Monday, August 5, 2019

the top ten worst hit songs of 2012

So I've said before that 2012 is probably among the best years of the Hot 100 this decade, and I stand by that - there was a plethora of fantastic songs, both well-remembered stalwarts and forgotten gems, and multiple genres were in the throes of transition, which gave indie music a breakthrough window to the benefit of everyone. Pop, rock, R&B, hip-hop, country, they all notched real success and were above average overall, all of which bolstered the fact that there's just not that many awful songs this year. And even if they were here, by the overall standards of any other year, they didn't seem that terrible - more grating production choices and sloppy writing than anything offensive or in overwhelmingly bad taste. I could get angry at the worst of 2016 - for the majority of the list, I can laugh at the worst in 2012.

But we did get bad songs, and it's worth pointing out where they came from... and really, most of them are clustered in saccharine music across pop, pop-country and adult alternative that just utterly missed the point, or in hip-hop where the genre was going through a transitional year between pop rap club bangers and what would become the darker, heavier trap sounds throughout the decade. And it wasn't helped by a few artists in particular having a bad year in 2012 specifically, but I think it's time we get to the list proper. As per usual, the songs had to debut on this year-end list to qualify - so 'Sexy & I Know It' is reserved for 2011 - and if you previously saw my worst hits of 2012 originally published on my blog that year, I recommend you stick around regardless, as things have shifted a little bit. 

Okay, got that? So without further adieu, let's dig into a year that for the most part wasn't really that bad, starting with...

10. One of the most fascinating shifts in popular culture is how it seems like we all turned back around on Pitbull. He started off fine enough, came to monopolize the club boom to the point where people got sick of his braying idiocy, but then we realized he was at least making fun music and by then he was nearly gone. Unfortunately in 2012 the backlash was kicking into full swing - and not without reasons - but when you find a song where even Pitbull isn't having any fun, you've got problems.

10. 'We Run The Night' by Havana Brown ft. Pitbull
Year-End Chart Position: #90

Now granted, this isn't really a Pitbull song in its entirety - originally this was cut by the Australian DJ and nasal annoyance that is Havana Brown, with utterly disposable lyrics and a tinny, pulsating electro-synth drop that somehow hits new depths of pulsating bleep every time I hear it. And what's bizarre is that the version that got big was the remix from RedOne, normally a producer I respect and like and who still managed to bring his trademark bigness to the song... until the echoing synth penetrates your brain stem like a cancerous tumour. Normally this would be the point where I'd look to Pitbull and say that he's the saving grace here... except here's the thing, when the DJs left the clubs for the festivals, Pitbull always seemed to feel a bit lost trying to contain the atmosphere. It's not just here either, if you look to the other EDM-adjacent songs that tried to plaster him on for pop success, it's an awkward fit, to the point where I almost feel sympathetic for Pitbull ending his verse with a bark of 'Now fuck you pay me' - he's not having any fun, so why would I? Hell, he's probably as annoyed with that synth line as I am, but the ironic part is that his presence is the only reason I remotely remember or care about this song - just enough to put it on this list. Next!

9. You know, I'm not proud to admit that I actually own a Flo Rida album, and I think even back then I came to the realization that his music was disposable gunk - but it was fun disposable gunk. He had an uncanny knack for finding hooks, normally through some gratuitous sampling, and I always thought his flows and rhymes didn't quite get as much credit as they should. But do you want to know the song that effectively killed my fondness for the guy?

9. 'Whistle' by Flo Rida
Year-End Chart Position: #17

So here's the thing: the running joke among music critics is that nobody cares about Flo Rida's content beyond the hook, and when your hook is a blowjob reference that indicates he might not understand how blowjobs work - and indicating that he's going to show her how to do it, which raises all sorts of questions - you're already starting at rock bottom. But I'm going to do something different here, because while I could point out that the production is overcompressed, clipping gunk where the grain of the acoustic guitar and vocal filters is uncomfortably close against that gooey percussion line, let's actually focus on the verses. For one, he chose to start the first verse with someone calling him out for trivial nonsense that he then admits because why would someone deny liking people, but then adds he's pulling his hamstring putting it on her! And it gets worse, because then on the second verse he implies his Bugatti hits the same notes as his girl, describes her as his banjo - which aside from not being a wind instrument reminds way more than it should of the line 'you strum me like a guitar' from Jessie J's 'Domino' - and it's all about the furthest thing from sexy! It's the incoherence that's so mind-boggling to me, because you could literally walk away from this song thinking that Flo Rida pulled a muscle trying to fuck his car! So why isn't this higher on the list? Well...

