Music to your tears — Taste is subjective, terror from bad songs is universal

Graphic courtesy of Chris Jenness, Jenness Graphic Design

Graphic courtesy of Chris Jenness, Jenness Graphic Design

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The following is a public service announcement. If I had the ability to sound the ear-splitting squawk of the emergency broadcast system, I would. Because that would be an improvement over what you are about to hear, conjured up in your head by the following discussion of horrifically ear-bleeding, hive-causing, IQ-lowering, rage-worthy perpetrations of bad music.

Don’t blame us, fair readers. We suffer as much as you. But we can no longer do so in silence. The airwaves keep churning up the offal of the music industry, much of which is as heave-worthy as a Cook Inlet halibut-fishing trip during the Good Friday earthquake. We must raise our voices in protest against bad music — or at least to drown it out, because if I hear the cat warbling of James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” one more time, I will grant myself reprieve from the dictates of the Geneva Convention, because that dreck is pure torture.

Song badness is not unique to our era. Our parents, their parents and their parents’ parents suffered similar torture, as will our kids, their kids and their kids’ kids. I can’t prove this, but my completely plausible theory is that the Founding Fathers were able to draft the U.S. Constitution as quickly as they did because a fife-and-bugle ensemble was busking outside the Philadelphia State House, jamming to an early rendition of Stevie Nicks’ “Just Like The White Winged Dove.” (Technically released in 1981, but its malignancy seems unbounded by the usual rules of space and time.)

I imagine the delegates sneaking out for a breather from the torment that must have been George Washington’s poor-dental-health breath, plus summer, plus the pre-existence of electrical cooling systems. But upon hearing the reedy strains of “Sings a song/ Sounds like she’s singing/ Whoo, whoo, whoo” they decided ol’ Mouthwash Washington wasn’t so bad after all.

So it’s not just us, though the recent wave of electro pop and celebutantes attempting to cross over into auto-tuned musical stardom has produced a virulent rash of terrible music. And I do mean rash, as this garbage makes my ears itch. But ours is certainly not the only era of auditory irritation. There’s been bad music as long as there’s been music.

That’s because there are limited instances in which the stars — and notes, and vocals, and lyrics — align to create good music. And so many, many ways in which it can be bad.

  • First off is the overall sound of a song. If that’s off — no singing ability (ahem, Paris Hilton), out of tune, weird rhythms, grating harmonies, bizarre instrumentation — not even Jon Hamm reading Shakespeare sonnets and offering Swiss chocolates can save it.

Take, for instance, “My Humps” by the Black-Eyed Peas. Even ignoring the milky Cocoa Puffs lyrics — because I need to at least pretend that I live in a world where such travesties do not exist — there’s that staccato, stumbling, regurgitating rhythm that feels like the auditory equivalent of trying to jog with a metal bucket filled with rusty nails stuck on one foot. If tetanus were a song, it would be this.

  • Even if you get a song with a decent sound, it can still go horribly awry with the lyrics. I find these songs particularly insidious, because when you start out kind of liking a song, your defenses and better judgment slips. It’s got a good melody, a thumb-drumming-the-steering-wheel rhythm. Then come the lyrics, ruining that sweet potential like a floatie of bird poop fowling a glistening, untouched ice cream cone.

There are so many examples of poor lyrics that it’d be shorter to list all the instances of good songs ever written than to even begin exploring the bad. Take, for example, “Party Like A Rock Star,” by Shop Boyz. When they aren’t plumbing the emotional depths of the human experience with such poetic gems as, “Me and my band, man/ On the yacht with Marilyn Manson/ Gettin’ a tan, man,” this 4:13 song includes not one, not two, not 12, but 18 refrains of “Party Like a Rock/ Party Like a Rock Star.” With the occasional “woop, woop,” “yeah, yeah,” and “totally dude!” thrown in.

But I’ll limit this to the worst of the worst — namely, lyrics which aren’t lyrics at all, because they aren’t even words. This is a vast category, but one of the standouts is Kid Rock’s 2004 hit “Bawitdaba.” Not only did Kid perform it at the Super Bowl, but it was nominated for two Grammys, despite the chorus containing nothing but gibberish: “Bawitdaba da bang a dang diggy diggy diggy said the boogy said up jump the boogy.” True, it’s gibberish cribbed from old-school rap chants, but reheating already-rotten leftovers doesn’t make them any more palatable.

