin, TX: (not Arizona Bay again)

Oh, and as to who they've influenced...Right now I'm thinking Isis, Russian Circles, maybe even Pelican....Just off the top of my head before the hour ends.

Chris Richards: Thanks!


Baltimore, Md.: In one end-of-the-year review, someone commented that The Strokes' first album title pretty much summed up the decade: Is This It.

The 2000s seemed pretty lackluster to me. But the more fractured the music scene becomes, the harder it is to pinpoint what was influential and, really, what the consensus is on anything in music.

Focusing on rock only, I'd throw The White Stripes, The Strokes, Modest Mouse, The Flaming Lips and Radiohead into the mix of most impactful. Veterans like Sleater-Kinney and Sonic Youth continued a steady buzzsaw through rock music (and younger peers). S-K was particularly important in that One Beat was a crisp commentary on the state of America, especially in light of 9/11 and the Iraq war. Where were all the other voices pushing against the Bush administration? It was left to, what, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam and Green Day? Among others. Those bands are fine and all, but not exactly the youthful voice of dissent? And now the question that seems to be long overdue in getting at least an initial answer is what the Obama era will sound like. Any "hope and change" feel-good moments are long gone. Where's the pushback to simply more rampant corporatism, escalated war, an ultimate letdown on health care and largely continuing Bush's egregious record on government secrecy and civil liberties? Or what about is impact on hip-hop? Who will be the first artist in that world to say, 'Where's the follow up?' Where's our cultural response to Obama? Is America in too much of a haze to care? Where are the artists?

Chris Richards: Our time is running out, but this is a thoughtful question we wanted to share.

Very quick response: I think there was a lot of political music in the 00s (just in hip-hop I'm thinking of Lil Wayne's Katrina response "Georgia Bush" and Young Jeezy's response to Obama's candidacy "My President Is Black"), but not enough.

By and large, I think a desire for escapism really dominated American culture.


MIA reasoning: That is ridiculous. She has been releasing music for one year longer than that country blondie with the craptastic voice and the ugly werewolf of a boyfriend. Really. And Kanye only has one year on MIA as a recording artist. It is as lame of an argument as saying Tim Lincecum is not one of the best pitchers of the 2000s because he has only three seasons under his belt. Try again.

David Malitz: OK, I'll try again. My point is that while Taylor and Kanye have made a HUGE impact in that timespan, M.I.A. (despite being one of the Time 100, or whatever) isn't on that level yet. When it comes to IMPACT. But I think her next album or two WILL put her on that level. And she will be very famous while continuing to be very awesome.

Best pitcher of the decade is obviously Kip Wells.


Annapolis, Md.: Wilco deserves a nod. This decade: four outstanding albums, growing more popular every year, one of the best - if not the best - live show anywhere; and not a weak song all decade long.

Chris Richards: Wilco fans speak! (I am not one of them.)


Taylor Swift Follow-Up Question: I read your response thusly:

"Taylor Swift is Revolutionizing Country Music by not actually playing country music while still claiming to be a country music artist, and the country music industry accepts this because she's very popular."

How accurate was this summary?

Chris Richards: Not to play hot potato, but what is your definition of country? When it comes down to it, isn't the idea of "genre" just an industry tag in 2009?


Fed Triangle: I have a question for either/both of you, regarding Top ten lists. When you put them together, how much of the equation is you trying to include artists from different genres? These lists almost always include the requisite country album, something dancey or trancey, maybe one mainstream pop act that achieved critical acceptance, something "exotic" (in Spanish, or from Mali or some other African country) and then a bunch of indie rock and rap. Why can't you just put what you truly like?

Chris Richards: For my Best of 2009 list, I simply stuck with the albums that I listened to the most this year. That's why Swedish pop weirdos jj ranked so highly. On a bus trip from New York to D.C. in January, I spent the entire ride listening to jj's "Africa to Malaga" on repeat.

But to answer your question, I really like all kinds of music, believe it or not. I know that might sound phony, but it's true.


G'town: This is much fun. Will you guys be doing these regularly? I hope you will. I am still ticked at The Post for killing off the old Freedom Rock chat.

Chris Richards: We'd love to come back!

Please comment early and often on our new blog, Click Track. It's linked at the top of this chat.


Whoa: "But now "indie" is just like "alternative" in the '90s."