8. Ladies and gentlemen, a clusterfuck!

8. 'Turn Up The Music' by Chris Brown
Year-End Chart Position: #84

In 2012, Chris Brown released FORTUNE, which is one of the worst albums of the 2010s by a considerable margin and what should be best described as an experimental test in how many dying synthesizers Chris Brown could do coke off while still creating unlistenable noise. It's truly an excruciating experience and 'Turn Up The Music' is by no means the worst song off it, but it's still pretty terrible, bastardizing a nursery rhyme so Chris Brown can howl like a tased goat through layers of fractured autotune. Hell, the reason I'd argue this is worse than 'Whistle' is because is sounds like everyone is in so much pain and nobody is having any fun, not at a tipping point towards a night that gets dark and dangerous and potentially excity, but because the rabid Tasmanian devil that is Chris Brown is clawing over grimy synths and a beat that can't preserve any sense of scale, especially by the post-chorus drop, where the handclaps are trying to bounce off a pitch-shifted bleep that amplifies the annoyance tenfold. All the percussion is tinny, Chris Brown warping warbles sound atrocious, especially by the bridge where he dials into all sorts of nasal creepiness, and that's before he tries making these yelping howls on the final hook where you can almost see the bloodshot eyes, nosebleed, and overdose kicking in. And what's gross is that this isn't even the worst song from Chris Brown on this list, but we'll get to that eventually.

7. I've said it time and time again: if you want to land spots on this list, disappointment will often push you higher than just atrocity, especially when that disappointment is the harbinger of a career in freefall. And I expect this might be the first real controversial decision on this list... but considering what happened to her career after this, I'd argue that clinches this spot enough.

7. 'Blow Me (One Last Kiss)' by P!nk
Year-End Chart Position: #37

Look, I'm a P!nk fan - I have been a P!nk fan since my teenage years, she cleaned up in the 2000s consistently with some of the best hits of the decade. And while neither 'Fucking Perfect' nor 'Raise Your Glass' have held up much, I still had hope that her 2012 album would connect... and then I heard 'Blow Me (One Last Kiss)'. And at least at first the song seemed to have potential - the rollick of guitar almost sounded a little like another interpolation of 'Float On' by Modest Mouse, there was some pulsating groove, there was potential - and then the hook hits, a blast of overcompressed, tinny mush with that flat kickdrum cutting through somehow produced to make P!nk sound as shrill and blaring as possible. This does not excuse her delivery here - she absolutely is trying to force the upper end of her register and stack her lead so that the cracks don't show through, which winds up inducing a headache every time - which might have been part of the point? Yeah, the song is about cutting loose in its kissoff where you're hitting a tidal wave of emotion, but what happened to any sense of groove or lyrical meter, where despite being a breakup song we get the rote screaming of how she's had a 'shit day' - not the first time P!nk falls into blocky, half-formed poetry more that's trying to project coolness for not good reason. Worse still is that it's way too easy to point to her last lead single - 'So What' from Funhouse - and see a retread of a formula, but where that song balanced its whirling bitterness with a playful sneer and groove that only barely disguised the collapse between the margins, this is one-dimensional and sloppy, a breakup I'm all too happy to take if it would just make it stop. And considering how many similar steps were taken for P!nk in the rest of the 2010s... yeah, there are plenty of good reasons why this is here.

6. So the next song on this list is from Maroon 5, and I feel nowadays that should be a surprise to nobody - oh, shocker, Maroon 5 is making hot garbage, what else is new. But while some would point to 'Moves Like Jagger' as a sellout moment and 'One More Night' as the Overexposed single that solidified Adam Levine's douchebaggery, the truth is that Maroon 5 could occasionally lean into being assholes effectively, especially if the groove materialized behind them, and for me, 'One More Night' actually kind of works in that lane. No, if you want the point where they become insufferable, it's this.

