Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top 10: Worst Hit Songs of 2013

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to my part one of my third annual year-end musical countdown: the Top 10 Worst Hit Songs of 2013!  As always, I'm basing both this and my best-of list off of Billboard's top 100 registered hits throughout the year (well, at least through November or somesuch).  For my stopgap 2010 lists, I experimented with a new rule where I accepted songs that charted within the top 20 during the year but didn't make the year-end list.  But this time around, once I noticed that nearly all the songs I wanted to include made the list anyway, I decided to scrap that extra rule.  Besides, it simplifies the matter of songs that chart too late in the year to make that list.  However, I am adding a new rule: if there are multiple songs by the same artist, I reserve the right to put them in the same spot.  Otherwise... well, let's just say that my best-of list would be way lopsided.  So with that declared, we shall start the countdown!

10) "The Fox"
by Ylvis
Non-album single
Year-end position: #73

I'm tempted to say "The Fox" is a transparent attempt to copy the success of last year's "Gangnam Style", but it turns out that Ylvis have been making comedy songs for a couple of years now.  And look, I'm trying to give them credit for this being a comedy song; I want to grade them on a curve, but they haven't given me a heck of a lot to work with.  The main point of "The Fox" is that it treats the question of what sound a fox makes as the deepest, most sacred question in the universe... in the second verse.  Should've mentioned that the first verse just lists off the sounds certain animals make, which sadly leaves a first impression that this is a song for children.  As if that weren't enough, then the chorus comes along and they answer said question with random, ungodly annoying noises which sound like failed attempts to vocalise the "dirty bit" from LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" (or for that matter, "Gangnam Style" itself), an unfortunate dissonance arises.  Basically, its problem is its lack of dignity, in that I don't know how not seriously I'm supposed to take it.

9) "Started From The Bottom"
by Drake
from Nothing Was The Same
Year-end position: #32

One of the songs from my Worst Hit Songs of 2012 list was "The Motto (YOLO)" by Drake and company, a boastful luxury-rap song that couldn't get the boasting part right.  "Started From The Bottom" is pretty much the same, with two notable changes.  One, he thankfully ditched Lil' Wayne and Tyga this time 'round.  And two, instead of using the adage "You Only Live Once" as a framing device, he compares his fabulous life now with the less fabulous life he lived before.  Of course, the whole concept backfires laughably for those who remember his stint as a TV star on the Canadian teen sitcom Degrassi: The Next Generation, which gets nary a mention on this song.  Even without that paratext, the middle-class life he does describe in the song doesn't sound all that soul-crushing compared to other rags-to-riches rap tunes.  I mean, the worst things he brings up in the song are arguing with his mother and encountering traffic on the way home from his night job.  You know, some rappers grew up in honest-to-blog poverty, so you're not exactly impressing us.  And above all, Drake just sounds bored throughout the whole thing.  Case in point, he literally says, "We don't like to do so much explaining".  I think we've found our problem, doc.  The Rap Critic summed up this song perfectly, I think, in a brief skit where he monotonely droned the line "My friends and I were broke, but now we're not" over and over.  So I guess it's true what they say: money doesn't buy happiness.  Or if it does, Drake's got a bloody terrible way of showing it.

8) "Roar"
by Katy Perry
from Prism
Year-end position: #10

Back in October, I wrote a separate review for "Roar" because I wasn't sure if it would make it on this list.  Well here we are now, and I think I can sleep soundly having left it on after all.  Throughout the year's pop scene, there were a lot of songs which I avoided like the plague for no crime other than being too boring to have any real staying power.  "Roar" is all that, but it also fails at the goal it set out for itself.  It's supposed to be this personal power anthem, but ultimately, "Roar" is just too cute for its own message.

