Monday, December 25, 2017

the top ten worst hit songs of 2017

There have been years where writing this list is easy. Sometimes it's like 2015 or 2012, where the bad songs can't diminish otherwise diminish a strong or interesting year - or on the flip side we get years like 2016, where the avalanche of awful is so pronounced I almost have too much material, and while that list might be painful to revisit, sheer rage makes it all surge out.

2017 has not been that year, and it's a little tough to explain why. You could make a comparison to 2014 in how so much of this year defaulted towards average instead of a more pronounced brand of awful - I'm certainly not as angry towards this list as I've been in previous years - but the truly excellent hits were much stronger in 2017. What I think has befuddled some critics is how pop was effectively overtaken by the hip-hop and R&B aesthetic on the Hot 100 - it might have become more pronounced in 2013 but in 2017 the takeover was complete, and if you weren't paying more attention to streaming instead of radio, you were going to be left behind. And thus in 2017 the truly bad songs are a bit of a mix of the pop songs tumbling towards the monogenre and the lazy, bargain-barrel dumpster fire that is the dregs of trap. And again, to establish the rules the songs had to debut on the year-end Hot 100 list for 2017, and purely boring doesn't just cut it for me. Given how much of this I've covered on Billboard BREAKDOWN, I've long been numbed to the endless swirl of interchangeable trap bangers and their brand of disposable mediocrity. If you want to land on this list, you need to really irritate me or piss me off, so let's get going with some Dishonourable Mentions!

Look, I don't hate Migos - in fact, I'd make the argument that 2017 was the first year I understood their appeal at all, and at the very least Offset seems like he's got a promising career ahead of him. But of their songs and collaborations to make the year-end list, this was the one I liked the least, mostly because it was indicative of everything I find intolerable about the group: a by-the-numbers trap beat fused with a melody that was half theremin, half atonal drone, Gucci Mane utterly failing to keep up with Migos, who are on their choppy free association pileup of references that seem to actively get stupider the more you think about them. Between Quavo counting the time as if he was on Sesame Street, Offset with again the best verse talking about being in his girl's ovaries, and Takeoff remaining irrelevant, this was a turgid slog of a song with a chorus, I should remind you, about taking your girl and getting her slippery with their brand name porn and adlibs. Well ladies, if Quavo rapping about his ice tray gets you excited, all the power to you, but I'm skipping this.

This year, Halsey released hopeless fountain kingdom and it sucked, an overwrought pretentious mess that I think everybody forgot existed a good few weeks after it dropped. And yet because the radio finds her safe and inoffensive enough, she continues to get hits - and since her single choice is crap, instead of 'Strangers' we got 'Now Or Never', a song that ripped off Rihanna's 'Needed Me' for a colorless slice of ugly relationship melodrama where Halsey prostrates herself in front of her partner saying they're always right, before then trying to draw a line in the sand and then just wanting this partner to nail her. And for a song like this to remotely work, there'd need to be some sort of sexual appeal, but the production is a trap-infused tuneless bore, and Halsey has the charisma of autotuned mush. It's not sexy, it's not convincingly melodramatic, it's just ugly flavourless mush - America, you let this become a hit over any track from Lorde, what's wrong with you?

Not much to say about this one, except that Playboi Carti has never been interesting or compelling in his mumbled blend of incoherent adlibs that don't rhyme with anything. The only reason this isn't higher is a decent sample that the production swamps in ugly bass, but at least it's more interesting than Playboi Carti's inability to string more than four bars together consistently, even as he tries to say he's your bitch's 'dad'. I would say of all the artists on this list he's the least likely to have a future, but it turns out there are already dead careers higher on this list! Let's add his to the pile.

Look, I had the appeal of this song explained to me, and in the worst moments when it feels like you're on the top of the world as your sanity and pain collapses in around you in existential emptiness, I can see why a song like this would click, especially with a younger audience in 2017. That said, Lil Uzi Vert's autotuned caterwauling sounds like a cat in the microwave, the ugly tap of the keyboard that punctuates the oily goop of the melody, and if he was looking to make his ode to a traumatic breakup connect, maybe he shouldn't have filled the other bars with counting his money, artless bragging, and trying to steal your girl. And having listened to the rest of Luv Is Rage 2, I feel this needs to be stressed: existential emptiness might explain your behavior, but it doesn't excuse it, or make you any less of an incoherent annoyance, and tenuous subtext can only get you so far. It kept it off the list proper, but man it was close.

