When I was young, I promised myself I would never grow completely out of touch with what the kids were listening to. I’d rage against the dying of the light. Now, well into my fourth decade, I’ve kept that promise to a certain extent. But I only really know what the Pitchfork/Stereogum kids are listening to (at least to an extent; I obviously don’t have access to the Under-25, password-protected portion of Stereogum). I’ve got no clue what the rest of America is playing on their Zunes or whatever.
I don’t listen to the radio. Ever. There’s no reason to. And I’m obviously significantly beyond the MTV demographic, although I’ve heard rumblings that they don’t even play music videos anymore. I pay no attention to outlets that would introduce me to new popular music.
So, in an effort to appease my younger self, I’m going to listen to the Billboard Top 40 pop songs, consecutively, in one sitting, counting down from #40 to #1. This isn’t likely to be pretty.
I am here, and I am prepared to take on this unseemly beast. I have no cornerman. No spit bucket. It’s just me, my headphones and my pain threshold. But I’m well rested. I’m hydrated, evacuated, and hopelessly dated (TM Walt “Clyde” Frazier). And I’m ready to go.
Ride wit me.
And…we’re not off to a great start. Whoever Selena Gomez is, she sounds like a very poor man’s Shakira. This song could be dated anywhere from 1981 to the present. It’s dominated by vocal effects, a terrible club beat and terrible lyrics. “You are the thunder and I am the lightning” is the most original, creative line in the song. Not a good sign. Apparently, Selena Gomez is one of those Miley Cyrus-ish Disney girls, which seems appropriate for my entrée into the world of the Millenials or the Helicopter Kids, or whatever they’re calling the younger generations these days.
Unpleasant Jamaican Shaggy-esque yelling opens the song, which then immediately devolves into an awful mid-tempo ballad. “Burning up the airwaves. On our way to the platinum and gold.” Really, Iyaz? Where are these airwaves? This is another song seemingly lost in time. Sounds like it could be in a coffee commercial or playing as the slow jam at the prom of a CW show.
From a song that sounds like it should be in commercials to a song that most definitely is in commercials. Christ, did this track have to appear this early in the going? I wanted to build up a little momentum before I dealt with will.i.am and Fergie. I haven’t even broken a sweat, and now I’m expected to handle a flurry of body blows. Obviously, I know this song, but I’ve never had to listen to it all the way through before. The backing track sounds like it was one of the pre-programmed songs on a cheap Casio keyboard. Holy fuck, this song is almost five minutes long. Fergie does have a good voice, or at least better than I gave her credit for. So, that’s something, I guess. “Fill up my cup/Mazel Tov/Look at her dancing/Just take it…off!” A poor rhyme scheme, that.
Oh good, it’s a white rapper wearing a Red Sox hat in his official MySpace portrait.
Oh, and he’s self-deprecating and wants to be Eminem? This is a wonderful development.
My God, this is terrible. This makes the first three songs on the Top 40 sound like the first three tracks on Nevermind. Spose is a cross between Weird Al Yankovic’s “White and Nerdy” and The Offspring’s “Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)”.
Motherfucker, I’m awesome
I run away from brawls
There’s no voicemail, nobody calls
And I talk to myself on my Facebook wall
Social media jokes. Timely. We’ve also got unibrow and Jumanji jokes. If Eminem was the Robin Williams of white rap, this dude is the Tom Green. Just in-your-face hideous. Irredeemable.
So this is the famous Ke$ha. I think she’s sending me mixed messages. First, she mewls, “show me where your dick at.” Then, not seconds later, “Think you’ll be getting this? Not in the back of my car.” Well what if your car is the only place I want “this”?
Ke$ha can’t sing. She’s like a cross between Fergie and the Pussycat Dolls. The song’s mercifully short, at least.
Sounds like Kelly Clarkson, and offensively, aggresively so. A B-grade re-write of “Since U Been Gone.” Or “Bitch,” by Meredith Brooks. Same guitar lick in the verses, same attempt at an anthemic chorus. One of the worst, most blatant rip-offs I’ve ever heard. Same bridge. Same quiet-ish part at the end. How does Orianthi sleep at night? And why am I alone in the darkness trying to defend Kelly Clarkson’s honor?
