The holiday season is actually Love Actually season. Come Thanksgiving, my Spotify will be tuned to a heavy rotation of Christmas greats (I'm a shameless fan of the Hotel Café Christmas album, for example), though I save Love Actually for viewing deep into December. In the meantime, the soundtrack for that masterpiece — a collection of Dido, Kelly Clarkson, and Norah Jones — also doubles as a holiday soundtrack. Few of the songs are explicitly holiday themed, yet as soon as those opening chords for Clarkson's "The Trouble With Love Is" start playing, I get misty-eyed and festive-feeling. But the soundtrack isn't just a microcosm of holiday spirit — the Love Actually soundtrack is also quintessential '00s.
Bill Nighy in a recording booth, playing a washed-up rock singer trying to have his Christmas comeback with "Christmas Is All Around," is a classic Love Actually moment. But many of the songs in the movie have wider resonance than just the movie itself. Or, at least, have a distinctive 2000s resonance. And with good reason — the film premiered in 2003 (one of the few releases that really does merit the "instant classic" label), and features many hits of that precise moment. Ones that, in all likelihood, you haven't much heard since then.
What makes a 2000s song so distinct, though? It doesn't quite evoke the retro '90s, yet it doesn't keep pace with the ineffable today-ness of the 2010s. The same goes for its fashion, its movies, its television — and maybe it's all of those things together that create the ambiance of 2000-ness of the Love Actually soundtrack.
To Start, There's That Synth
Also Kelly Clarkson's voice. If early-00s American Idol isn't essentially of the period, I don't know what is.
Girl Bands Were Still Definitely A Thing
There's a reason we're all so nostalgic for the Spice Girls. Though there's considerably more equity in the proportions of men and women garnering acclaim in the music industry — just look to recent releases by Adele, Grimes, or Carly Rae Jepsen for evidence — it seems that great girl bands have become less numerous. (Or maybe it's just that I'm no longer among their target demographic.) In any case, "Jump" by Girls Aloud was one of those tracks that I'd blast on my boom box (remember those?) holding a spontaneous dance party with my middle school best friend.
Wyclef Jean Was Still Definitely A Thing, Too
Wyclef Jean's solo career may have been overshadowed somewhat by Shakira's 2006 hit "Hips Don't Lie," but he was also a pretty well-respected rapper. He was rumored to be working on a new album a couple years ago, and Billboard finally reported that it's in the works.
People Used To Wear Flannels Over T-Shirts And Boot-Cut Jeans
Just like it looks in the video for The Calling's "Wherever You Will Go." These were real fashion choices that people actually made. Maybe getting over 2003 wasn't the worst thing.
Rob Thomas Collaborated With Santana
Immediately after returning from his first album tour with Matchbox Twenty, Rob Thomas penned and recorded the massive hit "Smooth." It's technically a 1999 release, but it just feels right among the other Love Actually tracks.
Maroon 5 Still Wrote Sweet Indie-Rock Love Songs
This was about where I graduated from boom box to Walkman. Listening to "Sweetest Goodbye" alongside "Sugar" is uncanny. They're just not the same band.
Since 2003, Adam Levine married Behati Prinsloo, skinny jeans replaced boot cut, Rob Thomas has released a whole solo album and three more with Matchbox Twenty, and Kelly Clarkson is still around. Love Actually draws from some of the most pop culture-relevant tracks out around 2003, as well as deep cuts from Joni Mitchell and classic Christmas songs, to soundtrack the antics of Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, and Keira Knightley. It holds up year after year, yet it'll always remind me of 2003.
Image: Universal Pictures