Look, I reviewed Machine Gun Kelly's bloom earlier this year: this sucked then and it sucks now, taking a perfectly good Fastball sample and trying to turn it into another toxic relationship song that is nowhere near as interesting as either MGK or Camila Cabello think it is. Her raspy upper register sounds awful as she tries to croon through a non-explanation of the reason why she's still with this guy, and somehow MGK manages to sound worse, with the most basic flow of his entire career that's about the furthest thing from sexy. It's an incredibly wonky fix, trying to fuse a melodic progression that's the furthest thing from sexy against production that's a desaturated, grooveless mess, too bright and faux-elegant in the keyboards to capture any sort of edge but with absolutely no momentum to be a decent pop rap song. In other words, it's not the only example of fuckboi rap on this list, but it is a pretty gross one.

Look, you might not like Ed Sheeran, but I'd take him over this mush-mouthed wannabe any damn day of the week. Somehow this nearly stayed a full year on the charts because adult alternative radio needs something gutless and generic to fill time, but 'Say You Won't Let Go' is somehow even worse, mostly because the entire drips with insincerity. Forget how your prospective lover probably doesn't want to be reminded of her throwing up the first time you met, but in the prechorus Arthur blows her off when she asks him to come home with her - and then he spends the rest of the song desperately trying to get back in her good graces with the biggest ripoff of 'Thinking Out Loud' since Thomas Rhett. And I get that there's a certain charm to mundane details and love that lasts years, but when you start saying you want your ghosts to stay in love, it's completely overplaying your hand and just gets really damn creepy, especially with all the saccharine faux-romantic framing around it. I might not like Ed Sheeran's 'Perfect' for as utterly dull as it is, but at least he's got a better grasp of sincerity than this treacly slog - next!

I don't think the song is getting the righteous flogging it thoroughly deserves, mostly because I think everyone decided to give Yo Gotti a pass after finally getting a hit with 'Down In The DM' - a song, for the record, which barely missed my worst hits last year! But at no point does Mike Will Made It actually give Yo Gotti any sort of defined tune to work with beyond an barely audible weedy fragment. But there was a part of me that was kind of forgiving of this - it's a pimp anthem, and the first verse wasn't terrible despite a lot of rhyming words with themselves. But then Nicki Minaj shows up to rhyme China with itself three times, then rhyme it with vagina, and then China again! And look, I get Nicki's dead-eyed schtick is preferable to her just phoning it in on pop songs, but does anyone actually like her saying she's going to be a ditz on your dick? And then somehow Yo Gotti makes it worse, not just the pointless Too Short samples but then going on about how his haters should bleed once a month like bitches do, or how pillow talk is for hoes despite you praying for the pussy in your last verse, or how he says he doesn't make drama on social media despite your biggest hit being all about that in the DMs! Look, respect to Yo Gotti for being in the game this long, but what doesn't reek of non-effort in this song - namely the hook - is just incompetent. Enjoy your run, dude - just know that when Nicki stops answering your popularity will go the same way.

And now to the list proper...

10. This is the sort of song I actually feel a little awkward placing on a list like this, mostly because these two will never have another hit and somehow, I have more of a Twitter presence than they do. And that's weird to me, because it can almost feel unfair going at young kids who have already been forgotten, outside of being the punchline. No jokes, I was actually considering leaving this song off the list... and then I relistened to it.

