Friday, December 25, 2009

MMIX - and that's the way it was

cover story

Just like the year that preceded it, 2009 was a year that did not like human beings very much. Everything from the world's economy to people's morals seemed to be on the decline, and even microscopic virulent creatures appeared to be conspiring against us. But throughout the resulting mishmash, there were certain things that kept coming up over and over again – some rightfully so as they genuinely warranted our attention, and others that simply refused to go away, despite the fact that we really wanted them to. So, in an effort to help us understand what this year was all about, here is a look at the people and events that we could not escape hearing about during 2009:

Barack Obama
"Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future." - Norwegian Nobel Committee
The world enthusiastically welcomed the government change in the U.S. as Barack Obama became the first African American President of the United States of America, taking the oath of office in an inauguration ceremony watched by millions of international viewers. Ever since, and despite the fall in his ratings, the world has been captivated by all things Obama. Whether he is attending an annual meeting of people who annually meet, making teleprompter-assisted speeches about all the things he plans to do in the future, or, umm, killing a fly, none of his actions fail to make headlines; his every move is scrutinised, every word analysed. Even his family can't escape the spotlight – from first lady Michelle Obama's fashion sense, to the choice of the family's new puppy, Bo (as had been promised to daughters Malia and Sasha during the victory speech), no topic has been left undiscussed. Such is the degree of the world's infatuation with the new U.S. President that he has even been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (despite still overseeing two wars); the Nobel Committee bestowed this honour on him for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples", presumably including his efforts to engage on a global platform with multiple international visits, as well as plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and aim to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.

Swat and Waziristan Operations
"Terror is an idea. You don't fight an idea with a conventional army. To win a war on terror you have to win the hearts and minds of people." - Imran Khan (on Enough Rope with Andrew Denton)
The U.S. might have replaced the term "War on Terror" with the phrase "Overseas Contingency Operation", but that didn't change the fact that the underlying problem itself remains unaffected. While the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq still continue, the issue unfortunately spilled over into our country, with north-western Pakistan ending up at the forefront. Army operations against the insurgents focused on Swat and South Waziristan, displacing nearly two million people in the NWFP; the IDPs figure still remains at around one million according to the Internally Displacement Monitoring Centre. And in retaliation, the Taliban have started a string of militant attacks across Pakistan, killing hundreds of people across the country.

"Despite the hysteria, the risk to Britons' health is tiny – but that news won't sell papers or drugs, or justify the WHO's budget." - Simon Jenkins, The Guardian
As the H1N1 influenza virus made its presence known, concerns about its virulence started to increase, followed by the media's completely disproportionate reaction that made it seem like the virus was going to tear a hole in the fabric of space and time, and signalled the end of all life in the universe. Panic evidently ensued, further fuelled by several misconceptions and misinformation, but then someone noticed that the H1N1 casualty rate was only a small fraction of the annual number of deaths from seasonal flu – worldwide more than 208 countries and territories reported "laboratory confirmed cases of pandemic influenza H1N1 2009" (according to the World Health Organization), and the mortality rate from the virus has been around 0.026% (according to a report in the British Medical Journal). So, unless the virus makes a mutated comeback seeking revenge over these findings, chances are that humankind will endure. As for the media, they are now in search of something else to panic about.

"I tweet so much, sometimes I annoy myself." - Demi Lovato (@ddlovato)
A few years ago, a bunch of Californians – co-founders Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone in particular – decided the world was in need of another blogging service, only this one would limit the length of updates to 140 characters and basically restrict the updates in every possible way. In short, they decided to take the status message idea and run with it, and so in 2006, Twitter was born: a micro-blogging service that merges two recent fads – texting and social networking. Within a year of its launch, the service had started to gain popularity, but it really started to gain momentum last year, and then into this year, powered by the presence of high-profile personalities and being embraced by celebrities (including actor Ashton Kutcher's much publicized bid to become the first user to amass a million followers) and the media (to the point where it seems like CNN might have sold itself to Twitter). And now that we can all find out what Calvin Harris just had for dinner, all is right with the world. Except that it's not, and that is where Twitter surprisingly comes in, yet again. The website has actually helped by serving as a platform to rally against political and social issues (including the Iranian presidential election protests), and even brought global attention to issues that might've otherwise gone unnoticed.

