As you know by now, we at NPR Music sent out a series of questions to people in the music, arts and entertainment communities. We wanted to get a sense of people's thoughts and feelings pertaining to the last decade in music, and what their thoughts were about the future. One question we asked was:
What is the one song, movement or artist that sums up the decade for you, and why?
Our respondents had a variety of answers, from Kanye West to M.I.A. to Beirut. Please add your own answers in the comments section.
Hutch Harris, musician, The Thermals: The Strokes, Is This It? Really, this is supposed to be the future we're living in? It's pretty fun, but still a little disappointing. Is this it?
James Canty, musician, French Toast, Make Up, Nation of Ulysses:
I think the Dirty Projectors are going to be a band that people look back on and reference for years to come. They have found something unique and been able to expand on it, and make it inclusive and fun. I have seen them in small venues and large ones, and they are always challenging in a great way.
Jim McGuinn, Program Director, KCMP, The Current, Minnesota Public Radio:
"Steps" by Radiohead. Musically, we're talking about combining dance drum loops with Pink Floydian synths and Can-like repetition. Seeing that song introduced six months before it was included in the In Rainbows project, where this former "major label" band put out its new music virally with virtually no set-up time... Millions heard and had the record in days, and the band made more money than it would have two years earlier. While the music reflected the mash-up culture of post-rock we live in today, combining musical DNA from 40 years of genre-hopping, the business side of the equation showed a new direction and approach that we'll see more of in the future.
Jean Smith, novelist, singer, Mecca Normal:
"Rehab" by Amy Winehouse. The spectacle — a party gal with excellent apparatus for singing exhibits a wide range of problems and people are fascinated. Does celebrity crash-and-burn titillation still have a place in music? When that activity makes lots of money for lots of people, yes it does. If she was the girl next door, you'd probably be trying to get her evicted.
Chris Sutton, musician, The Gossip:
In this day and age, it probably depends on who you are, where you come from and where you live, because the information is so free. But if I had to pick one, it would be M.I.A. To me, she represents the ethnic and culture crossbreeding that was so eminent on a global scale. She appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the decade and became instantly ubiquitous and popular worldwide. "Style-conscious," "worldbeat," "political," "technological" and "genre-bending" were all adjectives used for her and her generation.
Lance Bangs, director, filmmaker:
"Hey Ya" was the improbable yet "Duh, of course!" bolt from elsewhere that made instant urgent sense when I think of the larger social world around me, on radios and at award ceremonies and dance floors full of shoulders and elbows above them.
"All My Friends" by LCD Soundsystem, as covered by Franz Ferdinand, for smaller groups of people whose company I thrilled in, like four in a car or seven in a late-night living room or nine walking away from a meal in New York City at night.
"At Break of Day" by Bonnie "Prince" Billy hit me hardest for the decade with the person I'm a couple with. In my own internal life, it was the live version of the unrecorded "King's Approach" by Slint that they played in a string of shows in the summer of 2007 before disappearing again. A wordless song that expressed gnarled, convoluted ideas and then reargued them, then took off on other ramparts. Didn't sound like anything else, and still flares up in my head while walking around or looking out windows.
Al Shipley, writer:
Two Dollar Guitar's "Everybody's In A Band," in a cynical way, kind of expresses the biggest problem facing music in this decade — there's too damn much of it, too many cooks in every kitchen to give nearly everything a fair shot. The artist class is so crowded that it's hard to tell who's actually got something to say that's worth listening to.
David Scheid, tour manager, Girl Talk: Maybe I am biased, but for me, it's Girl Talk. I think he personifies how we will digest music from the past and present in the future. He knows a TON about music from all decades and is an avid fan of it all, from Little Richard to Neu to Sublime to Smashmouth. He likes it all and can give you a cognitive reason why he likes it.
Rob Walker, co-founder of significantobjects.com, author of Buying In:
Girl Talk. But trying to articulate why would delay this another week.
Chris Pugmire, writer, singer: Older artists like Mecca Normal and Scott Walker still pushing themselves — musically, thematically, lyrically — and making more interesting and challenging music than a lot of younger artists. And noise-based music emerging as a broader, more youth-driven culture.
Andrew Leland, Managing Editor, Believer Magazine: I don't want to say Animal Collective, because I don't listen to them that much these days, but: From seeing them (as Avey Tare & Panda Bear) in a waterlogged house basement in Northeast Ohio in 2000 or 2001, one of the best shows I've ever seen for sure, and then following them as they got bigger and bigger... it sort of naturally frames the decade for me. And I guess aesthetically, they feel representative in some ways: the bending of form with the simultaneous deep commitment to pop; the use of electronics, samples, etc., with the simultaneous deep commitment to rock... the fetishization of fauna... I guess I have to go with Animal Collective.
Andrew Noz, writer:
Gorilla Zoe - "Lost." Because Zoe is a confused vampire, like the record industry in this decade. And because it features Lil Wayne, like every song from this decade.
Carly Starr, International Marketing and Promotions, Sub Pop Records: "New Slang" in Garden State. I think that really opened my eyes up to what music in movies can do.
Douglas Wolk, writer:
LCD Soundsystem's "Losing My Edge": the sound of everything I've ever put any effort into trying to hear, laid out on one giant smorgasbord for the world to feast on.
Slim Moon, Shotlock Management; founder, Kill Rock Stars:
Beirut. Home recordings, multicultural influences, Internet-fueled hype, low emphasis on the live show and touring, emotionally fragile, sophomore slump. That sounds like the "oughts" to me.
Tristin Aaron, media director, Women's Media Center:
It's gotta be Kanye, because we are in such a strange and transformative moment with hip-hop. He made some of the best pop music of the decade, but he is such a deeply flawed guy, a terrible rapper, and a bad would-be AutoTune singer. He makes these records that have these social-justice/"conscious" moments, but then you realize they are all part of his arsenal, being used totally cynically. For me, the '90s were really anti-ironic in some ways, with a lot of sincerity and confessional music. The "aughts" have been post-irony, where nothing matters except sales. It's like every rapper says during the Grammys, "I would like to thank God, retail and my business manager."
Tim Quirk, VP of Music Programming, Rhapsody: Toss-up between "Crazy" and "Hey Ya," but same reasons for both: They're idiosyncratic, but have universal appeal.
Isaac Bess, Business Development, IODA Alliance: This decade is all about Northern California for me, so I'd have to go with Lyrics Born's "Callin' Out" as the song that best sums that up.
Andrew Kesin, co-owner, Ecstatic Peace Records: Freak folk, the movement David Keenan first identified in 2003 by shouting "NEW WEIRD AMERICA" on the cover of Wire magazine. The artist would be Matt Valentine of MV+EE, because, while he was cited as one of the key participants in the movement, he remains largely unknown to the greater listening public. The way in which the movement was co-opted to a degree may be the best way to summarize the decade.
Westin Glass, musician, The Thermals: The Shins, for me, sum up the decade perfectly. Their journey from a local band in my hometown to worldwide indie superstars on the power of an album recorded at 8-bit resolution (!) on a computer in James Mercer's basement captures the zeitgeist — in fact, it is the zeitgeist. They have been more inspiring to me personally than any other group this decade. And, yes, Oh! Inverted World did actually change my life.