Bublé seemed like a nice enough fellow as I was fast forwarding through his Saturday Night Live performances. This is jaunty. Not terrible. I could see enjoying this song a time or three before I got so sick of it I wanted to throw myself through a plate glass window. More likeable than Harry Connick Jr. Subtle horns. I kind of feel like snapping along. Yep, now it’s starting to wear out its welcome…no wait, it’s getting jaunty again. I can see myself assassining down the avenue to this shit. Not bad, Bublé. Not bad at all.
Important question: Is she playing eenie meenie with Sean and Bieber, trying to decide between the two of them? I wouldn’t think they’d get a lot of crossover groupies.
Bieber pronounces it “shawty” and thinks he knows your type – the love ‘em and leave ‘em type. Wise beyond his years, that Bieber.
I wonder if Bieber’s aware of the unpleasant racist connotations of “eenie meenie miney moe.”
This is a boring ballad with a beat, but I admit — Bieber kept me engaged.
Spacey beat, almost Timbaland-esque. Can’t actually be Timbaland because it gets more generic and boring as it goes along. It’s like they stopped trying a minute in. If you didn’t know better, by the end the background music sounds like a video game soundtrack or one of those SNL sketches lampooning Eurotrash techno. So far, way too many of the songs on the countdown have been like this – hopelessly generic club/hip hop songs with samey beats and nothing interesting in the vocals. It’s a morass of sub-mediocrity.
Yep, she sounds like all the other female country singers. The name “Lady Antebellum” makes me assume I’ll hate them, and also that they’re racist. I do like the fiddle. Her exaggeratedly twangy voice partially ruins what could be a nice song. My semi-warm feelings toward this song all stem from the phrase “American Honey.” Shitty chorus, but the good parts of the song sound like they could be on “Heartbreaker.”
The bland guy who beat Adam Lambert on American Idol, right? “How come we don’t say ‘I love you’ enough, until it’s too late? It’s not too late!” Ah, the chorus gets kinds of weird and chanty. “Only got 86,400 seconds in a day” – close call, I thought he might break into that song from Rent. Gotta live like we’re dying? So, Kris Allen is saying I should be $20,000 worth of heroin and Fruit Roll-Ups and rent a cabin in the Irish countryside? Kris Allen is making me think about my own mortality. That’s unsettling. To be fair, everything from finding a quarter on the ground to office paperwork to an overly ripe banana makes me think about my own mortality.
Timbaland at his worst. Nothing interesting about the beat; it’s like a clock ticking. Or is that just Kris Allen getting inside my damn head? The most boring song thus far in the countdown, which is saying something. Drake doesn’t help – sounds like he’s trying to be Kanye, even more than usual. Hey, according the lyrics, they’re now at the 40/40. Are they with Big Papi? Hey Papi, how does it feel to have 17 strikeouts and no home runs in 41 ABs? Really tough not to hit the FF button. Timbaland has no charisma as a performer. Great producer, I guess, but as an artist, he should limit himself to brief guest spots and comedic dancing.
JT’s opening verse is kind of enjoyable. The chorus sucks, which seems to be a trend. Do artists not realize choruses are supposed to be the catchy part? This one’s all just repeated syllables. Michael Jordan metaphors. Timely. JFoxx:” I went from TV’s To Screens and DVD’s To CD’s, To MP3’s overseas.” That sums up the problem nicely, Jamie, thanks. TI’s verse isn’t bad. Say this for it: for a Jamie Foxx song, there’s very minimal JFoxx involvement. And there’s no Ray Charles impersonating anywhere in sight (that must have been left on the cutting-room floor).
Oscar presenter Miley Cyrus. This track sounds exactly like a Britney Spears ballad. Miley’ voice – at least this doctored version of it – isn’t bad (or at least it’s better than Britney’s or Ke$ha’s, for whatever that’s worth).
Same omnipresent synth sounds. Space sound effects. Would never know this was Usher. Other than YEAHHHH, I had no idea what Usher sounds like. Plies apparently tries to be Busta Rhymes.
“Let me pour Kool Aid on you real slow and lick it off before it hits the floor.” Well, now I’m strangely aroused.
In my spare time, I like to think of album title ideas for Usher. I’m shocked he’s never used one of these. Lost opportunities:
- The Rise of the House of Usher
- Bride or Groom, Ma’am?