6. 'Payphone' by Maroon 5 ft. Wiz Khalifa
Year-End Chart Position: #4

If you're looking for the precise moment when Maroon 5 irrevocably turned into the grating non-band in which they've been for the majority of the 2010s, I point to 'Payphone'. And on a fundamental level it's an issue of framing: it's a song trying to sound yearning and wistful for good times after a relationship crashed and burned, trying to get back to a safe place - or maybe reunite, the first verse seems to think they can try - and yet the hook dissolves into petulant bitching that highlights exactly why Adam Levine was dumped in the first place. And none of this flatters him - forget the autotune, but being pissy with some of the most misplaced attempts at swearing and anger I've seen from the band - how is it that Wiz Khalifa with all of his non-rhymes and focus more on his goddamn car can convey more anger than Adam Levine? But even then, it's not even anger so much as malformed arrogance that neither artist can convincingly sell, especially when paired with beyond basic rinky-dink production that decides to bury the keyboards and strings behind fizzy non-tune, which somehow only becomes tolerable when it sounds the most cheap and spare behind Wiz Khalifa. Now again, this is by no means the worst song Maroon 5 would ever make, but like with P!nk it was signaling the end of any hopes of consistent quality, stripping the rock elements for spare change and turning Maroon 5 into a glorified solo project. And oh yeah, it sucks - next!

5. But coming back to Pitbull sounding like he's just not having any fun... yeah, no way we were going to skip this one.

5. 'Back In Time' by Pitbull
Year-End Chart Position: #62

Look, I'm not against movie tie-in songs - sometimes they can be fantastic and earn a respectable chart run, but the best of these songs attempt to capture the grandeur or atmosphere of their movie, or at the very least don't succumb to the dreck passing for modern trends. The worst of these wind up like 'Back In Time', which is a stiff, empty clunker that is only memorable for its utter missteps - a sample pulled from the wrong decade and integrated into the spongy fizz of the percussion like a railroad spike into the liver, which only gets worse when the dubstep comes in to match with nothing. Then there's Pitbull, who runs out of interesting things to say about Men In Black III in record time - again, all the more galling when there's an existing Will Smith Men In Black song that's actually pretty solid and that we don't talk about Men In Black II in any capacity - even as he phones in cheap rhymes as he clearly doesn't give a 'NUMBER TWO'. And look, I've seen Pitbull live, he's a consummate showman and when he's on, the energy is infectious - but we've already heard him when he's flat out annoyed to be on a song, and yet it somehow gets worse when you can tell he rather be anywhere else in the world than talking about a sequel a decade past its prime that has already been forgotten, much like the Men In Black: International movie that dropped and I guarantee the majority of you already forgot existed! So yeah, let's not go back in time - although if we did, I doubt anyone would care about this, then or now.

4. There's a part of me that always feels a little awkward when I'm dunking on an act that saw their career spiral out after only one real hit, especially when you hear at least some of it had to deal with label drama and even moreso when you hear that label was Simon Cowell's factory of mediocrity Syco Music. But on the flipside, if the issue was sustainable quality, well...

4. 'Want U Back' by Cher Lloyd
Year-End Chart Position: #55

Look, I get that there's an audience for this sort of thing, that enjoys music at its most catty, capricious, and lightly toxic - it's called Nicki Minaj's fanbase. But cheap shots aside, it's not a vibe I can remotely appreciate, mostly because of how small, vainglorious and cheap it feels, and that's a similar bad taste I get from Cher Lloyd ragging on the ex she plainly dumped for wanting to date other people; I'd make a comparison to 'The Boy Is Mine', but that song had tension and great vocal harmonies and production that doesn't blow ass! Yep, once again Syco's bottom-of-the-barrel reputation for badly mixed gunk is right back at the forefront, with that goopy synth all over the prechorus and hook where Cher Lloyd is trying to flow over a choppy groove that feels the smart thing is to bury the guitar rollick behind compressed fizz. But it's Cher Lloyd's snotty, grunting delivery that kills the vibe for me - it's not raw or snide like Kesha or Miley, or conveying any sense of poise like Nicki can, it's got the feeling of endless reruns of My Super Sweet Sixteen, or to put it in modern terms, the soundtrack to Tana Turns 21 and now I want to hurl. I'm not going to say I'm glad that Cher Lloyd's career hit a brick wall after her mediocre second album... but I'm not going say I'm sad about it either.

