Monday, January 13, 2014

Editorial: 2013 Worst Hit Songs Runners-Up

It's that time again.  With a worst-of list comes the stuff I had to leave off it.  Some of it just wasn't bad enough, some of it failed my last-minute requirements for being on the Billboard Year-end Hot 100, but as always, my mind's been on overdrive whilst listening to the radio this year, so why let all that thinking go to waste?

"23" by Miley Cyrus, Wiz Khalifa, & Juicy J
non-album single
Peak position: #11
Year-end position: N/A

If I hadn't made the last-minute decision to restrict myself to Billboard's Year-end Hot 100, "23" would've made my worst-of list for sure.  First of all, there's producer Mike Will Made-It, who technically gets top billing on this song (I took his name off the artist tag out of protest).  He's produced hits like Miley Cyrus's "We Can't Stop" and Lil' Wayne's "Love Me" (no), and while his drunken beats weren't the key factors that made me put both of those on my hate-list, they certainly didn't help matters.  The stuttering rap delivery of Miley and Juicy J (at least Wiz Khalifa gets a pass), not to mention the egregious product placement (assuming you know that "J's on my feet" refer to Air Jordan shoes) only make things worse in that regard.

"Berzerk" by Eminem
from The Marshall Mathers LP 2
Peak position: #3
Year-end position: #67

What a disappointment.  I wrote up this long, beautiful paragraph on why Emimem's "Berzerk" [sic] belongs on my worst-of-2013 list, when it manages to grow on me.  Maybe it's because of his other new singles (namely "Survivor", "Rap God", and even "The Monster") which I really liked, but eventually I learned to appreciate the old-meets-new-school hip-hop approach to "Berserk" as well.  But never let it be said that I'd willingly withhold finished content from my consumers, unlike a certain games maker I could Capcom mention, so here is why I used to hate "Berserk":

"My opinion of Eminem is... complicated.  I like him when he's serious (e.g. "Lose Yourself" and most of the Recovery album).  And I like him when he's less rapping and more doing a stand-up comedy routine with a beat (i.e. "My Name Is" and "Without Me").  But he also tends to fall back on obnixiousness, and I'm sad to say "Berzerk" falls into that camp.  For example, he throws in a grating, rather un-ironic "bow chicka wow wow" somewhere in the second verse, and has the balls to rhyme it in the next few lines.  Also he sings his own chorus, which in theory is admirable, except for the fact that HE CAN'T SING WORTH BEANS.  As anybody who's suffered through the Encore album can attest to.  Meanwhile, the Billy Squire sample and old-school beat are equally promising, but even when he's not inflicting his demonic attempts at singing upon us, his rapping style is just too dark for me to enjoy it.  And another thing, he dared make a Kevin Federline reference in the chorus?  In 2013!?  Are you trying to make up for lost time or something?"

"Come & Get It" by Selena Gomez
from Stars Dance
Peak position: #6
Year-end position: #33

The teen pop machine chugged on in 2013 with "Come & Get It", or as I like to call it, "What not to do with an interesting beat".  The beat, by production team StarGate, starts out slow and subdued, with an Indian bhangra-esque influence, when suddenly the first chorus kicks in and everything unique about the song thus far is drowned in a torrent of indistinct synth.  And that's before you get to Selena's performance on the song; she sounds like a tired Rihanna rip-off, with all those stuttering edits and that bad Caribbean inflection.  I thought the world didn't need any more Rihanna, but come on guys, presenting the same thing under a different guise doesn't count!

"Cruise" / "Cruise (Remix)" by Florida Georgia Line & Nelly
from Here's to the Good Times
Peak position: #16 / #4
Year-end position: N/A / #9

Good news and bad news: it's getting harder to say you don't like country music these days, but that's only because it's adopting elements of all other genres in the blandest way possible.  The original version of "Cruise" barely had any country soul in its instrumentation, so why not add a drum machine and a forgettable guest verse by Nelly for the remix?  I'll give it this: that revised approach made for a more palatable hit... unless your tastes require good music.  And even then, the lyrics still bring up topics that I just can't relate to, like their obsession with trucks and relating girls to them.  In a year where rappers made references to brutal, racially-charged murders in relation to rough sex, I can't call this stuff un-palatable, but either way, I guess it isn't getting harder to say you don't like country music these days.

