Last weekend I had a weird experience. I was listening to music while playing Lord of the Rings Online. I was looking for new music to listen to, wanting something light for the background. Earlier I had listened to some classical music playlists, but this time I was looking for something different. I found the ‘Easy Hits Radio’ on Apple Music. This ‘radio’ contains light pop music with songs like ‘Africa’ by Toto, ‘Come Back and Stay’ by Paul Young and ‘You Have Been Loved’ by George Michael.
Suddenly it hit me: this was just like listening to the Top 2000!
So what is this illustrious ‘Top 2000’, and what kind of emotions did it invoke? Did it make me happy or sad?
Top 2000 since 1999
The Top 2000 is an initiative by the Dutch public radio station NPO 2. The list began as a one-time event in 1999, where people could vote for their ‘song of the millennium.’ It turned out to be so successful, they repeated it every year since then. In the earlier years, you could only choose from a pre-selected list, but in later years you could vote on every song you wanted. Voting is open from December 1st until December 7th.
The Top 2000 starts at the First Day of Christmas, December 25th and runs until New Year’s Eve. It continues non-stop, with only breaks for commercials and news updates.
The Top 2000 is the most popular radio program in The Netherlands. In 2017, 11,3 million people tuned in at one point, at a total population of 16 million people at the time.
The Top 2000 is recorded in the ‘Top 2000 Cafe’ which is open to the public. You can buy tickets and for a thirty-minute time-slot, enjoy the recording up close in a bar-like environment, while being streamed to both television and the internet.
You can listen to the list through conventional radio, internet and a dedicated television channel.
Top 2000 and Me
So why is this so important to me? Well, over the years I’d heard of it, of course, but I didn’t care that much for it. I was working in retail, and the month of December was our busiest time. Often I would work the day before Christmas or on December 31st.
It wasn’t until I met my husband that I was properly introduced to the Top 2000-phenomenon. His mother was a big fan, and we gave her the Top 2000 magazine when that was released, a couple of times. I didn’t really understand what was so special about it and I quite honestly thought it was a silly hobby. But year after year, I’m looking forward to when voting opens, and the airing of the list begins.
I mean, when you look at it from a distance, it is silly. I have all the music in the world under my fingertips. Name a song, and I can play it for you. So why care about this Top 2000, most of which I don’t even enjoy?
Because it’s a tradition. We, Dutch people, don’t really care about festivities or traditions. Let us do our everyday things, and it’ll be fine. But somehow the Top 2000 connects us all.
The fun starts with voting for the list. You can choose up to thirty-five songs, and I always forget which songs I voted for the year before, so I have to start from scratch. I choose strategically and pick popular pop songs next to my more obscure bands. And, funnily enough, whenever Rammstein ends up in the list, their songs are almost always played during the night recordings. And no, I won’t stay up until 4 AM to listen to a song I can listen to regardless.
All Day Long
After December 25th, we watch the Top 2000 Cafe a lot, from when we wake up in the morning until we eat dinner. It’s amazing entertainment. You see people being uncomfortable about being on camera, bobbing their heads to the music. Some people dare to dance, which in itself is easy to make fun of. The DJ’s try to entertain and interact with the public in the cafe next to them or make another show. They will play a fake instrument or lip-sync the song. It’s a joy to watch, really.
And yes, in all honesty, I would love to visit the Top 2000 cafe myself and be just as uncomfortable there as the people around me. But since my husband and his sister hate that kind of thing, I don’t think it’s ever going to happen.
Not only can you visit the cafe, but you can also send messages which will be shown on screen. These too are a great source of entertainment. Many people do their marriage proposal via these messages. Last year I also sent a couple of messages through the app. I guess it’s part of the belonging to the experience.
Distraction and Connection
So okay, let’s go back to last weekend. Why did this feeling of listening to the Top 2000 have such an impact on me? Because it’s a reminder of an emotional time. Holidays are hard for me, having no family of my own to celebrate them with. I’m together with my husband and his family, so I’m not alone, but that’s still different. I love the Top 2000 for the joy that it brings. I love the distraction, making fun of the people in the cafe, figuring out their family relationships. The annoyed father when the daughter’s boyfriend dances too closely with his girlfriend. Seeing the people who have clearly been dragged here by the person who now dances way too wildly for anyone’s comfort. To the annoying DJ’s who lip-sync to each and every song, even while it’s way inappropriate.
Most of all, it has become a tradition. We’ve lost several traditions over the years in my country. This year there won’t be any fireworks, and I doubt they’ll ever come back. Stores don’t advertise for the Dutch feast of ‘Sinterklaas’ or Christmas anymore, but instead many turn to ‘winter lights’ or similar empty phrasings. This worries me.
Traditions serve their purpose in society. It makes us feel like there is something that connects us all. We are not just mindless drones who wish to work for their bigger cars and their next vacation. Even in an agnostic society like the one we live in, we need our traditions. And no, capitalism isn’t the answer.
Listening to the Top 2000 to songs other people selected and care about, is a tradition for me and it’s one I’m thankful for. People share intimate stories about what happened while listening to, what, to me, was only a mundane pop song. People know every word to a song I never listened to with much detail. I enjoy seeing their joy. Sharing their joy and happiness is what makes the Top 2000 important to me. I hope it’ll be here in this current form for a long time to come. Yes, even when ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ will again be number one.