More recently was Eiffel 65’s “I’m Blue.” It has a cool, Eurythmics-esque sound, and stupid, mind-numbing refrain: “I’m blue. Dah bah dee dah bah die / Dah bah dee dah bah die / dah bah dee dah bah dee dah bah die.”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, there are at least a quarter of a million distinct English words, and you can’t come up with ANY to use in these songs?

This defies even lazy. Lazy would be taking an inventory of your room, or listing your Netflix queue, or writing your shopping list into the song. (For Kid, I imagine: Flamin’ Cheetos, frozen pizza, bacon, squeeze cheese, bacon, gravy, bacon, antacids.)

This is so militantly lazy it circles back around to effort, requiring that the author make up nonsense in lieu of demonstrating the vocabulary of a toddler, or even a parrot that’s only ever heard a toddler. You need some help, Kid? Here are some words for you: Loathing, rage, untimely demise, trunk of my car.

  • Content. Sometimes the sound is OK, and the words in and of themselves aren’t bad, but when they’re all strung together they form a line of utter B.S. The “Gummy Bear Song” comes, unfortunately, to mind. As does Hot Chip’s “Wrestlers,” about — surprise! — pro wrestling. And anything that has ever come out of Paris Hilton’s mouth in the range of a microphone is automatically reprehensible.
  • The “artists.” Even if the music is good, even if the lyrics don’t damage your IQ, and even if the content is tolerable, knowledge of the artist can still incite hatred. I refuse to entertain the value of anything by Rihanna and Chris Brown. They could compose the modern version of “Ave Maria” and I’d still hate it, since anything to do with their celebrity is now tacit approval of domestic violence.

And have you seen the train-heading-off-the-track that is Justin Bieber? It’s like he’s actively trying to become a cartoon character. If his hats get any more bulbous and his pants any more droopy he’s going to pass for Elmer Fudd.

But don’t take my word for it. Use your own (to much better effect than Eiffel 65, I’m sure). Particular tastes in music are as individual as flakes of snow, but the preponderance of bad among them is as omnipresent as car filth in breakup season.

Hate a song? Let us hear it!

Triumvirate Theatre and the Redoubt Reporter are collecting suggestions for today’s most-hated pop songs. Remember Dave Barry’s classic “Bad Song Survey” column for the Miami Herald? Barry polled his newspaper readers for their best examples of bad songs and turned the landslide of responses into a book, from which a play has been adapted. Triumvirate, with permission from Barry, is revising the play to incorporate the musical atrocities inflicted since the 1997 column was written.

And we want your help! Tell us your suggestion for worst pop song of the 2000s and what makes it so loathsome. Many submissions will be included in the show, and one chosen submission — the best of the worst — will win two free tickets to the show, scheduled for May 17, 18, 24 and 25.

To participate, find Triumvirate Theatre on Facebook and submit your song, or email your suggestion to redoubtreporter@alaska.net. Tell us who you are, what song you’re proposing and why. Then come to the show and revel in the awful.

Earplugs won’t be provided, but neither will they be begrudged.

Here’s a little direction to get you thinking. Even the most staunch music lovers have some hatred mixed in. The following are suggestions from Dan Pascucci and Trina Uvass, hosts of the Musicology show on KDLL radio, 91.5 FM, from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday nights alternating with Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Meetings.

From Dan Pascucci:

Photo by Roy Mullin, courtesy of KDLL public radio 91.9 FM. Trina Uvaas and Dan Pascucci host Musicology from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday nights opposite Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meetings.

Photo by Roy Mullin, courtesy of KDLL public radio 91.9 FM. Trina Uvaas and Dan Pascucci host Musicology from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday nights opposite Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meetings.

I’ve been putting off writing this for a few reasons. First off, I try to give most things the benefit of the doubt, accepting that almost everything has a purpose. Secondly, realizing that I oftentimes fail at the first thing, the thought of songs that could be labeled “the worst” don’t just make me giggle at how awful they are. These songs have the power to ruin my day, or at least the moments they are playing and even a few minutes afterward, especially if they remain stuck in my head. I know what you’re thinking, “How can a song labeled ‘the worst’ be stuck in your head. Obviously, it’s good enough to be stuck in your head.” To that, I answer that these songs have not achieved their space on my list simply by being forgettable, but instead by being so memorably awful, that my brain will sometimes remember them, JUST SO I can hate them some more.