3. But on the topic of a band whose career should have been long-dead by this point...

3. 'Drive By' by Train
Year-End Chart Position: #19

Look, at this point we're starting to hit territory of songs so overexposed for their rancid awfulness that finding something new to say becomes a challenge, so let's take a step back and consider what 'Drive By' is conceptually. This is a song where Pat Monahan, after one night of presumably bad sex has fallen so head-over-heels for this woman, where I imagine she probably heard 'Hey Soul Sister' and rightly skipped town - or maybe when he sent the 'I Just Had Sex' tweet unironically that went viral, it could be both - and yet when he happens to see her on the street sometime later, he thinks they have a relationship and they should get down to banging again! But what's so galling is the framing, because Train clearly thinks that this is all the most romantic thing in the universe - the video's particularly atrocious for framing all this as the whitest rom-com imaginable - with the 'ain't I a stinker' nice guy stench swirling around it. It's the only way I can possibly explain why he compares his love to both garbage and drive-by shootings, why he tries to describe himself as 'shy' while the song is anything but, and in the hook smuggles in 'mmm, the way you do me', which along with a prechorus admission how he didn't really need her until he 'came to' has just enough leering ickiness that makes everyone reach for the Mace. And while the lyrics are the sort of inflated bowel cancer that everyone points out, I should also mention the vocals on the hook lose all their flavour thanks to the compression, the instrumentation has no warmth or deeper texture, the production is the definition of whitewashed blandness, and outside of the vocal line there's just not much of a tune, which means all the focus goes on the lyrics - you know, exactly where it shouldn't be. This of course raises the question of whether this is worse than 'Hey Soul Sister', which'll come up in a later piece for... reasons, but as it is, this could have easily been the worst of 2012 - what two songs can beat it?

2. Okay, so the reason why this song makes my list, let alone so high, is a little personal and I think it's time I fully articulate why, because rationally while it is terrible many don't have the same level of venom I do towards this particular song. Hell, many would argue that it's too boring to draw out that much hatred, but the devil's in the details with this one, and I want to highlight it in full because art draws out emotions that are valid in this subjective conversation. So, fall of 2012 my long-time girlfriend of the time and I split up - on a rational level it was mutual and the right decision, but emotionally at the time I still had real feelings, that doesn't go away overnight. And there were two adult-alternative songs I heard a lot at the time that touched on those emotions, one good that being 'Not Over You' by Gavin DeGraw, which if you saw my 2012 Best list, you'd understand why I dug that song so much. On the flip side, we got this, a song that on its surface seemed to lean into that same emotionality even further, but did so in a way that revealed itself as toxic with every word...

2. 'I Won't Give Up' by Jason Mraz
Year-End Chart Position: #25

Full disclosure: I've never liked Jason Mraz. When he did the rap thing it was humiliating to everyone involved but it was a moment in time and I see how he got his audience. But that time faded and he switched into making gutless, mindless gunk to feed into the adult-alternative meat grinder, and he somehow found even more success, mostly because there's always an audience for saccharine garbage. And by that standard, this song might actually seem to be punching higher - it's got a real crescendo, Jason Mraz is trying to sell this with genuine sincerity, he's got yearning organic swell behind him, it's framed to be so damn romantic... and it makes my goddamn stomach turn. Again, this is a song post-breakup where he's trying to make a swing to win her back, but he does so in ways that are so cloying, hackneyed, and emotionally manipulative that only induces more bile when you realize how many people would buy it. Seriously, on the first verse he asks 'how old is your soul' - and while the second verse implies that he's willing to give her space, by the prechorus he says even the stars burn and fall to earth, and given how he compared them to stars originally, extending the metaphor it implies if she leaves him to find space, she's burned out and has a lot to learn. Now he includes himself in the same conversation, but note the tense of the bridge: he had to learn to who he is, with the implication she doesn't know and when she does it's obviously with him, because to quote the most reprehensible line in the entire song, 'God knows we're worth it'. And that's what really flips the berserk button for me - the religious trappings around this clingy, sickening, underwritten trash highlight paints this relationship as the furthest thing from healthy, and yet when you know that this sort of song could be used for trapping escapees from a cult - and is weapons-designed to appeal to the sensitive nice guy set who think they can always win her back - it reeks of smothering, unearned presumption. Any relationship with the guy on 'Drive By' would be a bad fling and a worse hangover - with the protagonist from this song, it's got the toxicity that lingers for years to come, a song absolutely worth hating for its brand of enablement... and yet it's not the worst. And before we get to that, Dishonourable Mentions!

