The nostalgia for the songs of the early 2000s is strong, especially the love songs of the early Oughts. It's 2015, after all, and quite soon the hip period between 2000 and 2010 will be the new '90s. Want to get a head start? With the help of Nerve, Latin Post, Buzzfeed, and several lovely writers here at AWS, we've compiled a list of some of the most heartbreaking, lust-inspiring, lovesick jams from the early 2000s. Take a look, have a listen, wallow in some nostalgia, and don't forget to share your top picks, too!
Table of contents:
Before you write your "Coldplay is on this list, argument is invalid!!1!" comment, just wait. I agree that Coldplay is safe, innocuous, and largely forgettable. But "Yellow," their first American single, is something different. The song is majestic and ethereal; the chords are shimmering, expanding, always on the brink of overwhelming you. Yet what really grabs me is the romance of the whole thing. It looks you in the face and says, "Yes. This is it. This is love, right here. I know it and it is spectacular." — Colette McIntyre
For all the hype that surrounded the Avett Brothers on their first ascent into the mainstream, they weren't really doing anything revolutionary: just gracing the bluegrass and folk sounds of their native North Carolina with plaintive, beautifully rendered melodies. "January Wedding" is as pure a love song as you could ever wish for: "True love is not the kind of thing you should turn down / Don't ever turn it down." — Alex Heigl
Corinne Bailey Rae knows her way around a love song. She may fight with her paramour, like, all the time, but she still finds it an honor to love someone whom she feels is "just like a star across my sky, just like an angel off the page." — Kristin Hunt
Layering Justin Timberlake's Bee-Gee-grade falsetto with Timbaland's futuristic synthesizer chords, "My Love" certainly has a lot going on. Yet in its most essential form, it's a ballad — and a pretty charming one too. JT's love is humble and refreshingly cute, dreaming only of hand-holding and beach-walking. He may have brought sexy back, but he didn't forget to bring sweetness along for the ride. — C.M.
Teens in lust are a common pop-song topic, but this haunting theme from The Virgin Suicides turns hormonal hot-bloodedness into cool, clear devotion. "Anytime, anywhere, you're my playground love," purrs Thomas Marz, years ahead of his wider fame with Phoenix. Blanketed by smooth, subtle horns, he sounds like he's swirling a brandy years later, reliving a moment of infatuation he's now certain was the truest love he'll ever know. — Jeff Klingman
Although "In the Cold, Cold Night" doesn't sound like your typical love song, it does sound exactly like the type of love song Meg White would sing: simple, sexually charged, and kind of eerie. Perhaps it's her reputation for being a hermit that makes this straightforward declaration of love so uncanny. But strangely enough, her impassive delivery actually makes the song feel more passionate. — Maura Hehir
There are different interpretations of this song, but one feels particularly salient: it's about love. The lyric "they made a statue of us," coupled with the flooding of the piano and Spektor's proud, earnest vocals, speaks to a beautiful wish for permanence in love. And as for the melody, like Spektor says, "it's contagious." — M.H.
In simple terms, with perfectly chosen details ("She woke from a dream/ Her head was on fire/ Why was he so nervous?"), Rhett Miller sketches a man proposing to a woman. Then, the kicker, which must, must, tug on even the crankiest heart: "Maybe tonight, I've got a question for you." — Peter Smith
While most MCs come out the gate talking about their money, their gunshot wounds, or their sexual prowess, Drake's debut single distinguished the Canadian rapper from all the rest. He wasn't afraid to talk about his feelings or his lady. Sure, "Best I Ever Had" gets a little raunchy, but when Drake reaches the lines "Sweatpants, hair tied, chillin' with no makeup on/ That's when you're the prettiest, I hope that you don't take it wrong," you can bet that every girl listening squeals with delight. — C.M.
With a good love, everything else in life can seem better. With a great love, nothing else even matters. The Beatles may have said it with "All You Need Is Love," but "Chasing Cars" nails the desire for the other person to feel the same way. It's bursting with hope and potential. — Garrett Carey
Either ghoulish or profound, "Naked As We Came" is a promise to whoever in a couple dies first to "spread our ashes round the yard" — a pledge of ultimate devotion, presented in quiet, almost domestic terms. Weirdly moving, it's a love song that also manages to cover life, death, and everything in between. — P.S.
