There is perhaps no more complete representation of modern America than the pop charts. Hip hop and country music, dance and EDM, guitars, Auto-Tune, and the prepubescent stars of Vine make up our collective soundtrack. While voters of Trump, Clinton, Johnson, Stein, Harambe, and Vermin Supreme may live in totally different worlds, they stand shoulder to shoulder on the Billboard Hot 100. We may not agree on much, but we can all agree on one thing: A lot of that music is gloriously godawful.
Welcome to our annual attempt to find majesty in travesty, our celebration of the best of the worst. While the 2015 list had more whoppers than a Burger King, we as a culture managed to outdo ourselves in 2016. Let’s review the rules: In order to qualify for inclusion, a song needed to chart on Billboard. I don’t have time to review your cousin’s mixtape or SoundCloud single (or even more well-known dreck like Soulja Boy’s “Snapchat”). Lots of songs are bad; the whole point is that these songs were also popular.
To that end, this year’s entrants fit into three broad categories. There are aging artists desperately trying to stay relevant, but mostly demonstrating why they aren’t. There are superstars who have topped the charts so many times that they’re not even trying any more. And as always, there are sex lyrics so uproariously unsexy that they are clinically proven to be more effective than condoms at preventing pregnancy.
One last thing: The difference between good and bad is often a matter of taste. Your taste is probably different than mine, and it deserves to be shared. Please do us all a favor and post your own favorite lyrical flops in the comments below.
Now then, let’s get to it: The absolute worst pop lyrics of 2016.
10. “Pop Style”
Worst Lyric: “Got so many chains they call me Chaining Tatum”
The man born Aubrey Drake Graham has long been on the cutting edge of pop music. He combined rap, pop, and R&B in ways we hadn’t seen before and popularized the persona of the lonely stoner. Here, he brings his latest innovation to hip-hop: dad jokes. And look, every rapper will eventually write a real groaner, but on this track, Drake has elevated the facepalm to an art form.
“Pop Style” is a Caribbean term that roughly means “ballin’,” and it’s a small blessing that Mr. Graham doesn’t trot out his awful bajan accent here like he does on other songs from Views, such as “Controlla”. Drake’s only claim to Caribbean heritage is that he once fucked Rihanna. Someone close to him should mention that culture isn’t sexually transmittable.
Worst Lyric: “And you can tell your friends/ We’ll be together ’til the end/ Girl, you can wear my sweatshirt”
The 14-year-old Jacob Sartorius has been called the next Justin Bieber, but the comparison isn’t really fair to either of them: Bieber is a better singer and better looking, and Sartorius seems like a decent human being. The Vine star had his first Billboard hit with the offensively inoffensive “Sweatshirt”, a song which he apparently wrote himself. This would be more impressive if it was, you know, good; but unless you’re grading on a curve, you have to admit that the success of the song has little to do with its artistic merits and more to do with the incredible influence that Vine stars can wield. Never forget: Teenage girls are our music industry overlords.
Kanye West ft. 2 Chainz etc.
Worst Lyric: “I put the ‘real’ in ‘gorilla.’”
2 Chainz also puts the “what” in “nonsense.” He doesn’t even change the pronunciation of gorilla so that the sound “real” could appear within it. In defense of Mr. Chainz, his scene-stealing guest verses over the last few years have created a demand for his services that would be hard for the most hard-working emcee to supply, and his passions have never tended towards hard work. Still, he is expected to be funny, and he tries to oblige. But Mr. Chainz takes the volume approach to comedy, with the idea that three weak jokes will do if one good punchline can’t be produced. Here, even a weak punchline would have been preferable.
07. “Hands to Myself”
Worst Lyric: “I want you all to myself/ You’re metaphorical gin and juice”
Thanks for clarifying that this is just a metaphor; for a moment, I thought you were trying to fuck a cocktail.
Alcoholism would be another possibility, and indeed, extreme inebriation is the most plausible explanation for how a lyric like this made it out of the studio. Selena Gomez has earned a place on this list for the second straight year — the only artist to do so. This shouldn’t be possible in an age of songwriting teams. This suggests that a.) Ms. Gomez has a lot of input in writing her own lyrics, and b.) she should not have any input in writing her own lyrics.
06. “Father Stretch My Hands”
Worst Lyric: “Now if I fuck this model/ And she just bleached her asshole/ And I get bleach on my t-shirt/ I’ma feel like an asshole”
Pause for a moment, and really picture what Kanye West is describing. I’ll wait.
Did you picture it?
How did Mr. West get to the point where his idea of coitus involved locating the anus of his sexual partner and shoving his own t-shirt inside? Because under the circumstances, that’s the easiest way to get the bleach on his t-shirt, right? There are other possibilities, I suppose, but they all involve anal play and the purposeful involvement of his own clothing. Either that or Mr. West spent less time on these lyrics than it takes to get undressed.
05. “Bored to Death”
Worst Lyric: “Life is too short to last long”
If you think of this line as a warning that Mark Hoppus gives in the bedroom, then it has the rare distinction of being bad news and good news simultaneously. Alas, the rest of the chorus (“Back on earth I’m broken/ Lost and cold and fading fast”) suggests that he’s trying to be profound. Unfortunately for Mr. Hoppus, there is a rather large gap between “profound” and “totally obvious,” and this attempt at an epigram falls squarely in the latter category. Ice is too cold to be hot; the Earth is too round to be flat; and this song is too bad to be good.
04. “M.I.L.F. $”
Worst Lyric: “You got that, you got that, you got that milk money/ I got that, I got that, I got that MILF money”
A MILF, for those who only discovered the internet in the last five minutes, is a Mother I’d Like to Fuck. So, what’s more odd? Is it Fergie declaring that she’d like to fuck herself? Or is it the implication that her romantic partner is young enough to need milk money? Or is it the milk money itself, which suggests that her target is living in the 1950’s and that this act of pederasty is taking place with the aid of a time machine? Whichever it is, Fergie wins the 2016 Madonna Award for an Aging Pop Star Using Outdated Slang To Stay Relevant.
03. “Red, White, and You”
Worst Lyric: “We spinnin’ on a roller coaster/ A ‘Free Fallin’ into your yum yum”
Sixty-eight years of life. Forty-six-plus years of songwriting experience. Three daughters. Two wives. Literally countless girlfriends and one-night stands. Membership in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And the best synonym for vagina that Steven Tyler could come up with was “yum yum?” Never mind the fact that the Aerosmith frontman is Boston born and living in New York, and never mind the fact that he released a country album from the perspective of a randy 16-year-old Alabaman; the least believable part of this song is that Mr. Tyler, a rock star whose experience with vaginas could almost rival the index finger, somehow thought the term “yum yum” was sexy. Needless to say, the Country Music Hall of Fame won’t be calling any time soon.
02. “Side to Side”
Ariana Grande ft. Nicki Minaj
Worst Lyric: “This the new style with the fresh type of flow/ Wrist icicle, ride dick bicycle”
Is this really the new style? If it is, it would certainly add an element of interest to the morning commute.
Many of the most inexplicable hip-hop lyrics come about because a rushed emcee is trying to complete a line. But here, “flow” and “bicycle” are different enough words that it took a feat of linguistic gymnastics to make them rhyme. So why was Nicki Minaj so set on giving us this particular image? Why not a tongue trolley or pussy rollerblades instead? Perhaps she’d been watching old episodes of South Park.