10. 'Juju On Dat Beat (TZ Anthem)' by Zay Hilfigerrr & Zayion McCall
Billboard Year-End Chart Position: #63

Again, I feel like the obituaries for this song were written last year: it was a Vine dance song blowing up off a freestyle over an interpretation of a Crime Mob song that I actually liked from the crunk era. And indeed, that production keeps it above tracks like 'Watch Me' in my books - I'll admit it, there's a decent melody there. But everything else about 'Juju On Dat Beat' is wrong, from the utterly flubbed rhymes in the verses to for no discernible reason calling my dad ugly, from the fact that these kids have no coherent presence or charisma to how, just like Silento, they grab up chunks of other dances to plug the fact they have nothing more to say! What blows my mind is that Zayion McCall actually tries to rep from Detroit on his verse - and look, maybe things have changed in twenty years, but the Detroit hip-hop scene I knew would have sent these kids packing. And apparently like the rest of the Vine stars they're still putting out stuff on YouTube and actually have an audience - which makes me feel better in saying this blows and you go on dancing for your grandma like in that horrible Big Mama's House interpolation that starts this song - not sure you'll be able to live that one down.

9. If you're looking for a white rapper who has a better year than he probably deserved, it was Post Malone, whose debut you all decided I should review for my fourth year anniversary - thanks for that. And you know, he seemed like a likable enough dude that I tried to give him a chance: 'Candy Paint' is still a good song and I even tolerated 'Congratulations'. But then came his stupid as hell comments about if you were looking for depth in your music don't listen to hip-hop, and his pileup of weak excuses soured me on him again. Oh, and he released this:

9. 'rockstar' by Post Malone ft. 21 Savage
Billboard Year-End Chart Position: #56

Alright, I'm not going to mince words - if 'I Fall Apart' had made the year-end list it probably would fill this slot, but I didn't like 'rockstar' from its debut, and the fact that America let this sit at #1 for over a month pisses me off. I've always been annoyed when rappers try to co-opt rock slang to appropriate the edge or cool of the genre - mostly because it's always indicative of a secret fear to looking back at more lyrical hip-hop which they can't match - but seeing Post Malone do it is infuriating, because he clearly believes it's the only way he can achieve the star presence and artistic credibility while working in a genre he neither knows nor respects. It's genuinely gross how completely unbelievable all his references are - nobody remotely believes you're pulling up with guns on shit, or 'leaving your show in a cop car' - hell, I'm not even sure I could believe you throwing a TV out a hotel window! And of course he throws in references to hundreds of groupies he supposedly has grabbing on his pants in a swirl of cocaine - all of which are your girls - and let's forget 21 Savage, who is screwing a girl and pulling her hair so hard she's crying. And look, I'm no 21 Savage fan either - him calling someone soft after that weak-ass Issa Album, on a verse where he literally references being like a pop star - but Post Malone's half-crying, autotune warble is what really sets my teeth on edge, especially against this desaturated, stuttering trap drone that's the furthest thing from rock with any edge or firepower. It's a bad sign that Rae Sremmurd seems to understand rock music more than Post Malone does, who isn't worthy of licking the boots of legit rappers and rockstars alike. Dude, you may have said no to Jake Paul, but your brand of fuckboi rap doesn't belong here - get out of the game before you're seen by somebody.

8. And speaking of fuckboi rap...

8. 'do re mi' by blackbear
Billboard Year-End Chart Position: #98

Everything about blackbear makes me want to punch him in the throat, and I don't think I'm the only one. Indeed, critics who have given a pass to far worse in this genre seem put off by blackbear's tastelessness vapidity, obsessed with gaudy brands and oblivious  obnoxiousness. And yet despite having the most punchable face and personality since Ajit Pai, in his delusions he thought it would be a good idea to release this, an absolutely awful breakup song that makes me want to sympathize with everybody except him. And while the music nerd in me finds the sing-song upward progression bothersome because it doesn't seem to correspond with the actual scale that 'do re mi' is associated with, the bigger issue is entirely linked to blackbear himself, a guy who can't remotely sell anger or contempt in this breakup beyond a breezy dismissiveness that reeks of unearned ego. How the hell does he get off dumping a girl for being vapid and obsessed and cheating whereas there's all the evidence in the world he's just like her! And when you pair it with the nursery rhyme melodies and framing - which would imply a level of immaturity in this situation that none of the content matches, we're left with one of the shallowest songs that charted this year... well, okay not quite.

