Sam Brooks steps back in time to 2009, the year of Now! That’s What I Call Music 31. What did his younger self think of those songs – and do they still hold up today?
This post was originally published on March 4 2019.
The year was 2009 and it was full of, as your worst friend would say, ‘absolute chunes’.
No album, no compilation, no playlist could represent that better than the double-album monster that is Now! That’s What I Call Music 31. Thirty-six songs, not a single dud amongst them.
I have to be honest, though. In 2009, I was not the cultured man that I am now. I was in my first year at uni and considered a six pack of KGBs a worthwhile investment. I didn’t know good music.
But now, I do. I’m the culture editor. I edit the culture. I know good music, and I know that I was an absolute trashbag ten years ago. So, in the interest of transparency, here’s what I thought of these songs back then, and what I think of them now.
Basically, this is Now! That’s What I Call My Opinions From Ten Years Ago and Now! That’s What I Call My Present Day Opinions.
1. Beyoncé – ‘Sweet Dreams’
Me in 2009: Oh my god it’s Beyoncé i love everything she does.
Me in 2019: There was a brief time where Beyoncé songs could sound like a Depeche Mode song mashed up with a song by The-Dream? Obama was President and we were happy for a time.
2. Jay Sean feat. Lil Wayne – ‘Down’
Me in 2009: What’s that song where the dude says ‘down’ a lot?
Me in 2019: If you told me ten years ago that I would be writing about Jay Sean’s ‘Down’, with its incessant ‘down-down-down’ hook, I would ask you who Jay Sean is and how did you get into my mother’s house. There’s something inherently silly and joyful about this song. Chuck it on your party playlist and the faces will light up, I guarantee it.
3. Sean Kingston – ‘Face Drop’
Me in 2009: KINGSTON!
Me in 2019: ‘Face Drop’ sounds more or less indistinguishable from ‘Down’, with more persistent synths and a less hooky chorus. I wonder if the real reason the song is included is to provide a smooth transition between ‘Down’ and the absolute mega banger that follows.
4. Black Eyed-Peas – ‘I Gotta Feeling’
Me in 2009: I have heard this song five times tonight at this club – and could happily go a sixth!
Me in 2019: This song was inescapable in 2009, and listening to it now with the beautiful distance that a decade provides it’s not hard to see why. It’s the perfect blend of a club song and a radio song – the persistent riff sinks down into your bones whether it’s playing at 8:30am on your way to work, in your house before you go out to the club at 8:30pm, or at said club when you’re one drink away from blackout. It also has the benefit of coming out before will.i.am’s kitchen sink brand of songwriting and production well and truly exhausted itself.
‘Dirty Bit’, anyone?
5. Taylor Swift – ‘Should’ve Said No’
Me in 2009: That Taylor Swift girl has some nice songs, I hope things go well for her.
Me in 2019: This pre-’Love Story’ song gives us a basically foetal Taylor Swift, but all the things that are truly on-brand Taylor Swift are present here: the journal lyrics, the persistent hooks, and the slightly more pop than country production.
Like the best of Swift’s songs, this is one Canadian ‘u’ away from being an Avril Lavigne song, and it’s kind of a shame that it’s doesn’t lean even harder into pop, because the best parts of this song really bang.
6. Gin – ‘Oh My’
Me in 2009: This is the song by the girl from that Smashproof song!
Me in 2019: Now this is an underrated stormer, and even though the song was a legit hit when it came out it seems like it’s been dropped from playlists since then, unfairly so. The song spends about two and a half minutes circling the airport, with Wigmore’s voice and the chorus doing the heavy lifting, but then there’s that sing-a-long, hand-clapped middle-eight and a glorious explosion into the final third of the song. Put this song on your playlists, people, because this one gets people off their asses.
7. Lily Allen – ’22’
Me in 2009: I’m more of a Florence guy myself.
Me in 2019: Not her hugest song, but still a good vintage Lily Allen. Bouncy production, honey-voiced vocals delivering wry lyrics, this one goes down like a lovely swig of rum and coke.
8. Paloma Faith – ‘Stone Cold Sober’
Me in 2009: I’m still more of a Florence guy myself.
Me in 2019: Paloma Faith’s debut sets up the rest of her career – the theatrical vocals, a certain largesse that belongs on a festival stage and not necessarily on your headphones, and a clear personal statement.
