Pop & Hiss

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Before and after: The year in popular songs. Day 1: Flo Rida's 'Low'

December 16, 2008 |  7:00 am

Not since the twin towers fell in 2001 has a year had such a split personality as 2008. Two historic events divide the year into "before" and "after." The first, which occurred three months ago, was the Monday Meltdown that sent markets into a global economic panic. The second, which we all witnessed on Nov. 2, was the election of Barack Obama as America's first black president.

The most popular songs of any year contribute to a public conversation about that year; they often reflect and expand upon what's in the air culturally. We at Pop & Hiss thought it might be interesting to look at the first 10 tracks on this year's Billboard Top 100, in light of 2008's cataclysmic shifts. (One thing to note: Billboard's chart "year" ran from approximately Nov. 30, 2007, to Dec. 1 of this year, so as master chart analyst Chris Molanphy noted in Idolator, songs people pack onto their holiday-gift iPods factor heavily as winners.)

Sometimes the relationship between a hit and current events is more whimsical than direct; at other times, the connections become almost poignant. For the next few days, we'll make our way through the top songs and see how they might be reconsidered in light of history's changing tide.

1. Flo Rida featuring T-Pain, "Low"

FIRST IMPACT: This generic club banger from a former 2 Live Crew associate was made for mindless good times. It features T-Pain, the carnivalesque king of the strip clubs, and celebrates sex for money and the consumer goods that working girls enjoy (notably Apple Bottoms jeans) in equal measure. Mercenary in every way, it's an old-fashioned ode to decadence.

AFTER OBAMA: Though its catchy melody and ebullient spirit classify it as pop rap, this is exactly the kind of lascivious rap that bothers Obama, who's otherwise been a supporter and consciousness-raising boon to the hip-hop community. Flo Rida's going to have to change his tune if he wants to get invited to the White House while Sasha and Malia are living there.

AFTER THE CRASH: Americans are sobering up after years of credit card debt-inducing indulgence in Champagne and fur-lined boots, so maybe this kind of bacchanalia-rap will be banished from the charts.  However, frugal shoppers can still buy Apple Bottoms -- on deep discount at TJ Maxx.

Tomorrow: Leona Lewis, "Bleeding Love"

-- Ann Powers

Photo: Getty Images