In the spirit of international cooperation and mutual chair dancing, Sam Brooks and New York City-based culture critic Mark Blankenship are revisiting the top 10 singles from key weeks in their respective countries. This week, Sam and Mark discuss the top 10 singles from the chart dated May 28, 2000 in New Zealand and May 27, 2000 in the United States.
10 (USA): ‘Say My Name’ by Destiny’s Child
10 (NZ): ‘Don’t Wanna Let You Go’ by 5ive
Mark Blankenship: Sam, I’m delighted to be taking this musical journey with you. Thinking about 20-year-old pop songs really is my idea of a perfect evening, and while my husband swears he’s interested when I give him facts about ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’, I suspect he’s humouring me. But here, in this safe space, I know I can let my nerd flag fly.
And since my nerd flag definitely has a picture of Beyoncé on it, I can’t believe we get to start by talking about ‘Say My Name’! It’s hard to remember now, but when this single dropped in the USA, Destiny’s Child weren’t even that famous. They’d had a few hits, but they were basically interchangeable with 702 or SWV. (Those are real group names, I swear.) Even ‘Say My Name’, which is so obviously brilliant, took months to reach the top 10. Literal months! It’s baffling.
I don’t know if ‘Say My Name’ would’ve become a huge American hit if two members of Destiny’s Child hadn’t been fired just before the music video came out. The surprise arrival of two new Children made ‘Say My Name’ feel like evidence of a crime, and everybody had to watch. But that also got us paying attention to the song… and then how could we refuse? To this day, I still get a thrill from the super-fast way they sing “I know you say it’s nothin’, I’m assumin’ things”. It’s like they’re so pissed off at this guy that they don’t have time to breathe. I can relate.
What are your ‘Say My Name’ memories? Did any of that controversy reach you back then?
Sam Brooks: I have to open up by saying that I was nine when ‘Say My Name’ came out. In New Zealand, if you didn’t have cable, back in 2000, the easiest way for a kid to see music videos was in the strange space on Sunday mornings between kid’s television and infomercials. ‘Say My Name’ occupied this place a lot during this time.
Looking back on this song, I’m amazed at how well it holds up. Even now, there’s evidence of Beyoncé’s near unparalleled ability to swap up flows (see also: ‘Savage (Remix)’). It’s testament not just to her, and you have to wonder if the start of Beyoncé’s inevitable stardom started with how much she is brought to the front of the mix here, but to Darkchild’s production. Like the best Darkchild songs – and he makes another appearance not too soon from now – it straddles the line between sounding like nothing else and sounding immediately familiar.
I don’t think I’m being harsh when I say that 5ive’s ‘Don’t Wanna Let You Go’ doesn’t quite stand up to ‘Say My Name’. 5ive feel like the unsalted pasta of boy bands; they do the job well without being quite special. There’s no Nick Carter or Justin Timberlake standouts, but they don’t have the cohesive hydra-like personality of a Boyzone or a Westlife. They’re just… a vessel for some of the lesser Richard Stannard songs, just at the moment when Stannard was starting to pass over pop dominance to Max Martin. I remember that girls were crazy about them at the time but me, as a burgeoning gay, remained firmly in mourning for my beloved Spice Girls.
Did 5ive ever make it over there? Does this sound like anything that would possibly have been a hit Stateside?
Mark: The only 5ive song that ever hit in America was ‘When the Lights Go Out’, which got to number 10, but the only thing I remember about it is seeing the CD single for sale in the checkout line at a Target. That seems cosmically right. And you are so right about the fine-but-just-barely quality of this song, which I am hearing for the first time right now. It’s like the less interesting version of ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’, and I’m shocked to see it was produced by Stargate. The leap from this to Beyoncé’s ‘Irreplaceable’ is a miracle story we should be learning in church.
9 (NZ): ‘He Wasn’t Man Enough’ by Toni Braxton
9 (USA): ‘Try Again’ by Aaliyah
Sam: Has there ever been a stranger comeback single than this? Toni Braxton spends the verses growling down the lower end of her range and the entire chorus ad-libbing what surely has to be anonymous back-up singers, all while Darkchild (another Mr Jenkins classic) backs her up with minimal beats? In a completely different way than ‘Say My Name’, this sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard, and it’s always invigoratingly unfamiliar when I hear it again.
I feel this was a huge hit over here, but if my note-checking doesn’t deceive me, it was even bigger for her over there, right?