Pakistani Judiciary and NRO
"And justice for some."
Politics, as usual, dominated global news throughout the year – the Iran and Afghanistan elections, North Korea's nuclear tests, U.S. health care reforms…the talking heads never ran out of things to talk about. Meanwhile, in the little part of the world that we like to call home, Pakistanis were on a mission to fulfil last year's mission – the reinstatement of the judiciary, and this time their efforts yielded success. In the midst of a long march, the government finally announced that the deposed judges would be reinstated and Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry would be restored as the Chief Justice of Pakistan. It might be interesting to note that it is quite possible that we've heard the word "judiciary" more times since last year than we had in the rest of our lives put together; now if everyone starts chanting the word "electricity", then maybe…
Anyway, the next topic on our political issues list was the NRO – the National Reconciliation Ordinance that was issued in 2007 by the then President Pervez Musharraf. The Ordinance was finally declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court this month, and leaves current President Asif Ali Zardari in hot water. Make sure you stay tuned for the next episode of our exciting political reality series Deal or No Deal.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon
"But this was no dream, and, unlike the nightmare, I wasn't running for my life; I was racing to save something infinitely more precious." – New Moon
It's plain to see that Stephenie Meyer has hit the jackpot with the Twilight series. It's one big star-crossed love story, featuring a protagonist who seems to have traded rationality for obsession. Plus it features vampires and werewolves, therefore it must be amazing. So, following in the path of the novels that engrossed a whole generation of teenage girls, the movies too are offering an entertaining way to waste a few hours on an idle weekend evening. As the latest The Twilight Saga: New Moon was to be released in November, the year round anticipation by its crazed fans made it an Internet conversation and search staple throughout the year (it was the second most searched term of the year according to Yahoo!). With its release, the second film in the franchise that has propelled Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner to stardom, broke box-office records, despite being derided by movie critics, and added even more hype to a phenomenon that was hard to ignore in the first place. Yet, despite its being incessantly mentioned on the Internet, television and in magazines, New Moon is the sixth highest grossing film of 2009; the year's top five most successful films (as of the writing of these words) are: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, 2012, and Up.

Susan Boyle
"Mediocrity at its finest."
In an industry ruled by talent-challenged pop goddesses content with using raunchiness to sell records comes the latest annual media-hyped moneymaking counter-expectations scam from Simon Cowell: Susan Boyle! The Scottish singer became an overnight global sensation after appearing on Britain's Got Talent, despite (or perhaps because of) her homely appearance, much like Paul Potts before her, resulting in her BGT clip on YouTube getting nearly 2.5 million views in the first 72 hours (it went on to get nearly 120 million hits during 2009, becoming YouTube's most watched video of the year). By the finale, though, the audience had presumably moved on; Susan lost to dance troupe Diversity. But her ugly-duckling story was far from over; a hospital stay and a makeover later, the singer released her debut album I Dreamed a Dream, which, according to the record-tracking folks, has sold a hellovalotov copies, despite boring critics to sleep.

2009 ICC World Twenty20
"It won't be a disaster even if we exit before the Super Eights. It would be sad if we don't make it, but I have never attached too much importance to Twenty20 cricket, as it is fun cricket." - Younis Khan, a few days before Pakistan won the T20 tournament.
I'll be the first to concede that people in 90% of the world's countries probably have no idea what T20 even stands for, and the majority of the remaining 10% aren't willing to show more than a cursory interest in this cricketing format. But as soon as your team actually wins something, all such considerations go out the window, replaced by irrational jubilant euphoria. So pardon me for mentioning something here that clearly wasn't one of the most talked about topics of this or any other year, but how could I not? We won something. We actually won something, and… wait, it's unimportant, just-for-fun cricket? Never mind then. :(

Global Economy
"The story of the year was a weak economy that could have been much, much weaker." - TIME magazine
A handful of economists had been trying to raise concerns about this for years, but apparently their warnings weren't followed by enough exclamation points. And so last year, the effect of the reckless lending practices led to several issues that needed to be translated from economic English into human English before anyone could make head or tail of them. The result was an outbreak of economic crises, sending the global economy into a financial tailspin. Companies failed, jobs were lost, inflation reached historic levels. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the economy became one of the most talked about subjects around the world. As the year draws to a close, the world seems to be coming out of its financial hangover, following bailouts of failing businesses and stimulus plans to combat the economic downturn, and according to analysts, global economic collapse has been averted. *confetti toss*