7) "We Can't Stop"
by Miley Cyrus
from Bangerz
Year-end position: #23

So, this is Miley Cyrus's attempt at an edgier image.  (Anyone remember the last time she tried that?)  Yeah, I'm through with celebrities trying to shock me; I guess the endless onslaught of Lindsay Lohan exploits have desensitised me to it all.  So if the former Hannah Montana wants to sing a song with references to cocaine, ecstasy, and strip clubs, I'm not going to judge her for it.  I am going to judge her song, however, and it bucking sucks.  Producer Mike Will Made-It's insistence on pairing these club songs with lifeless, limpid beats does nothing for its atmosphere (nor does stapling his name to the beginning of the track), and Miley's voice has not grown any less shrill, especially on the high notes in the middle 8.  This isn't a song... it's a cry for help.  Emphasis on "cry".

6) "I'm Different"
by 2 Chainz
from Based on a T.R.U. Story
Year-end position: #99

2 Chainz, the rapper formerly known as Tity Boi, made his mainstream debut last year with songs like the laughably inept "Birthday Song".  Luckily that didn't make the list, but in its place is yet another slice of generic luxury-rap known as "I'm Different", I can't call that much of an improvement.  I mean, if your song's subject matter involves materialism and sex -- you know, like 90 percent of all commercial hip-hop -- how different can you really be?  On second thought, 2 Chainz is different -- in the sense that he's incredibly bad as a rapper.  How bad is he?  Here's his attempt at that so-called "hashtag rap":
I am so high, attic
I am so high like a, addict
Uh... you do know you're not actually supposed to explain the joke, do you?  I thought not.

5) "I Love It"
by Icona Pop feat. Charli XCX
from This Is... Icona Pop
Year-end position: #28

All the reviews of this song I've bothered to read seem to have praised it for some reason.  But ever the contrarian, I don't agree with them, because I don't agree with this song.  For one, the music.  You know that "four chords of pop" structure that seems to be the default for music these days?  "I Love It" somehow manages to get by with only two chords.  And the verses?  There is one, which repeats three times, and one chorus, which repeats twice.  It's a shame, too, because in the lyrics the main character goes buckwild without reason, throwing a bag of her ex's posessions down the stairs, only to crash her own car into a bridge.  Wait, was that the railings on top of the bridge, or the supports below it?  And more importantly, what the buck is up with her!?  Because of how much the lyrical content is recycled, we're given the bare minimum of context.  Sure, the chorus says that they have their differences, but how would that necessitate her destructive behaviour?  Geez, and I thought "Sexy [Chick]" set the bar for recycled lyrics, but the ante has been upped, motherfalcons.  ...Or downed.  Upped.  Err...  What I'm trying to say is: no, I do care.  And I hate it.

4) "Scream and Shout" / "#thatPower"
by will.i.am feat. Britney Spears / Justin Bieber
from #willpower
Year-end position: #23 / #95

In the midst of the Black Eyed Peas' latest hiatus, "frontman" will.i.am made his solo breakthrough in 2013.  Unortunately, he did it with the musical equivalent of empty calories.  I'd be lying if I said his "Scream and Shout" and "#thatPower" weren't catchy musically, but if you're going to have lyrics in your songs, at least make them competent and something different from the bragging and party-egging-on we've heard a million times before.  And if you're going to do the vocals yourself, for the Trinity's sake, put some enthusiasm into it!  You wouldn't want to upset the Holy Trinity, would you?  (But enough about Run-DMC.)  Sorry, I'd say more, but that's what my review of "Scream and Shout" is for.  Also, can we address this egregious use of hashtags, you know, the pound signs (#) people on Twitter put at the beginning of keywords?  I've seen hashtags in what felt like every other commercial this year, and I have to say, I'm fed up with companies trying to control how we use social media.  If I didn't know better, I'd call this thought control.  In fact, I'd omit the hashtags myself out of protest, but the joke's on you, will.i.am: I'm writing this for a blog in which hashtags haven't been implemented yet!  So no matter how I format it, it won't count for your attempt to trend those precious topics of yours!  Nya-ha-ha!! >:-)

