I love just about everything about having kids except for listening to the radio. But my kids are in their tween years, when they want to keep up with the trends and fads that all their friends do, so when we drive to school the dial is usually turned to 103.7 out of Victoria, BC, non-stop pop interspersed with charmingly weird Canadian furniture store commercials.
Taking in 20–30 minutes of top 40 radio every day for months gives you an interesting perception about how tweens get music: through constant repetition. And when they get the aux cord, that’s how they listen. It’s not weird for them to put the same song — not even the same artist, the same song — on a playlist multiple times, something that is akin to heresy to these old ears.
The kids aren’t all bad, and there are certainly some “bops” as they say on 103.7, but this year also provided plenty of fodder for my annual Worst Of list. Let’s get right to it.
Post Malone, “Sunflower”
Is there any current recording artist as immediately, viscerally repulsive as Post Malone? Putting aside his actual music for a moment and talking purely on aesthetics, he looks like a Splitting Image puppet made from suet and liberally doused with pubic hair, inept facial tattoos Bic’d on as an afterthought. But then he opens his mouth and things get so much worse. Like everybody else on Earth, I’ve heard Post more times this year than I’d like to admit, and although the idiotic horny optimism of “Sunflower” has thankfully supplanted the mush-mouthed moronism of “Psycho,” neither song is anything but absolute no-effort trash. Special mention to Post’s nightmare Tiesto collab “Jackie Chan,” which also manages to be racist as hell.
Imagine the struggle of being a Weezer fan in 2018, having watched Rivers and crew systematically dissect every last molecule of goodwill they earned from their seminal late 90s-early 00s albums. The band is at best completely inessential and at worst absolutely unlistenable. Next stop? The novelty cover. Weezer’s take on Toto’s soft rock classic adds absolutely nothing to the iconic tune and, because this is the world we live in, became the band’s first #1 Alternative chart hit since 2008.
Imagine Dragons, “Natural”
Mainstream rock music in the 2018 seems to have coalesced around a genre you could best describe as “middle school graduation anthems” — listless, generic Big Chord songs, a little over three minutes long, with non-specific lyrics about Doing Your Best and Never Giving Up. Imagine Dragons have established themselves as the absolute biggest hogs feeding at that trough, knocking out radio-ubiquitous variations on the formula. 2018’s “Origins” album spawned this dull, hammering number that stands among the band’s worst efforts.
Joe Settineri, “Batman Cries”
I’m on a bunch of PR email lists, which means my inbox is deluged on the daily by underpaid flacks trying to make their client happen. Usually this stuff gets sent right to the trash, but a few months ago I opened an email because it had “Batman Cries” in the subject line. Joe Settineri is an ex-finance dude who looks like the dad in a CW teen drama and this insanely overwrought song is a labor of love that remains one of the funniest things I’ve heard all year. It’s almost refreshing to hear a dude try so hard to deliver lyrics this clumsy, and the video just adds to the overall miserableness.
Qveen Herby, “Sade In The 90s”
Fame is a hell of a drug. The artist known as “Qveen Herby” was originally half of excruciatingly white Berklee pop duo Karmin, who rose to YouTube fame with the can’t-miss method of “white folx singing Black songs” before signing to Epic in 2011 and releasing an EP and a full-length. Some years passed and things got… a little weird. Singer Amy Noonan seems to have embraced her inner Rachel Dolezal for her new identity, and it’s just such a weird and blatant move — coupled with ultra-generic neo-soul — that it had to hit the list.
Jake Owen, “Down To The Honkytonk”
Country music has always walked a thin line between populism and glitz — the genre’s essential relatability is a key part of its appeal, but the people singing those down-home songs about trucks and heartbreak are increasingly well-manicured millionaires. Jake Owen is a former Florida pro golfer who picked up the guitar after recovering from a wakeboarding accident, which should give you some clue as to his country bonafides. Lord knows I’m no stickler for authenticity, but at this point it seems more hustle than humanity, and this big chart hit is as hollow as a chocolate Santa.
Iggy Azalea feat. Tyga, “Kream”
Trends may come and trends may go, but one thing will always remain: Iggy Azalea will release garbage. This 2018 collab continues her relentless grasp at relevance through referentiality with a beefy interpolation of Wu-Tang classic “C.R.E.A.M,” but the atmosphere here is one of pure desperation, a snapshot of a moment that has faded but desperately still demands attention.
Grimes, “We Appreciate Power”
It’s been a… rough year for Grimes. Her unlikely romance with tech moron Elon Musk and oddball social media feud with Azealia Banks made her a figure of fun for the chattering class, and when she finally stepped back into the musical arena with the NIN-throwback “We Appreciate Power,” it… didn’t help. In her own words, the song is “ written from the perspective of a pro-AI girl group propaganda machine who use song, dance, sex, and fashion to spread goodwill towards artificial intelligence (it’s coming whether you want it or not).” I don’t want it.
The most pervasive face in music this year was the rainbow-gurning visage of New York rapper Daniel Hernandez, aka “Takeshi 6ix9ine.” At this point it’s a cliche for old heads to bemoan the dumbing-down of rap, but there really isn’t any other critical lens with which to approach this mess. I think what makes this so difficult to listen to is that 6ix9ine’s vocal delivery is actually sort of interesting — it’s a throwback to the hard NYC sound of the late 90s, stuff like MOP — but what he does with it is just incoherent, clumsy trash. The utterly generic production is now ubiquitous and does it no favors.
Lil Dicky feat. Chris Brown, “Freaky Friday”
Listen, there’s a place in this world for novelty music. It’s totally fine to have fun and make jokes. But maybe don’t use your white rap joke single to try and redeem serial woman beater Chris Brown. Hey, did you know Black guys have big penises? Lil Dicky does, and he can’t wait to tell you all about it. Throw in the cavalcade of ridiculously inessential social media star cameos at the song’s coda and you have the perfect encapsulation of 2018: crawled so far up its own ass it looks like a completely different person, but it’s just covered in shit.