With that said, I tend to be pretty open to music, would hate to be considered a music snob, and will probably not judge your musical taste if any of these songs are on the top of your playlist. So here I go, getting ready to ruin my day by remembering my top five worst songs.

  • No. 5: “Whip my Hair,” Willow Smith. This song contains a few of the elements of a great worst song: An annoying hook that is so repetitive, it can cause what I refer to as the “Psycho Strings Effect.” The chorus of “Whip My Hair” could be substituted for the strings in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” while Mother Bates stabs the dickens out of the shower lady. (Also, a hook so annoying that I reach for a kitchen knife to stab my ears repeatedly when it comes on.)

Then there are the lyrics, sung with a cocky swagger by a then 10-year-old. Such as, “Hop up out the bed, turn my swag on/pay no attention to them haters ’cause we whip ’em off.”  I had haters when I was 10, too, but you didn’t see me turning any swag on or whippin’ anybody off.  Usually, I just went home and cried a little bit.

Also, “Whip My Hair” is a stupid thing to encourage people to do. Is it a dance? Are you updating the Hokey-Pokey? I’m thinking about writing a song called, “Just do something crazy and post it on the Internet.” I’m going to name it the “Harlem Shake.”

Also making me hate this song is that Willow Smith is Will Smith’s daughter. I know it’s not her fault, but I can’t get over someone breaking into the pop charts just because their daddy could afford to produce and promote their album, especially one as painful as this one.

  • No. 4. “Closer to Fine,” The Indigo Girls. I have a friend who loves peanuts. One day, the doctor told him he was allergic to peanuts, and that he couldn’t eat them anymore or he would die. He didn’t hate peanuts after that, he just avoided them at all costs. At some point in my life, my body decided that it was allergic to the Indigo Girls. They’re a fine band with lots of good songs. The problem is that their big hit song, “Closer to Fine,” makes me “closer to punch someone in the face.” Maybe it’s the fact that the guitar part is easy enough to play at campfire singalongs, so it often gets played at campfire singalongs, of which I happen to attend many. When this happens, my body starts to tense up, my fists clench, and when everybody joins in on the chorus, I die a little bit on the inside.

Also, words like “There’s more than one answer to these questions pointing in a crooked line” make me want to S’pew my S’mores. I don’t know why. It’s as unbidden as a violent allergy.

I also will never forgive the Indigo Girls for their covers of Dire Straits’ “Romeo and Juliet” and Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s alright.”

  • No. 3 Tie — “Picture,” Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow, and “All Summer Long,” Kid Rock.

Kid Rock sucks. He used to not suck so much, but now he sucks a lot. The song “Picture” is a great example of when Kid Rock started sucking. I’m reminded of this song every time I get trapped in a place where people are attempting karaoke. The song wasn’t good with Kid and Sheryl, what makes you think it’s going to sound good with you and your drunk boyfriend singing it? The worst part is, I can finish some of the lines in the song when it’s on the radio. I hate myself.

“All summer Long” is a tribute to summertime and the music of Lynrd Skynrd. Why, then, does it sample Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London?” I’m calling B.S. on this one, Kid Rock. You knew Warren’s version of the chord pattern was better than Skynrd’s, so why didn’t you just make your chorus “Singin’ Werewolves of London all summer long”?

  • No. 2 “Wagon Wheel,” Old Crow Medicine Show (chorus by Bob Dylan).

“Hey, have you heard that song, ‘Wagon Wheel?’ It’s awesome! I just learned how to play it on my guitar. It’s really easy. We should totally play this as often as possible at campfires, open mics and any gigs we get.”

Once again, I don’t want to be misunderstood. This is a GREAT song that has inspired many people to think that they are great musicians. The song IS. YOU, on the other hand, are NOT.

(Full disclosure: I will play along with anyone who suggests jamming on “Wagon Wheel,” but I will most likely roll my eyes, so that makes it OK.)

  • No. 1 “Red Solo Cup,” Toby Keith. Songs about inanimate objects can be inspiring, emotional and powerful. Songs about partying can be fun. Songs that make people want to sing along are often joyful. Spoken songs that sound like they’re being spoken while slightly inebriated can be silly. “Red Solo Cup” is a piece of crap.