To hear Jay-Z, the man who once rapped, "Me, give my heart to a woman?/ Not for nothing, never happening/ I'll be forever mackin'," talk about how much he needs his girlfriend is heart-warming. (I'm a sucker for a bad-boy-gone-good story.) And as a bonus, Kanye West's production is impeccable, and Jay-Z's chemistry with Beyonce floods the track. Given his ridiculous level of fame, it's very sweet to hear that his relationship with B isn't just about "Timbs, aviator lens, 600 drops and Mercedes Benzes" but also about the times when they silently watch Sex and the City together. — C.M.
While it's open to interpretation, I think "Rake" is about the security you can find in another person. Sufjan's strange lyrics convey the need for someone you don't have to front for — someone you can take solace with when the outside world becomes too much. While "the rock" invokes stability, the titular "rake" can be that which removes you from a bad situation. — Carlos Cabrera
Let's be clear: Common is not the type to walk around with matchin' shirts. But he will be by your side, be the one to make you the happiest, and, most importantly, he won't call you his bitch. That's true love. — K.H.
Basically every song by The Swell Season is sincere, granted, but "In These Arms" must be the apex. Saying you were born to hold someone in your arms can easily skew cheesy, but Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova's earnest suggestion feels like the genuine article. — K.H.
Now that it's won eight Grammies and sold exactly one bazillion copies, it's hard to remember how anachronistically fresh Come Away with Me sounded in 2002. The smoky, elegant title track turns a simple entreaty into a world unto itself — one you can take someone's hand and escape into. — A.H.
"The Luckiest" is for all those awkward beta-males who don't quite know how they found love. We won't dare question how, but just appreciate the fact that it's happened. Although it may not seem like a big deal to all the charmers out there, to a man who plays a keytar, it's a big deal. — C.C.
Conor Oberst has an instantly recognizable voice. It quivers like Eddie Vedder's, but without that deep, throaty confidence; for some, it's too fragile, too "emo," and too weak. But paired with the simple melody and honest lyrics of "First Day of My Life," that voice works perfectly. — Confusion, of Pigeons and Planes
There aren't too many love songs that can shift a dance party into overdrive. "Crazy in Love," powered by a dangerously buoyant Chi-Lites sample, is capable of doing just that, and when you can get an entire dance floor moving to a song about how much you love your (eventual) husband, you know you've struck gold. — A.H.
In the '90s, No Doubt's love-themed songs were usually about heartbreak, or betrayal, or faking feelings, or waiting, or unrequited devotion, or general malaise regarding the almighty emotion. But on their final album to date, Gwen Stefani offered a significantly less angsty track that actually had something positive to say about love. The slow reggae sound and ska riffs provide a perfect backdrop for Stefani's uncharacteristically gentle crooning, and her lyrics are tender with (still) just a hint of the bittersweet: "You've used up all your coupons/ And all you've got left is me/ And somehow I'm full of forgiveness/ I guess it's meant to be." — M.H.
"Fallin'" is one of the most honest love songs out there. It's a kind of relationship gospel, if you'll permit me. Keys recognizes that love isn't love all the time — sometimes you can't stand being around the person, but other times you simply can't stand being away. "Fallin'" is a song that you surrender to. There's no point in putting up a fight. It's sad, yes, but it's also ecstatic. It's worth the fall. — C.M.
When you listen to Erykah Badu's duet with Stephen Marley, you can't help but feel like you're eavesdropping on the tender whisperings of an infatuated couple. The song is effortlessly sensual; by the end, you're left with goosebumps. — C.M.
With its irresistible keyboard blips and ambient synth lines, "Such Great Heights" will probably stick to your ribs before frontman Ben Gibbard even begins to sing. But the lyrics are great too, especially if you're still secretly waiting for a kiss that feels "perfectly aligned." — C.M.
Despite its omnipresence, "Home" still makes you smile. It's big and jaunty and sweet, and before you know it, you feel at home too. And if the song doesn't make you smile? Well then, keep your bad mojo to yourself, because I'm too busy letting love in. — C.M.
