The pop charts in the year 2000 were truly chaotic

For 12 strange months, pretty much every single got to number one -- except the ones you’d expect.

by Matt Glazebrook
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14 May 2020, 3:00pm

2000 was pop’s most chaotic year -- at least in terms of the UK charts. For most of its existence, the business end of the top 40 has behaved in a pretty consistent way. Between 15 and 25 hopefuls reach the pinnacle most years, each sticking around for a couple of weeks on average. In 2019, just 12 songs took turns on top. Pick a year at random and scan through the number ones. You’ll find an all-conquering novelty hit or two, a handful of songs you can neither remember at all nor imagine a reason why anyone would have rushed out to buy them, and -- crucially -- a solid stack of tracks that have stood the test of time.

In 2000 there were 42 different chart-toppers. You don’t have to be a mathematician to work out that the majority of these spent a single week at number one. And you don’t have to be a pop historian to figure out that returns on such a slew of best-selling singles were diminishing. The first new number one of the year was a socialist punk rock song with spoken-word intro from Noam Chomsky. The 42nd and final track to claim top spot was performed by an animated builder and his crew of anthropomorphised construction vehicles. Both tracks began with exactly the same “Twist and Shout”-style ascending vocal arpeggio, because of course they did. This was a weird 12 months.

A chart-topping song is pop’s gold standard. A symbolic achievement for sure -- subject to the whims of the release calendar and promotional budgets -- but a clear sign you’ve made it. That you’re the real deal. It took current global megastar The Weeknd twenty trips to the Top 40 before finally scoring one with “Blinding Lights”. So what prompted the record-buying public of the year 2000 to bestow the honour so wantonly?

If a quick glance at the famous 42 proves it wasn’t down to an excess of worthy contenders, the opposite wasn’t true either -- that 2000 was lacking in big tunes that could capture the public imagination anything more than fleetingly. Indeed, several of the year’s most enduring songs didn’t even reach the top. Coldplay’s breakthrough “Yellow” and Blink-182's pop-punk masterpiece “All the Small Things” both stalled at number two, as did S Club 7’s magnum opus “Reach”. Sweet Female Attitude’s “Flowers” and Daft Punk’s “One More Time” are guaranteed floor-fillers today, but couldn’t fill the number one slot for even a week in 2000.

Even at-the-time inescapable dreck like Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out” (the year’s 4th biggest seller), Toploader’s “Dancing in the Moonlight” and “Babylon” by David Gray never matched their seeming ubiquity with chart top billing. Can you imagine a year in which two singles by forgettable boyband A1 get to number one, but Sugababes’ timeless “Overload” can’t even break the top five? Where Mel C’s ersatz Ibiza anthem “I Turn To You” is a chart-topper but Darude’s actual club classic “Sandstorm” isn’t? Chaos.

The reason for this free-for-all was, in part, structural. 2000 was a turning point for the music industry at the end of a booming 90s. After a decade in which almost every year saw at least one single shift 1.5 million units, the most popular track of the year sold a paltry 850,000 copies. Others barely broke 50,000. It was -- relatively speaking -- quite easy to get to number one in 2000. Napster launched in 1999 and physical sales continued to decline until the launch of iTunes in 2004, and the incorporation of (legal) downloads into the official chart a couple of years later, turned things back around for the singles biz. For the few years in-between, those determining chart placings -- the people walking into HMV to purchase CD singles -- weren’t necessarily representative of the music consuming public at large.

It was also a transitional year for pop music itself. The Spice Girls were falling apart after dominating the charts for half a decade; their swansong was a slinky, horny and weirdly low-key R&B jam called “Holler” that spent the mandated single week at number one. Cheiron Studios -- the Swedish pop factory behind Britney, Westlife and the Backstreet Boys’ early records -- was about to close. It would be another year before a whole new business model would emerge to fill the void, with a TV show called Popstars launching a group named Hear’say to the first in a long, long line of singing contest-created number ones.

Dance music was still a serious seller in 2000, and club anthems continued to chart healthily as they had for much of the 90s, but an oversaturated market, drug raids, and astronomical fees for sets meant closing time was approaching for the era of the superclub and superstar DJ. UK garage was the sound of the UK’s electronic underground, but had yet to become a consistent chart player. An 18-year-old named Craig was about to change that.

The British guitar scene was in a terrible artistic and commercial state post-Britpop, waiting for The Strokes to come over and kickstart a temporary revival in a year’s time. US alt-rock, by contrast, was deep in the arena-filling Warped Tour era but had only intermittent success across the Atlantic (there were two whole years between The Offspring hitting number one in 1999 and Limp Bizkit doing the same in 2001). Hip-hop actually had a banner year for all-time bangers -- Dre’s “Still D.R.E.”, Nelly’s “Country Grammar”, Wu-Tang’s “Gravel Pit” and Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’” among others -- but had yet to complete its transition from 90s golden age to 00s global dominance, and none went better than top 10. The one (full-time) rapper who did score a UK number one in 2000 -- Eminem -- was the exception to a whole stack of rules.