Michael Jackson
"Ever since I was born, daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. And I just want to say that I love him... so much" - Paris Katherine Jackson
There was no bigger news this year than the death of Michael Jackson. The biggest name in the world of music forever changed the entertainment industry, and despite all his problems and dysfunctions, remained a pop favourite. As the news of his death emerged, MJ's fans mourned his talents, but sadly the rumour mills started to spin out of control, fuelled by tabloids hoping to (as usual) cash in on someone else's misfortunes, and even further by the public's unfortunate tendency to further propagate every misinformed detail. A lot of ink and bandwidth was wasted on farfetched untruths and half-truths about his personal life and children. But thankfully there were many who chose to ignore the rumours, focus on the talent, and honour his musical excellence. An estimated worldwide audience of nearly one billion tuned in to watch MJ's memorial service, and his film This Is It became the most successful documentary and concert movie of all time.

Other famous people who passed away during the year include:
  • Adam Michael Goldstein, a.k.a. DJ AM (36) – musician, former member of Crazy Town.
  • Corazon Aquino (76) – politician, 11th President of the Philippines, first woman to hold the office.
  • David Carradine (72) – actor, starred in the '70s television series Kung Fu and the Kill Bill movies.
  • Farrah Leni Fawcett (62) – actress, best known for her role as Jill Munroe in Charlie's Angels and for her famous hairstyle.
  • Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy (77) – politician, long serving U.S. senator, youngest brother of John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
  • Eunice Kennedy Shriver (88) – sister of Ted Kennedy, founded the movement that became the Special Olympics.
  • Jade Cerisa Lorraine Goody (27) – British reality TV celebrity.
  • Les Paul (94) – American guitarist and pioneer electric guitar developer.
  • Natasha Richardson (45) – British actress, daughter of actress Vanessa Redgrave and director/producer Tony Richardson, and wife of Irish actor Liam Neeson.
  • Patrick Wayne Swayze (57) – actor, famous for his performance in the film Dirty Dancing.
  • Rob Gauntlet (21) – adventurer and mountaineer, youngest Briton to climb Mount Everest.
  • Robert Enke (32) – German football goalkeeper.
  • Stephen Patrick David Gately (33) – singer, member of Irish band Boyzone.
  • Walter Leland Cronkite, Jr. (92) – broadcast journalist, known as "the most trusted man in America", ended each of his CBS Evening News broadcasts with the phrase "...and that's the way it is" followed by the date.

The Year In Weird

While most of what was poured onto the pages of newspapers wasn't particularly strange or unusual, there were quite a few incidents this year that added a sprinkle of weird to 2009:
  • Balloon Boy: People all over the world watched as a runaway balloon supposedly carrying a six-year-old child, Falcon Heene, floated across the sky of Colorado. The home-made balloon finally landed many hours later, only to reveal that Falcon was never in the balloon, and the incident was just a publicity stunt by the Heene family to help market them for a reality show; they are now facing several felony charges.
  • White House party crashers: Another aspiring reality TV couple attended the White House state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, despite the fact that they lacked an invitation. And when did the security detail find out about their blunder? After the gatecrashers boldly posted pictures from the event on their Facebook page. Best security service ever!
  • Octomom: An American woman, Nadya Suleman, gives birth to the first set of surviving octuplets; only, she has no job, no income, and is already the single mother of six other young children! The world shakes its head in disapproval, then snuggles in front of the tele to watch her reality special, Octo-Mom: The Incredible Unseen Footage, and after that goes off in search of some brain bleach.
  • Kanye West's outburst: Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift's Best Female Video award acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, implying that the award should've gone to Beyoncé instead of Taylor. "If you have nothing nice to say, then don't say anything at all," everyone told him in reply. We haven't heard from him since.
  • Tiger Woods: The world's best-known golfer crashed his car into a tree in front of his house, and this incident somehow unravelled into a story of infidelity and deceit that leaves the athlete's personal life ruined and reputation shattered. Things don't get any stranger than that, do they? Or actually they do…
  • 2009 ICC World Twenty20 tournament: Yes, we won the T20 championship. We really did. How strange is that?!!
- By S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 25 December, 2009

Do Re Mi

music in 2009


- The E.N.D. came like a blast from the not-so-distant past as The Black Eyed Peas returned with new music after four years. The album was a huge hit, and everyone was happy… except music fans. They watched in despair as the Peas climbed the charts and made history with their songs Boom Boom Pow and I Gotta Feeling.

