The Bottom 40 (Part 3)

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Every single week I find a handful new pop songs that both excite and delight my ears. But for every new song I like, there’s unfortunately at least three that I don’t, and some of those stinkers become quite popular and really very annoying over time. Here’s my list of the forty worst offenders of the decade. So as not to drive myself too crazy, I restricted the list to songs that made the top 40 on Billboard’s Hot 100 (which is not the same as the airplay chart, but which is easier to find by lazily browsing Wikipedia.) I also limited the list to one song per artist, because really, is there any point in weighing the cons and cons of each 3 Doors Down hit? No.

So, without further ado, part 3A of the list.  For readability I’m breaking this quarter of this list into two. The higher up we’re getting, the more we’re getting to the songs I really truly despise, and when talking about some of them it’s hard to keep the word count down.

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20. Michelle Branch, Are You Happy Now? (2003, #16)

This was a bad decade to be a female musician, particularly the kind of female musician that writer her own songs and plays guitar. The Lilith Fair burned a lot of people out on the genre tha was in retrospect pretty offensively termed chick rock, meaning a lot of outlets for female rockers were shut off once the backlast started. (The Fair was also a lot more diverse than many remember: Erykah Badu, Sinead O’Connor, the Cowboy Junkies and Liz Phair all played dates on the ’98 tour, for instance.)

But the new millennium swept all that away, and the only female singer-songwriters left for a while were new faces that were very bad at rocking: Michelle Branch and Vanessa Carlton and Avril Lavigne and the thankfully-forgotten Amy Studt, all of whom sang tedious songs in the same torturous style that was devoid of life or charm.

Branch was the first and most popular with adult alternative audiences, who respond particularly well to crap. But after this Alanis-lite song was released as the lead single from Branch’s second album people began to move on. After this stinker she’d only have one more charting single, the completely forgettable #36 hit Breathe.

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19. Katy Perry, I Kissed A Girl (2008, #1)
I don’t mind lesbianism. I don’t even mind the porny kind of lesbianism that’s only designed to get boys hot and bothered. I don’t mind Gary Glitter-inspired beats, and I certainly don’t mind female pop singers who try to defy convention.

What I do mind are vocal performances where every single note sounds completely unrelated to the notes coming before and after them. I Kissed A Girl is a pop version of Frankenstein’s monster, with each syllable seemingly stitched together separately from the worst of twenty or thirty possible takes. (Try singing along and matching her notes; it’s not easy!)  If she were just a bad singer that would be one thing, but this is also quite possibly the most heavily-produced pop hit of the decade.  It makes no sense!

Of course, it also doesn’t help that Perry is a completely annoying person who comes off like a tool in interviews, makes horrible faces all the time and sounds just as bad on her other hits, including the decently-written but intensely headache-inducing Waking Up In Vegas.

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18. Artists Against AIDS Worldwide/All Star Tribute, What’s Going On? (2001, ?)

There are so many things that can go wrong with a charity record.  We Are The World, the mother of them all, meant well and raised a lot of money for famine relief, but it’s also a very taxing song to listen to.  Do They Know It’s Christmas meant well, too, but it begged a question best left unanswered. And don’t even get me started on Gulf War 1.0 anthem Voices That Care, which presumably also meant well but which featured Celine Dion, Kenny G, Will Smith and Nelson.

But I feel like What’s Going On, an unholy recreation of the much-beloved Marvin Gaye song, possibly didn’t even mean well. And I don’t mean for listeners, who struggled to keep up as co-producers Bono and Jermaine Dupri struggled to incorporate Ja Rule, Nelly Furtado, Michael Stipe, *Nsync and Fred Durst into the same song. (Their method: everybody emotes heavily in their signature style for half a line each, except for some of the rappers who probably wouldn’t be recognizable if they were just singing; they get longer bits.)

But even in terms of charitable intent this song’s kind of dodgy.  Originally intended as a benefit for Artists Against AIDS Worldwide, the song’s was recorded less than a week before 9/11, so at the last minute tplans were changed and only half the money went towards AIDS research.  The Red Cross got the other half.  So as not to offend the large chunk of Americans who like America but don’t like people with AIDS, the name of the project was changed from Artists Against AIDS Worldwide to the more generic All-Star Tribute, and the song’s video—showing artists like the Backstreet Boys and Nas joylessly recording the song together—included interspersed and extremely unrelated footage of Rudy Giuliani wandering around Ground Zero.

Despite the fact that this song doesn’t feature Peter Cetera or Nelson, it’s still the most offensively awful charity record ever. And six months after its release, Pulp would say all that really needed to be said about the concept.

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17. Kings of Leon, Use Somebody (2009, #4)
Remember just a year or two ago, when Kings of Leon were kind of a joke American music writers had about how lame the British could be sometimes? Though they originated in Tennessee, the band of dullards has had nine top 40 hits in the UK now, whereas in the US nobody ever gave a rat’s ass about them until this stupid song came out and proceeded to terrorize rock and pop radio for the past thirty-nine weeks (and counting!) Theoretically “indie”, this group of brothers sounds like a band that couldn’t decide whether to be sanctimonious like Creed or sanctimonious like U2, so instead aimed for the worst parts of both. It also doesn’t help that smug singer Caleb Followill sounds like the bastard spawn of Ray Lamontagne and early Chris Martin, only more incapacitatedly drunk.

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16. Hoobastank, The Reason (2004, #2)
According to Wikipedia, Hoobastank singer Doug Robb said the band’s name comes from the name of a gas station in Germany. Also according to Wikipedia, Hoobastank singer Doug Robb said the band’s name was an inside joke and had no particular meaning. Additionally, according to Wikipedia, Hoobastank’s name was originally Hoobustank.

That is all the research and discussion Hoobastank warrants.  Let us move on.

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