Perhaps, caught between shifting dominant pop modes, punters decided to sample as many of them as possible in a year. That would certainly explain the series of aggressively unusual collaborations that claimed the top spot (Chicane and Bryan Adams, Five and Queen, Mariah and Westlife, Mel C and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes).

Or maybe it was something more ephemeral. The pop audience -- faced with a whole new millennium spread out before them, liberated from fear of the Y2K bug, still drunk from the mother of all new year’s eve parties, or just nudged off-kilter by the sense of suddenly living in the future -- collectively decided to get a bit strange. Or at least uncollectively decided not to reach any kind of consensus as to what constituted a Big Pop Hit, and instead usher a ragtag ensemble to very brief spells on top of the charts.

Some of the number ones would have been hits in any era: Britney’s “Oops!...I Did It Again” (the “it” being: release a sexy, squelchy, Max Martin-composed banger), a pair of dreamy All Saints jams, Destiny Child’s imperious “Independent Woman Part 1”, Ronan Keating’s New Radicals-written solo launchpad “Life is a Rollercoaster”, a couple of gorgeous, MOR-disco earworms (“Lady (Hear Me Tonight)” and “Groovejet”), the two functional Cheiron ballads Westlife delivered. All these songs make perfect sense as chart toppers, yet all were booted off the #1 spot after only a week. Why? Because British pop consumers decided they had to make way for tracks that could only have reached number one in chaotic Y2K.

In some cases we know this for certain. Sonique’s euphoric Eurodance anthem “It Feels So Good”, the closest thing the year had to a song of the summer, was a re-release of 1998 semi-flop; Madison Avenue’s “Don’t Call Me Baby” stumbled to number 30 in the competitive days of late 1999 before enjoying a significantly more successful re-release in the year-that-everyone-gets-a-number-one. “Toca’s Miracle” emerged triumphantly from the scavenged parts from two earlier chart also-rans, Fragma's “Toca Me“ and Coco's “I Need a Miracle“. It was essentially a soundalike cover of a popular bootleg mash-up, recreated by one of the mashees at their label’s behest. Five other Karaoke covers topped the chart, ranging from the unnecessary (“Take on Me”, “Against All Odds”) to the unhinged (Madonna’s “American Pie”), while two more built new tracks (Gabrielle’s “Rise”, Steps’ “Stop”) from sections of old classics (Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Chic’s “Good Times”). All seven of these originals were big, obvious hits, and yet not one of them got to number one before 2000.

Then there’s the just quietly off stuff, which in its own way just as persuasively suggests that something went a bit screwy in the pop world when the calendars flipped over to 01/01/00. Today “Stan” is essential internet shorthand but in 2000 it was just a deeply bleak seven-minute rap song about celebrity obsession and domestic abuse that came pretty close to a Christmas number one. “Rock DJ” took a normal thing (Robbie Williams getting #1s around the turn of the millennium) and made it strange via unasked-for rapping and a gross, body horror music video.

With the Spice Girls heading for hiatus, a chart battle for solo supremacy was inevitable, but the form it took raised questions -- even after Posh Spice’s UK garage effort had been kept off the top by Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Italo-disco (a sentence that would have sounded baffling even a year earlier). Ginger’s number one was bad weird: a horny wine mum reimagining of Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract”, without the rapping cartoon cat, and built around the deeply unsexy phrase “Bag It Up”. Sporty’s double chart toppers were the good kind of strange, particularly once the chaotically terrible six-minute album track “I Turn to You” had been remixed into the spine-tingling-est rave singalong since N-Trance’s “Set You Free”.

But perhaps the most only-in-2000 chart story of the year was garage, which made the leap from pirate radio to Top of the Pops in ‘99, absolutely dominated the top 40 in 2000, and had pretty much disappeared from the pop radar by the end of 2001. The skittering two-step beat underpinned 20-odd top 20 hits over the year, but its moments at the peak were still suitably peculiar. “Bound 4 Da Reload (Casualty)” merged Rinse FM with tea-time telly. Craig David’s two big hits, meanwhile, sat somewhere between the champagne room and the dinner party CD shuffler.

“Fill Me In” is notable for being probably the most middle class song ever to win a MOBO (big up the neighbour’s parents’ jacuzzi, red wine, and borrowing the family 4x4), while the follow-up added super-smooth Spanish guitar to the mix. It was called “7 Days” and lasted exactly that long at number one. Craig wouldn’t reach the top again, and his public persona swiftly shifted to the butt of cruel jokes before eventually evolving into a sort of beloved meme figure. In the morning light of a new millennium, he seemed a can’t-miss prospect: young -- ridiculously so -- and talented, cool but super accessible, absolutely of the moment. But that moment was the year 2000. And as we’ve established, Y2K not like other years. Y2K was weird.

Tagged:
pop music
Spice Girls
Britney Spears
dance music
UK Garage
music industry