You might mistake Karen O's sweet ode to Liars frontman Angus Andrew for a brokenhearted ex's lament. It isn't. Titled with a thematically appropriate acronym of "My Angus Please Stay," it serves as the bittersweet flipside to every "life on the road" epic of the rock-n'-roll era. "Wait, they don't love you like I love you" — forget the cheering crowds and snuggle up with me. Before this track, Yeah Yeah Yeahs were pegged as sloppy, stompy, post-punk noiseniks. "Maps" revealed them as the decade's most unexpected romantics. — Jeff Klingman
Remember Mandy Moore? Yes, I sort of forgot about her existence, too. She was actually part of the bubblegum pop scene but once revealed that her real passion was always acting over singing. In "Cry," she did both. "Cry" was her song in A Walk to Remember, a 2002 romance starring Shane West and Moore. Also the saddest movie in the world. How many of you cried? I think I cried to "Cry" just because it obviously made me think of the movie, geez. "It was then that I realized that forever was in your eyes..." Isn't that the most meaningful sentence you have ever heard? Even at that time when we didn't know what real love was, those words gave us hope to one day feel that. At the time we thought we would feel that with Billy forever, but... where's Billy now?
Kelly Clarkson and her powerful vocals continue to take us back today. At one point "Behind These Hazel Eyes" was every girl's excuse to scream it out after getting her heart broken. In a world where cell phones and texting were still pretty new, all you could do was restrain yourself from calling his house 50 times and leaving a nasty message on an answering machine that everyone could hear. Instead, you turned up the radio and sang along to the American Idol winner's heartbreaking jam. Can we talk about that video? Man, that sure can fire a girl up! Hmm, this song could arouse anger like nothing else could. But afterward, you felt as if a big rock had been lifted off of your shoulders. You would phone your friends like, "You wanna go to the mall, I just did some 'Kelly therapy' and I'm ready to find a rebound." Yeaaaaah!!!
To be honest, no girl on earth was probably thinking about any other guy when this song played. However, this was a smooth one to dedicate to the girls, wasn't it, gentlemen? Never make a promise that you can't keep, but who cares when the lyrics of this song could get you any girl? Who's thanking NSYNC now, fellas?
Ahhhh! The perfect song with the perfect movie that equaled all the perfect feelings. How can anyone forget the talented duo of K-Ci & JoJo? These two came up with the track of our lives, "Crazy." The song was actually on the soundtrack to 2001's "Save the Last Dance," every teenager's favorite movie. K-Ci and JoJo's vocals were strong and defining. The words of the song told such a tale of love and desperation, that this was the time we felt we should fight for love. Remember, at this point in our lives we weren't really worried about real problems so we felt like love and betrayal were the most important things. "I'm going crazy just thinking about you, baby..." We were so glad we weren't the only ones experiencing this insanity.
Ohhh, Ashanti, where did you go? The gelled down sideburns, the smooth voice, and the songs that marked the first time we felt fearless, vulnerable, and sexy all at once. That's exactly what "Foolish" and Ashanti represented. The lyrics told the story of a girl admitting be foolishly in love. These were our golden years when we learned wrong from right in so many different aspects of life. So this song taught us what love can do to you. We didn't want to be foolish with Mike, but we would stay anyway, huh, ladies?
So this was it. The song that really made us notice Rihanna. Her arrival was marked by a sultry slap in the face to the men who thought they were the only ones capable of cheating. Singer and songwriter Ne-Yo wrote this song and Rihanna rocked it. This was an ego booster for us ladies who had reached the peak of empowerment. No, cheating wasn't okay for either side in a relationship, but for once we got to be the ones on the other side of things. Felt kind of good, didn't it?
"Dilemma" by Nelly and Kelly Rowland was released in 2002. This is another song about a girl stepping out on her relationship and as young girls... we also liked it. Rapper Nelly still had his bandage on his cheek and Kelly was still part of the girl group Destiny's Child. It was a good time. "I love you, Nelly, I need you..." Can you hear her sing it? What a perfect song. Even though it did add to the confusion of liking more than one guy at once... ugh.
On the surface, Ja Rule's 2000 hit was a gritty urban love song, something that often seemed sexual and risky because of the beat and the provocative hooks. However, if you kept listening to it after dirty dancing with your crush at Homecoming, you heard about a love that went beyond the idea that “every thug needs a lady” and realized you wanted someone to wipe your tears and tell you there's nothing to fear. You wanted your own Ja.
