Not too long ago, we were all living in the New Millennium, less affectionately known as the age of Y2K. Or if you want to be technical about it, it was the first decade of the 21st century. And during those 10 years, pop culture thrived. Not only did Nipplegate change the way we looked at Super Bowl halftime shows, but things like Laguna Beach made us rethink “reality,” Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight redefined the term “Oscar-worthy,” and Glee revived the television musical.
So with VH1’s I Love the 2000s wrapping up tonight, we thought we’d join in and round up our staff picks for our favorite pop culture moments of the 2000s. Because, hey, we loved those years too:
Marc Snetiker: “Lady Marmalade” (2001)
Dare I call it the most iconic song collaboration of the 21st century (too much?). The flawlessness of this 2001 throwback to the 1974 LaBelle classic simply cannot be understated. You talk about hearing “Blurred Lines” over and over again? PLEASE. I promise you that every 2000s teenager knew every word of the Lil’ Kim rap, every riff in the song-ending role call, and every hand gesture corresponding to Christina Aguilera’s “Hey, hey, heeee-e-e-e-e-ey.” And don’t even get me started on the playground scandal when everyone found out what “Voulez vous coucher avec moi” actually meant.
Lanford Beard: Britney sings “Satisfaction/Oops!…I Did It Again” on the 2000 MTV VMAs
Forget the snake; this was Britney’s finest moment of the 2000s—and perhaps America’s too. A sexed-up Stones cover, that spangly nude bodysuit, and some serious dancing all added up to an unforgettable performance that I still play on my iPod at least once a week (while awkwardly taking choreography pauses when passing strangers on the street, obviously).
Dalene Rovenstine: Lost premieres in 2004
Lost premiered with a cast of mostly unknowns who ended up changing the way that I, and much of the world, watch TV even today. The epic show introduced us to smoke monsters, wondrously weird mythology, and the concept that some mysteries are best left unanswered.
Chancellor Agard: Michael Jackson performing with N’Sync at the MTV VMAs in 2001
Although Michael Jackson only appeared at the end of “Pop” and danced for about a minute, this was still a great moment for pop music. It was a memorable moment in which the past met the present. It also showed that the King of Pop still had it after all those years. (Fun fact: Later that month, N’Sync joined Michael and the rest of the Jackson 5 onstage to perform “Dancing Machine” at Michael Jackson’s 30th Anniversary Special concert.)
Samantha Highfill: The O.C. premieres in 2003
The 2000s will always be the decade that introduced the world to the Cohens, the wittiest bagel-lovers Newport had to offer. Well, the Cohens and Ryan Atwood’s arms, of course. But biceps and pretty people aside, The O.C. phenomenon quickly caught on, and four years later, viewers would walk away from the show with a new outlook on music-on-TV, geek chic, meta, and ,more than likely, Tijauna.
Jackson McHenry: Hulu opens to the public in 2008
Hulu brought many good things to the world: episodes of 30 Rock and The Office in their prime, weird ads with aliens. But most of all, it pioneered the idea that watching television is a thing you do on your computer—which is really great if you’re in high school and your parents have a no-TV rule.
Jacob Shamsian: Will Smith’s acceptance speech at the 2005 Kids’ Choice Awards
I watched the 2005 Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards hoping to see people get slimed. What I didn’t expect was some of the best advice I’ve ever heard. Accepting an award for Shark Tale, Smith told the audience, “There have been millions, and billions, and billions, and gazillions of people that have lived before all of us. There’s no new problem you can have…that somebody hasn’t already solved and wrote about it in a book.” That’s kind of helped me keep things in perspective for the past nine years.
Mandi Bierly: Jon Stewart honors Bruce Springsteen at the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors
It’d feel strange to say my “favorite” pop culture moment of the 2000s is Bruce Springsteen’s performance of “My City of Ruins” on the America: A Tribute to Heroes telethon, or Jon Stewart’s speech at the start of his first show back after 9/11. Those are moments I wish never had to happen. But without them, I don’t know that I’d have been able to enjoy the other moments that will make this list. Springsteen made you feel the power of the words “rise up” when we all felt helpless; Stewart articulated our grief but inspired us to see past it (“The view from the south of Manhattan is now the Statue of Liberty”). He made us want to laugh again: ”We’re gonna take a break, and I’m gonna stop slobbering on myself and the desk, and we’re gonna get back to this. And it’s gonna be fun, and funny, and it’s gonna be the same as it was.”
