The 11 Most Infuriating Songs Of 2011, No. 1: Jessie J Featuring B.o.B, "Price Tag"

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Ahhhh!!
The Song: Jessie J, "Price Tag"
The Crimes: Using what might be the entirety of her label's marketing budget to convince the world that she actually functions on a higher, post-capitalistic level; "video hos"; "ch-chang-cha-chang"; "bla-bling-bla-bling."

The year's most grueling pop personality was, without a doubt, the BRIT School-bred British yelper known as Jessie J. Born Jessica Cornish and known before 2011 as one of the people who helped birth Miley Cyrus's "Party In The USA," Jessie drop-kicked herself into the American consciousness earlier this year with one of those "big in the UK, but unknown here" Saturday Night Live performances, then stuck around, thanks in large part to her handlers booking her in any venue—the MTV Video Music Awards, VH1 Divas Live, your mom's 65th-birthday party—that might help up her Q rating.

While it's true that she could hold a note or two here and there, Jessie's barky voice and insistence on indulging every vocal trick in the book (stuttering, scatting, fake patois) turned her debut Who You Are (Universal Republic) into one of the year's most excruciating albums to sit through, a Katy Perry-like bludgeoning through pop that lacked even the scant amount of charm or self-awareness possessed by that singer. No song on Who You Are was more aggravating than the Dr. Luke and Claude Kelly-penned "Price Tag," a schlocky bit of lite reggae during which Miss J tries to be down with the recessionary populace she's shoved herself in front of by claiming that "we don't need your money, money, money" because "we just wanna make the world dance." Wait, does that mean those Vevo ads for your new video were paid for in hip-shakes?


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The 11 Most Infuriating Songs Of 2011, No. 2: Lana Del Rey, "Video Games"

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It's all come to this.
The Song: Lana Del Rey, "Video Games."
The Crimes: Irritated-alley-cat vocals; overwrought harps; fundamental misunderstanding of whether or not ironic critique of male-female mores can exist in the Hipster Runoff age; this poor girl's right thigh.

In 2011 the phrase "Lana Del Rey" wasn't just the name of an artist on Interscope's high-priority docket for 2012; those three words became a symbol for indie culture gone corporately curdled, for the confused feminism of the 21st century gone to pot, for the notion that while men could reinvent themselves as cool dudes with names like "Frank Ocean" women had to wear their major-label pasts and boring given names like "Lizzy Grant" like a permanently affixed scarlet L, for the hordes of anonymous commenters on the hunt for as much material for their hatefuck-masturbation fantasies as they could find. What got lost in this abstraction of signs and signifiers that the world is hurtling toward something completely unpleasant, though, was any concrete discussion of the actual music put out by the aforementioned artist. Which is probably a good thing for Del Rey and her people, since "Video Games" is about two harp-strokes, a battery of singing lessons, and a couple of pots of hot tea away from being Enya for the Twitter set.


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The 11 Most Infuriating Songs Of 2011, No. 3: [White Person], [White Person Cutely/Seriously Performing Urban-Radio Hit]

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The Songs: Karmin, "Super Bass" and "Look At Me Now" and way too many others; Mac Lethal, "Cook Wit Me Now"; Jackson Foote and friends, "Get Low"; Sophia Grace, "Super Bass"; probably more that are shooting up the Reddit charts right now.
The Crimes: Anti-pop snobbery; humorlessness in the name of "musicality"; pandering to the commenting hordes on tech blogs who consider themselves above pop music, but not above being catered to directly and embarrassingly. And let's not forget the racist viral hit of late November, Texts From Bennett, which came from one of the above auteurs.

Internet attention is precious currency for up-and-coming bands, who have to make their way past a torrent of acts both established and brand-new in order to get themselves heard. Those artists who have figured out that a pretty easy way to skip the line, so to speak, is to pander to the world of social-news sites—places like Reddit and Digg that are overwhelmingly male and extremely pop-averse, among other things—have held a depressing competitive advantage over the past few years, with their modest successes breeding breathless "future of the biz" stories that led to even more success and press and so on. There's one other common thread between all these musicians; the geek-beloved strummer Jonathan Coulton, for example, suggests that people listen to his chiming cover of "Baby Got Back" before almost anything else he's recorded; last year, the Bay Area duo Pomplamoose snagged a deal to annoy TV-watching Americans during the holidays after thrilling Digg and with wall-eyed, "real-music" versions of fun songs like "Single Ladies" and "Telephone."

