Introductions are for part 1’s, let’s begin.
5. Chris Brown (somehow) feat. Drake – “No Guidance” (#21)
The point of this list is to find the worst hits of the year, not the most dunk-onable ones. I mention that here because I never want to give off the impression that like, Maroon 5 and Chris Brown are an automatic in every time they’re eligible just because it’s easy pickings; they are truly, perennially this bad.
Let’s get this out of the way: “No Guidance” is a Drake song. “No Guidance” is a Drake song the same way “Sunflower” is a Swae Lee one. This frigid, slow-synth beat could act as the umpteenth track on any Drake album since If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late as the song that gets called out in reviews for being filler another artist would’ve cut in favor of a bearable runtime, and maybe Drake’s even over this sound, because he is sleepwalking here. But an autopilot Aubrey is preferable to Brown, whose entire bright, oversinging thing is just a total mismatch for this beat. There’s a reason that the overwhelming majority of Brown’s output is either shiny, uptempo pop or sneering rap: he has no deftness, no ear for what a song needs, so when he shows up treating “No Guidance” like it’s “Don’t Wake Me Up” or “Yeah x3,” the effect is akin to pouring Four Loko into an old fashioned.
The major downer about “No Guidance” is that for a while there, I thought we were almost done with Chris Brown. He still had a career following his 2009 assault on Rihanna, but he spent the ’10s trending downward, bottoming out last year when his only success came from working with a joke like Lil Dicky on a novelty song. Teaming up with Drake this year for a bonafide hit feels more like acceptance (although it’s somewhat telling that their collab came the same year that Drake’s faced scrutiny for his behavior toward underage girls), and I hope it’s not a sign of things to come.
4. Luke Combs – “Beautiful Crazy” (#46)
This song’s so full of shit. The other 4 entries in the top 5 here are–spoiler warning–all fairly well-known for being bad, and I kept wondering if I was overrating “Beautiful Crazy,” but I don’t think I am. Musically, it’s a Cracker Barrel scented candle shrug of a country song, and Combs’ voice is no sin against nature.
Where “Beautiful Crazy” goes rotten is in the lyrics, which are the phoniest damn thing. The song’s entire conceit is essentially a basic het couple’s Instagram caption: “ugh, she’s so crazy but what would I do without her?” which, okay, sure. But then you dig into the verses, and see that she does unfathomable things like *checks notes* drinks coffee in the morning and has a glass of wine at night, takes too long getting ready, and bails on plans to go out in favor of watching TV at home and falling asleep on the couch. There’s no fucking way. Combs and I are the same age, and these are such basicass behaviors that every single person I know does them. Like, with respect to the complexity of human existence, none of this would register as crazy to the tamest person you know, but Combs treats this shit like it’s a mystical thing only she does. If you want to write a song about loving someone, that’s fine, but don’t try and pass off “being a person” as “oh boy, she’s a handful.” Was there a verse about how much she loves shopping at Target and watching The Office, too?
3. Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber – “I Don’t Care” (#16)
A pair of streaming giants (Ed Sheeran is the most streamed artist ever on Spotify; Justin Bieber is the third) team up for a song with a tropical pop rhythm (“Shape of You” and “One Dance” are both trop-pop and the most streamed songs of all time), hand claps, and a wordless hook that’s about not wanting to be at a party (we don’t have songs about partying now, we have songs about not partying) and doubles as a love song from the leading heartthrob of the day and Ed Sheeran that features a sing-songy hook you’ll forget as soon as its over (Post Malone, who specializes in songs whose hook you can only kind of remember, is the fourth most-streamed Spotify artist) and throws in tasteful features like a programmed rap drum and plinking piano so that it’s not just a trop-pop song, but features a little bit of everything (gotta hit as many playlists as possible).
“I Don’t Care” wasn’t written by algorithms, but it was certainly made for them.
2. Thomas Rhett – “Look What God Gave Her” (#85)
Like the clutch of rap songs I mentioned in part 1 with “Murder On My Mind,” the year-end Hot 100 makes room every year or two for a fistful of country songs. This year’s offerings range from “Whiskey Glasses” to “God’s Country” to “Beer Never Broke My Heart” to “Beautiful Crazy” mentioned above, and while bar’s never high for these (so many missed this list just barely), they at least register as country.
The same can’t be said for “Look What God Gave Her.” If you replace that twerpy little beer commercial guitar lead with a synth without changing anything else, “Look What God Gave Her” would reveal itself as the late-day Maroon 5 knockoff it is, with all the musical beigeness that implies. There’s no sense of dynamic or even variety; that rhythm part just chugs away like a preset nobody turned off. In this list’s introduction, I said that bad songs in 2019 putz along while sounding chintzy, and that’s absolutely the case here from the music to the lack of any kind of melodic invention or fun to the “look, we’re rhyming!” delivery. The lyrics, which have the horny chastity of a youth minister singing about his fiancé, are a series of bricks, including rhyming “gave her” with “Made her” and “Corona” with “Daytona,” and there’s also a line where I think Rhett refers to his wife’s vagina as heaven? Somehow more baffling than that, and what elevates “Look What God Gave Her” to second place for this year, is full wife guy line“I know she’s got haters, but it ain’t her fault.” Dude, 1. your wife doesn’t have haters, 2. I don’t care who it is, any song that mentions haters takes a fifty point penalty.
1. Lewis Capaldi – “Someone You Loved” (#27)
I have this theory I can’t prove that we were so hard up for one honest to God piano ballad this year that as soon as Capaldi came along with this dreck, everyone decided “Fuck it, close enough.”
And “close enough” is “Someone You Loved” to a tee. Capaldi’s said he wanted to keep “Someone You Loved” broad so it would fit any scenario, but it’s so broad that any meaning beyond “the sads” falls out. It’s a song of poetic flourishes about going under and the night falling while gesturing vaguely toward a person-shaped absence in your life, but it doesn’t have any specificity or anything to latch onto. If anything, it’s just banking on your ability to remember “Someone Like You,” the pop tearjerker of the ’10s, and a song “Someone You Loved” is trying to mimic from the arpeggiated piano part to the quiet verse to belted chorus all the way down to the fucking title. But “Someone You Loved” isn’t interested in doing the work that makes “Someone Like You” so effective: it’s rushed (notice how there’s not a moment to breathe in this thing?), it throws away its own titular lyric, and Lewis tries to navigate any songwriting deficiencies by just singing as hard as possible. I know I said that most of our pop didn’t fail loudly this year, but “Someone You Loved,” despite being a piano ballad, is actively grating to listen to when Lewis screeches on the chorus and especially on the bridge. It’s the loudest pop was all year and it was also the worst.
There’s nothing behind “Someone You Loved.” It’s just musical wallpaper pretending to be authentic, but it disappears as soon as you take a look at it. It’s emblematic of the year’s worst traits, and the flatout worst hit song of the year.