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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Worst Billboard Top 100 Songs of 2014

Now that 2015 is here, I think I can officially look back at all things 2014. And as a music fan, the year’s music seems like a good place to start. I’ve always wanted to write about each year’s music, and now that I have Out of Left Field, there’s a natural place to write my thoughts down.

Let’s start with a more contained list before I move on to the year at large: Billboard’s Top 100 songs of the year. I listened to every song on the list at least once to get a feel for what I liked and what I didn't, and I have to say, it was easier for me to narrow down to the songs on the list that I didn’t like. I mean, it makes sense; these songs got popular for a reason. Even if I didn’t think the best songs of the year made the list, there was still plenty of good stuff out there.

However, there was still plenty of lackluster, disappointing, or just not good stuff there, so we may as well get the negative out of the way. Let’s start discussing the songs on the top 100 that I think were bad before I name my worst of the year. I’ll be going in order, starting at the bottom. Also included a links for reference.

When I was going over the Top 100 list, I had actually forgotten that I had heard this song before. And that’s sort of the problem with the song; it’s just not interesting. I feel like that’s one of the biggest problems that can happen with a pop song. It’s a down-tempo, over-sung, non-unique love song that doesn’t say much or do much musically. The only thing that comes to mind when I hear it is “non-distinct gray-white mush”. I’m listening to it as I write this and I’m not sure I could sing it back to you without help.

I’ll confess up front: I’m not the biggest country music fan. But even if I am drawing from a limited pool of experience, I think I’m capable of being a fair judge, and few dozen or so country songs on this year’s top 100 were as bland and dumb as “Beachin’”. The verses are rather dull, almost-spoken word recounts of a Jake Owen vacation. The chorus is a sung-but-uninteresting three-note laundry list of whatever happened to cross his line of sight while on vacation, resulting in lines that consist of just one or two beach-related words. It’s a boring song musically with even less to say, even about something like relaxing.

I’m a little more comfortable with hip-hop than country, but it’s still not in my wheelhouse like pop music is. That said: Jeez was this a train wreck of a song. Miley’s presence on the song is the most glaring flaw; her rapping is pretty bad, made even worse by a nasally delivery. Her singing of the hook features the same issues, accented by the staccato jumping line just making it sound even more off. The backing track is pretty irritating, too. I can’t comment much on the other rapper’s performances, as, like I said, it’s not my area. But even with my limited experience, I can recognize Miley’s struggles, and goodness does this song ever lean on her abilities. When she first started singing the intro of this song, I thought for sure I was watching a Saturday Night Live sketch gone awry. That’s a difficult effect to duplicate.

This is only here because I wasn’t writing this last year; otherwise, I’d shy away from 2013 repeats. But since I didn’t, here it is. I’m not sure what I can add that hasn’t been said already. It’s at best mediocre in all ways outside of lyrics, and miserable in that category with text that could most politely be described as “problematic”, if you don’t feel like using “shitty” or “rape-y”. This might be one of the few cases where it’s bad enough to land on 2014 list despite being more of a 2013 song.

This is probably the worst country song on the list, possibly in the running for worst overall. It’s a dumb premise to start with-we learn that Dierks was dumped shortly before a wedding and is making use of his honeymoon tickets. To that end, he decides to get…drunk on a plane. That sounds incredibly depressing, yet he tries to sell it as a party. It reminds me of “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson, where you come away from it feeling like the singer is just desperately trying to convince you they’re totally fine they got dumped, no really, can’t you tell, they are JUST SO SERIOUS ABOUT THIS NO REALLY. The chorus only makes things worse, where we get eight bars of two alternated notes that includes awkward phrasing and the use of the phrase “rockin’ like a G6” by possibly the last person in the last context it should ever be used.

There’s not a ton going on here, outside of the beat and lyrics. Unfortunately, I have no idea what Rich Gang and Associates are saying here most of the time, so there goes one of those two. The only thing I can tell is that the last word of each line of the hook ends with a really nasally sound.

EDIT: 62. Animals-Maroon 5
I completely forgot this one when I went to write the article, even though I meant to include it. Maroon 5 went from an interesting debut album to one of the blandest and most disappointing pop acts out there. Animals is typical of their worst features today, with nasally vocals by Adam Levine, an annoying hook, and lyrics that border on creepy.

I feel like this song is emblematic, more than any other, of the sort of trend that seems to be dominating pop country music. I feel like it can best be summed up as “bro country”; it’s a bunch of samey-sounding stuff without much to say other than “I like partying and drinking and music and girls” and not much of an attempt to distinguish itself from the next one to come out. I realize pop music is already dealing with a rather limited pool of topics, but these all feel even more alike than normal, almost like they’re just re-ordering of each other. It’s not necessarily bad in and of itself, until that’s all there is, and then it all melts together (except for the particularly bad knockoffs like “Beachin’” or “Drunk on a Plane”). But this one also features an attempt at rapping that bumps it up a bit in the badness standings some.

