Music

The New American Songbook

The ballots.

A hand puts a piece of paper in a ballot box.
Animation by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo by Douglas Ellis/U.S. Air Force.

We asked critics, musicians, and industry professionals to predict which tracks from the past 25 years we’ll still be dancing and singing along to for the next 25, 50, or 100 years. Check out the result, which we’re calling the New American Songbook, first. Afterward, you can read our panelists’ complete ballots below.

List of contributors (click on the panelist’s name to jump straight to his or her ballot):

Nabil Ayers
Rembert Browne
Nate Chinen
Jack Hamilton
Aisha Harris
Isabelia Herrera
Hrishikesh Hirway
Patterson Hood
Steven Hyden
Hua Hsu
Chuck Klosterman
Dan Kois
Dee Lockett
Chris Molanphy
Franz Nicolay
Ann Powers
Julianne Escobedo Shepherd
Forrest Wickman
Carl Wilson

Nabil Ayers

Nabil Ayers is the U.S. head of the British record label 4AD. He is also a writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times and the Root.

Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars – “Uptown Funk
It sounds like a perfectly crafted version of several of the best songs from the 25 years that preceded it.

Daft Punk ft. Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers – “Get Lucky
Universal theme/lyrics and works for every wedding.

Green Day – “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)
Graduations, weddings, sappy song, used constantly in emotional TV and film sequences.

Outkast – “Hey Ya
So happy and ubiquitous.

Santana ft. Rob Thomas – “Smooth
I hate it, but it was huge and still pops constantly.

Ricky Martin – “Livin’ La Vida Loca
People love to dance.

Alanis Morissette – “You Oughta Know
This fills the grunge anthem spot, even though it’s a Canadian woman. This song was much much bigger than any Nirvana or Pearl Jam song and is somehow lumped in with them.

Britney Spears – “Oops! … I Did It Again
Karaoke.

Beyoncé ft. Jay-Z – “Crazy in Love
Her biggest tune, and she has to be on the list.

Eminem – “Lose Yourself
Sing-along anthem with lyrics that apply to everyone and everything

Rembert Browne

Rembert Browne is a writer living in New York.

Outkast – “The Way You Move
Weddings.

The Notorious B.I.G. – “Mo Money Mo Problems

Santana ft. Rob Thomas – “Smooth
Because Earth is a wasteland.

Mariah Carey – “All I Want for Christmas Is You
This is actually the only answer that is definitely true.

Elton John – “Can You Feel the Love Tonight
Duh.

The Fugees – “Killing Me Softly

Jay-Z ft. Alicia Keys – “Empire State of Mind
Because New York City will always have New Year’s Eve.

Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse – “Valerie
Flames.

Sum 41 – “Fat Lip
I don’t know, but I’m right.

Destiny’s Child – “Say My Name

Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen is the director of editorial content at WBGO. His new book is Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century.

Alan Menken and Tim Rice – “A Whole New World

Rihanna ft. Calvin Harris – “We Found Love

Bob Dylan – “Make You Feel My Love

Kelly Clarkson – “Since U Been Gone

Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Hamilton cast – “My Shot

Jack Hamilton

Jack Hamilton is Slate’s pop critic and assistant professor of American studies and media studies at the University of Virginia. He is the author of Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination.

The Notorious B.I.G. – “Juicy
Almost 25 years after this song’s release, a startling number of people who weren’t even born when it came out know every word. Not Biggie’s greatest hit by a long shot but almost certainly his most widely beloved.

The New American Songbook

Which of today’s hits will be tomorrow’s classics?

TLC – “Waterfalls
It’s a perfect song for starters, with an instantly immortal chorus. It’s also relatively straightforward and easy to play and thus conducive to covers, impromptu public performances, etc.

Outkast – “Hey Ya
Too many reasons to list. Probably the catchiest song of the 21st century, enormously conducive to covers, the biggest hit of a totally beloved act. I can’t remember the last time I was at a wedding and didn’t hear this song.

