Twenty years ago, life was hard for a rock fan. On the radio, corporate pop and slick R&B reigned. Justin, Britney and Christina were rising, straight from Mickey Mouse Club finishing school, trained to give red carpet quotes to Carson Daly on TRL. Grunge had been reduced to a lifestyle concept, used to sell Smashing Pumpkins t-shirts and cheap flannels at Hot Topics in malls across America. Spin magazine had Mark McGrath and Matchbox 20 on the cover. Pitchfork barely existed, still just some online thing a dude from Chicago ran out of his bedroom. Hip-hop, then the mainstream’s most reliable source of sonic dissent, felt temporarily and uncharacteristically out of focus, hungover from the East vs. West Coast drama. Those in the record industry looking for fresh torchbearers of punk-rock ideology were betting on electronic music as the next sound of rebellion.
This isn’t to say there wasn’t incredible music happening. A mixtape of 2000’s best singles would be packed with classics: “Ms. Jackson” by Outkast, “Try Again” by Aaliyah, “Big Pimpin’ ” by Jay-Z and UGK, “Party Up (Up in Here)” by DMX, “Say My Name” and “Jumpin’ Jumpin’ ” among a stream of pristine bangers from Destiny’s Child, plus the perfect pop appeal of nascent Britney in “Oops!… I Did It Again” and Christina in “What a Girl Wants.” Music sounded the way the era felt, clean and big and air-conditioned like a Bond movie on a July afternoon, a distillation of the highest-grade pop culture product at the end of the era that invented it, the apex of 20th century ideas of celebrity and stardom funneled into that one Britney Spears VMA performance with the snak