- The infectious hook and accompanying video of Beyoncé's Single Ladies propelled it into becoming a YouTube hit, inspiring countless imitations and parodies.

- Kris Allen won American Idol, beating the much-hyped Adam Lambert. Also, Paula Abdul left the show and was replaced by comedian Ellen DeGeneres.

- After ignoring their last three albums, the world decided to fall in love with the Kings of Leon. Their song Use Somebody off last year's Only By The Night gained constant rotation… or it might have been another Kings of Leon song because frankly we can't really tell them apart.

- The lovely Taylor Swift didn't let the fact that she can't sing stand in the way of her success. The faux-country startlet – who is as cute as a button, seems modest and well grounded, even dated one of the Jo Bros (which ended in the by-now-infamous 27-second phone call), and on the whole seems a lot more well adjusted than her destined-for-rehab friend Miley Cyrus – saw her sophomore album Fearless rank among the year's highest selling records and was showered with an endless stream of awards (much to the dismay of Kanye West).

- Troubled singer Amy Winehouse and her troubled spouse Blake Fielder-Civil untied the knot and went their own ways. They now plan to self-destruct separately.

- Green Day released their new album, 21st Century Breakdown, which sounds like it could've been the b-side to their previous album, American Idiot.

- After realizing that all their individual projects had tanked, Blink-182 reunited.

- Michael Jackson's death propelled him to the top of the charts around the world, and led him to number one spot on the year's Internet search lists. And the release of his This Is It documentary re-established his King of Pop credentials, yet again.

- And Boyzone singer Stephen Gately's death raised so much interest in the deceased singer that his name became the most searched for topic of 2009 on Google UK.

- Eminem made a comeback with his first album in five years, Relapse, which opened at number one in various countries around the world.

- Rappers Flo Rida and Tinchy Stryder conquered the charts with their respective sophomore albums.

- Newcomers including La Roux and Keri Hilson also found chart success.

- After three years of marriage (that's nearly 30 in Hollywood years), pop singer Avril Lavigne and Sum 41 frontman Deryck Whibley decided to part ways. We still can't decide whether she was too good for him or he was too good for her.

- Britain's Got Talent runner-up Susan Boyle's thoroughly dreary first album, I Dreamed a Dream, broke the record of the highest debut by a female solo artist ever.

- Alice In Chains released their first album since Layne Staley's death, Creed reunited to make the album Full Circle, Coldplay's live album LeftRightLeftRightLeft was made available as a free download, U2 released their new offering No Line on the Horizon, and Muse came up with yet another ambitiously awesome album, The Resistance.

- Guitarist Noel Gallagher left Oasis after yet another fallout with his brother, vocalist Liam Gallagher. But music fans' joy was cut short when Liam announced that he plans to continue recording as Oasis.

- Chris Brown was sentenced to "five years of probation, one year of domestic violence counselling, and six months of community service" following his domestic violence incident involving Rihanna.

- Everyone who has a show on the Disney channel released a few dozen albums each.

- Owl City autotuned their way to success.

- Pop/R&B girl band Sugababes went through their 3258176th line-up change when Keisha Buchanan was kicked out of the band (replaced by Jade Ewen), which means the band no longer has any of its founding members.

- And while one was tempted to pull out a thesaurus and list all the synonyms for "annoying" in reference to Lady Gaga, it seems as though her "so terrible that it's amazing" shtick worked quite well. Her fashion sense was spectacularly awful, but that's because it was meant to draw attention… which it did. Her music sounded like it was created in a pop focus group and put together every pop cliché that had been successful on the charts in the last few decades. So, very unsurprisingly, her albums and singles sold by the bucketload.

- Also, Shakira, Rihanna, Lily Allen, Kelly Clarkson, Mariah Carey, and even Whitney Houston returned to the charts with new album, as did Girls Aloud singer and X Factor judge Cheryl Cole, who released her debut solo album 3 Words.


