The Decade In Music: An Introduction

Jay-Z and Kelly Clarkson

hide captionJay-Z and Kelly Clarkson

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(Can't remember what actually happened this decade? Relive some of the defining moments with our timeline. It's far from comprehensive, so feel free to tell us what we missed and we'll discuss your suggestions throughout the series.)

When I think of the passing of a decade, I always think of "Do You Remember Rock n' Roll Radio" by the Ramones: "It's the end, the end of the '70s / It's the end, the end of the century," they sang. The words conjure both a yearning for the past and the triumph of completion, as in, "We made it."

Of course, 1980 was technically 20 years away from the end of the 20th century. Perhaps the Ramones were just looking at the big picture, or maybe they knew that the first wave of punk was on its way out (or already over), or maybe they were merely trying to sum up that remarkable decade; how amazing it must have been to reside inside the fiery musical center that was New York City. Yet most of us, the Ramones included, can't be aware of what it is we're inside of, part of or even participating in while it's happening. It's not until we have a few years of perspective that we can make sense of it all.

If there's one major difference between assessing the music of past decades and taking stock of this one — 2000 to '09 — it's that we've been assessing, proclaiming, analyzing and chattering about it all along. The discourse surrounding each musical moment has been multitudinous and loud, sometimes louder than the moment itself. Not a single occurrence in music went undocumented or unexplored. Whether on message boards, on blogs and Web sites, via Twitter and Facebook, on YouTube and MySpace, or on digital cameras and cell-phone videos, we saw it all and talked about it. We may have just lived through the most witnessed decade in music history.

We all saw, heard and partook of both the music and the discourse surrounding it. But what was it that we saw? What was it that we heard? And how did we go about hearing it?

Part of my struggle in writing a summation and codifying the past decade is that its moniker poses a linguistic stumbling block. What do we call the past 10 years? Were they the "aughts"? The "tens"? Without a unifying agreed-upon sobriquet, it feels harder to settle upon a cohesive semantic understanding. Or maybe we don't need to. After all, if nothing else, the last 10 years dismantled (or at least chipped away at) the monolithic. New technologies created and nurtured micro-niche and micro-genre tastes. As listeners, we could re-sequence, re-mix, easily download and then just as easily discard, glean knowledge with the touch of a button, collect, compile and explore like crazy.

So perhaps the lexical ambiguity of this decade is a metaphor for the decade itself. Largely nameless, at least for now, its music conflated past and present, messed with genres and identity, and made discovery constant, easy and ever-present. A band or musician could be from anywhere, yet feel like they were from everywhere — and that's because they all existed in the same somewhere, namely the Internet.

And, of course, our music became ever more portable. But this was nothing like the Walkman or Discman of decades past. Instead, some of us carried our entire music libraries around with us — in our pockets, purses and backpacks; on subways, on walks, in coffee shops, at school and at the office — which means that much of our identities, our histories, our stories and our soundtracks were with us everywhere we went.

So, yes, a lot has changed — for the better, it seems. But inevitably, there are also parts of music, of listening, of experience and of fandom that we've lost along the way. Most of us go to record stores a lot less often, if there's even a record store around. And what about the satisfaction that comes from hard-earned discovery? What happens when the tactile is replaced with the virtual?

Like many of you, I still don't entirely know what to make of the last 10 years in music. But I hope that in the next two weeks, as we explore the past decade, we'll at least gain a better understanding of what it means to have traveled the impossible, futuristic, head-scratching, CD-purging, everything-you-ever-dreamed-of-is-right-in-front-of-you leap between the years 2000 and 2009.

Each day, we'll feature multiple contributors, interviews, interactive features and more. But it's you that we want to hear from most, so please participate.

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