7. Going into 2017, I had the hope that in the rise of the current U.S. political establishment that there'd be some protest music that'd gain traction - given the polarized media climate, there'd definitely be a passionate audience. But watching a Dead End Hip Hop review with Uncommon Nasa placed things in perspective, that when you target or weaken the support structures and livelihood of artists who'll speak truth to power - which, by the way, this new tax bill directly does, as well as pretty much any self-employed YouTuber in the U.S., just to provide some context - it becomes that much harder to make that art. So most listeners are left with established artists in the mainstream... who give us this.

7. 'Chained To The Rhythm' by Katy Perry ft. Skip Marley
Billboard Year-End Chart Position: #73

This was a song that got worse with every single listen, and it's a perfect metaphor for Katy Perry's disastrous 2017, which showed her repeatedly stabbing herself in the face hole with terrible idea after terrible idea. But there was a seed of something worthwhile here, in reconciling an unthinkable defeat after how closely Perry tied herself to the campaign in 2016. Shame Katy Perry did it in the worst way possible, making a retro disco dance song with all the flavour of wallpaper which actively scolds the audience and herself for dancing! What's worse is the questions that she's trying to ask on the verses, the sort of misplaced self-doubt that the prechorus then neuters by telling her to embrace nostalgia regardless; even if I agreed with the 'living in a bubble' and 'tone deafness' that Perry tries to imply - and I don't - she doesn't even engage with the question, choosing to seal herself in a bubble of her own ignorance! And I get the feeling that Skip Marley is here to show a new way forward with all that symphonic swell, but between a lockstep, monochromatic beat that drowns any solid guitar line in reverb, there's no firepower or energy for anyone to break away from this utterly depressing turd of a song. What's more ironic is that the questions Perry asks might as well be applicable to herself, especially after her 2017 with a terrible record that deserves all the scorn it's getting: this isn't a 'we' conversation, it's just you.

6. So I mentioned Vine earlier, and I'll admit for as much awful music as it pushed to the charts, there were Vine stars who made the jump to YouTube who I actually don't mind. A lot of them fall in the David Dobrik vlog group, and one of them is Gabbie Hanna, who actually released a few songs of her own this year that I actually thought weren't bad at all - I think her vocal tone would be better towards rock or emo or punk, but they weren't bad pop tracks. But then she cited this person as an influence in one of her vlogs and I couldn't help but cringe: Gabbie, girl... you can do so much better.

6. 'Issues' by Julia Michaels
Billboard Year-End Chart Position: #29

I don't think I've said enough on this in 2017, but let me make it abundantly clear: Julia Michaels, either behind the scenes or in front of the mic herself, is one of the worst pop artists I've heard in a while. She may have cowritten a few songs I like such as 'All In Your Head (Flex)' from Fifth Harmony and Fetty Wap, or ' Good For You' by Selena Gomez and A$AP Rocky, but there's something about her jittery, overwritten style and weird submissive bent that just makes my skin crawl. I get vulnerability in a pop song, but when you pair it with lyrical references showing the guy is violent and borderline abusive, and then never hold anyone accountable in text, subtext or framing, I draw a hard line, especially when your production embraces this faux elegant strings arrangement paired with a blocky that sounds like a bad demo. And the big reason for that is Michaels herself: she's a terrible singer. This husky delivery might work for someone like Lorde or Alessia Cara who have the personality and stage presence to hold their own, but not only does Michaels not have this in the Halsey vein, she also has no clear idea of her range, constantly going flat on the high notes and a delivery that makes her sound like she's whimpering through the entire song. It's gross, and while she hasn't been able to follow it up, the fact that she's still allowed to cowrite for artists like P!nk is infuriating. Again, America, you wanted this instead of Lorde - what in the Nine Hells is wrong with you?

5. So coming back to artists who didn't have a good 2017...

5. 'Fake Love' by Drake
Billboard Year-End Chart Position: #37
(for some reason Drake didn't put out a video...)