9. Jet – ‘She’s a Genius’
Me in 2009: I’m so good at this song on Rock Band!
Me in 2019: Jet is the kind of band that you can imagine coming through town, but their guitarist missed a flight or whatever, and they’ve asked you to fill in for him. And why the hell wouldn’t you? Which is to say: I was competent at this song on Rock Band, and that is the extent of my relationship with Jet.
10. Pink – ‘Funhouse’
Me in 2009: What are all these clowns doing in my house!
Me in 2019: The best thing about looking back at these compilation albums is seeing what was huge then, what has stood the test of time, and what the Now! compilers agreed to put on these albums in the hope that it would make that song a hit.
‘Funhouse’ is a weird song that’s a combination of all three. It wasn’t a huge hit, but it was big enough to be a single. It’s stood the test of time, so much so that Pink still includes it on her arena tours. I also have no doubt that its inclusion on albums like this contributed to its longevity. It’s a high quality, mid-tempo, Pink song; it showcases her voice, her sense of humour, and her general vague outsider vibe.
11. Gossip – ‘Heavy Cross’
Me in 2009: I liked Gossip better when nobody knew who they were.
Me in 2019: What an absolute classic. At the height of their career, Gossip combined pop, rock and punk into the glossiest version of all three. But the sell here is Beth Ditto’s inimitable voice. Just as Gossip mixes genres, Beth Ditto is, all at the same time, a Robin S-type house dive, a Tina Turner-esque rocker and a full-throated Adele belter. Both Gossip and Ditto are at their peak here – there’s a reason why this kiss-off-fuck-off track was their biggest worldwide hit.
12. Boys Like Girls – ‘Love Drunk’
Me in 2009: Boys Like Girls? Not in this house they don’t! Boys Like Boys. What is this song?
Me in 2019: This is the first song on the compilation that I’m completely unfamiliar with. “I used to be love drunk and now I’m hungover” is a killer chorus line, and there’s a lean, forward-driving momentum that is undeniably infectious.
13. Cascada – ‘Evacuate the Dancefloor’
Me in 2009: I love this. Why is there a rap in it?
Me in 2019: You know how that song ‘Cry for You’ by September had a renaissance last year, solely because someone decided to meme it? I’ll never see you again, September. I hope you made a decent amount of money off the streams that followed the memes.
What I’m saying is ‘Evacuate the Dancefloor’, by ‘Everytime We Touch’ hitmaker Cascada, is going to get a similar meme resurgence about a year from now and I for one can’t wait.
14. Pitbull – ‘I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)’
Me in 2009: Is that the guy who does the song with Jennifer Lopez – the one that somehow has over one billion views on YouTube?
Me in 2019: Has it really been ten years since the world got introduced to Pitbull aka Lou Bega II? This song, with its refrain of, “I know you want me / you know I wantcha” was inescapable ten years ago. Would we have ‘Despacito’ without this track? Would we have the monster success that was the ‘On the Floor’ without this hit? That’s a different Sliding Doors timeline, and it’s not the one we live in. In this Sliding Doors reality, Pitbull became Mr. Worldwide, and would rap-brag about being nominated for Grammys.
15. Lady Gaga – ‘Paparazzi’
Me in 2009: Lady Gaga is god herself.
Me in 2019: To quote Lady Gaga herself: “Talented, brilliant, incredible, amazing, show-stopping, spectacular, never the same, totally unique.”
‘Paparazzi’ is one of the best songs of Lady Gaga’s career, and an absolute banger. It might stick out on any playlist you put it on, so maybe leave it to the end when you want to do your weirdest, most aggressive dancing and kick your friends out so you can start your illicit relationship with the paparazzi.
16. La Roux – ‘Bulletproof’
Me in 2009: La Roux is the next Britney.
Do them right by appreciating how much of a taut banger ‘Bulletproof’ remains to this day.
17. The Temper Trap – ‘Sweet Disposition’
Me in 2009: This song is in (500) Days of Summer, and also (500) Days of Summer is about me, an emotionally stunted nineteen year old who identifies with Summer but is clearly, obviously, the guy. (500) Days of Summer is such a lovely film.
Me in 2019: (500) Days of Summer is about the futility of romance and how we all die chasing after the one.
Also: This is a lovely song that holds up – that chorus especially comes crashing in directly – and honestly, full marks to The Temper Trap for fitting the word ‘disposition’ into a rhyme like they did.