Rihanna ft. Calvin Harris – “We Found Love
The refrain is so memorable and recognizable. It’s also a pretty simple and thus quite malleable song. There are a bunch of Rihanna songs that will probably end up in this “songbook,” but this one feels particularly undying.

Oasis – “Wonderwall
This song is dumb as hell, but it’s also catchy and ridiculously easy to play and will thus appeal to generations of brooding young people who can figure out how to bang out four chords on an acoustic guitar.

Beyoncé – “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)
This is a perfect record, but more than that it hits the sweet spot of articulating a particular sentiment and situation so iconically. There will never NOT be an audience for an empowering, ebullient song about the condition of being single.

Drake – “Hotline Bling
It’s just so catchy and memorable, and its weirdly specific invocation of technology just seems like something that will cause it to cheekily persist. Bonus points for ensuring that Timmy Thomas’ “Why Can’t We Live Together” will ring in listeners’ ears for generations to come.

Kanye West ft. Rihanna and Kid Cudi – “All of the Lights
I think I’ve heard this song at every sporting event I’ve ever been to since it came out, and it’s particularly a staple of marching bands. Also just an incredible record.

50 Cent – “In Da Club
Birthdays! Also that beat.

Lauryn Hill – “Doo Wop (That Thing)
I’m amazed by how frequently I still hear this song, and in such a vast array of different contexts. Another song where a huge amount of people who weren’t even born when it came out know every single word.

Aisha Harris

Aisha Harris is a senior staff editor at the New York Times, covering culture. Previously, she was a culture writer and editor for Slate and the host of its podcast centered around representation in film and TV, Represent.

Backstreet Boys – “I Want It That Way
It’s been nearly 20 years, and this song is still a karaoke favorite.

Juvenile – “Back That Azz Up

Kelly Clarkson – “Since U Been Gone
Any wedding, bar, karaoke event where this song is played, everyone chimes in for the chorus. Everyone.

The Notorious B.I.G. – “Juicy

Jay-Z ft. Alicia Keys – “Empire State of Mind
New York sports events. It might have replaced “New York, New York” as the unofficial anthem.

Lauryn Hill – “Doo Wop (That Thing)

Kanye West ft. Jamie Foxx – “Gold Digger

Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars – “Uptown Funk
One word: weddings.

Beyoncé – “Love on Top
One word: weddings.

Carrie Underwood – “Before He Cheats
I don’t think I’ve ever gone out to karaoke where someone didn’t sing this song.

Isabelia Herrera

Isabelia Herrera is the music editor at Remezcla, a lifestyle and culture publication for young Latinos.

Beyoncé – “Irreplaceable

Kanye West – “Stronger

The Notorious B.I.G. – “Juicy

Selena – “Dreaming of You

My Chemical Romance – “Welcome to the Black Parade

Alanis Morissette – “You Oughta Know

Fiona Apple – “Sleep to Dream

Daddy Yankee – “Gasolina

Lauryn Hill – “Ex-Factor

Drake ft. Wizkid and Kyla – “One Dance

Hrishikesh Hirway

Hrishikesh Hirway is a musician, composer, and host of the podcast Song Exploder.

Eminem – “Lose Yourself

Sia – “Chandelier

Idina Menzel – “Let It Go

The White Stripes – “Seven Nation Army

Baha Men – “Who Let the Dogs Out?

Katy Perry – “Teenage Dream

Outkast – “Hey Ya

LMFAO ft. Lauren Bennett and GoonRock – “Party Rock Anthem

Whitney Houston – “I Will Always Love You

Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars – “Uptown Funk

Patterson Hood

Patterson Hood is a singer, songwriter, and founding member of the band Drive-By Truckers.

R.E.M. – “Everybody Hurts
While I always argue that great music is still being made, as great as any of any period even, the kind of universal type of songwriting that you speak of hasn’t really been in vogue in a long time (in our increasingly segmented society, especially) plus the “Don’t Stop Believin’” factor of unpredictability is something I’m well aware of.  One immediate exception that comes to mind (and it’s exactly 25 years old): “Everybody Hurts” is definitely that kind of song and rightfully deserves to be a standard.