The moment I’m going with, therefore, is Stewart paying tribute to Springsteen at the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors. Because while he talked about Springsteen emptying his tank for his family, art, audience, and country—”and we, on the receiving end of that beautiful gift, are ourselves rejuvenated if not redeemed”—Stewart was also so, so funny: “I believe that Bob Dylan and James Brown had a baby. Yes. And they abandoned that child—as you can imagine at the time, interracial same-sex relationships being what they were [Springsteen and President Obama shake hands in the audience]—they abandoned this child on the side of the road, between the exit interchanges of 8A and 9 on the New Jersey Turnpike. That child…is Bruce Springsteen.”
Erin Strecker: Gilmore Girls runs from 2000 to 2007
Instead of pointing out a beloved-but-sure-to-be-mentioned-on-the-VH1-show pick (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows book release), I’ll use this space to give a shout to Gilmore Girls, premiering in 2000 and wrapping its beloved run in 2007. The mother/daughter dynamic duo gave Stars Hollow—and fans—a perfect mix of love, pop culture references, and an introduction to Melissa McCarthy.
Chris Rackliffe: Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together” wins Billboard’s “Song of the Decade”
After 2001’s “Glitter” and TRL moments, Mariah said, “Bye, haters!” with 2005’s mega-successful album The Emancipation of Mimi. The album’s second single, “We Belong Together,” spent 14 weeks atop the Hot 100, earning Mariah her second-straight “Song of the Decade” honor (the first was for her epic duet “One Sweet Day” featuring Boyz II Men, which spent 16 weeks a the top of the Hot 100).
Jake Perlman: High School Musical premieres in 2006
Back in 2006, I was a freshman in high school on winter break with my family. I had heard about a new Disney Channel movie coming out called High School Musical that obviously sounded amazing, so I bought it on iTunes and put it on my iPod to watch in the tropical island I was vacationing in. When I got back to school in late January, it was a phenomenon. I remember the moment when all of my friends the first day back slowly admitted one by one that they, too, had watched it and become obsessed. Almost three years later, when High School Musical: Senior Year came out on the big screen, yes during my senior year of high school, I cut class to see the movie with four friends on opening day.
Ashley Fetters: U2’s Sept. 11 tribute at the Super Bowl in 2002
Five months after 9/11, U2 turned their halftime show at Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans into a powerful musical memorial; the names of the victims were projected onto a white banner behind the band members as they performed “MLK” and the anthemic, vaguely spiritual “Where the Streets Have No Name.” Yes, watch it now and it may seem schmaltzy or mouth-breathingly earnest (as do many things U2 these days)—but at the time, a little heartfelt, earnest idealism was just what plenty of healing Americans needed.
Miles Raymer: The Strokes/Christina Aguilera perform “A Stroke of Genie-us” in 2001
British producer the Freelance Hellraiser’s idea to put the vocals from Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” over the instrumental from the Strokes’ “Hard to Explain” seemed in concept like a pretty good throwaway joke, but in practice, the synergy between the two parts was almost freakishly undeniable. It not only inspired pop artists to dig into underground sounds and hipsters to cop to liking pop, but it also predicted the way genres would come to seem irrelevant a decade-plus later.
Darren Franich: Daniel Day-Lewis saying “I Drink Your Milkshake” in There Will Be Blood
Just watching that moment in the vacuum, it’s an all-time great motion picture event: One of the best filmmakers ever writes a line of dialogue for one of our best actors ever that climaxes one of the best movies ever. But even more important is how “I Drink Your Milkshake” helped to usher in the weird new world of memes. Like, there was a time when famous lines in movies didn’t get dance-remixed. Not anymore.
Kyle Ryan: Arrested Development’s debut in 2003
The Fox sitcom not only became one of the greatest shows of all time, but it revived Jason Bateman’s career and gave a nation of TV comedy dorks something to relentlessly quote besides The Simpsons. Its abbreviated run also gave the decade one of its causes celebres, and its hit-or-miss revival proved that sometimes it’s better to let the past stay in the past.