- Let me Usher You into the Bedroom
This is the dude who sings the shitty choruses on rap songs, yeah? Well this whole song sounds like those shitty choruses. Kevin Rudolf can’t sing. But the presence of Birdman allows me to think about his awesome song with Clipse: Brrrr…what happened to that boy?
24. How Low/Ludacris
Ugh, I know this song. It wasn’t that long ago when there were some good rap songs in the Top 40, right? Where’s the Jay-Z or Kanye of 2010? Also, what determines whether you get a “featuring” credit vs. just being a nameless voice on a verse of chorus? What’s the fame threshold on that? This song proudly features the lingering echoes of “Move, Bitch.”
Here is whatai want from ya, Adam: Stop pretending you’re edgy. Stop singing like that. Like what? You know like what, douche. Also, make this song go faster, or be shorter. You, and others like you, stop trying to be the “hard rockin’” American Idol guys. Not possible. Can’t happen. This is sub-late-era-Journey. Fuck that, this is sub-Mr. Big.
Hey, I know this song! And I like this song. We’re going to pause while I dance a little bit. OK, I’m back. I like the strings and the guitar in the intro. Sadly, the lyrics feature the same old boring hip hop message of “Mo Money, Mo Problems.” Along with Kanye, Drake is pretty clearly heavily influenced by Li’l Wayne. Dumb sung chorus. Which reminds me: What makes the best type of chorus to a rap song? Chicks like Rihanna singing a hook? Rapping? Rappers trying to sing? One or two words repeated over and over? Autotune? I vote for anything except rappers trying to sing; especially Eminem. We’re picking up momentum in the second verse…and giving it right back in the chorus.
I don’t know any Gaga songs other than Poker Face. This is alright, though trying too hard to be weird. Not unlike Gaga herself. There’s a catchy chorus that sounds like it swiped the melody from something else. According to Wikipedia, The Guardian says it sounds like Depeche Mode. Yeah, that’s about right. Also, Gaga apparently performed this song on Gossip Girl, which means I’ve heard it before after all, but I must have been too focused on how much I hate Dan Humphrey to pay attention.
Whaaa? Jack Johnson’s in the Top 40? This is an unwelcome surprise. Well, I’m trying to keep an open mind here, so I’ll give it a fair shot. Nope, this is dreadful. There is absolutely no difference between Jack Johnson and Jack Johnson parodies. “You and Your Heart” isn’t appealing on any level. I wouldn’t even want to fall asleep to this music. I’d get the rage shakes and have to get up. So irritating. This is the most tempted I’ve been yet to fast forward. But I will not go down that easy! Cut me, Mick!
Our first repeat artist is Ke$ha? I’m really paying for enjoying that Drake song now. The Top 40 is making me Catholic: I can’t enjoy anything without paying for it tenfold down the road. Sounds a lot like the other Ke$ha song. Not quite as bad. Girly talk-singing. I think she thinks it’s sexy. I’m definitely reaching the punch-drunk portion of the countdown where I just want to shut off my brain and sing and dance along to anything and spin around the room like I’m drunk (I’m a little drunk). I’m definitely being brainwashed. Yes, Ke$ha, you make my heart beat like an 808 drum. Yes, I want to have a slumber party in your basement. Yes, Goddamnit, you win!
Sounds like American Idol rock. I know nothing about them. Both the song and band name are right out of Sounds of the ‘80s, but the music sounds more like shitty Nickelbackish bands of the ‘00s. I bet this song’s been on One Tree Hill. Maybe Remy Zero is their closest comparable? According to whatever Web site I just looked at, they cite U2 as their chief influence. Uh…nope. U2, even at their late-period worst, never sounded this whiny.
Well, I guess here’s 2010’s Jay-Z. Unfortunately, it’s one of the worst songs Hova has ever recorded. Forever Young wasn’t a good ‘80s song even in the ‘80s, and it’s a strange choice for Jay-Z to rap over. It’s uninspired, sleepy and plodding. Any chance Empire State of Mind is still lurking higher up on the charts? Or Run This Town? Even DOA? Whoever’s singing the hook (I presume it’s Mr. Hudson?) sounds a little like Sting. The Blueprint III is definitely not a strong Jay-Z album top to bottom. It contains two of his best-ever songs, a few other good songs, and a lot of filler, of which this is the filliest.
