Welcome to The 50, a Rhapsody scheme in which we attempt to compile the biggest, best, most historically remarkable songs of every year. Our list of 50 tracks -- presented here in no particular order, ideally flowing like a time-traveling DJ set -- has been argued over and (grudgingly) agreed upon by our full editorial staff. Please enjoy.
In 2008 The Killers asked, "Are we human or are we dancer?" Katy Perry kissed a girl and liked it, and if we liked it we were told to put a ring on it. This was when things really started to converge: indie rock bands quoted Lil Jon; Girl Talk combined "Whoomp! There It Is" and "In a Big Country" on "Hands in the Air"; and Kid Rock perfected the formula for the ultimate summer anthem on "All Summer Long" by combining "Werewolves of London" and "Sweet Home Alabama." Pop was at a high with underrated singles from Britney Spears (the frantic chanting of "Womanizer") and Ashlee Simpson (the killer No Doubt-Timbaland pastiche "Outta My Head [Ay Ya Ya]"), and deservedly acclaimed ones from Taylor Swift (who was enjoying massive MTV exposure with "You Belong with Me") and Estelle ("American Boy" was possibly the last time Kanye was charming).
Country music was peaking on a whole range of emotions itself. Zac Brown debuted with the endearing "Chicken Fried," while Drive-By Truckers drew tears with the true murder elegy "Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife." Hayes Carll's gut-bustingly hilarious "She Left Me for Jesus" and Kathleen Edwards' spell-it-out kiss-off "The Cheapest Key" were novelty songs for the ages.
MGMT's addictive "Kids" and The Ting Tings' car-radio special "That's Not My Name" came out of seemingly nowhere, while Kings of Leon finally earned their arena cred with "Use Somebody," an anthem made for lighters. Fleet Foxes' haunting "White Winter Hymnal" was a bloody nursery rhyme dressed up in three-part harmony and Tokyo Police Club's "Your English Is Good" cheerfully begged for our vote.
Buraka Som Sistema and Calle 13 reminded us that dance is a universal language, while T.I. ("Whatever You Like") and Nas ("Hero") gave up their poppiest songs ever. Mariah Carey joyfully implored us on "Touch My Body," one of her greatest singles ever, and The Juan MacLean sang almost as ebulliently on the 12-minute epic "Happy House." Even Rihanna's wonderful theater piece "Disturbia" was about as "dark" as the "Thriller" video. The real darkness was saved for Portishead's chillingly stiff return on "Machine Gun" and a crestfallen Kanye ("Heartless"), who would go on to change rap entirely, all over again, as well as indie rock and R&B, by ushering in avant-Auto-Tune, Drake, concept albums and an era of dark urban music. What a year.