Anything Usher sang in the early 2000s made us think of love, passion, and the kind of all-encompassing desire our hormones didn't even know how to handle. Add Alicia Keys to the mix, however, and girls everywhere turned into a puddle of goo when the guy they adored stepped up and asked for a slow jam. You felt this song every time you fell in love – or really serious like. Didn't matter. You were sure you found “that one person/ that will always have your heart.”
This was the jam anytime you started jonesing for someone new yourself. You felt it in your bones, too. Getting ready for a party when you knew he'd be there or waiting for a call (this was 2002, remember), you probably played this at top volume, right? You listened to Ashanti's longing and even though you'd never admit in a million years that you'd give up everything you owned for the boo making your knees weak, you secretly sang it to yourself.
Well, it's Britney. Of course she's here. She gave us a feeling of power with this song. This was pop love, and we loved it.
John Legend has been breaking everyone's hearts since the early '00s. He's been appealing to people who just want a real love since back then, too. This song made you dream about mature, stable relationships – in other words, it made you realize that those whirlwind fairytale romances weren't real and didn't last, and “ordinary” wasn't such a horrible thing to be after all. Preach, John.
Mariah has always been able to get right to the heart of the matter. That being said, this was the worst kind of love song – still is. It's like an ode of the end of love, where you're at the begging and bargaining stage because you know you belong with your ex. It came out ten years ago, yeah, but it still speaks to people on that level.
Unrequited love songs appear in every musical era, but this one is so full of longing, hope, and the tunnel vision you get when you're so desperately in love with someone you can't see anything else, that it's still in heavy rotation on many playlists. Mine, for instance.
Nobody does heart-wrenching like Dido. This song captured what it felt like to be dumped, forgotten, replaced, and generally abandoned by someone who meant the whole world to you. It has the power to hit you thirteen years later and make you cringe at some of those painful memories.
Enrique slayed hopeless romantics all over the world with this song. At one time or another, even if you're loathe to admit it now, you probably fantasized about an all-encompassing crush saying every lyric to you.
Well, this one's kind of self explanatory, isn't it? It almost doesn't make the cut off, but Taylor's "Love Story" was the love song of the last half of the decade. Even if Taylor isn't your cup of tea, I'll wager you either liked the song, the video, or a cover version.
Bruno's sweet, soulful ode to real love almost came a little too late to qualify as well, but thank goodness it does. "When I see your face/ there's not a thing that I would change/ 'cause you're amazing/ just the way you are" became the lyric that sent listeners swooning. Guys and girls alike dreamed of finding someone who loved them just the way they were.
Willa, where are you? This was like a love song to ourselves. It was sexual and empowering, the kind of thing you were apt to play before going out on the prowl and if it played while you were at the club? Game over.
Who didn't want someone to feel this way about them? Who didn't dream about someone singing this to them? Evan and Jaron didn't last long on the charts, but their contribution to the early '00s music scene is unmistakable.
Nine Days didn't hang around too long either, but there was something sweet about this song. I remember seeing these guys when I was in college (they opened for Vertical Horizon, have some nostalgia!) and the crowd went wild for it. Lines like "This is the story of a girl/ who cried a river and drowned the whole world/ and while she looked so sad in photographs/ I absolutely love her/ when she smiles" became ubiquitous in the AOL roleplay world at the time, too.
You either heard this on the radio or on "Grey's Anatomy" at least once a season, and it probably still makes you cry. As love songs go, it's rather doomed, but The Fray is famous for that. Brb, though, sobbing.
Forgive the second mention of Coldplay, but they were an essential part of the early '00s and even if you hate them, you have to give props to the lyrical poetry. "Tell me you love me/ come back and haunt me" remains, for me at least, one of the most haunting (appropriately) lines I've ever heard.
Leona Lewis served us a wonderfully multifaceted love song in the last years of the early Oughts. "Bleeding Love" captured the feeling of being closed off after a bad relationship and suddenly finding yourself falling again.
I'm just going to leave this here.
The love songs from the early 2000s seem like they were popular just yesterday. Did your favorite make the cut? No worries if not – tell us about it and shoot a link to the video, if you like!
P.S. Love these songs? Enjoy a playlist on us! (Just ... pretend Taylor Swift is on there ... 'cause she's not.)
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