I will admit, I had no idea Ludacris was still this popular. I thought his time had passed us by. Let’s just say this is not a departure. Shouldn’t an obscene, sexist rap song contain at least a couple funny lines? Dreck like “She comes out swinging like Tiger Woods’ wife” does not qualify.
15. TiK ToK/Ke$ha
Sigh. Fergie if she were tone-deaf and always in that terrible “playful” kittenish mode. Why the weird spelling of the song title? So much weird spelling in the Top 40. It’s enough to confuse and frighten and old man. Lotta Autotune. I suppose it’s no surprise that the artist with the most appearances on the chart is also, by far, the worst artist on the chart, with all due apologies to Jack Johnson. She just rhymed crunk with junk. I could swear she did that in one of her other songs too. If you played audio three card monte with these three Ke$ha songs, I would not be able to pick one from the others. To borrow a phrase from David Cross, she’s a giggling cunt.
I am beginning to suspect that this exercise is not going to introduce me to a lot of new music that’s going to become part of my everyday life. I don’t think I’m going to ask that BedRock by Young Money feat. Lloyd gets played on my deathbed. Is that Li’l Wayne himself on the intro? Or another soundalike? Is one Flintstones reference too much to ask of a song called BedRock? OK, there it is. Just one though, and not clever, and not even a Barney Rubble reference. Boooo. “Maybe it’s time to put this pussy on your sideburns,” says a girl rapper on a guest verse. What does that even mean? What does that entail? I’m intrigued. Does it matter if my sideburns are neatly trimmed or more like muttonchops?
Sounds like that band that does the Army commercials before the movies. Train? 3 Doors Down? With like a little Coldplay thrown in, maybe? Where do these generic bands come from? Are there really little boys that dream someday they’ll grow up to be The Script? Is this the height of their artistic version? Or have they already been compromised to their core by commerce, external pressures and greed? Somewhere deep in The Script is there a poet waiting to get out? Chorus: “I’m falling to pieces/I’m falling to pieces/I’m falling to pieces/I’m falling to pieces.” Yeah, maybe no on the poet question. This dude possesses a certain tone to his voice that automatically makes me hate anyone who has it.
This combo has yielded good results in the past, from Sexy Back to Bounce. But Timbaland’s vocal roles in songs needs to be incredibly condensed for him to succeed as an artist. Justin Timberlake’s wasted here. Remind me not to buy Shock Value II. We’re dealing in fast food puns a-plenty. Ex: Do you like it well done cause I do it well.
I know Fabolous from Holla Back, but I’ve got no clue on Trey Songz. I’m 30 songs into this now. I know they ran the Boston Marathon earlier this week, but this is a true fucking test of endurance. Right now I’m beaten down. I’m Tin Cup after hitting 4 balls in the water. I’m Hulk Hogan right before he starts hulking up. I’m Michael Hutchence right as he realizes the knot’s too tight. This could really go either way.
Oh yeah, this song. R. Kelly rip-off. Blatant. Someone just rhymed Scottie Pippen with Marge Simpson. It is 2010, right?
Autotune like a punch to the sinuses right off the bat. I used up all my Usher jokes on his first song in the countdown. I’m in legit trouble here, you guys. I might have to tap out. Applause sounds in the background. I’m past the point of even wanting to dance along. I can’t even bop my head ironically. I couldn’t dance if I wanted to. “Honey got some boobies like wow oh wow.” Very repetitive, even more than most songs of this ilk. Better than the other Usher song, I guess? So will.i.am makes a better Usher sidekick than Plies does, which marks the first time that will.i.am has ever been better at anything than anybody. Congratulations, Willie!
Lotta repeat names showing up on the countdown now. How does Bieber rate when compated to heartthrobs of the past, like New Kids on the Block, I wonder? I guess the music sounds a little more polished than New Kids or Menudo, or even Backstreet Boys. Yeah, I think this song could hold its own against Hangin’ Tough, or like, something by The Jets. Did a Ludacris equivalent of the ‘90s ever show NKOTB this kind of respect, and grant this kind of credibility with a guest appearance. I mean, I’m not saying that Ludacris wouldn’t do anything for a pile of cash, but still.
