Welcome to Listmas, our annual year-end recap week here at Ranting About Music! From today through next Sunday, I’ll have content up each day; check the bottom of this entry for a full schedule. It’s been a good year, and I hope you’ll join me in closing it out! First up, the worst hits of 2014.
No matter what you can say about 2014 overall, it was a weird year on the pop charts. We spent the first half of the year seemingly frozen with the same hits, only to have things shake up every few weeks toward the end of the year. And as opposed to last year, where every star seemed to swing for the fence, it seemed like most established artists didn’t want to take any risks; you didn’t see John Legend or Maroon 5 putting out double albums or promoing records by making flying suits or whatever. Hell, you barely saw any “old guard” members at all; 2014 is decisively a year for newbies. And Taylor Swift.
Quick reminder on the rules: it’s gotta make this list to make my list, most of these were big in 2014 instead of 2013 late bloomers that carried over (example: “Wrecking Ball” is DQ’d for consideration since it’s going to be associated with 2013 historically), and tied into that, it can’t have been a song that made the “best/worst of” year-end list last year.
Anyway, enough with the chit-chat, let’s shake off the worst ten songs of the year.
11. Dishonorable Mention: A Great Big World ft. Christina Aguilera – “Say Something”
I couldn’t quite justify putting “Say Something” on the proper list–it peaked just too early in the year and it’s just not terrible enough to edge out the competition–but damn has this song pissed me off. The syrupy strings and piano arrangement is as faceless as a Hallmark knockoff, and Ian Axel isn’t enough of a vocalist to make his way to a finale of The Voice. There’s no greater testament to “Say Something”‘s yawn-inspiring blandness than the fact that Christina Aguilera, one of our most distinct and well-known over singers, fades entirely into song’s background. But what elevates “Say Something” from simple mediocrity to inspired badness is how overwrought the thing is. There might be a context where “Say something, I’m giving up on you” carries the weight A Great Big World clearly want it to have here, but surrounded by such non-lyrics like “I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you” and “I’ll be the one if you want me to” make it fall totally flat while the music works overtime to wrangle emotion out of the this Great Beige World. Looks like Christina’s going to have a vicarious career through someone else, instead.
10. Ed Sheeran – “Sing”
I’m getting this out of the way first: I appreciate what Ed Sheeran wanted to do with x. Especially in America, he’s known as “that dude that did ‘The A Team‘”, which is true but a little unfair; Sheeran’s a fairly prolific guy with surprisingly diverse genre sensibility that happened to crossover with one of the straightest Broken Girl Ballads in recent history. I don’t blame him for wanting more from his career.
But good fucking grief, “Sing”. Sheeran and co-writer/producer Pharrell decided to invade territory Justin Timberlake’s held for over a decade, and the end result is an unflattering mess. Sheeran isn’t necessarily dreadful as a falsetto-y crooner, but “Sing” requires a skill set he just doesn’t have. He does alright on the vocals but it’s not enough to bring “Sing” to life, nor is the guy flirty enough to bring the song the edge it thinks it has. It’s serviceable, but completely forgettable. The beat’s honestly a bigger letdown than Sheeran is; it’s Pharrell working in “I was told there’d be a check here” mode. It’s percussive without being remotely groovy, and way too busy between clashing guitars, double tracked vocals, poor mixing, and extraneous sound effects. Not helping is the fact that “Sing” is a blatant, slower rewrite of “Moves Like Jagger”. Sheeran has a live version that’s a little goofier and stripped down that works alright, but this is still a baffling choice.
9. Mike WiLL Made It ft. Miley Cyrus, Wiz Khalifa, and Juciy J – “23”
I’m bending my own rules here since “23” was 2013 holdover that made it into this year, but I couldn’t leave something this bad off the list entirely. Mike Will Made It’s done decent beats, but “23” is every Southern hip-hop mixtape beat you can think of; doesn’t really stand out. Juicy cribs his own hook from “Bandz A Make Her Dance”, and barely manages to one-up Miley Cyrus on his eight bars. Wiz mentions Chuck Taylors on a song about Jordans, which is about all you need to know about his verse. 2014 didn’t have a lot of awful rap guest-spots, but they somehow got lifeboated onto this dud.