  • Mustafa Zahid (Roxen): 2009 has been dull mainly because of the current situation in the country; adding agony to the pain is having unlimited news channels on the screen and less entertainment channel. How can someone switch to a music channel and look at what's coming now when a bomb's been blasted every fortnight? The sad truth is that entertainment has gone down big time in 2009. We did Bujh Hai Gaya as Roxen and Khuda Kay Liyay as my solo project, but overall things have been rough for everyone. Eye catcher, or shall I say ear catcher, for me in 2009 was Hadiqa's song with her brother Irfan on her album Jab Say Tum Gai; brilliant song. 2009 made me an Ali Zafar fan too, finally, with his effort in Coke Studio, especially Yaar Dadhi.
  • Faiza Mujahid: I think there was nothing good about 2009 productively, except for Coke Studio, and I think '09 was a hard time for all the musicians in Pakistan. I loved Coke Studio (session 2). And there wasn't anything to dislike, as very few people released their albums or songs. I loved Atif Aslam's songs in Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani. It's amazing how in such times he isn't affected by the recession, mashAllah. Everyone needs luck like him! ;) 2010 will be my year hopefully, inshAllah! :)
  • Abbas Ali Khan: Whatever music came out in 2009 was basically neglected and overshadowed by the news channels, thanks to the security situation in the country. Whatever music I could see and hear was ok, nothing great. Some good albums which came out were from MHB, Overload, and Shiraz Uppal (and of course John Mayer). I only released one track on TV and Internet. The response was overwhelming. The track was a tribute song from drama serial Dhoop Kinare called Raat Yun Dil Mein Teri. In 2010, I plan to release more videos, do more classical and fusion concerts, and as a parallel project I'm planning to release an album based on ghazals and nazams.
- By S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 25 December, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Remembering the '00s

cover story

Even nostalgia ain't what it used to be!

Wars and power struggles, economic meltdowns, commercialism, celebrity obsession, ideological black holes… it seems as though mankind was on a mission to collectively jump off a figurative cliff during the last ten years that together made up The Noughties, a decade that, admittedly like every other decade, has changed the world forever. As the sun sets on the '00s, it is plain to see that this century is off to a rocky start, and through it all, one thing has become abundantly clear: humanity's gene pool could use stronger chlorination.

Self-destruct sequence initiated

Nothing can capture the essence of the decade more than a 2004 quote from one of the world's most beloved leaders, the acclaimed and eloquent statesman George W. Bush: "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful," he said, "and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." The jury is still out on whether this is funny because it's true, or sad because it's true.

Either way, the world had set its cruise control for crash long before this decade began, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that world peace remained elusive. Threats of terrorism and nuclear proliferation were a permanent fixture in the headlines. Pakistani politics continued to struggle with the hellovamess it had inherited from the '90s. Pervez Musharraf's presidency, the judiciary conflict, Asif Ali Zardari's presidency following Benazir Bhutto's death, and near constant bomb blasts in the major cities of the country in the last few months – makes one wonder what our current political landscape's future history will choose as the lowest point of our decade.

But perhaps the most defining moment of the '00s came on the 11th of September 2001 when hijacked commercial airliners crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which led to the US-led war in Afghanistan; nearly a decade later, the terrorists continue undeterred. Iraq's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction was cited as the reason for the occupation of Iraq by US-led forces; the WMDs were never found because apparently they did not exist. Billions of dollars have been spent. Thousands of lives have been lost. And we're supposed to be the most intelligent species on this planet!

With compliments from the Department of Bad Ideas

It started with the bursting of the dot-com bubble and ended with the collapse of the housing bubble; everything in between was just as dreary. The world saw increased globalisation and further expansion of multinational corporations, with the US continuing to be the world's biggest economy, and China emerging as a rising power on the back of immense economic growth. Meanwhile, inflation constantly troubled the workingman, with huge increases in the prices of commodities, gold, petrol…and electricity, or what little we had of it. The biggest pain for the residents of Pakistan for much of the latter part of the decade was "load shedding", a term that refers to a foolproof way of ruining your country's already-feeble economy by cutting off the power supply to various or all regions of the country for extended parts of the day. All hail WAPDA!

Science 1 – Naysayers 0

With the coming of age of the Internet, the Noughties saw further integration of and dependence on technology.