Mark: Darkchild! How I’ve missed hearing people whisper your name in song! This was indeed a massive hit for Toni here. It got all the way to number two, and like you said, it didn’t sound like anything else that summer. It also didn’t sound like typical Toni Braxton, and it was exciting to hear her get slinky and dark. But then she never had another hit. Oops!
It’s bittersweet to see that ‘Try Again’ is here for Aaliyah, since she died not long after this. But it’s hard to be TOO sad when I hear this, because to me, this song is basically the sound of summer 2000. I remember it bumping out of every car in Atlanta and at one particular burrito place I used to love. And I appreciate that Timbaland apologised for leaving us without a dope beat to step to. How considerate!
One fun fact is that this was the first number one song in America that was never released as a physical single. It got to the top on airplay alone, which was a big deal for chart nerds back then. It looks like ‘Try Again’ was a minor hit in New Zealand, but certainly not a chart-topper. What’s your Aaliyah memory?
Sam: Again, this is an age thing but my main memory of Aaliyah as a child is as an actress, not as a singer. I think she was as equally huge here as she was over there, but a 10-year-old is less well positioned to appreciate the brilliance of a Timbaland collab.
I forget how brilliant this song is until I’m listening to it. The squelches, that breathy vocal, the fake record scratches; it’s one of those songs that sounds effortlessly cool, like it came together on the first take, but then you relisten to it and realise just how complex and carefully put together it is. Also, Aaliyah was a genius at being able to put texture and detail into breathy, minimalist vocals. Eilishes across the world, take note.
8 (USA): ‘Be With You’ by Enrique Iglesias
8 (NZ): ‘Drive’ by Straw People feat. Bic Runga
Mark: Oh, Enrique! I hope you’ll forgive me if I fan myself with a magazine for the rest of this column, because Mr. Iglesias makes me swoon. Something about the way he sings makes me feel like he’s got his mouth this close to my ear, and maybe he’s about to “accidentally” let his lips brush the side of my face and…. whew! Let me get some ice water.
Anyway, this song is a perfectly acceptable Latin pop bop that feels trapped in 2000, right down to the “club mix” interlude in the middle of the music video. If it were sung by anybody other than Enrique, I don’t think I’d remember it, but because I support my husband in everything he does, I can still sing the chorus.
Sam: Oh shit, it’s Anna Kournikova’s husband. I’ve heard a few of Enrique Iglesias’ songs, mostly ‘Hero’ of Jennifer Love-Hewitt and ‘Tonight (I’m [Verb]ing You)’. I’ve honestly never heard this song and I forgot it the moment it ended, but would agree that Iglesias has a way of singing that makes it sound like he’s absolutely right next to your face, in a not-Covid way.
Moving on: There is a very famous Bic Runga song here called ‘Drive’, released way back in 1995. It’s a gorgeous, heartfelt ballad that is unimpeachably perfect. This is… not that song. This is a cover of The Cars song of the same name. I have also never heard this song in my life and frankly don’t care to again. Runga sounds great, as always, but the production on this is weird and makes me feel slightly ill. This has no place in my heart or the heart of my countrypeople.
Mark: I first learned about Bic Runga two years ago, when a friend played me a song where she sings about “creaming soda”. In American slang, that phrase implies something very adult, so naturally, the two times I’ve been to New Zealand, I’ve ordered one at a restaurant. (I am a child.) Anyway, I’m glad to know about Bic Runga, because she is awesome. This cover is not.
7 (USA): ‘Everything You Want’ by Vertical Horizon
7 (NZ): ‘Say My Name’ by Destiny’s Child
Sam: I spent the first verse of this song swearing I’d never heard it and then that chorus! Christ, it brought back memories. This sounds like 311’s ‘Amber’ if it was about one of the other Pussycat Dolls. The only right this song has to exist in 2020 is via a Kellyoke performance.
Mark: Only Kelly could save it, and even then… I might need to refuse. This song is OK, but it’s not good enough to withstand the millions of times I heard it that summer. I was working in an office that always had the adult contemporary radio station on, which meant Vertical Horizon twice an hour, minimum. I’ve had a lifetime supply. But now that you mention it, a Kellyoke version of ‘Amber’ would be awesome.