3) "Pour It Up"
by Rihanna
from Unapologetic
Year-end position: #70
Link to video [NSFW]

Oh goody, another club song about spending gratuitous amounts of money at a strip club.  We don't have nearly enough of those, I said in sarcasm mode.  But wait, I said, this one's sung by a woman!  What a shocker!  So you think I'd applaud Rihanna for breaking new ground in the game of gender roles, but with a beat so dingy and lyrics so... samey, any compliments I could muster would be negated before Rihanna gets her next album out.  Seriously, she's like the musical equivalent of Call of Duty.  Sure, she used to be good in, like, 2007, but now she's just floating in mediocrity in between bouts of trying to hard to shock us (albeit through sexuality instead of violence), thanks in large part to her ceaseless annual production sched... what's that?  Rihanna hasn't released a studio LP this whole year?  ...Well, that's good news.  Let's see how long she can hold out, because I certainly don't need another "Pour It Up" in 2014.

2) "U.O.E.N.O."
by Rocko, Future, and Rick Ross
from Gift of Gab 2
Year-end position: # 87

Edit 9 Jan 2014: Ever the revisionist, I knocked "Harlem Shake" (which previously sat at #4) off the list in favour of... this.  What the heck does "U.O.E.N.O." stand for, anyway?  I for one had a bad habit of reading it as "Ueno", a region of Tokyo, but something tells me the writers of this song weren't exactly Japanophiles.  Actually, this five-letter collision is a corruption of the phrase "You don't even know", which in itself should warn you of the level of intelligence we're dealing with.  Now, I've managed to get through 2013 without this song ever showing itself on my radar, but if you've heard it before, odds are it's because of a certain line in Rick Ross's verse:
Put molly all in her champagne
She ain't even know it
I took her home and I enjoyed that
She ain't even know it
To put it bluntly, date rape.  Apparently this passage was so despicable that it got Reebok to drop their sponsorship deal with Rick Ross.  (Oh, I forgot to mention, there's Reebok product placement in this song as well).  I'd be more incensed by these lines myself if it weren't the only interesting thing in the song!  Virtually the whole thing, verses and chorus, follow the pattern "I say something / You don't even know it / I say another thing / You don't even know it".  Man, we've reached a new low in lazy lyric-writing, haven't we?  "U.O.E.N.O.": condemn it for the rape lines, forget it for everything else.

Wildcard) "Accidental Racist"
by Brad Paisley feat. LL Cool J
from Wheelhouse
Peak position: #77
Year-end position: N/A

My vote... for the worst song of the year... is not "Accidental Racist".  Partly because it was not a hit, at least as far as the Hot 100 is concerned.  And partly because it's not bad enough.  Sure, at six minutes long it's glacially paced even by the standards of country music.  The words are paced so slowly that, were it not for the cultural context, you'd forget each verse as soon as the next one starts.  And its attempts to bridge the gaps between country and hip-hop are half-hearted, with LL Cool J's verse more like beat poetry than actual rapping.

But if you're listening to "Accidental Racist" for anything, it's to meditate on its story.  So Brad walks into a Starbucks wearing a Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt with a Confederate battle flag on it, and that causes him to apologise to African-ethnic barista, played by LL Cool J.  Yes, Brad's apologising for a crime, heinous as it was, was not committed personally by him or even anybody from his generation.  So one would think J is in the right in this "argument", but he's still making assumptions that Brad still holds negative, threatening associations for black people, which isn't even the case.  Furthermore, is it possible for J to write off the issue of slavery just by Brad dropping any threatening connotations he may or may not have about black people?  Perhaps it can after all: if you think about the "conflict" in terms of that fable about the starfish on the beach, at the very least Brad and J could manage to forget the issue on a personal level, and start their friendship anew, so no harm, no foul.  I guess the reason this song got as much controversy as it did is because the topic of slavery is so sensitive that no one seems to know how to address it, and I have to admit, "Accidental Racist" is rather clumsy in its naivete.  But in the end, any song that can be interpreted in so many ways certainly deserves a place in the artistic sphere, no?