Seriously, for as much shit as 'Starships' gets from Nicki Minaj as being a pop sellout moment, 'Turn Me On' has always been on another tier of awful - stuttering incoherence from the little rapping we get, a beat that tries for scope but hammers more into shrill, whistling bludgeons, somehow it manages the horrifying feat of stripping away Nicki Minaj's personality and somehow transmogrifying it in a sound that's just as annoying. Seriously, we let David Guetta have a pass for way too long...

2012 was a bad year for Rihanna, and by the end of the year she'd put out one of her most tired and awful projects in Unapologetic. But that's not to take away from the charting hits she had this year regardless, which seems to have utterly misplaced any sort of attempt at reggae groove with canned, blocky fizz, gutless guitars, and badly placed synth effects that sounds about the furthest thing from sexy or interesting - and that's before we get the choppy, half-formed faux-dubstep of the bridge! But it's the vocal line that sealed this song's position on this list - Rihanna has gradually grown into a more textured and interesting singer, but this is her at her worst: braying but utterly checked out, with another stuttered hook that does her no good. And yes, it did get worse from here.

Remember 'My Life Would Suck Without You', Kelly Clarkson's hit in 2009 that was my favourite hit of that year? Well, here's a production retread approach that somehow forgot the hook and groove along the way, basically paving the way for P!nk to make 'Blow Me (One Last Kiss)' a few months later. Seriously, the post-breakup angst that's both overplayed and underdeveloped, vocals at their most grating, the pileup of effects at the top of the mix that doesn't match the guitar rollick moving in, and just like P!nk, it's a pop rock move that signaled a serious lack of quality in anything to come - what a disappointment, what a shame...

For the longest time I was considering the placement of 'What Makes You Beautiful' by One Direction in this spot, but at the end of the day for as questionable as its central message is, I can't hold much against these guys because the hook is a monster and some of the song's inherent clumsiness can be forgiven. Also, a few months later, Ne-Yo would come around and release a song with damn near the same message, loaded with the same exasperating presumptuousness that's persisted his entire career, and with a cowriting credit from Sia that in retrospect makes way too much sense, especially given how the song has no real groove. Also some of the worst and tinny synth mixing I've heard in its dance-pop pivot, but even if Ne-Yo had stuck to R&B, this would have still stunk.

This was a slot that was originally just going to be filled by Justin Bieber's 'Boyfriend', a Mike Posner-cowritten mess that's trying way too hard to be Justin Timberlake and features some hilariously stupid lines. But at the end of the day, I can tolerate 'Boyfriend' - I can't tolerate 'As Long As You Love Me', which features howling dubstep, Bieber trying to sell melodrama with no convincing gravitas, and Big Sean. And it's Big Sean's verse that's the problem - not only does he open his line asking whether his next string of cornball references make sense, the larger problem is in tone: the song is trying to sell hard drama, but Big Sean's reference pool are dad jokes you find on Facebook, all the while pondering whether he should just chase another girl - kind of undercuts all of your sincerity, dude! In comparison with a song like 'Dance (A$$)', which has somehow swung into 'so stupid it's hilarious' territory, this is unlistenable - next!

There's a part of me that perversely doesn't hate this, mostly because I think Tyga could release this now and it'd probably still chart! Yeah, it's a bad song, but the minimalist low-end and gang vocals courtesy of DJ Mustard, the outlandish reference points - Tyga has your grandmother on his dick, and apparently you know what it is as he actually isn't selling weed, along with some really dated Michael Jackson and basketball references as he takes his shirt off in the club - if you flip this to any number of interchangeable trap artists now and throw on a hi-hat, nothing would change. Of course, it'd suck now too.