- Internet: While Microsoft Windows maintained its dominance on the global OS market, Google became the Internet search leader, and Google's Gmail revolutionised email, helping kick off rapid development in the webmail arena. Probably the biggest fad of the '00s came in the form of social networking, which provided us a way to connect with all the friends we've never had. Collaborative wikis helped in knowledge sharing, YouTube made video sharing an integral part of the web culture, and blogging gave everyone a social and political voice and became an avenue for keeping up with the latest news and trends. Also, someone decided to test the infinite monkey theorem ("if you were to give an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters, they would eventually reproduce the complete works of William Shakespeare") by creating Twitter; the experiment is still ongoing and the results are as-yet inconclusive. P2P networking and Torrents forced the entertainment industry to rethink its business models; the elements of the industry that remained in denial just saw file-sharers as the bandits of the digital revolution, were reluctant to see the opportunities that came with the evolution of the media, and hence decided to sue its target customers instead – a moments rational thought would've helped spot the slight flaw in this plan, but we all know that rationality and Hollywood don't get along with each other.

- Gadgets: Gadgets were on a mission to become smaller, thinner, and ubiquitous over the decade. Those who didn't have their eyes glued to computer screens were seen with their thumbs dancing on mobile phone keypads, explaining why SMS and MMS spread like an epidemic – text messaging provided instant contact with friends through messages of up to 160 characters in length, and led to much dismay among the fans of correct spelling and proper grammar. Floppy disks gave way to USBs, which made data transfer easier. ebook readers added digital fizzle to literature. Audio- and videocassettes went the way of the Dodo, replaced by CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray Discs. Digital audio gained popularity, with Apple dominating the portable media player market with the iPod and the accompanying iTunes store; Spotify and Voddler promise to further evolve the digital landscape in the coming years. Apple also ruled the smartphone ecosystem with the iPhone. And gaming enthusiasts went crazy over Nintendo's Wii, which became a leading gaming platform; Sony's PlayStation and Microsoft's Xbox were also popular in the console market.

- Space exploration: Humankind continued its exploration of the cosmos. Space tourism finally took off, with American businessman Dennis Tito becoming the first fee-paying space tourist, by paying USD 20 million for a week's stay at the International Space Station. Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet, much to the disappointment of all its fans. Scientists discovered ice on the Earth's Moon; we're now hoping they'll find some cream to go with it. Oh and CERN's Large Hadron Collider (physics/particle accelerator/Big Bang experiment) has failed to destroy the Earth. So far.

Trice age

With issues of environmental degradation gaining attention during the decade, Global Warming went from being that thing that Al Gore keeps talking about to a globally recognised (albeit debated) concern, and then morphed into Climate Change after it was noticed that the detractors' claims were being reinforced by a phenomenon known as winter. As a result, more emphasis was placed on developing environmental friendly technologies and decreasing CO2 emissions.

Also, the '00s suffered through some of the worst natural disasters that have ever struck the world, with typhoons and hurricanes that resulted in extensive damage, and earthquakes that caused extreme destruction, including the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, the 2003 Bam earthquake, and the one that shook us all – the 2005 Kashmir earthquake that took nearly 80,000 lives.

The worst good time you've ever had

Hollywood continued to run out of other people's ideas, and therefore chose to focus on franchises, producing comic book/novel-to-film adaptations along with wholly unnecessary sequels to anything that became a box office hit. They did, however, inadvertently produce some masterpieces along the way: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, and The Dark Knight – the decades highest grossing movies and three of only four films to have ever grossed more than one billion dollars – are among the best that Hollywood has ever produced. The only powerhouse that faced no shortage of creativity was the consistently awesome animation studio Pixar, which released a string of amazing films like Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008), and Up (2009), helping to popularise animated media along the way; DreamWorks and 20th Century Fox also pitched into the animated film world with the Shrek and Ice Age series. Meanwhile, back home, after many a lacklustre decade, the Pakistani film industry showed some glimmers of revival with films like Khuda Ke Liye and Ramchand Pakistani, but the industry, overall, continued to remain on life support.