Yes; even though it's been some 27 years since "Rappin' Duke," the "white people turn urban-radio tropes into something more similar to what they might listen to, with hilarity possibly ensuing" tack is still guaranteed to hit pay dirt among certain subgroups of people who consider themselves both musical aesthetes and "geeks." Whether they're cowed by the technologically forward production (irony alert!), unsure of which Urban Dictionary definition to use when figuring out just what the lyrics might mean, or just trying to fight the man, man (never mind that their computers were made by multinational conglomerates), these sorts of covers still get eaten up by YouTube viewers like they're ice-cream sundaes made by dairy geniuses. And thanks to the increased importance of "virality" in 2011, artists who took this tack were often rewarded by showers of likes, buckets of retweets, and hordes of people delighting in the knowledge that there were a lot of people out there whose noses were all upturned at exactly the same angle—which meant that they could only multiply. The four most egregious examples below.


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The 11 Most Infuriating Songs Of 2011, No. 4: Brian McFadden, "Just The Way You Are (Drunk At The Bar)"

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The Song: Brian McFadden, "Just The Way You Are (Drunk At The Bar)"
The Crimes: Setting sexual assault fantasies to the dulcet strains of "Cotton Eyed Joe," as remixed by a David Guetta clone.

As has been the case for too many years now, 2011's year-end polls have ended in a wave of proclamations that the past 365 days, for real this time, constituted what could be called a Year Of The Woman; pieces of evidence cited to back up this claim include the sales successes of Adele, the artistic peaks of PJ Harvey and St. Vincent, the media blitzes of Gaga and Beyoncé, and so on. Few of these laurels, however, talk about whether the year was a good one for the woman listener, i.e., how easy it was to navigate the musical landscape in toto without tripping across even the mildest forms of sexism multiple times. As it turns out, 2011 was yet another year to perform pretty lousy on that particular front, from L'Affaire "Lyin' Ass Bitch" to the whole Tyler mess to the reflexive way culture mocked the bulk of Justin Bieber's fanbase for committing the crimes of being young and female while enjoying a particular artist's musical offerings. One of the most odious examples of this sexism, though, came from the ex-boybander/Aussie reality-TV judge Brian McFadden, whose hyperactive "Just The Way You Are (Drunk At The Bar)" comes off like an amphetamine-fueled date-rape fantasy focused on an inebriated paramour who he dragged to a hi-NRG line-dancing club.


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The 11 Most Infuriating Songs Of 2011, No. 5: Rihanna, "S&M"

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The Song: Rihanna, "S&M"
The Crimes: Dressing a bloodless ode to kink up by saying it's actually about the media? Na na na na na na, come on, girl.

Pop stars need their personas as much as they need the songs that take them to the top of the charts—and lest you think that need exists in a vacuum, trust that the people consuming the songs need those hooks as well. So Ke$ha is the "trashy" one, and Taylor is the "good" one, and Gaga is the "arty" one, and Katy is the "annoying" one. After the lukewarm response to her brooding 2009 album Rated R, the Barbadian pop star Rihanna decided to kickstart the process of reinventing herself as the "really, really, really sexy" one on her 2010 full-length Loud—and just in case you weren't entirely sure of how far she'd go, "S&M," an ode to getting one's kink on that manages to turn the zipless fuck into something almost completely lifeless as well, signified the pinnacle of that particular campaign. (Or the nadir, depending on how you look at it.)


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The 11 Most Infuriating Songs Of 2011, No. 6: Bon Iver, "Holocene"

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The Song: Bon Iver, "Holocene"
The Crimes: Shapelessness, "atmosphere," wondering if we're all just particles, man, invoking existential music-listening crises.

Many of this year's most risible songs had clear reasons for being as irritating as they were—self-impressed "punk"dom, grating whistling, Katy Perry. But there were some records that, when they hit my ear, drove me bonkers in such a way that they had me wondering about the nature of my brain chemistry, and whether it was so off the mark that I was actually a deficient listener and in need of some sort of surgery or, at least, pharmaceuticals. Bon Iver's "Holocene," from the Kanye-beloved outfit's acclaimed-by-many-corners second album Bon Iver, Bon Iver, was one of those tracks that had me questioning my very existence as a listener. A nearly-six-minute bit of "atmospheric" latticework and falsetto, a spin of it would inevitably lead to me tapping my feet, and not in an "along with the rhythm" sort of way. (Because there really isn't much of any to speak of.)


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The 11 Most Infuriating Songs Of 2011, No. 7: Maroon 5 Featuring Christina Aguilera, "Moves Like Jagger"

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The Song: Maroon 5 feat. Christina Aguilera, "Moves Like Jagger"
The Crimes: Profligate whistling, misplaced sass, wholly unsexy instruction to "take [Levine] by the tongue."