I'll give you that Matador has been around for awhile and I'm getting older, but "indie" groups like Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo are more art rock then indie.

C'mon, SY introduced drop D tuning years before bands like Coldplay were out of diapers.

David Malitz: I meant it as more of a "tag" y'know? Like, you hear about a new "indie" band and that doesn't really mean anything, whereas it MIGHT have previously.

Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo both released very good albums this year, can always count on them.


Pottsville, Pa.: Dude, the group of the decades has to be those Beatles. I mean, they are like everywhere. Everyone is playing their games, their songs have on all the coolest commercials, everyone knows their tunes. I don't know where these guys came from, but, wow, they are like everywhere.

Chris Richards: 9 out of 10 Americans will be given something Beatles-related this holiday season. Maybe.


NWDC: Best-of lists are the biggest and best time-wasters ever. I love arguing about them. Endlessly. Can you give us a quick off-the-cuff list of the 10 worst big-name artists of the 2000s? I'll start you off: J.O.N.A.S.

Your turn.

Chris Richards: Oh, this another chat entirely.

Please visit us at Click Track!


Boom Boom room: This is not something I will ever admit in public. But I am in LOVE with "Boom Boom Pow." I am completely against the Black Eyed Peas and all they represent. But damn if that is not a really irresistible tune.

Chris Richards: Don't be ashamed! The aughties killed the guilty pleasure and the BEPs are living proof of it.

You don't have to walk into a store and buy an entire album anymore -- you can discreetly sneak an mp3 onto your portable music device and voila!


"Not to play hot potato, but what is your definition of country? When it comes down to it, isn't the idea of "genre" just an industry tag in 2009?": Hell no. The answer is Jamey Johnson, bro.

Chris Richards: I love Jamey, I love Taylor. I think they can all exist in the same ballpark.

Come to think of it, how crazy would it be to hear these two do a duet??


Alexandria, Va.: One of the most significant and important recordings of the 2000-2009 era was Bob Dylan's "Love and Theft", released on 09/11/2001. Intelligent, relevant, rockin', mysterious and beautiful. One of the best, hands down.

David Malitz: Every decade has a great Bob Dylan album! (Well, not the '80s, unless you're REALLY into "Oh Mercy.") And yes, "Love and Theft" is clearly the one for the '00s.


Anonymous: Glad to see you giving Them Crooked Vultures their props. Seems most critics see "supergroup" and assume it's some rehashing of old sh-- and not worth listening to. The record is great and the live shows are mindblowing.

Chris Richards: They're more like super villains, aren't they? I love that album's more sinister qualities.


Click Track "Sharing": You write that Click Track will be a place "where readers can share ideas." This sounds nice, the same kind of thing that was said about the Post Rock blog when the online Rock Chats were put out to pasture. J. Freedom told us we could come to the blog for "discussion."

I go to the blog frequently, but the level of discussion is minimal. Maybe one or two comments every few posts. There's nothing comparable there to the back-and-forth in these online discussions.

I realize it's cheaper to point people to a blog, where there's an option to post, but please don't give the slightest impression that the "sharing" will be anywhere near what it is during these events.

If you can't tell, I'm a big fan of the online discussions, which, because of cost considerations, have been minimized, particularly those focused on music.

Chris Richards: Thanks so much for sharing this. We're going to try and do these chats as often as possible and we're glad you're into it!

Meantime, we hope the comments section in Click Track can generate some heat, too. Every Thursday, we'll have a weekly debate post called Taking Sides where our contributors will haggle over the most pressing pop issue of the day. First one posts tomorrow. Check it out!


New blog: 37% better than the old blog!?? Is there going to be a real difference between ClickTrack and Post Rock? Besides a new name and logo?

Chris Richards: More content, more columns, more contributors, more audio, more video, more photos, and our ears are wide open. Let us know what you'd like to see.


Blake: The show at St. Stevens was fantastic. He said album forthcoming in February.

And Get Up Kids had two new songs at their show at 930 in Nov. Should be a good year for hardcore.

Chris Richards: Noted! Thanks.


Chris Richards: Well, our time is up. Thanks so much for the fast and furious blitzkrieg of questions. We look forward to seeing you on Click Track as we all head into the new decade.

And be sure to follow us on Twitter:

We'll try to answer some of today's left-over questions there.


_______________________ Follow us on Twitter at ClickTrack_Blog.


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