I'm seeing Drake's 'playlist'/album show up on a lot more year-end lists than it really should, mostly because it's utterly forgettable except when Drake tried to make his unconvincing grime impression click, which was just embarrassing. This was his biggest hit of this year, and yet I'd be hardpressed to find anyone who liked it in comparison with 'Passionfruit', which at least had some groove. 'Fake Love' doesn't even have that: between the gross watery plucks and the half-gargled crack of the beat, including these odd little chirps against an overweight bassline and Drake's hideously overwrought hook, it's a song that makes him sound drunk on cheap wine and trying a Young Thug impression while getting tased in the scrotum. And those are all the sounds that fit perfectly with a song about paranoia and people lying to you, right? No sense of dread or fear or even much anger, it sounds like he's trying to force an emotion that nobody can recognize and isn't there to begin with! It's an ugly, misshapen lump of a track that if Drake hadn't released so many other examples of walking cringe people would be focusing on this more. As such... he's been quite for a while, it's only a matter of time before he shows up to embarrass himself again.

4. And on the topic of awful singing...

4. 'Swang' by Rae Sremmurd
Billboard Year-End Chart Position: #64

I have no idea how to evaluate Rae Sremmurd's success in 2017 - 'Black Beatles' was huge and Swae Lee got a prime guest spot by ripping off The Weeknd on 'Unforgettable' with French Montana, but beyond that? Apparently they're putting out a third SremmLife in a month - you know, start off 2018 right - but 'Perplexing Pegasus' wasn't really much of a hit and I have no idea if they'll be able to sustain momentum. What I can tell you is that I don't even think Rae Sremmurd apologists liked this and it should be obvious why. Because I actually don't think the synth-heavy production is that bad and the lyrics... well, I think Slim Jxmmy might regret dropping out of school when his career flames out, but beyond that it's just vapid, half-formed rhymes that are more a free association pileup than actually meaning anything. No, this song is on this list for that hook, where Swae Lee leaps into his ear-grating falsetto where it's clear that not even autotune could have corrected for how badly he is offkey. It's honestly a little amazing, you have to seriously try to sound that awful, and the fact that nobody in audio engineering decided to ask for a second take blows my mind. And it might be rare that I put a song this high on the list for one solitary thing, but it's the sort of sound that makes me want into oncoming traffic, and if it didn't kneecap Rae Sremmurd's prospects as a duo going forward, it certainly was a blow, for good reason.

3. In contrast, in comparison with one thing that made a song appalling, here's a song made atrocious that will show up on everybody's list for all of the things.

3. 'Look What You Made Me Do' by Taylor Swift
Billboard Year-End Chart Position: #39

I think every music critic on the internet has already picked this song clean - its defenders are nowhere to be seen, and with reputation sinking like a stone with both critics and audiences it's hard not to see 'Look What You Made Me Do' as the biggest miscalculation of Taylor Swift's career. But what makes this song perversely fascinating is that there was potential here - I'm not kidding, between those staccato piano chords driving the prechorus and bridge and Taylor Swift playing into her surprisingly potent nasty side, there are traces of something that might have clicked. And yet whenever I get close to defending it the song reveals new and excruciating ways to piss me off: the framing of a narrative that if it does exist barely makes a lick of sense; the complete inability for the production to sell genuine menace thanks to a hook sampling 'I'm Too Sexy' and Jack Antonoff reading the entire situation as camp, which Taylor is not selling; the utterly incoherent pile-up of noises that on the verses and throughout the hook including what sounds like samples from We Are The Strange that nobody has called out; and finally an utterly confused victim narrative that not sounds divorced from reality or any specific details, but can't even fit within the context of the album! Critics have already made comaprisons to this sounding like a Black Eyed Peas song - and they're right - but what's truly galling is that Taylor Swift thought this deluded melody could soundtrack a convincing villain song! No, if you want to look at a villain on the Hot 100...

2. If you only get your exposure to what's popular in the mainstream off of the year-end lists, you might not understand the depths of my venom towards this guy, mostly because most of his songs were never big enough to break through in the mainstream  - they charted, but mostly in the bottom half of the Hot 100, never really breaking through, and his one other hit this year was as a guest with a much more promising artist. But if we're looking for one of the acts who spent the year at the forefront of the cultural garbage fire, it's hard to find an act more central to the conversation than Kodak Black.