'[verb]in' Problems" by A$AP Rocky, 2 Chainz, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar
From Long. Live. ASAP
Peak position: #8
Year-end position: #41

The title of the song comes from the line 2 Chainz repeats in the chorus: "I love bad [noun]s, that's my [adjective] problem / And yeah, I like to [verb], I got a [verb]ing problem".  In case you're wondering what I censored, just picture the joke from Airplane! about the "drinking" problem, and filter it through the lens of luxury rap.  Did you like it?  Well, you needn't worry about that, because he beats that horse right into the ground!  In fact, I like the way Drake takes over the last two lines of the chorus, as if to save us the precious brain cells we could be using for more important things.  Yeah, the song could've made it on my list based on that line alone, but the rest of the song is actually kind of okay, inasmuch as mainstream hip-hop can be considered "okay".

by PSY
non-album single
Peak position: #5
Year-end position: N/A

Do me a favour and click back to my video review of "Gangnam Style".  You can find it here.  I'll wait.  So assuming you have it fresh in your mind, I'd like to you to flash back to my comments at the end.  You know how I despaired over the fact that PSY's follow-up to "Gangnam Style" was just a remake of the original song?  Well, I could very well recycle the same complaints for his real follow-up, "Gentleman".  And in case you're thinking, "Kevin, you liked 'Gangnam Style', so why should this be any different?"  Well that's just it: it isn't any different -- except the stuff they did change wasn't exactly for the better.  There's no soaring sing-along, PSY didn't bring as much energy to his rapping, the beat is dingier and less remarkable, and even the prerequisite dance in the music video doesn't have enough to it.  "Gentleman" would have potentially been the third viral-video hit on my worst-of list, after "The Fox" and "Harlem Shake" (at least before I took it off), and despite how much I like a good theme, "Gentleman" just wasn't the kind of bad I look for in making these lists.

"Harlem Shake" by Baauer
Non-album single
Peak position: #1
Year-end position: #4

The powers that be at Billboard must have been as frustrated as I was when "Gangnam Style" failed to wrest control of the top spot last year, so they've since changed their rules to include YouTube plays in the criteria for their charts.  Unfortunately, this resulted in "Harlem Shake", the song used for a briefly popular video meme, sitting at number one for five weeks despite lacking any personality whatsoever.  Now, I have the patience for extended dance mixes, but that's usually for vocal trance songs, stuff with distinct verses and chorus to mix it up.  "Harlem Shake", on the other hand, recycles the same musical idea for all it's worth and then some.  There's a reason all those videos only used the first thirty seconds of the song, and it's also the same reason I've never heard it on the radio -- and mind you, I have heard "Gangnam Style" on there.  Actually, there was this one time where a station played a sort of remix of this song, where they worked in a bunch of other songs about shaking.  Which illustrates "Harlem Shake"'s quandary perfectly: its best purpose is as a medium to convey other, more interesting media, sort of like the musical equivalent of, say, Melba toast.  Still, my disdain for "Harlem Shake" has less to do with the song itself than with how it got popular, so when the the time came for "U.O.E.N.O." to budge its way on the list, this was the one I felt the least guilty about forgiving.

"Royals" by Lorde
from Pure Heroine
Peak position: #1
Year-end position: #15

I wanted to like "Royals", I really did.  As a self-professed hipster, I'm inclined to welcome any attempt to tear down the excessively materialistic status-quo preached in popular music.  And I was pleasantly surprised when it started getting airplay on top-40 radio.  But then I listened to it again.  And again.  And again.  Sure, many, MANY songs this year wore out their welcome for me this year, but it felt like "Royals" achieved this task faster than any of its peers.  Personally, I blame its horribly lopsided verse:chorus ratio.  It's as if Lorde saved all her words for the parts that would get repeated the most.  And judging by her follow-up single "Team", this is a very real possibility.

"Summertime Sadness (Cedric Gervais Remix)" by Lana Del Rey
non-album single
Peak position: #6
Year-end position: #45

I can't say I've ever bought into the whole Lana Del Rey thing; it's hard to describe, but it's like she's a quirky kind of boring.  And what better way to take the "quirky" part out of the equation than to shoehorn one of her songs into the growing EDM fad?  The original version of "Summertime Sadness" had little staying power on its own, but Cedric Gervais's remix does it no favours.  The electro parts they added in lack any intricacy whatsoever, which only serves to highlight how dull Lana's voice is.  Sadly, "Summertime Sadness" was just one example of how  2013 was a very, very dull year for pop music.

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