Dec 17, 2019

The Worst Country Songs of the Decade(!)

Thanks to Bobby for this looong, but interesting post. I agree with about 95% of it. ~Trailer

The Worst of 2010-2019

By Bobby Peacock a.k.a. TenPoundHammer

"'90s Country" by Walker Hayes
A genre throwback that sounds absolutely nothing like the genre it's throwing back to. Just when I gave Walker some slack for the genuinely moving story of "Craig,” he fired back with this pandering mess. With his electronic beats, male-fantasy lyrics, superficial name-drops, pop hooks, and incessant talk-singing to cover up his inability to actually sing, Walker just comes off like the Save-a-Lot store brand version of Sam Hunt.

"10,000 Hours" by Dan + Shay featuring Justin Bieber
What has two heads, no balls, no spine, and won't shut up about their wives? Dan + Shay. Add the eternal punchline that is Bieber for extra suck. It's snap beats, wispy auto-tuned vocals, and single-minded, simplistic sweet nothings treated as if they are the most epically romantic sentiments ever. 10,000 hours isn't even that long -- just about a year and two months. Maybe doubling down on the hyperbole and saying "10,000 years" would give at least some flavor to their romanticism. But as it stands, D + S just seem like wimps.

"Accidental Racist" by Brad Paisley featuring LL Cool J
Is the Confederate flag a symbol of racism, or merely of Southern pride? I don't know the answer for sure, but I do know that it was not even a new controversy at the time this song came out -- so Paisley's ignorance is jarring here. (All the more so when he handled race much more tactfully in "Welcome to the Future". Hell, even "Camouflage," doofy as that song is, suggests the title pattern as a less controversial alternative.) Oblivious to the flag's controversy, to American history, to both black and white culture alike, this song has been discussed ad nauseam, so I'll just give you the tl;dr: it's slow, tuneless, ignorant, and infuriating.

"Automatic" by Miranda Lambert
One of my biggest pet peeves is complaining about how the "old way" is always the better way, especially by an artist too young to know about the "old way" (something I call "A Different World" Syndrome). Exactly how are pen-pals, using road atlases instead of GPS, and recording songs off radio with a cassette "better?" This song doesn't even try to advance its point and just insists that they're better because they fit into some Norman Rockwell-esque idealized nostalgia for the "good ole days" that comes across as authentic as Country Time artificially lemonade-flavored powdered drink mix. Half the time, the song doesn't even stay on topic (why is the first line about payphones when the rest of the verse has nothing to do with that?). And the lyrics about putting men first in relationships and pretending that divorce doesn't exist utterly fly in the face of the rest of Miranda's discography.

"Back Porch Bottle Service" by AJ McLean
Another thing we can blame on Florida Georgia Line: introducing the Backstreet Boys to country music. And indeed, "Back Porch Bottle Service" sounds like someone whose only exposure to country was through FGL: watered-down rap beats, Auto-Tune, knucke-dragging lyrics about alcohol and hot girls in cutoffs -- wait, why am I saying this? I thought we were done with bro-country by now. This is clearly just a has-been trying to cash in on a trend that's already passé and only embarrassing himself in the process.

"Becky" by Haley Georgia
Oh my God, Becky, look at this suck. The blog One Country called this the "worst country music song ever" and they're not far off. Shout-out to "Baby Got Back"? Check. Drunken Dobro riff that abruptly drops into weak dubstep riffs that sound like they were played on a stroopwafel? Check. Affected, slurred twang that sounds like Kesha trying to hold back vomit? Check. A female artist willingly submitting to the meatheaded fantasies of a horny 20something bro? Check. Even Haley herself should be glad this wasn't a hit.

"Body Like a Back Road" by Sam Hunt
Sam Hunt does at least have some compositional skill as evidenced by this song's maddening catchiness (although notice that I didn't say it was country compositional skill), but his lyrics are absurd beyond just the sexist fluff. As Todd in the Shadows pointed out, back roads are known for considerably more prominent traits than being curvy. If I can deconstruct your simile that quickly and easily, you might want to pick a better one. But it's not like the IQ-challenged teenage fangirls care, right? The song could've been called "Body Like an Empty Bag of Doritos" and it would've been just as popular.