2. 'Tunnel Vision' by Kodak Black
Billboard Year-End Chart Position: #55

If we're looking for a song that celebrates and encourages the very worst impulses of mainstream rap, it'd be harder to find any as big this year as 'Tunnel Vision', which had a video that got popular on cheap viral controversy - which of course let Kodak Black enable other sources of cheap virality like Danielle Bregoli - and somehow let the American public skate past all the sexual assault charges for which he'll be standing trial in multiple states! And while I could spend the next hour describing how Kodak Black is a loathsome human being who doesn't seem to show the slightest shred of guilt for anything he's done - he only struck the 'I get any girl I want, I don't gotta rape' line from this song because it might exacerbate his legal case - the reality is that 'Tunnel Vision' was garbage from the start outside of this. The awful guitar tuning against the whispy flutes, the cheap trap snares and hi-hats, and Kodak's nasal mumbled non-flow on a hook that can barely hold to a beat and forces entirely too many rhymes when it bothers at all. The song is already 70% hook - which tries to rhyme winning with penitentiary - which Kodak's voice oozes over like slime, and on that note, the content! Tell me, ladies, do you want to be the 'lil baby' who constantly enables Kodak's horniness, who cums when he sees money, brags about getting any girl he wants - sure to make you feel special - and has such lines like 'I'm the shit, I need some toilet paper'. So what, are you implying that you're worth wiping up and flushing to get rid of you... because I might be okay with that! What's all the more infuriating is that by the second verse with his mother encouraging him to kill people, you realize that there's nothing and nobody in Kodak's life who is telling him not to kill and rape people, and with framing that normalizes it all as part of his hustle, it's not hard to believe why he thinks he'll get away with it. But considering how often he violates his parole and still has charges to answer... yeah, we might not be hearing any more Kodak Black going forward, and I'm just fine with that.

1. ...okay really, was it ever going to be anything else?

1. 'Body Like A Backroad' by Sam Hunt
Billboard Year-End Chart Position: #8

Ladies and gentlemen, the biggest 'country' song of 2017, and one of the biggest hits of the year across any genre. The list of things wrong with it seems to stretch on for miles and unlike 'Look What You Made Me Do' there were no redeeming factors. The awful shrill guitar tuning that opens against the lazy snap, fake drums, gang vocals, and a fragmented guitar progression to trick listeners into thinking this isn't just another trap song from 2014! This is bro-country production at its most meat-headed and lifeless, full of the wolf whistling, contemptible dick pistons who could deserve Sturgill Simpson breaking a guitar over their skulls. And then there's Sam Hunt himself, who pushes his lazy, phoned-in rapping with a mugging self-satisfaction that shows he clearly doesn't give a shit how much hip-hop iconography he's stealing and wouldn't care even if he did! And it's that same cluelessness that infects the writing like the scrotal cancer it is: dude, if it takes you six weeks to get a girl's number, you have no game to be so insufferably proud of! What makes it all the more appalling is that he's stressed this song is about his wife - so you then choose to describe her body like a back road, repurposing what has been a country insult for decades to make it all about the ass you're groping! And congratulations that you can take her pants off without any help, and that you don't need to see where you're going taking it so slow, but the mingled metaphor makes me think you're going straight into the ditch. But here's what genuinely infuriates me about this: in the second verse you go on how 'it ain't no curves like her on those downtown streets', and the problems are twofold here. One, if you're talking about there's no curves on the grid-like city streets you've clearly never been to Boston, but the deeper conceit is that city girls plainly don't have butts like his - and yet you'd think with all of the urban slang and hip-hop production you throw around, you'd realize how overwhelming full of shit you are! Let's make this abundantly clear: this song and Sam Hunt are just as much cultural graverobbers as Post Malone is, but they're somehow too stupid to recognize the tropes they're bastardizing. Country musician and iconoclast Steve Earle made the statement that mainstream country stars make 'hip-hop for people who are afraid of black people'. Ladies and gentlemen: exhibit A. Worst hit song of 2017 - I'm out.


  1. Genuinely shocked that Look At Me! wasn't on here.

  2. the only camila song that doesn't suck that i can accept hate for is 'bad things'.