The Flaming Lips – “Waiting for Superman

Outkast – “Hey Ya

Gnarls Barkley – “Crazy

Harry Styles – “Sign of the Times

Hurray for the Riff Raff – “Pa’lante

Jason Isbell – “Elephant

PJ Harvey – “We Float

Solange – “Cranes in the Sky

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – “Room at the Top

Steven Hyden

Steven Hyden is a critic at Uproxx and the author of Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me and Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock.

The White Stripes – “Seven Nation Army
It’s an inescapable jock jam at every sporting event.

Pharrell Williams – “Happy
It seems like one of those songs that will be at weddings when there’s weddings on the moon.

Bruno Mars – “Just the Way You Are
Just seems like one of those songs that belongs to no genre and therefore every genre.

The Killers – “Somebody Told Me

Adele – “Hello

Jay-Z ft. Alicia Keys – “Empire State of Mind
Another stadium song, further stoked by the myopia of New Yorkers.

Psy – “Gangnam Style
Seems like one of those songs that people will use as shorthand for “2010s,” in the same way “Rock Me Amadeus” means “ ’80s” and “I’m Too Sexy” means “ ’90s.”

Justin Timberlake – “Can’t Stop the Feeling!
Everyone I know under the age of 8 loves this song. It’s gonna be a major nostalgia touchstone for this new generation.

Carly Rae Jepsen – “Call Me Maybe
This is another song that already seems like shorthand for “2010s,” as well as being a tune that’s perfectly suited for weddings and “kiss cam”–style hijinks at sporting events.

Nickelback – “How You Remind Me
Seems like it has that Journey/“Don’t Stop Believin’ ” potential to ride the line between “this is so bad it’s good” and “I legit think it is a good song.” Plus, again, it has that arena/sporting event appeal. I have a feeling that Nickelback might signify generic “rock music” for future generations who only care about pop and hip-hop.

Hua Hsu

Hua Hsu is a staff writer for the New Yorker and the author of A Floating Chinaman.

The Killers – “Mr. Brightside

Beyoncé ft. Jay-Z – “Crazy in Love

Kendrick Lamar – “Alright

Kelly Clarkson – “Since U Been Gone

Eminem – “Lose Yourself

Drake – “Hotline Bling

Brandy and Monica – “The Boy Is Mine

LCD Soundsystem – “All My Friends

Rihanna ft. Drake – “Work

The Notorious B.I.G. – “Juicy

Chuck Klosterman

Chuck Klosterman is a best-selling author of several books, most recently Chuck Klosterman X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century and But What if We’re Wrong?: Thinking About the Present as if It Were the Past.

The White Stripes – “Seven Nation Army
It’s already been fully adopted into the world of college band music. Future people may not know all (or any) of the lyrics, in the same way that contemporary people don’t know the lyrics to “On, Wisconsin!” But the main riff will be perpetually ubiquitous.

Mariah Carey – “All I Want for Christmas Is You
It’s already locked into the annual Christmas rotation, and Christmas will remain popular. It’s also a very good song that does not seem particularly married to the year it was recorded.

Beyoncé – “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)
There will always be bachelorette parties, and the people who attend those parties will get drunk and want to dance. I have no idea if that reality was considered during the construction of this track, but you could not design a song better suited for that specific purpose.

George Strait – “I Saw God Today
A well-written religious song about a relatively universal experience, performed by a popular artist who is irrefutably viewed as canonical within his genre.

Lady Gaga – “Born This Way
Anthemic songs embraced by the gay community tend to have exceptional cultural tenacity.

Los del Río – “Macarena
They teach this dance to children at preschools. In a best-case scenario, it ends up like “Limbo Rock.”