A brief warning before we go on: the number-one entry on this list can get a little racy, rapey, misogynistic, and uncomfortably skin-crawling.  ...It's not "Blurred Lines", either.  In fact, I've established that I don't believe the song was that bad.  Or that controversial, even.  No, for the real worst hit song of the year, it all comes back to Lil' Wayne.  AKA Weezy.  AKA Tunechi.  AKA Dwayne Carter.  AKA Weezy F. Baby.  AKA one awful, awful human being.  (Unless his album title I Am Not a Human Being is to be believed.)  Ladies and gentlemen, don't say I didn't warn you... without further ado, here is...

1) "Love Me"
by Lil' Wayne feat. Future & Drake
from I Am Not a Human Being II
Year-end position: #39

Lil' Wayne supposedly got his title as the self-professed "best rapper alive" because he freestyles all his lyrics instead of writing them down.  I don't know if that was the case for "Love Me" (no), but if it is, he has lots, LOTS of explaining to do.  I wish I could say I've been desensitised to the casual objectification of women in music, but every so often something comes along which makes me wake up and smell the proverbial coffee.  Counting repetitions of the chorus, he, Future, and Drake use the B-word 25 times, and the word "ho" thrice on top of that.  Throw in drug references and suggestions of what haters could go do to themselves, because why not, and you've got a disgusting cesspool of lyrics right there.  Perhaps the crowning achievement in this field is the following couplet:
She said, "I never wanna make you mad,
I just wanna make you proud"
I said, "Baby, just make me [verb]
Then don't make a sound"
Yes, I know I censored a key word, because that's how I roll, but you wanna know how I interpreted that passage?  I imagine that as him saying, "What, you think I give a wooden nickel about your hopes and dreams?  Now get back in the bedroom and make me an orgasm!"  ...Okay, so my version doesn't rhyme, but the point is, this Weezy guy's a douche.  I mean, he even says he "can't treat these hoes like ladies"!  And *what*, pray tell, is wrong with *that*!?

But believe it or not, "Love Me" (no) didn't clinch the "top" spot for Weezy alone, so let's list off some non-Weezy related flaws.  What was the point of having Future and Drake split the chorus if they both sound alike?  What was the point of them both delivering it in this auto-tuned monotone, especially if Wayne himself has dabbled in such?  What was the point of producer Mike Will Made-It pairing up these disgusting lyrics with a slow crawl of a beat or that disturbing, singsongy, jack-in-the-box twinkle on top of the track?  Or for that matter, putting another one of those fscking audio watermarks at the beginning?  (Oh right, just for the producer to promote himself.  Should've known.)  And what, pray tell, was the reason showing such questionable sights in the music video, including women writing in cages and bathing in a bathtub of blood!?  Had you no shame!?


It didn't have to be like this.  Late last year, Lupe Fiasco put out a song called "[noun] Bad", in which he deconstructed the B-word by juxtaposing the different connotations which the rap scene has bestowed upon that word against each other.  But its message apparently didn't catch on, because it didn't even make the Hot 100, and on the contrary, voices like those of Spin Magazine criticised it for preaching on an issue that they said wasn't exactly relevant in our culture!  And yet songs like "Love Me" (no) do just that and get promoted enough for a top-ten spot!?  Seriously, mister Brandon Soderberg, go fuck yourself.  And that goes for everyone who supports this shit unironically.  I quit.  Hope you're proud of yourself, 2013.


But soft?  What yonder noise transpires in the distance?  Could it be the knight in shining armour who will rescue us from the scourge of commercial hip-hop?  Yes!  Our hero is nigh, and his name is on second thought, this article's gone on too long.  Wait for part 2.

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