18. Esmee Denters – ‘Outta Here’
Me in 2009: Who is Esmee Denters?
Me in 2019: Is there anybody who is more exclusively 2009 than Esmee Denters? Way back then, she was one of the first artist to exceed one hundred million views on YouTube, was signed to Justin Timberlake’s record label, and was promptly dropped after that album. She would later show up on The Voice UK as a contestant.
Whatever happened to her since, ‘Outta Here’ goes harder than it had any right to – its slowed-down middle-eight seems like a direct reference point for Fifth Harmony’s ‘Sledgehammer’ a mere four years later – and has more than earned its place on this compilation.
(This is also a contender for a September-esque meme revival.)
1. Smashproof feat. Gin Wigmore – ‘Brother’
Me in 2009: I’ve got some questions in my mind.
Me in 2019: This song was rightly a massive hit in 2009 – it was topical, timely, and unashamedly angry. It’s aged a lot better than you might expect.
2. Jordin Sparks – ‘Battlefield’
Me in 2009: This is an inescapable hit. Also Melinda Doolittle was robbed of her American Idol title!
Me in 2019: Ah, 2009. When producer Ryan Tedder released the same drum-heavy song again and again and everybody ate it up. See also: ‘Halo’, ‘Already Gone’, ‘Energy’.
Back then, Jordin Sparks’ ‘Battlefield’ was my favourite of these Tedder jams. At the time I called it an absolutely invincible smash hit, and while it didn’t quite scale the heights of ‘Halo’, there’s no denying the hook ‘Why does love always feel like a battlefield (oh oh) and the distorted post-chorus, “I guess you better go and get your armour.” As your favourite bro friend would say, this is an absolute chune.
Also, Melinda Doolittle was robbed.
3. Soulja Boy feat. Sammie – ‘Kiss Me Thru The Phone’
Me in 2009: Ugh, Soulja Boy. I am way too good for Soulja Boy. Me, the person who will spend the next three years of his life doing a performing arts degree.
Me in 2019: Fuck yeah Soulja Boy! This song is a classic.
4. Savage feat. Angel Dust and Baby Bash – ‘Wild Out (Chooohooo)’
Me in 2009: More songs should include ‘chooohooo’ in their chorus. Hard endorse.
Me in 2019: Savage is genuinely underrated – and more songs should include ‘chooohooo’ in their chorus.
5. Ladyhawke – ‘My Delirium’
Me in 2009: Ladyhawke is awesome, and seeing her perform this live at the 2009 VNZMAs is one of my most memorable experiences.
Me in 2019: Calling it right now: This is maybe my favourite song on this whole album, which is no mean feat because compilation is about as full with tunes as the compact disc could possibly allow.
To call this ’80s tinged’ would be a hideous understatement. This is absolutely soaked in the 80s, from the synths to the propulsive forward movement of the guitars, to the subtle production on Ladyhawke’s voice. But it’s the millennial anxiety and the journal-like lyrics that make it current, make it electric, and make it a song that sounds as beautifully immediate as it did ten years ago.
6. Katy Perry – ‘Waking Up in Vegas’
Me in 2009: This makes me want to go to Vegas!
Me in 2019: I never want to go to Vegas, and the fact that Katy Perry briefly convinced me to go is as shocking to me as the fact that The Hangover grossed something like half a billion dollars ten years ago.
Katy Perry has been such a pop chameleon in the decade that followed her monster hit ‘I Kissed a Girl’ that it can be hard to remember that she started off as a bratty pop-rock princess who was just the right amount of wholesome and the right amount of quote-unquote naughty.
As such, ‘Waking up in Vegas’ is maybe the most wholesome song ever written about Vegas. The naughtiest thing somebody does in this song is ‘shake shake shake the glitter’ which you know you should never do because you can never get it out of anything. What a scamp, Katy Perry.
7. Kelly Clarkson – ‘My Life Would Suck Without You’
Me in 2009: I love Kelly Clarkson – I’m glad she’s getting back to catchy pop music!
Me in 2019: Kelly Clarkson is our world saviour, and her brief 2009 return to mainstream, Max Martin-y pop was an odd one. I prefer her darker, weirder work that directly preceded this and succeeded this.
A bold claim: Kelly Clarkson is one of our most reliable, necessary popstars. In this world where more or less everybody is showing themselves to be the worst, Kelly Clarkson is a constant beacon of wholesome goodness.