Céline Dion – “My Heart Will Go On
The long-term memory of this song will be ancillary to the film Titanic. But its reputation will improve when Dion dies and people decide to reinvent her historical status as a vocalist (which seems inevitable).

Jay-Z ft. Alicia Keys – “Empire State of Mind
The overwhelming dominance of New York media makes any song specifically about New York more likely to be referenced over time, continually reintroducing the song to new generations of audience. This track also features two major artists, which means the song’s profile will be reinjected with temporary significance at least twice (assuming Jay-Z and Alicia Keys die at different times). It also seems likely that the chorus for this song will be repurposed for something else entirely, maybe multiple times.

Oasis – “Wonderwall
I’m not confident about this one, but it has already stayed unusually familiar for more than 20 years, so maybe it will just keep going. It’s a simple song that young guitar players often learn, the lyrics are abstract enough to mean anything, and people seem comfortable with it. It’s odd, because I’m essentially arguing it will be remembered due to “merit,” which is rarely why specific things get remembered. There are also many, many songs better than “Wonderwall” that will be totally lost. Yet I can imagine hearing this song 40 years from now, in a way I cannot with many other similar efforts.

Ed Sheeran – “Thinking Out Loud
It’s already an incredibly popular wedding song, and the people who seem to like this song the most aren’t even old enough to get married.

Dan Kois

Dan Kois edits and writes for Slate’s Human Interest and Culture departments. He’s the co-author, with Isaac Butler, of The World Only Spins Forward, a history of Angels in America, and is writing a book called How to Be a Family.

Mariah Carey – “All I Want for Christmas Is You
This is the only great holiday carol of the past 25 years and as such will live as long as Christmas is a thing.

Old Crow Medicine Show – “Wagon Wheel
An effortlessly catchy singalong that will persist around campfires, dorm rooms, and everywhere that someone knows how to play a G chord on an acoustic guitar.

Céline Dion – “My Heart Will Go On
People will still be watching Titanic 50 years from now, and so that flute and Céline’s voice will still have power.

Jay-Z ft. Alicia Keys – “Empire State of Mind
Sometimes a song persists because the city it’s about has an irrepressible need to celebrate itself. That’s why we still know “New York, New York,” and that’s why the people of the future will know this one.

Kelly Clarkson – “Since U Been Gone
As long as girlfriends take post-breakup road trips, they’ll be shout-singing this one.

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World
Come on, I wrote a whole book about it. But the short answer is: rehearsal dinners.

Outkast – “Hey Ya
The first time I played this song for my kids it was as if they’d already heard it 1,000 times.

TLC – “No Scrubs
Imagine a future without scrubs. It’s impossible! A song that so effectively taxonomized a specific brand of human man will be useful forever.

Liz Phair – “Fuck and Run
This one’s a little bit of a long shot. But the emotion behind this song is so vivid, and its devotees so dogged in their admiration for the album it came from, that I have a feeling it will still be meaningful to them even in the cryonic deep freeze.

Beck – “Loser
This song will fall out of circulation, only to explode back into prominence with a circa-2040 movie about the early 1990s that uses this as its theme.

Dee Lockett

Dee Lockett is an associate editor for Vulture.

Tupac ft. Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman – “California Love

The Notorious B.I.G. – “Hypnotize

Santana ft. Rob Thomas – “Smooth

Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars – “Uptown Funk

Luis Fonsi ft. Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber – “Despacito

R. Kelly – “Ignition (Remix)
Unless we ever decide as a culture to collectively cancel this man. And even then, I think this song will remain unscathed.

Britney Spears – “Baby One More Time

NSYNC – “Bye Bye Bye

Beyoncé – “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on it)

Backstreet Boys – “I Want It That Way

Chris Molanphy

Chris Molanphy is the writer of Slate’s Why Is This Song No. 1 series and the host of Hit Parade, our podcast about chart history.

Beyoncé – “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)
As long as there are bouquet tosses at weddings, this will endure.

Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars – “Uptown Funk
An “instant oldie,” in the parlance of radio—it hybridizes and makes accessible a whole segment of early ’80s electro-R&B that white pop stations didn’t play in the first place.

Jay-Z ft. Alicia Keys – “Empire State of Mind
Has already emerged as a sturdy oldie (adult contemporary stations play the all-Keys version). As ungrammatical as the chorus is, it’s memorable and enduring. Eventually it will be played at the end of Yankee games alongside Sinatra’s “New York, New York” (a late ’70s song people think is much older than it is).

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World
This mashup created a new hybrid standard out of two prior standards and is already one of the biggest-selling downloads of the digital era.

Carly Rae Jepsen – “Call Me Maybe
Provoked instant nostalgia the moment it was a hit—a recreation of late ’90s teen pop in a newer single. I’ve seen middle-age people put this on at parties. Universally beloved.

Adele – “Rolling in the Deep
Something by Adele will endure; she’s sold too many albums (in an era when no one sells) not to inspire at least one standard. Aretha Franklin has already covered this, and at root, it sounds like a ’60s soul chestnut in ’10s digital-pop clothing.

TLC – “Waterfalls
Has already inspired covers, including Meshell Ndegeocello’s this year. I think it’s overrated, but it’s one of the 1990s’ stickiest hits. Titular phrase has entered the lexicon.

The Black Eyed Peas – “I Gotta Feeling
Nearly 40 years of “Celebration” at weddings and bar mitzvahs tells us all we need to know about this song’s trajectory. Unfortunately.

Daft Punk ft. Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers – “Get Lucky
Sturdiest instrumental track of the decade—has already stood up to covers including a Russian chorus at the Olympics. Like “Uptown Funk,” sounded like an instant oldie upon release.

Sir Mix-a-Lot – “Baby Got Back
(A No. 1 hit in the summer of 1992, so I assume it qualities for the 25-year cutoff.) We already have 25 years of proof this has endured. It’s the “Monster Mash” or “Chipmunk Song” of its era —the ultimate novelty record.

Franz Nicolay

Franz Nicolay is a musician and writer. His first book The Humorless Ladies of Border Control: Touring the Punk Underground from Belgrade to Ulaanbaatar was named a New York Times “Season’s Best Travel Book” in 2016.

The Mountain Goats – “This Year
I was already hearing people cover this basically from the moment it came out. With the asterisk that within a proscribed demographic, this is already a done deal. See also Magnetic Fields’ “Papa Was a Rodeo” and “The Book of Love” and They Might Be Giants—maybe “Birdhouse in Your Soul.”

The Killers – “Mr. Brightside
To stand in for the category that also includes “Maps,” “Wonderwall,” “Time to Pretend,” “Common People,” “Do You Realize??,” “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight,” “Take Me Out.”

Nine Inch Nails – “Hurt
The counterargument is that there’s an existing iconic performance, but that hasn’t stopped “All Along the Watchtower” or “Hallelujah.” Honorable mention: “All Apologies” for some reason, though I’ve never thought it’s that great a song.

Outkast – “Hey Ya
Instantly recognized as an expression of pure pop joy. Honorable mention: “Call Me Maybe,” “The Sign,” “Since U Been Gone,” “No Diggity,” “Party Hard.”

Beyoncé – “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)
Honorable mention: “Dancing on My Own” by Robyn, “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift, “Chandelier” by Sia, “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga, “Waterfalls.”

Chumbawamba – “Tubthumping
There will always be sports stadiums. See also: “Seven Nation Army,” “I Love It,” “Lose Yourself.”

Adele – “Rolling in the Deep
Honorable mention: Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.”

Tom Petty – “Wildflowers

Old Crow Medicine Show – “Wagon Wheel
It seems like a fait accompli. I feel like “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” is also one of these “Ugh, I guess we’re stuck with it.”

Bill Callahan – “Small Plane
This is my “aspirational” entry—probably won’t, but I wish it would.