6 (USA) ‘I Try’ by Macy Gray
6 (NZ) ‘Bye Bye Bye’ by *NSYNC
Mark: My research tells me that ‘I Try’ was an even bigger hit in New Zealand than it was in the States, and that Macy Gray herself had a longer overall career in your country. Which means y’all got it right. My people should have done more to celebrate her unmistakable voice, her knack for a catchy hook, and her willingness to sing a song called “Sex-o-Matic Venus Freak”. But at least we knew enough to recognise that ‘I Try’ is a perfect R&B jam… and we’ve be rasping it out at karaoke ever since.
Sam: Couldn’t agree with you more. Macy Gray is one of those people who got really hard done by, even though she’s great and has never released a bad album. This is perfect, and while I think a lot of New Zealanders wouldn’t recognise another Macy Gray song, you can’t really go wrong with ‘I Try’.
And look, if 5ive represents the unseasoned chicken of boy bandery, then N*Sync is perfectly flavoured and cooked boy bandery. I think culture as a whole has come around to this song, but I remember it mostly for being a punchline for the crime of… being a pop song on the radio. Gasp! Listening to it now? It’s a perfect boy band song. Everybody gets a moment, it has an endlessly repeatable chorus, and gradual, building voices. It’s triumphant as all hell. No wonder it was an actual hit. A culture reset, as the kids say.
5 (USA): ‘You Sang To Me’ by Marc Anthony
5 (NZ): ‘Poison’ by Bardot
Sam: It will come as no surprise that I mostly know Marc Anthony as Jennifer Lopez’s ex-husband. A little bit of chart hunting tells me that this was a top 10 single here, but I swear I’ve never heard this song before in my life. This might be sacrilege, but this kind of mid-tempo ballad is my least favourite kind of song (especially when they have an instrumental bridge like this one does – what in harmonica hell). They’re the track number four on any album, and always a skip for me. I’m sure this is a favourite of many people’s mothers across the world, though.
I cannot wait to hear what you think of Bardot, free of all and any context.
Mark: I don’t have much to add about ‘You Sang to Me’, because what else is there to say about taking a nap? But as for Bardot: Sam, honestly… what is this? Did they accidentally release a slowed-down version of the song? It sounds like it was recorded on a cassette tape that melted in the sun. I mean… I can honour a funky bassline, and I respect that at least half the women in this group went to the Britney Spears Finishing School for Vocal Affectations, but how could this have become such a big…
… oh! They were an Australian Popstars group! This explains everything. On US Popstars, the generic girl group winners were called Eden’s Crush, and their almost-good-but-not-quite song was ‘Get Over Yourself’. Nichole Scherzinger was in Eden’s Crush. Did any of the Bardot ladies go on to bigger things?
Sam: Short answer? No. Long answer? Absolutely not. I think the only one of the Popstars groups to ever make anything of themselves was Girls Aloud, and Bardot is nowhere on their level. I’ve no idea how this could become a hit without the marketing push behind Popstars, because as you say, it is slow to the point of being DOA and affected to the point of being a Gummer. The less said of it, the better.
4 (NZ): ‘Rise’ by Gabrielle
4 (USA): ‘He Wasn’t Man Enough’ by Toni Braxton
Mark: Take yourself to my college dorm room in late spring 2000. Sit beside me at my computer, where I have just learned that if I log onto the BBC’s website, I can hear them count down the UK’s biggest hits. Now imagine my jaw hitting the floor when I hear ‘Rise’, which uses that Bob Dylan sample to such hypnotic effect. Now imagine my delight when I go to an American CD store and discover they actually have a copy of the Gabrielle album with this song on it. I might be the only person in the entire country that bought it, but damn, I’m so glad I did. ‘Rise’ is one of my favourite songs of the entire 2000s, and nobody in the States even knows about it. Once again, the internet proves it is always and only a force for good.
Sam: I’m genuinely stoked that you actually bought that Gabrielle album, because I’m a low-key fan of her. Three unimpeachably great songs – ‘Dreams’ (featuring in Magnolia), ‘Out of Reach’ and this. I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t thought of this particular song in ages, but I’ve played it on repeat near-constantly since coming across it for this piece. From the sample, which is so delicately and beautifully deployed, to her restrained rasp – splitting the diff between Macy and Toni, maybe – is classy as hell. Not to age myself a few decades, but when did we stop making music like this? Or stop making music like this into hit songs, at least.