Like “Blurred Lines”, this is really a 2013 song, so I’ll try and keep it short. Katy Perry has done interesting stuff before. I like some of her earlier songs, and I will defend “Teenage Dream” to the death. But “Roar” is just not interesting. It’s like one of her earlier, better songs if it were neutered.

I feel almost like I’m picking on Miley, but I just did not like any of these. Again, this is partly saved by being a 2013 song, mostly. It’s certainly more interesting than the featureless blob that is “Adore You,” but that’s only the faintest of praise. Overall, it’s not interesting other than the bizarre choice to make the chorus a weird loud techno noises/clapping cacophony. And while I try not to let the music videos affect my thoughts, it’s hard to not let this song get overshadowed by the confusingly bad video that made waves last year.

The detuned instrument riff worked for “Talk Dirty”, against all odds. Here, it crashes and burns, with the whistle loop just being irritating. And the lyrics are just a mess. When the key line to your song is as stupid as “You know what to do with that big, fat butt”, you know you’re in trouble. It only gets worse from there.

A rather boring song made infinitely worse by Chris Brown (and, to lesser extents, Lil’ Wayne and Tyga, but especially Chris Brown) bemoaning that “these hos ain’t loyal”. I feel like that’s all that needs to be said.

You know the Saturday Night Live “Song Memories” skit? If you don’t, the joke is that four friends sit around listening to faux-sentimental songs sharing memories that go from sad to outright shocking. “Let Her Go” feels like it belongs in one of those sketches. It’s got a softer, slightly folksy feel that many of them had. The lead singer offers platitudes about how “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone” in a slightly irritating nasal whimper.

Like I said, one of the worst things a pop song can be is uninteresting. And while I love some of Sam Smith’s other songs (“Latch” and “La La La” both featured him, and were wonderful), this is like the poster child for that flaw. I heard this song half a dozen times or more this year and it still takes me prompts to remember it. Like, I see the title and I can think of are John Legend’s “All of Me” and Rihanna & Mikky Ekko’s “Stay”. I didn’t realize it was possible to make a gospel choir effect this uninteresting. I was listening to the song as I was writing this blurb and I literally just looked at the time and said “Has it already been two minutes? Nothing has happened yet”.

I don’t mind the music as much, I guess. It’s a kind of a more boring reggae groove, but whatever. It’s not like the pop charts were going to get authentic reggae anyway. But the lyrical choices are what drag this song down. It’s just such a weird song. It’s like a combination of the lyrical problems with “Dark Horse” and “Drunk on a Plane”. “Rude” is almost certainly not the word to use when describing a parent refusing your request to marry their child. And it’s so weird how it just bursts out over this upbeat chorus right after the rejection occurs. Then the singer just asks the parent to consider his feelings…then decides to ignore the rejection and try to win them over anyway. Actually, a lot seems to be riding on the parent okaying this marriage, which is itself a little weird.
All of which is to say: it’s really obvious that this song used to be about a break-up, and that part kind of just got pasted into a new set of lyrics.

It’s more interesting than “Stay With Me”, but it’s still on the boring side of pop songs. What makes it worse is that we know that John Legend is capable of so much better. I guess this one is more disappointing than anything.

If “Roar” is a neutered “Teenage Dream”, “Dark Horse” is a neutered “Wide Awake”. The verses are over-dramatic whispers repeated ad naseum that failed to be interesting the first time. Then, the bridge starts building. Katy Perry actually starts belting interesting musical lines, even if she’s not exactly doing so clearly, so the words sound a little like gibberish. This song is finally going somewhere! It climaxes into…
A crappy bass drop and a ridiculous voice telling us “There’s no going back”, followed by more weak and annoying synth stabs from the opening. Additional problems include Juicy J’s poor excuse at a rap interlude, plus the fact that Katy Perry doesn’t seem to know what the phrase “Dark Horse” means. I mean, really, the song is literally about “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” and the best imagery the songwriters could think of, the thing that they though encapsulated the ideas of the piece enough to be the title of it, was that of the .500 sports team that makes the playoffs. You could literally put any phrase that sounds vaguely like “Dark Horse” in that spot-“parkour”, “Mach four”, “car door”-and it would make equally as much sense.

So, with that, what would I say the worst songs (in the Top 100) of 2014 are? I don’t want to put too much more thought into this, seeing as I’ve already wasted a night pontificating on things I hate, so I’ll just get it over with and say my bottom 11 (since there’s one 2013 song included) is:

11. “This Is How We Roll”
10. “Adore You”
9. “Beachin’”
8. “Stay With Me”
7. “Let Her Go”
EDIT: "Animals"
6. “Loyal”
5. “Blurred Lines”
4. “Drunk on a Plane”
3. “Wiggle”
2. “Dark Horse”

Worst. “23”

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