Oh dear – here we go. We can’t let people get away with bad music. Not in these times when music is all we have on some days. Some of these songs brought up important issues in the most banal, agonizing ways. Social consciousness has a place in art – duh – but it does not excuse poor craftsmanship. Here are the 10 worst songs of 2017 with aggressively-bland pop tunes, baffling flops, and unfortunate excursions from respected artists.
10. Arcade Fire – “Peter Pan”
The singles for Everything Now were not ghastly. “Everything Now” had a nice peppiness to it. Regine’s vocals on “Creature Comfort” shine. “Peter Pan” follows these singles on Everything Now, and despite its minor stature, it was still an immediate “oh no” moment. The production is horrendous; are those fart noises? The distortion in “Peter Pan” is the opposite of edgy. Arcade Fire is renowned for their embrace of nostalgic innocence from the bombastic cry of “Whatever happened to them?” on “Neighborhood #1” to basically all of The Suburbs, so “Peter Pan” seemed like a great opportunity for them to reach back to their roots. Oh well, great bands can’t live forever – RIP Arcade Fire.
9. Drake – “Signs”
Drake receives a lot of flack just for being insanely popular. Like Michael Jackson releasing Thriller at the height of MTV, Drake is thriving in the right moment with the streaming market by constantly releasing new music and never fading from the zeitgeist. However, something did change this year for Drake. His Billboard Hot 100 streak going back to 2009 ended this year due mostly to not releasing any new music after the relatively-poor performance of “Signs.” Drake clearly imagined this as the Summer anthem that kept his streak afloat. It feels scientifically-crafted – okay, Latin beats worked for “One Dance” so let’s try that again. The result was a piss-poor thin beat that sounds like a default setting on a Walmart keyboard. Drake is just as lifeless; he sings about drinking and some woman coming on to him – you know, the Drake usual. Here’s to Drake regrouping in 2018.
8. XXXTENTACION – “Look At Me!”
Am I getting too old? Why was this a massive breakthrough hit? I know the beat is supposed to sound terrible, but I have heard beats in this vein that were much better – Earl Sweatshirt thrives in them. His rapping magnifies the amateurish quality of it all; it sounds like a freestyle that only has a rhythm because of the ad-libs at the end of each line. All of this is quite standard SoundCloud rap honestly, but XXXTENTACION’s contemporaries (Playboi Carti, Lil Uzi Vert) have managed to release some great music almost purely driven by ad-libs and upbeat moodiness. Also, it is XXXTENTACION’s personal life that truly makes this irredeemable. I don’t want to hear poorly-written angst from a person charged with aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, domestic battery by strangulation, and witness-tampering. Separating the art from the artist is difficult here.
7. Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, & James McAlister – “Earth”
Congratulations! Imagine that you have listened through 15 tracks of Planetarium – a concept album about the solar system from Sufjan & friends. You have listened to almost an hour of boring space-like droning with Sufjan injecting himself every now and then to tell you something planetary and spiritual. It has been a slog, but hey it’s almost over. Wrong. Track 16 in this miserably-boring affair is a 15-minute dedication to the only home we know. It takes 5 minutes for Sufjan to show up, but with his auto-tuned drivel, you wish he hadn’t. Something important is meant with this conclusion, but it’s too dreary for you to care.
6. The Chainsmokers & Coldplay – “Something Just Like This”
Yeah, the Chainsmokers stink, but this one’s on Chris Martin. Ever since Coldplay imposed “Fix You” on all of us for the rest of eternity, Martin has been the king of forced sentimentality. Have you ever felt vaguely sad? Well, Chris Martin has the answer for you. On “Something Just Like This,” he outdoes himself. He has apparently been reading “books of old” but can only muster up nonspecific references to Achilles and Hercules – “and his gold”? WTF does that mean? He also has been thinking about comic books and only finds self-pity. The best lines here: “Spiderman’s control / And Batman with his fists / And clearly I don’t see myself upon that list.” Dear God, Chris – you’re 40.