Honorable mention here: “This House Is Empty Now” by Elvis Costello, “Keep Me in Your Heart” by Warren Zevon, “I Love Everybody” by Lyle Lovett, “I Drink” by Mary Gauthier, “Big Mistake” by Tim Fite, “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong” by Against Me, “Departure Arrival” by Mischief Brew.

Ann Powers

Ann Powers is a critic and correspondent for NPR Music and the former chief pop critic for the Los Angeles Times. Her most recent book is Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music.

Little Big Town – “Girl Crush
Speaking unacknowledged (by the genre) desire with a clever sideways punch, this song ushered in a more openly progressive era in mainstream country after the bro reign of terror of the early 2000s.

Kacey Musgraves – “Follow Your Arrow
As much as “Girl Crush,” “Follow Your Arrow” represents the true soul of the emerging progressive South: tolerant, culturally progressive, taking Willie as a patron saint and star guide.

Rihanna ft. Calvin Harris – “We Found Love
Rihanna is the most important pop artist of the 21st century, sound-wise. Her blend of EDM rush, hip-hop drowsiness, and Caribbean calm defines international pop, and the emotional blueprint of her music—ultimately cool, yet acknowledging damage—defines her generation. This song is the purest distillation of her zeitgeist, with a drop.

The Killers – “Mr. Brightside
The Strokes have no meaning. This is the sound of f&(*ed up millennial rock for all of the Americans who couldn’t afford to live in New York.

Lizzo – “Good as Hell
The stealth anthem of the #TimesUp movement, this song says no to all haters and judges and asserts gloriously confident female sexuality without a worry about what any old patriarchs think.

Beyoncé – “Formation
No explanation needed, methinks.

John Legend – “All of Me
Every era needs a supercorny love song. Here’s ours.

One Direction – “What Makes You Beautiful
In the whole history of teen pop, there has never been such a perfect expression of what teenage girls want from their fantasy boys.

Outkast – “Hey Ya
Best hook in history.

Nina Simone – “Feeling Good
The Nina renaissance has been one of the most heartening developments of the 21st century, and this song—OK, maybe the George Michael version is more influential—has become THE staple of singing competitions, sitcoms, and cable TV dramas. It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, and we’re feelin’ Nina.

Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is the editor in chief of Jezebel and a longtime contributor to Slate’s year-end Music Club. She also taught music writing at New York University.

Drake – “Hotline Bling
Drake is this generation’s Lionel Richie, and while it might seem very specifically tethered to 2015, it has a nonspecificity and sort of canned quality that will endure.

Spin Doctors – “Two Princes
This was a jokey, scourge of a hit when it dropped in 1993 and yet it still captivates the popular imagination. It will endure as long as there are rom-coms and goofy bromance movies.

Cupid – “Cupid Shuffle
I mean, have you ever been to a wedding reception?

Young Jeezy – “My President Is Black
A time stamp for a year that changed everything and, now, a depressing memento of it.

Sean Paul – “Temperature
Over a decade as a pervasive international hit and just the RIGHT amount of slightly annoying. We’re not getting rid of it anytime soon.

Destiny’s Child – “Say My Name
Already in the blues tradition of a wronged woman exerting her place and agency, it’s been an anthem for 20 years also because of angel vocals and cadences.

Rihanna – “Diamonds
Definitely one of my favorite musician’s worst songs, but people have bad taste and love ballads.

Beyoncé – “Halo
Definitely one of my other favorite musician’s worst songs, but people have bad taste and love ballads.

50 Cent – “In Da Club
“Go shorty, it’s your birthday.”

Don Omar ft.
Lucenzo – “Danza Kuduro
This jam has been bumping out of New York City car speakers every summer for the past eight years. Plus, it’s a Zumba go-to. Its fate is sealed.

Forrest Wickman

Forrest Wickman is Slate’s culture editor.