In a fit of poetic justice, “23” was supposed to be the lead single from Mike WiLL’s debut album, and it’s hard not to imagine he thought 2014 was going to be his year. Here we are, 15 months after the song’s release, and not only is there no album in sight, but Mike pretty much got swept away by another producer who’s 2014 work has even lapped Mike’s 2013 output. When he compared himself to Jordan with “23”, I didn’t think he meant Jordan playing for the Wizards.
8. Calvin Harris – “Summer”
I’ve got nothing against EDM, but I remember being over “Summer” the first time I heard it. It just sounds tired, like something the DJ puts on when the night’s run out of hits. Not even Ellie Goulding showed up for this one. Hooks like the one in “Summer” once sounded euphoric, now they just sound exhausting. We get it, Calvin. Take off the headphones, Calvin. The Uber driver is waiting for us, Calvin. You’ve used that same blown out synth tone over breaks since 2011, I’m a little over it right now, so is Rihanna and it’s time to find another one so she might call you back and we can all move forward with our lives, Calvin.
7. Chris Brown ft. Lil Wayne and Tyga – “Loyal”
Chris Brown whispers “You thought it was over?” tauntingly in the first few seconds of “Loyal”. At first, I thought he was trolling his critics with his continued career, but coming a few seconds after Lil Wayne gleefully shouts “Young Mula, baby!”, I can’t help but think he’s accidentally pointing out how weird it is to hear a Wayne feature in 2014. Or a Chris Brown song, for that matter. Look, it’s a Chris Brown single; it kicks going down like a double of bottom shelf tequila, and feels just about as hateful. Brown boasts himself into the stupidest circles possible here: he brags about being able to turn a broke bitch rich while warning us of the dangers of fucking with broke bitches. Then you get Tyga, who is literally distrustful of any woman who’s too good at sex. If I handle this song one catastrophe at a time, we’d be here all day, so in summary: “Loyal” is just a gross, stupid song that wastes a pretty decent beat. Birthed my favorite Vine this year, though.
6. Ed Sheeran – “Don’t”
Lord, I am not making friends with Ed Sheeran fans on this one.
I’ve seen people compare Sheeran’s x to Taylor Swift’s Red, and the JT credentials go further than just “Sing”, but I see a more prominent, far shittier influence at play here: Maroon 5. While Timberlake leads with “You were my sun, you were my earth” and Swift is tired of your continued bullshit, the subtext for the “Don’t”‘s first two verses is basically “I fucked Ellie Goulding, and I’ma tell ya everything but the hotel room number”. It’s way less “Cry Me a River” or “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and a lot more “One More Night”; Sheeran isn’t crying because it’s over, he’s bragging because it happened. And okay, Goulding cheated on him and that’s terrible, but the song’s set up to make Sheeran look like a dumbass. He gets holier than thou on a chorus of “Don’t fuck with my love/That heart is so cold”…only after the first words of the song are the two of them agreeing not to be too serious. Dude, yeah, she shouldn’t have cheated, but don’t give her the “fuckin’ bitch” tell-off because you fooled around and fell in love.
Maybe if the production was less dorky and flaccid or the chorus was less tuneless, I’d have a better time with “Don’t”, but on top of the shoddy music and self-obsessed lyrics, Sheeran does the song in this obnoxious sing-speaking cadence that makes him sound like a whiny, humorless bro. He doesn’t even sound sad or conflicted that it’s over. The guy’s friends with Taylor Swift, hopefully she can show him how to write this kind of song without being terrible.
And that does it for day one! Catch the rest of the schedule below.
December 16th: Worst Hits of the Year (10-6)
December 17th: Worst Hits of the Year (5-1)
December 18th: Best Hits of the Year (10-6)
December 19th: Best Hits of the Year (5-1)
December 20th: Favorite Albums of the Year
December 21st: The Gibby Fifty–50 Favorite Songs
December 22nd: Odds and Ends