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The Black Eyed Peas' 'The E.N.D' and the power of nostalgia

in retrospect

Over twelve years ago, one of the most ubiquitous albums of the late 2000s was released to much commercial success, Grammy nominations and enough attention for the artists to be chosen to headline the Super Bowl Halftime Show. Now, “The E.N.D.” by The Black Eyed Peas is often disregarded, relegated to a footnote in contemporary musical history. Seen as nothing more than the home of “Boom Boom Pow” and “I Gotta Feeling,” the bulk of the work as a whole faded into obscurity during the last decade despite the cultural throne it once held.

My own personal opinions on The Black Eyed Peas have shifted throughout the years. As a longtime listener of the Peas, I held the opinion that the quality of their music declined as soon as they embraced a pop aesthetic for mass appeal. Their debut album, “Behind the Front” and their follow-up, “Bridging the Gap” still resonate. From their third album onward, they found a sound that created more commercial success, but this came at the expense of the artistic merit of their works.

Perhaps the music of the Peas was harmed in my eyes by their own success. Their music truly was everywhere — especially in 2009, when they released their most successful album at the time, “The E.N.D.” To date, this is their second-most-streamed album on Spotify and definitely the body of work that sticks the most with its childhood-defining songs: “I Gotta Feeling,” “Rock That Body” and “Boom Boom Pow,” among others. Despite my former distaste of the album, I decided to relisten to it last year to see if my opinions on it changed. To my surprise, it did.

The album is far from perfect. First off, the best songs of the entire album are the first five tracks: “Boom Boom Pow,” “Rock That Body,” “Meet Me Halfway,” “Imma Be” and “I Gotta Feeling.” With all the standouts front-loaded on the album, this ensures an immediate nosedive in quality. What ensues is a test of endurance— the songs average over 4 minutes each, yet they’re not intricate enough to justify that runtime.

Additionally, the Peas are at their best when they make mindless music, which is why it’s confusing that they take the opposite approach at the end of the album. Two songs in particular, “Now Generation” and “One Tribe” are guilty of shoehorning in misplaced and poorly thought out social commentary. The former comments on the thinning patience of the newer generation, and the latter is a call for unity, declaring that all of humanity is “one tribe.” I suppose they had good intentions when making these songs, but the execution is so poor, with corny lyrics, that it ends up being ironically funny as a result, diluting their message as a whole.

If “The E.N.D.” is so flawed, why did I enjoy it so much on my relisten? Well, it’s just such a loveable album. Yes, most of the time it’s brainless and stupid, but sometimes that’s just the point. While not a masterpiece, I still find myself drawn to the electronic beats and electrifying verses. The first five songs on the album are the type to crank up with friends and have a good time, and even after that there are some hidden gems, like “Showdown,” with a strong opening verse by will.i.am, and “Rockin to the Beat,” which perfectly concluded this album.

Listening to this album more than a decade after its release is like opening my own personal time capsule buried by a past version of me too young to register current events. The contents are simple, yet full of life. The lyrics reflecting their tendency to live in the moment create a vivid portrait of the collective childhoods of Gen Z, yet you can’t help but get nostalgic when living in the moment was an easier feat to do. When this album was released, I was a child whose view of college life was a series of fun and never-ending parties. Instead, what we’ve since endured has been a long string of injustices, a pandemic and plenty more that make 2009 seem like many lifetimes ago. In a time when things seem so complex and difficult, sometimes it’s just easier to channel the innocence we once had and crank up “I Gotta Feeling” one more time.

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