Kelly Clarkson – “Since U Been Gone
While the stories about R. Kelly might tarnish “Ignition (Remix)” irreparably, or at least for as long as he lives, this Dr. Luke collaboration has thus far flown under the radar, and we shouldn’t throw out Kelly Clarkson’s baby with Dr. Luke’s bathwater. This is the ultimate scream-along pop song of the early ’00s, blending the best of ’90s power pop with early aughts alt-rock. That combination has proved irresistible to all comers, from pop fans to rock snobs, and I don’t see any reason the next generation will be able to resist it, either.

Outkast – “Hey Ya
I don’t think there’s any song I’ve heard on the dance floor more often, across multiple continents, over the past decade-plus. I don’t see any reason people won’t still want to shake it long after the death of the Polaroid picture.

Céline Dion – “My Heart Will Go On
Sentimental ballads endure much longer than the cynics who turn up their noses at them. The Beatles’ “Yesterday”—one of the most sentimental ballads in a Beatles catalog full of them—is arguably the most covered song of all time. “My Heart Will Go On” will go on and on.

Idina Menzel – “Let It Go
Ask your nearest 6-year-old.

The Notorious B.I.G. – “Juicy
This one already packed the punch of nostalgia the moment it came out, and that punch has only gotten more powerful since Biggie’s death.

Mariah Carey – “All I Want for Christmas Is You
I refer you to this piece.

The White Stripes – “Seven Nation Army
Sports! Sports. Also, in addition to being one of the most memorable riffs is rock history, this is one of the easiest. As such, it will be learned by aspiring guitarists for decades alongside “Sunshine of Your Love,” “Smoke on the Water,” et al.

Carly Rae Jepsen – “Call Me Maybe
This decade’s most irresistible stick of bubblegum.

Beyoncé – “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)
This song will play at weddings and bachelorette parties until the end of time. (Much longer, ironically, than Beyoncé’s “End of Time.”) Also, about the video: Kanye was right.

Ginuwine – “Pony
A timeless song about a timeless subject: doin’ it.

Carl Wilson

Carl Wilson is Slate’s music critic and the author of Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste.

Nine Inch Nails – “Hurt
The unlikely story of the signature song of Johnny Cash’s late career coming from an industrial- electronic rock band is still a striking one, but it’s the song itself that will endure, a devastating portrait of trauma and mortality itself—in its acoustic version it’s like the song Leonard Cohen never quite managed to write. The phrase “empire of dirt” is surely a permanent addition to the American lexicon, which is a pretty good credential for a songbook standard.

Kelly Clarkson – “Since U Been Gone
I toyed with the idea of submitting 10 Max Martin songs but will make do with this, which might be my favorite outcome of his melodic math (narrowly, over “I Want It That Way” and “Oops! … I Did It Again” among others). Perfectly paced and ecstatically explosive, “Since U Been Gone” never seems to get old to me, and the dozens of pro and thousands of amateur covers out there show I’m not alone. Its role as the audition song in the original Pitch Perfect movie especially endears it to me—the way it’s used to introduce most of the main characters is another indication of its universal adaptability.

Lauryn Hill – “Doo Wop (That Thing)
Probably the most enduring song from one of the most important albums of the quarter-century. It’s crazily singalongable, bridges R&B and hip-hop beautifully, and it continues being covered and sampled widely.

Miranda Lambert – “The House That Built Me
Miranda Lambert’s own songs and co-writes could fill in many spots on this list, but this was a song-for-sale that she couldn’t resist. There have been a few songs that describe the experience of returning to a childhood home, but none as poignant and perfectly balanced as this one. Lambert sometimes reduces herself to tears singing it live, after nearly a decade, so what hope is there for the rest of us? Certainly one of the greatest country songs of the 21st century, it’s one for the canon.