It's not uncommon for some artists to hate their first hit, but it seems like a significant portion of J. Cole's career arc has been built on trying to eliminate this song from existence. He hates the song now, he wrote a song called 'Let Nas Down' about how this track disappointed Nas to such an extent... and yet with some twisted irony, I can still see the traces of J. Cole that persist from this song, namely surrounding his overplayed, slightly condescending attitude towards women with his wannabe player demeanor that reeks of hypocrisy - hell, the content isn't that far removed from verses on that last Revenge Of The Dreamers project he's putting out now! What's exasperating is that beyond that, there's a good hook here, especially with the liberal Kanye West sample and the Paula Abdul interpolation and slight g-funk vibe - I daresay I like the majority of the production here in comparison with what J. Cole has produced for the past four or five years... except that weird, tinny clipped piece at the very top of the percussion line. I don't know if it's sloppy mixing or that inferior audio quality prevented folks from hearing at at the time, but once you hear it, you'll never be able to stop hearing it. And yeah, it was that tone that nearly pushed it to the list proper - no wonder nobody likes or remembers this much...

And back to the list proper...

1. ...okay, once again, this is an obvious choice for me. A lot of critics have highlighted this as one of the worst of 2012, indicative of two artists hitting a career low-point in a collaboration that seemed questionable from every angle. And yet like 'Work Out', it seems like a song that not only do neither artist particularly care to bring it up, but also how it seems like the internet is actively trying to erase its existence as a profound mistake that charted for all the worst reasons. There's no video, it's not on the majority of streaming services - which for a major remix and collaboration you would expect, even despite the controversy - but it seems like everyone involved realized this was a turd to be buried.

But I remember - and thus you should too.

1. 'Birthday Cake (Remix)' by Rihanna ft. Chris Brown

Year-End Chart Position: #79

The remix of 'Birthday Cake' was a mistake - at the time Rihanna claimed that she didn't expect negative backlash for working with Chris Brown, right around the same time he was facing a backlash of his own for being a self-righteous shithead after the Grammys, and if that's not a sign that her handlers were milking her career for all it was worth to the point of exhausting her, I don't know what is. She sounds utterly checked out here, and if you think she was trying to go for some form of sensuality - blatant given the undercooked failure otherwise known as the lyrics here - you then get a whirling buzzsaw of synth tones, clapping percussion, alarm sounds - telling - no coherent tune, and her repeating the word 'cake' until your eyes and ears start leaking blood. And then Chris Brown shows up to emphasize how much he wants to fuck her in the worst way and blow her candles out - forget the fact the sexual metaphors can't even try to make sense, how in the Nine Hells did anyone think it was a good idea to mention doing it in the 'worst way', or emphasizing exactly how long he's been missing her body - because, you know, you put her in the hospital! That's not even getting into the incorporation of children's nursery rhyme cadences for additional levels of ick - the same cadences Brown would use on 'Turn Up The Music' so not only is he a hack but a derivative one at that - and I'm left asking what the purpose of this even was! The only way I can see anyone remotely justifying this is as provocation, cheap sexual innuendo between an abuser and an ex taking him back, getting big on a cheap strip-club beat and the ugly controversy of the reunion - but once you get past the shock, there's nothing here! Blunt repetition that's nothing close to sexy or kinky or atmospheric between two people who should have never fucked to begin with and who have little coherent chemistry - it's just annoying and sloppy and makes me question the judgement of everyone involved. If you want your dark and kinky strip club anthem, 'Body & Blood' by clipping is right there, people, and that's before The Weeknd tore a swathe through similar territory with an actual tune behind him! Even if you want to like this purely on bad taste and melodrama, there's no layers or staying power to it, just production that sounds like a malfunctioning dental drill. In other words, if you can't tell, it's handily the worst hit songs of 2012, and given that Chris Brown seems to have learned nothing as nobody has any clue when Rihanna will release more music, let's throw this back in the memory hole.

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