5. Ed Sheeran – “Castle on the Hill”
A broken leg, Elton John, hand-rolled cigarettes – man, Ed, those were the days. Fine, whatever, this is a standard “I’m getting too popular. I need to get back to my roots.” anthem. Ed Sheeran nauseatingly succeeds at every milquetoast pop trope he seeks out. He treats songwriting like a 5 paragraph essay; his process is as transparent as it gets. Ed Sheeran is not “bad” at what he does, but he makes you hate the pop songwriting template that allows him to succeed. His unthreatening face is the enemy to anybody with great music taste that has an ounce of poptimism.
4. Imagine Dragons – “Thunder”
“Thunder” is low-key for an Imagine Dragons single, but they somehow get worse with this approach. There was no moment in pop music this year as laughable as the “THUNDER” chipmunk voice in the chorus. The lead-up to the chorus is terrible as well. Dan Reynolds just keeps raising the last word on every line; maybe if I scream hard enough at the speaker, it will get rid of his hiccup? And those snaps during the verses – that’s a trend that has to end soon. Imagine Dragons is like Ed Sheeran unGodly-mixed with tame dubstep.
3. Prophets of Rage – “Legalize Me”
Prophets of Rage are a supergroup of Public Enemy, Rage Against the Machine, and Cypress Hill. They formed to make a political statement against Trump and really, the whole government. One problem – it’s not 1992. They are incredibly dated in their approach. These are the same people that did “Fight the Power” and “Bulls on Parade,” but none of that revolutionary energy is here. The guitars are chunky; Chuck D ran out of gas 25 years ago; I don’t know what B-Real adds. On “Legalize Me,” we get a heavy-handed plea to legalize marijuana. The vocal effects are simply horrendous. Prophets of Rage sound like “Beverly Hills”-era Weezer if they went political.
2. Logic feat. Alessia Cara & Khalid – “1-800-273-8255”
This one’s a doozy. It calls attention to the suicide epidemic in America but in the weakest, most obvious manner. You know how on Twitter someone will tweet out the suicide prevention hotline and ask followers to retweet to “save a life”? The good intentions are there, but it always comes with a tinge of self-satisfaction. This is the song version of that, and it inevitably feels hollow. It is a broad-stroke approach at empathy and social justice done out of pity; charges of self-glorification are not far behind, either. In the end, a phone number is less significant than calling out the systems in America that set up people to fail and feel worthless. Gun control is also vital to the conversation. Now all of that is a problem in intent and messaging. It does not help that the song is objectively terrible and overdone. A gospel singer shows up halfway through to blow the song out of proportion. The “Who can relate? WOO” that is tacked-on in the chorus is grimace-worthy. Music may be the greatest healer of all as it connects people and improves mood; Logic just has to make great music to send that message of hope and relatability that he forces so ghastly here.
1. Katy Perry feat. Migos – “Bon appétit”
The pick for worst song of 2017 could not have been any easier. Katy Perry flopped miserably with Witness, and “Bon appétit” was the magnum opus of that shitfest. First, the lyrics reinforce the gender stereotype that women must cater to men with “starving eyes.” The only power Perry conveys for women is to be used by men. Comparing herself to food intensifies that powerlessness as she is something only to be consumed; no balance is seen here. If you missed that, the single cover and video certainly hit it home. In both, Perry is just a thing. In the year of #MeToo and the outing of sexual abusers, “Bon appétit” stood out as a socially-regressive fuck-up for the ages.
And what are Migos doing here? Their Culture blow-up resulted in some great features like “Slide,” but their appearance on this song almost makes you regret all their newfound success.
“Bon appétit” is not even catchy, either . Not as if that would forgive its gender politics, but it would make it go down smoother. The chorus is just an alliteration with “B.” The great pop structure of previous singles like “Teenage Dream” and “Birthday” is completely gone for a cheap attempt at club sounds. “Birthday” especially stands out because in that song, Perry compares herself to a cake because she knows he “likes it sweet.” The gender relationship there is similar (certainly not as pronounced) but just by making a great song like “Birthday,” Perry naturally conveys power by simply being a great figure in pop music. In 2017, Katy Perry was far from greatness.