The Magnetic Fields – “The Book of Love
Outside the musical stage, Stephin Merritt is probably the songwriter of the past 25 years who most consciously and successfully places himself in the lineage of the classic American Songbook but brings the implicit queerness and darkness of that heritage into the open. And of all of his pieces, “The Book of Love” is the one that’s closest to already being a standard, almost a cliché as a hipster wedding song, covered by Peter Gabriel for a movie soundtrack, etc. But even overexposure (in certain circles) can’t ruin its perfect melody, robust simplicity, and truly profound capacity to communicate both the impossibility and indispensability of love. It stands in the rare company of Sondheim’s “Being Alive” (and the catalog of ABBA) as a work of musical philosophy that seems to say everything about the “things we’re all too young to know.”

The Mountain Goats – “No Children
Not since the famous campfire tune about the sinking of the Titanic was created 100 years ago has there been such a chunk of bleak misanthropy that inspires such giddy singalongs. I’ve often discovered that people have heard the song even when they’ve never consciously heard of the Mountain Goats, because it seems like almost any white guy with a guitar under 45 has a version in his back pocket. John Darnielle has been one of the greatest lyricists in America for decades, but sometimes the tunes are just more of a serviceable framework, or the words are a bit too particular in sensibility for anyone but Darnielle to carry off. Here all the parts come together. All together now: “I hope you die! I hope we both die!”

Kacey Musgraves – “Merry Go ’Round
Like Max Martin, Nashville tunesmith Shane McAnally could probably fill up a list of new American standards on his own, in combination with his various collaborators. But this one also introduced Kacey Musgraves as an unmistakably significant career artist, with a song whose tell-it-like-it-is attitude was as strong as its intelligence and craft, and with a tone that was subtly new to country music, connected to tradition but to the future too. But set all that context aside and just listen to it, to the rhymes, to the character sketching, to the circles- within-circles structures that reinforce the lyrical theme musically, and to the real wisdom about American small-town and family life that all supports. It will stay relevant as long as there are extramarital affairs, people getting married too young (while saying “we won’t end up like our parents”), booze, and pills, and disappointment.

Liz Phair – “Fuck and Run
Almost anything off of Exile in Guyville could appear here, along with another 10 songs from Phair’s other albums. In fact I kept trying to write in “Divorce Song,” but “Fuck and Run” kept asserting itself, partly even just for the title—this is the New American Songbook—and also for being just an unprecedented kind of song in the breadth of its view of a woman’s sexuality, and the kind of next-generation feminist-with-a-question-mark language that articulates it. (It could be sung gender-flipped, yes, but “I want a girlfriend” just doesn’t have the same connotations as “I want a boyfriend”—with all the particular trouble that specific desire invites.) It’s a songwriting model that new waves of young musicians keep discovering, and it’s a fucking heartbreaker.

Rihanna ft. Jay-Z – “Umbrella
If the names in the songwriting credits don’t look familiar, the first two are better known as Tricky Stewart and The-Dream, and the last of course is Jay-Z (who’s being credited for his rap)—meaning this was the product of a 2000s R&B/hip-hop dream team even before Rihanna got behind the mic. With a central image that even conjures up Singin’ in the Rain, but set in black America, this is just the definitive summer song of the 21st century so far (“Call Me Maybe” and “Despacito” are close rivals). The “ella-ella-eh-eh” echo is the kind of inspired hook that plants a song in someone’s head forever. There have already been countless covers and remixes, but somehow I’m convinced that when Rihanna is finally past the point of being a monster chart artist, there will be a remake that turns “Umbrella” into a hit all over again.

TLC – “Waterfalls
“Waterfalls” practically is the 1990s. One could put “No Scrubs” or “Creep” on the list instead, but “Waterfalls” has the melody and more universal sentiments to endure, and there’s something about the lilt of it that makes me think nobody will ever want to leave it behind. Maybe there’s a slight kitsch factor, too, but the American Songbook has never been averse to that. There was a British cover by the girl group Stooshe in 2012 that was a minor European hit in its own right, and Meshell Ndegeocello included it on her covers album Ventriloquism this year. You could do anything with it, in any genre, and somehow “Waterfalls” would just keep rolling along.