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Sep 20

#5: Thought I wouldn’t sell without you, sold 9 million

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The music that excited me living through 2001 is spread across 4 or 5 of the brackets. This one has some of it – the bits where R&B was going pop, and pop was going R&B, with a sprinkling of other things which seemed to fit better here than somewhere else.

But “R&B” here doesn’t always mean R&B – the cross-pollination agent could be ragga (Beenie Man’s Neptunes-produced “Girls Dem Suga”); it could be UK garage (Mis-Teeq’s bumping “All I Want”). It could even be rock – Britney’s determined plunge into raunchy R&B is mirrored elsewhere in the bracket by P!nk clawing her way out of the category and into a skin she feels more comfortable with. And even the Neptunes, fresh from creating the beats that allowed Britney her escape route from teenpop, decided they want to step into political funk with “Lapdance”.

So maybe it’s a kind of restlessness that defines this category, an ambitious itchiness with the safe categories that pop – only a couple of years before – had seemed settled into. That restlessness expressed itself through career moves – most of them canny, with hindsight – but also through production. It felt like a race was on to make pop records sound new and unlikely, skittery colonies of beat-machines let loose to scavenge, explore and mutate.

And while those deeply into the music knew other names too, the discourse around this future-pop was dominated by two beatmakers – the Neptunes and Timbaland. My polling whims have kept them apart: Timbaland we’ll meet in other brackets (though there’s a great slice of fake-Tim production here with Dream’s “He Loves U Not”), the Neptunes star in this one. They’d come out of hip-hop, and kept making beats for rappers – while NERD and Beenie Man were in shops they were making the brutally minimal “Grindin’” for The Clipse, released in ‘02. But 2001 also saw them revelling in the opportunities pop offered them to make over megastars with their pinballs-and-laser-guns sound palette.

The Neptunes’ pop innovation leads the way in the bracket, but it’s also quite possible to imagine none of their stuff qualifying, so strong is the rest of the field. It has Destiny’s Child at the peak of their Imperial phase, P!nk remaking herself, and charmingly carnal hits from Janet Jackson and Shakira, neither of whom care much for trends, both of whom are making superb pop. Everyone will have their favourites here and tracks they feel are woefully overrated (I’ll keep schtum about mine), but overall this is going to be one of the most painful and highly contested sets of tracks in the poll.

POTENTIAL WINNER: How ready are voters for this jelly? I’d expect at least one track from this bracket to make the last 8 – and “Bootylicious” might be the one.

BEST TRACK: “Neptunes make number one tune!” Beenie Man and Mya’s “Girls Dem Sugar” is one of the most joyful tracks in the poll, and a marvellous mix of sounds and voices, with The Neptunes deploying one of their bounciest beats.

DARK HORSE: Janet Jackson shone in the 1990 poll, and “All For You” is one of her biggest (and catchiest) UK hits. She’s in a fiendish starting bracket, but I think she’ll get through.

DISCOVERY: I knew all but one of the tracks here, and I didn’t like that one much. So I’ll pick Nikka Costa’s “Like A Feather”, at the rootsiest end of this bracket, because of course I knew the song but never the artist or title.

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