Can someone make it stop? Please? This is the worst possible song to have to listen to after listening to 32 other mostly terrible pop songs. In the long, storied history of the BEPs (the kids call them the BEPs, right?), this is the nadir. Yep, worse than “My Humps.” Worse than “Let’s Get It Started.” This is the Marianas Trench of BEP-dom.
I would have thought that a Gaga/Beyonce combination would work pretty well, or at least as well as a Gaga/Elton John combo. But this is the worst of the Gaga singles I’ve heard. The telephone sound effects in the background don’t help. Beyonce’s verse is as generic as Beyonce gets. It might as well be one of the other nameless chicks from Destiny’s Child (“What do you mean nameless chicks? Fuck you! My career is much more established than that other chick!”—Kelly Rowland). The backing music in this track is just too busy, with too many dumb noises and futuristic bleeping. I wanted this song to be a bright spot in the Top Ten, but it let me down.
Yet another repeat offender. This song doesn’t have nearly as much going for it as “American Honey.” It fits much more easily into the modern pop-country template, and could pass for a Faith Hill or Shania Twain. Oh, now a dude’s singing. This dude sucks. Bring back the twangy lady.
Who or what is Jason Derulo? “Derülo was born in Miami, Florida, to Haitian parents. His birth name is Desrouleaux, but he has changed the spelling for his stage name to make it easier to pronounce.” Thanks, Wikipedia. And apparently he’s tight with Birdman and Li’l Wayne. An incestuous group, this Top 40. God, this song is bland. There’s nothing to say about it. I’m drifting off in my mind to an alternate reality where the Top 40 is dominated by The New Pornographers, The Hold Steady and Ted Leo & the Pharmacists. Was there ever a time when those catchy, melodic bands could have thrived in the mainstream? The early ‘90s, maybe? Well, a quick glance at Billboard’s year-end chart for 1993 makes that year look a lot like 2010 in terms of what’s popular enough to chart. (Tag Team, Silk, SWV, Snow, Robin S., Peabo Bryson & Regina Belle, etc.) I guess my dream will remain forever out of reach.
I am getting really fucking sick of Ludacris’ voice. Taio Cruz is British, but he makes hip hop songs like every American on the chart thus far: spacey synths, prominent guest spots, and no hooks. There’s nothing here to appeal to anyone who’s not at a dance club, and already so drunk they don’t care what the DJ plays. Three more songs. I CAN DO THIS.
I can’t do this.
Train is still around? I thought they were one of those early-‘00s bands I could safely joke about without them showing up to haunt me. This is cloying garbage. Worse than “Drops of Jupiter.” And apparently, this is Train’s conscious attempt to make an “INXS-style” song. Um, no. Have you ever actually heard INXS? They were pretty good. Unless they mean the post-Hutchence INXS. That would make a lot of sense.
Would it be too presumptious of me to assume that B.O.B. does not stand for “Bombs Over Baghdad”? This one’s for the ladies. The retarded ladies. A ballad that does nothing and goes nowhere.
And we’re greeted at the #1 spot by…what else? A generic mid-’90s club beat.
I think Rihanna uses an innuendo generator – Are you big enough? Can you get it up? Rihanna’s voice sucks. She’s a passionless robot. Her gimmick seems to be repeating syllables, like in the chorus of Umbrella, and here too. I guess this song’s an attempt at female empowerment of gender role reversal. Again, the chorus sucks. This song’s pretty awful, but it’s a welcome relief compared to a lot the songs I’ve just endured. At least it sounds like it was made by professionals. And there’s the semblance of a hook hidden somewhere.
Well, kids, that’s it. We’re dunzo. And the vast majority of songs did nothing to distinguish this musical era from any other, or at least any other since the ‘70s. In fact, 2010 sounds a lot like 1989. How we consume music may be evolving, but music itself (at least the truly popular music) is badly stagnating. Or maybe this week’s Top 40 is just a fluke, and next week it’ll be all Sigur Ros and The xx.
Final tally? One song I liked a lot, and two others that I liked with reservations. That leaves 37 songs of varying degrees of dreadful.
I’ve come out the other side, though, and now I’m going to go sit in dark silence for the next six hours and contemplate the emptiness of our existence. You’re welcome.