Another bold claim: ‘My Life Would Suck Without You’ is a bloody great, tight pop song that could’ve been sung by anybody, but is only improved by Clarkson’s huge, warm voice. It’s like being hugged by a friend you haven’t seen in a decade.
A third bold claim: It’s not even in the top ten of Kelly Clarkson’s best songs, but would easily be in the top three for any other popstar.
8. Britney Spears – ‘Circus’
Me in 2009: Thank god Britney Spears is back – and in fine form.
Me in 2019: While ‘Circus’ might not be peak Britney (looking at you, ‘… Baby One More Time’, ‘Toxic’ and ‘’Til The World Ends’), it’s a showcase of what peak Britney sounds like: It sounds like expensive pop.
A lot of money has been spent to make a song that sounds this tight. It’s detail-perfect pop, from the subtly robotic production on her voice, to the slow build towards the end of the song, and it pays off. Whatever you can say about Britney Spears, nothing she’s ever done sounds cheap or rushed.
9. The Ian Carey Project – ‘Get Shaky’
Me in 2009: I hear this song every time I walk into a dwelling that relies on music to dictate the vibe. I know every lyric despite the fact that the DJ will fade this song immediately out after the first chorus.
Me in 2019: I haven’t heard this song in ten years, which is a shame.
10. A.R Rahman & The Pussycat Dolls feat. Nicole Scherzinger – ‘Jai Ho (You are My Destiny)’
Me in 2009: I would pay real human money to hear the meeting where it was decided that The Pussycat Dolls would do a cover of the Academy Award winning song ‘Jai Ho’ from Slumdog Millionaire, which honestly bangs much harder than it needed to.”
Me in 2019: I would pay real human money to hear the meeting where it was decided that Nicole Scherzinger would be a credited featured artist on a track with her own band.
Also, the one lasting legacy of Slumdog Millionaire is this song, which is pretty good as lasting legacies go.
11. Dizzee Rascal & Armand Van Helden – ‘Bonkers’
Me in 2009: I think I’m bonkers.
Me in 2019: I know I’m bonkers, much like the drop of this song.
12. Kid Cudi – ‘Day ‘N’ Nite’
Me in 2009: This song is really catchy and good. I should look it up when I get home and download it on iTunes, like all of us do in 2009.
Me in 2019: Why do I have 50 emails to myself with the subject line ‘day and night’ from ten years ago?
Also, I missed out on Kid Cudi because I was a pretentious child, and there’s no better time to revisit his greatest hits than right now.
13. Kids of 88 – ‘My House’
Me in 2009: This is a huge song, I can’t believe it comes from New Zealand.
Me in 2019: This is a huge song, and I really like Boyboy’s most recent album, which is lovely and chill, with the same kind of whip-sharp pop sensibilities that made this song so good at the time.
14. Pixie Lott – ‘Mama Do (Uh Oh Uh Oh)’
Me in 2009: Is that Duffy? This is catchy. What would my mama do?
Me in 2019: If most popstars had a song that was as much of an earworm as ‘Mama Do’, then music would be a better place.
15. Empire of the Sun – ‘Walking on a Dream’
Me in 2009: This is a really great video.
Me in 2019: This is a really great video.
16. The Fray – ‘You Found Me’
Me in 2009: I am unmoved by nasally-voiced men over a soft rock beat and piano melodies.
Me in 2019: I am still unmoved by nasally-voiced men over a soft rock beat and piano melodies, but can accept that this was a wildly (and deservedly) successful song that holds up a lot better than it could have.
17. James Morrison feat. Nelly Furtado – ‘Broken Strings’
Me in 2009: Whoa, Nelly! Who is James Morrison and why is he so sad?
Me in 2019: Whoa, Nelly! Also, Nelly Furtado was one of the biggest popstars of the aughts who did both sides of aughts pop – the guitar-driven, Lilith Fair hangover pop and the squelching Timbaland beats – better than anybody else. Whoa, Nelly and Loose are two superb pop albums, and the fact they come from the same person is remarkable.
I have never learned who James Morrison is, but I like this song, and his low-level grit mixes with Nelly Furtado’s nasal heartache incredibly well.
18. The All-American Rejects – ‘Gives You Hell’
Me in 2009: This song is about my ex.
Me in 2019: This song is about all my exes. Also Lea Michele does a mean cover of this song.
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