Autotune overload

The Pakistani pop music industry thrived during the '00s, led by the comeback of the Strings, and the emergence of pop acts like Ali Zafar, Atif Aslam, and Jal who dominated the music market and even found fame across the border. Internationally, the artists that generated the most sales during the decade include a controversial rapper (Eminem), a pop band that split up four decades ago (The Beatles), and the undisputed king of pop (Michael Jackson) who was thrust back into the spotlight after his untimely death, but the Noughties were by and large dominated by hip-hop and R&B flavoured pop, proving that the citizens of the world like listening to the same old recycled beats, lyrics, and sentiments over and over and over again. Also, Simon Cowell's pop music factory-line started churning out mass-marketed albums as the world continued to buy into his well-designed hype machine. Although to be fair to the decade, it did offer A LOT (maybe even too much) of music – everything from MySpace-assisted pop successes to nu metal with teenage poetry syndrome – and one was bound to find something that fit their taste. However, it is clearly obvious – and even more so after the Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin reunions (because they reminded us of how awesome music can really be) – that most of the '00s albums will one day serve as great Frisbees.

Crimes against literature (and other stories)

Reading generated moderate interest all over the world, whether merely as a potential cure for insomnia or because of the success of fiction novels that saw storytelling inspired by the styles of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis (with successful books invariably ending up as Hollywood films); yet that which was a commercial hit was almost always critically divisive. The most successful book of them all was the mystery opus The Da Vinci Code by one Dan Brown, who may be looked upon as the Britney Spears of literature, but gained worldwide recognition for his Robert Langdon series. The biggest selling series included the literary phenomenon of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, which generated Potter-mania with the release of each book and movie, and Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, which has also generated global interest despite the fact that no one is willing to admit that they actually like it.

Oh how the mighty continue-to-reign

From Johnny Wilkinson's extra time drop goal in the 2003 Rugby World Cup final, to Goran Ivanisevic's performance at the 2001 Wimbledon (including the tournaments final versus Patrick Rafter), and even Zinedine Zidane headbutting Marco Materazzi during the 2006 Football World Cup final… there were memorable moments aplenty in the world of sports. But overall, nearly every sport was dominated by some clear leaders. Tennis had Roger Federer (a record 15 grand slam titles, and some of the most riveting encounters courtesy of his rivalry with Rafael Nadal) and the William sisters (10 grand slam wins for Serena, 7 for Venus); cycling had Lance Armstrong (seven consecutive Tour de France wins from 1999 to 2005); swimmer Michael Phelps was consistently on top of his sport (six gold and two bronze medals in the 2004 Olympics, and a record eight gold in the 2008 Olympics); and sprinter Usain Bolt's performances towards the end of the decade left everyone enthralled. And golf had Tiger Woods, not just one of the most successful golfers of all time, but a brand name and even a role model… until the last few weeks of the decade, of course. In related news, the faithful guy theory continues to be a myth. Oh well.

Cricket evolved, with changes in rules and emergence of new formats. Overall Australia continued to be the team to beat, winning both the 2003 and 2007 Cricket World Cups (their third consecutive win). The Pakistani cricket team was inconsistent at best and totally out of form at worst, but did manage to win the ICC World Twenty20 tournament in 2009.

Also, the Pakistani Olympic squads went from strength to strength at the Summer Olympics that were held during the decade. Here is the final tally of their achievements:
- 2000: Pakistan – 0 Gold, 0 Silver, 0 Bronze
- 2004: Pakistan – 0 Gold, 0 Silver, 0 Bronze
- 2008: Pakistan – 0 Gold, 0 Silver, 0 Bronze
Makes one proud, doesn't it? We can only hope that our athletes can continue showing such great performances in the coming years.

Reality killed the video star

No longer stuck with only terrestrial television, viewers feasted their eyes on a plethora of international entertainment, as first satellite television and then cable took control of the viewing options. Our own television industry saw a massive boom, offering dozens of channels, the most successful (and most prone to being banned) of which focus on news coverage. The international trend that generated the most interest during the decade was the oxymoronic – or probably just moronic – phenomenon of "reality television", which saw a huge surge this decade with shows like the Idol and Top Model series, The Amazing Race, Big Brother, and Survivor, and which continues to dominate the market of mind-numbingly pointless televised programming. Scripted television had its fair share of hits, including dramas like 24, The Sopranos, the CSI series, and Lost (viewers of which still have absolutely no idea what's going on), dramedys including Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, and House, and sitcoms including The Office, How I Met Your Mother, and 30 Rock, while Disney dominated the children's market with tween and teen-focused series like Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place, and Jonas.

Oh and teenage girls were willing to scream themselves into a frenzy at the very sight of their favourite stars. Just like every other decade. Because some things never change.

- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 18th December, 2009