Welcome back for day 2 of Listmas!
Today begins four days of coverage on the pop charts looking at the best and worst hits of the year. Pop was odd in 2015: it was a pretty good if not astronomical year quality-wise, but also a somewhat quiet one. Most of the songs that qualified on the year end list were good, and even the dull songs were at least competently made or performed (Nicki alone saved like, three songs). That’s not to say I wasn’t able to get ten of them together for the Worst songs list, but this year’s failures didn’t fail loudly.
Before we get started, the annual rules:
-Undercards Need Not Apply: only songs that made Billboard’s year-end list qualify.
-No Leftovers: Songs that peaked in Q4 of last year and only placed because they had a long descent in January or February aren’t “2015” enough for consideration (this rule took Maroon 5’s “Animal” out of the running).
-Double Dipping Is Forbidden: It’s 2015, and I still think Ed Sheeran’s “Don’t” sucks, but I won’t yell about it here again.
Dishonorable Mention: Taylor Swift – “Blank Space”
The Dishonorable Mention has taken the role of my personal Two Minutes Hate for a song I can’t stand, but also can’t justify ranking higher. And this year, that spot’s filled by “Blank Space”, a song that gets more irritating with every listen.
My bone to pick with “Blank Space” comes down to this. sick. beat. Even for the chilly synthpop of 1989, “Blank Space” feels iced over in the worst way possible; not only is it chilly and aloof, but its elements sound like they were recorded and mixed in isolation, leaving the song without a center. “Blank Space” never finds a good sense of rhythm, and the hyperpolished snare feels more like getting kicked in the head than anything else, and Swift’s vocals suffer from similar overproduction. It’s just an abrasive, robotic hellscape of a song that paints Max Martin’s mathematical approach to producing in the worst light possible. And this is even more disheartening because I actually really like the message to the song, which shows self-awareness while the video’s a pretty great clapback at Crazy Girlfriend Taylor Swift. Too bad this makes “Blank Space” a better thought than a song.
10. Andy Grammar – “Honey, I’m Good.”
I like to think I’m a pretty upbeat person. I’m chatty if you want to be chatty, I’m always sure to be nice to wait staff; I feel like I’m fairly bright.
So when I say that Andy Grammar needs to calm the fuck down, I mean it. Even if “Honey, I’m Good.” wasn’t a three and a half minute alarm of blaring hand claps, kick drums, “Nah nah!”s and “Hoo hoo”s, and twang bullshit vocals, I’d hate it for being peppier than a barista after five shots of espresso and their boss over their shoulder. Then you have the content of the song, which expects me to think Andy Grammar, a man who possesses the raw sexuality of a nondenominational pastor, is really the dude whose gonna turn someone down with some humblebrag horseshit like, “No thanks, I already have someone. I mean, yeah, I could totally leave with you, too, if I wanted, but I’m not that guy.” I’m not buying that for a damn minute, nor am I buying that anyone involved with this cornball likes it. Even that period in the title annoys me.
9. Luke Bryan – “Kick the Dust Up”
Aw, Luke. Bryan’s part of the much loathed bro-country movement, but there’s always been something endearing about his barrel chested, overly earnest demeanor that’s made him harder to hate than, say, Florida-Georgia Line. He seems like someone his friends call “the nicest guy.” But, all that niceness can’t save something that flails as much as “Kick the Dust Up.” The banjo riff feels too belabored and noodling to be memorable, and the same can be said for the chorus; it’s reaching for a hook that it can’t quite find. I can’t get a good read on this song, the stomping tempo and guitar solo suggest it wants to be a lumbering rocker, but its strangely too light for that description to stick. Somehow, it feels too chintzy. It could be that Bryan’s tired of making these; he discontinued his Spring Break series this year approximately for being “too old for this shit,” and “Kick the Dust Up” strikes me as similarly tired. He couldn’t even be bothered to do a full video.
8. T-Wayne – “Nasty Freestyle”
Vine remains great at being entertaining, but terrible for brokering artists. Take T-Wayne for example, a guy who wouldn’t have made it out of Houston if the first line of “Nasty Freestyle” hadn’t caught on for its drop. The videos are usually pretty great, but unlike Bobby Shmurda with “Hot N*gga” last year, the artist isn’t the main draw. And that’s because T-Wayne is pretty bad: he doesn’t have any originality, his flow’s not really impressive, and he’s virtually bankrupt in the charisma department. Shmurda at least jacked someone else’s beat and made it into his own creation. T-Wayne just got used by everyone else. Is it possible to amend fifteen minutes of fame to six seconds?
7. Meghan Trainor – “Dear Future Husband”
Even if I didn’t like “Blank Space”, I was still happy that Taylor Swift was one of many female artists this year making dope and assertive music and music videos breaking down gender norms.
And then you had Meghan Trainor.
Is it possible for an artist to devolve during a lone album cycle? I know I defended “All About That Bass”, but everything she’s done since then has just underlined her worst qualities: the pettiness, the obsessiveness, the nasaliness, and her inability to try anything remotely different musically. “Dear Future Husband” is a weak song that’s incredibly derivative as a composition, and lyrically confusing as hell. Trainor kinda riffs on some gender roles, and then plays others deadly straight like how she’s always right, and needs a classy guy to buy her ring. It’s almost stupid to believe that someone in 2014/2015 would sell schtick like “We’ll never see your family more than mine” at face value, but nothing about the song or the pastel, Target-sponsored brand of Hell we see in the video suggests otherwise. Meghan Trainor’s version of the ideal husband is someone she can basically own. Wonder what she’d think of Father John Misty.
6. Nick Jonas – “Jealous”
Speaking of shitty gender norms, one of the weirder recurring themes in 2015 pop was dudes being lowkey creepy. You had Drake being a little too worried about what you’d been up to since he was away, Usher and Juicy J not quite avoiding hangups about dating a stripper, and, well, everything relating to The Weeknd. Then you have “Jealous”, which says “fuck it” and leads with “I don’t like the way he’s looking at you/I’m starting to think you want him, too”. From there, the red flags only get red-flaggier with “I’m puffing up my chest/I’m getting red in the face/You can call me obsessed”, and it’s like, you start wondering how this song doesn’t end with a line about punched dry wall or a restraining order. It gets even more uncomfortable because while Drake’s being passive aggressive to a nameless “you” and The Weeknd is playing a character, Nick’s like “yeah, you know how it is.” And the song’s bland, Miguel-biting production leaves its ugly lyrics out in the open. I wonder how Jonas’ model girlfriend feels about this song.
Listmas 2015 Schedule
December 16th: Favorite Albums
December 17th: Worst Hits (10-6)
December 18th: Worst Hits (5-1)
December 19th: Best Hits (10-6)
December 20th: Best Hits (5-1)
December 21st: Favorite Songs
December 22nd: Year in Rant: Odds and Ends