3 (NZ): ‘I’m Outta Love’ by Anastacia
3 (USA): ‘Thong Song’ by Sisqo
Mark: Right after Gabrielle, we get another pop diva who never made a dent in the United States, but unlike Gabrielle, I never found Anastacia on my own. I mean, I’m sure I heard this playing in some gay bar in the early 2000s. It perfectly fits the “gay anthem” mould, what with the disco beat and the sultry vocals. It’s also possible I assumed Anastacia was Taylor Dayne, since they sound exactly alike. But now, today, is the first time I’ve heard Anastacia for who she is… and she is an artist who just went onto my workout playlist.
Sam: You know that moment in Fosse/Verdon where Gwen chokes on a bit of confetti mid-performance? Anastacia sounds like if that happened to Taylor Dayne. She was a bigger star over here than in the States but she very quickly became known as the singer with the glasses and throaty voice. Which is all to say that: ‘I’m Outta Love’ is a stunning song, and I entreat you not to seek out what she sounds like when she sings it live now. That song is not kind to the pipes, long-term.
2 (NZ): ‘Shalala Lala’ by Vengaboys
2 (USA): ‘Breathe’ by Faith Hill
Sam: I got to see Vengaboys last year as part of an arena tour with a bunch of 90s pop acts (Aqua were the headliners) and this song absolutely went off live. In its original form, it sounds like a Dance Dance Revolution b-side. Catchy as hell, but it never really takes off in the way that the phrase “make some noise for the Vengaboys” wants it to. It’s no ‘Boom, Boom, Boom’ or even an ‘Up and Down’.
Mark: This song is pure trash, but that’s not an insult. I love Vengaboys for sounding so unapologetically cheap, like they make their tracks on the same computer where they play Minesweeper. I’d never heard this song, but I’m not mad at it. Though you’re obviously right that ‘Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom” is their apex. (As a side note: the hook from ‘We Like to Party! (The Vengabus)’ was used for years in commercials for a chain of tacky American theme parks, which seems right.)
A little birdie tells me that you’ve got strong feelings about Faith Hill’s song. Hit me!
Sam: Faith Hill deserves lifelong respect for working the lyric “centrifugal motion” into a pop song, and making it work. That song, however, is not this song. Faith Hill is, for me, the pre-Underwood – big voice, bigger hair, who actually impresses more when she goes soft than when she goes broad. The verses here are pretty, even delicate, in a way that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with Faith Hill, while the chorus is too big, too much, and ultimately, too bland. This is not perpetual bliss.
Mark: I have a soft spot for Faith Hill, and while I intellectually understand your resistance to ‘Breathe’, my heart accepts it. The song has the world’s longest chorus, just piling one thing on top of another, and I live for the excess. According to Billboard, this was the No 1 song of all 2000, and if that makes America extra, then I am proud to be doing the most.
1 (USA): ‘Maria Maria’ by Santana feat. the Product G&B
1 (NZ): ‘Thong Song’ by Sisqo
Mark: You still hear Santana and Rob Thomas’s ‘Smooth’ ALL THE TIME in the States, but you never hear ‘Maria Maria’, even though it was No 1 for almost as many weeks. That makes sense. ‘Smooth’ has a killer chorus and a great guitar solo. ‘Maria Maria’ has a tortured reference to West Side Story.
And if it sounds like I’m rushing past that song… I am. Because I need to talk about Sisqo’s passionate ode to thongs. Sam, he loves thongs. You can hear it in his voice. He makes it sound sexy to call a woman’s butt cheeks her “dumps” and then compare said dumps to a truck. For that he deserves a Nobel Prize. I feel honoured to have been alive when something this gleefully stupid was changing lives. Pardon me as I crank it up and shake my thighs like what, what, what.
Sam: Going to rush past ‘Maria, Maria’ like you have. I’ve no memory of this song, and will have no memory of it going forward. Nice verse from The Product G&B, whomever that may be.
But, yes. Even I, as a gentle nine-year-old when this came out, remember this as if it were tattooed on the back of my hand. Sisqo is to thongs what Shakespeare is to theatre; he lets us into a world we can’t dream of, this specific world being men who love thongs rather than the women wearing them. I can’t think of another rap song where strings didn’t just enhance this, but lifted it up into another stratosphere entirely? That key change! That last chorus is a thing of beauty, but would be nothing without the careful, near-romantic laying downs of dumps and trucks throughout.
I’m proud of my fellow countrymen and me in this week for buying enough singles – that’s how things used to work, right? – to send this to No 1. Sisqo, like you salute an uncomfortable undergarment, I, and all of New Zealand, salute you.