Earlier this year, both Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera were coming off what might be called "soft landings"—the lite-funk outfit's 2010 album Hands All Over received a tepid reception from the marketplace, while the pint-sized belter was coming off punishing reactions to both her overstuffed robo-pop collection Bionic and the "so bad, it can't even be so bad that it's good" pile of camp Burlesque. Then NBC stepped in and hired them both as coaches on their translation of the Dutch talent show The Voice, and what do you know? Being on TV made Americans realize that they still existed, and had even been putting out music in recent months that wasn't as terrible as some doubters wanted to claim. The only way to properly react to this development was, of course, a cash-in single.


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The 11 Most Infuriating Songs Of 2011, No. 8: Tyler, The Creator, "Bitch Suck Dick"

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Mullets: Still funny in certain corners of the Internet.
The Song: Tyler, The Creator, "Bitch Suck Dick"
The Crimes: Ugh.

There really is no winning when one discusses the output of Tyler, The Creator, the leader of the West Coast hip-hop collective Odd Future, a skateboard-riding LA dude who this year showed the world that he loved the Neptunes and his mom as much as he adored getting attention for being "provocative" in ways that were codified by Malcolm McLaren way back before he was born (and that were subsequently furthered along by the likes of Fred Durst and the Insane Clown Posse). His role in 2011 was that of the foul-mouthed class clown who was seen by quite a few people as a cool bro, thanks to impeccable style coupled with an ability to rile up the squares—women, gay people, anyone who sympathized with either of those groups, etc. Cue the parade of fans, from critics to Justin Bieber to dudes on the Internet, lining up to try and get some shine from him, knowing full well that there was a good chance that telling him that they adored his work would get them spit and/or shit on. (Especially if they weren't famous.)


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The 11 Most Infuriating Songs Of 2011, No. 9: Katy Perry Featuring Missy Elliott, "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) (Remix)"

The Song: Katy Perry Featuring Missy Elliott, "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) (Remix)"
The Crimes: Chart-jacking, inanity, wasting the long-M.I.A. Missy Elliott on a nothing verse, allowing lazy writers to compare Teenage Dream to Bad because, seriously, as fucking if.

The story of Katy Perry's chart domination in 2011 is one that has been chronicled in this space amply by our own Chris Molanphy, and hoo boy is it a depressing one, if appropriately in keeping with Perry's overall brute-force nature. Briefly: She notched five chart-topping singles from her 2010 album Teenage Dream, matching the record-setting total of No. 1s that Michael Jackson achieved with his much superior album Bad. Two of those No. 1s had their tracks to the top greased by grafted-on verses from popular rappers. (A third remix-assisted single might just do the same thing and help her break the record.) The first to do so, the t.A.T.u.-pilfering ode to intergalactic other-sex "E.T.," got a boost from a creepy Kanye West verse; the second, the overly self-consciously '80s-homaging "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)," was the track to tie Jackson's record, and a rush-released remix with a few bars from Missy Elliott helped take it to the top.


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The 11 Most Infuriating Songs Of 2011, No. 10: will.i.am Featuring Mick Jagger And Jennifer Lopez, "T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever)"

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The Song: will.i.am feat. Mick Jagger and Jennifer Lopez, "T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever)"
The Crimes: Overhashtagging, sub-"Dancing In The Streets" incoherence from Jagger, using "feces" as a term of braggadocio.

Sometimes I feel bad for the music industry, which has had a rough go of it these past 10 or so years. Yes, they tried to make more money off artists with thin catalogs when Billboard eliminated the physical-single requirement from eligibility for the Hot 100 and ushered in the era of the $18.99 maxi-single; sure, they blew their wad when the Recording Industry Association of America established the Diamond Award, bestowed on albums with 10 million copies shipped (the last album to receive that honor was Usher's Confessions, released in 2004); and yeah, they probably should have been a bit more proactive about the whole "internet" thing. Still, though, there are a lot of good people working inside the fortresses of the big labels, and they're not the complete wastelands of lousy music that up-the-empire types who only like cool DIY bands like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails make them out to be.

But my sympathies get powerwashed away when I am confronted with money pits of idiocy like the solo career of will.i.am, which continues to kick along even after his 2007 solo album Songs About Girls landed here with a thud. Fresh off the success of the Black Eyed Peas' most recent collection of repurposed pop tropes and Fergie wails, will decided to once again try and make it on his own—assisted by two pop figures of yore who had slightly improbable comebacks this year. Share the wealth, right?


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