Although you can sing along with it and it sounds like it’s being sung drunk, it is a worthless song that stinks like a frat house the morning after and is as useful as the dregs/dip/cigarette butts at the bottom of a red solo cup on said morning after. I wonder if Keith got paid by the Solo company for this pandering to the keg party crowd, or if he had to get the licensing rights to use the brand name. Either way, they both lost, because we all know that a Mason jar will always be a better beverage vessel. Please don’t ever tell me that I should do a cover of this song.

Well, there you go. My glass is just about empty of haterade, so rather than pour myself another, I’ll send this on to someplace where it might do some good: To you, the readers.

Like I said, it’s purely a matter of opinion, so don’t feel bad if I hate your favorites, I’m sure you’d hate some of mine.

Let’s all get along, and sing “Kumbaya.” Oh, that reminds me, oh, wait, I’ve already used my 5.

From Trina Uvaas:

To me, there’s nothing worse than those sappy sweet syrupy songs. I know I’ve emphasized my extreme dislike of love songs in the past, and there are some that make my stomach turn:

  • 1. Bob Carlisle’s “Butterfly Kisses. It’s like a cheesy country song without the bonus of a little twang. This singer is trying way too hard.
  • 2. James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful.” The repetitive lyrics of ‘You’re beautiful, you’re beautiful, you’re beautiful …’ makes me think he’s trying to convince himself that this must be the case. Kind of like how, “You are so beautiful, to me.” makes it sound like the object of the song isn’t classically beautiful, and instead is only beautiful in the eyes of that particular beholder. Repetitiveness that numbs your brain and makes you realize the lyrics could have been written by a 5-year old leads me to my next least-liked song:
  • 3. Gummibear’s “I Am A Gummy Bear.” Avoid at all costs.
  • 4. Sisqo’s “Thong Song.” The fact that we have heard nothing from Sisqo since 2001 speaks volumes for how awful his previously released material is. The melody is catchy, but, man, I hate having those lyrics run through my head.
  • 5. Crazy Town’s “Butterfly.” “Come my lady/ come, come my lady/ you’re my butterfly, sugar baby.” For the record, I do not approve of butterfly tattoos in general, but especially on men. I’m not sure what came first, this song, or the lead singer’s enormous butterfly tattoo on his bicep, but I remember being riveted to the TV the first time I saw this music video, not because the song was any good, but because I could not believe this multiply pierced, bleach-blond man had an enormous, purple butterfly inked on his bicep. This is the epitome of poor taste.
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6 Comments

Filed under entertainment, music

6 responses to “Music to your tears — Taste is subjective, terror from bad songs is universal

  1. chris jenness

    This won’t count, because it’s pre-2000, but I hate “Chatahootchee,” by Alan Jackson. “Way down yonder on the Chattahoochee / It gets hotter than a hoochie coochie.” Argh!! Adding insult to injury, at my wedding we asked to band to play a whole range of songs, specifically excluding “Chatahootchee,” and “Hang On Sloopy,” which I find unfairly maligned, but my wife apparently disagrees. Be that as it may, what did we find ourselves boogying to late into the evening? You guessed it. The band played each song three times!

    • redoubtreporter

      Booooo! I could have happily gone all day without that stuck in my head. Chatahootchee is terrible enough to span the decades.
      - Jenny

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  3. Shana Loshbaugh

    Ok, I’ll bite, but these are old ones from the previous millennium.

    My personal unfavorite is a popular (why oh why?) ear-worm from 1979: the pina colada song. According to Wikipedia, it was created by Rupert Holmes (whose fame … well, never mind) and actually titled “Escape.” Beyond its saccharine, banal melody & instrumentation, its lyrics are what really torque me. Co-habiting couple discover they are both into lying, cheating, and syrupy drinks. How cute! Not.

    For runner up, I pick a song my child used to listen to during an adolescent annoy-the-parents phase. I do not know who the “artist” was. It consisted of a raspy voiced male yelling the F word repeatedly over a heavy-metal backup. Minimalist lyrics indeed.

    Thank you for this in-depth reporting. It is cheerful snark, more fun than North Korea, and one of the rare ways to extract gold from the slag of mass culture.

  4. Glacier D

    This is why you should move to the interior, Dirty: it’s too light for campfires, until it gets dark, and by then, it’s too cold for guitars.

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