"Bottoms Up" by Brantley Gilbert
Don't hate me for this, Trailer, but I actually like a couple of Brantley's songs. His ballads, such as "More Than Miles," often manage to use his grit in a way that really connects. But his party songs, especially this one, always seem so dour and downbeat. The audio is a muddy mishmash of electric guitars, his voice is a nearly indecipherable mumbly snarl, and the melody is a sluggish minor-key slog.  It's just so ugly and un-fun that it makes the worst dregs of early-2000s butt-rock sound like "Uptown Funk". Even if you like the party songs, I don't see how this one has any appeal just because of how ugly it is. And why he keeps returning to such material when his heart clearly isn't in it ("Fire't Up") is beyond me.

"The Boys of Fall" by Kenny Chesney
No lie, I actually managed to forget this song entirely less than a year after it came out. I could not remember a single note or word from it. Maybe that's just a "not for me" thing -- I'm not even remotely a fan of any sports, especially not college football -- but I am a human jukebox. I can remember lyrics to songs I haven't heard since I was 4. And if I can manage to so thoroughly forget a freaking song, then clearly something is wrong. (Also, Casey Beathard cannot write melodies to save his life. Just putting that out there.)

"Corn Star" by Craig Morgan
After about 2007, I got this feeling that Craig Morgan was outright trolling his fanbase. Nearly all of his songs had this overwrought scream-singing that over-exaggerated his twang to the point of parody, and some of the dopiest lyrics imaginable. And probably the dopiest is "Corn Star," about that hot farmer girl that all the boys drool over because they think she used to be a stripper or on Baywatch. But no, she's just a hot farmer girl. Maybe it doesn't sound like the worst thing ever on paper, but the borderline-pervy lyrics (Jeffrey Steele, you should be ashamed) and Craig's unbearable delivery just send this one right over the top.

"Dibs" by Kelsea Ballerini
Or should I say "Deeeeeeyubs," as she squawks in an overbearing twang that makes Aaron Tippin sound like an NPR host. Kelsea Barbiedollerini's overly plastic, boy-crazy style reminds me way too much of Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe", down to her being way too goddamn old for the subject matter (and all the more puzzling in that Kelsea's two best songs -- "Peter Pan" and "I Hate Love Songs" -- go out of their way to subvert the boy-craziness). Maybe it's not as offensive as some of the other songs on this list that feature females endorsing the negative stereotypes of bro-country, but the song still seems no less vapid in that it gives zero context to the boy she's lusting after. As a result, she comes across like "I want you before anyone else can get to you, simply because you have a penis."

"Doin' Country Right" by David Fanning
In the four years that Country Weekly issued letter grades in their reviews section (2012-16), this was the first of only four songs to get a "D" from them. I guess even they were getting tired of how samey bro-country was getting even in 2015. Whatever your average bro-country song does wrong, this one does even worse: flat, impersonal, off-key delivery; repetitive lyrics ("Get your blue jeans on on on on on"); awkward melody (verses that emphasize the wrong words, way-too-slow chorus); and not even the slightest hint of inspiration in the lyrics. Turn it off off off off off.

"Donkey" by Jerrod Niemann
I'll admit it: I liked "Drink to That All Night." But I get it: 2013 was a dark time for country music. And how much darker can you get than "Donkey?" Actual donkey braying, vocal filters, dumb forced rhymes, and face-palming single-entendres about ass. And is it just me, or is the line "They all walk funny when they're done, riding you know who" actually about sodomy? Even Jerrod's out-there stuff was usually clever and interesting, but this was just stupid and gross. And this song's overwhelming negative reception singlehandedly (singlehoofedly?) killed his career, as he hasn't had a hit since.

"Female" by Keith Urban
With bro-country having all but turned Nashville into utter vagina repellent, the time was right for a pro-female country song. This, however, was not the one: it's just a couple of cheesy either-or questions buried under a laundry list of vague inspirational phrases, almost none of which are female-specific (what do "holy water," "fortune teller," "technicolor river wild," etc. have to do with the central theme?) and reek of mansplaining. While all three singles off Graffiti U were almost equally bad, I think this one gets the extra point simply by getting the worst results out of decent intentions.

"Friend Zone" by Danielle Bradbery
I mentioned earlier that Country Weekly only ever gave out four "D" ratings in its review section. They also managed exactly one "D-". That grade went to this very song. Where do I even begin? Is it the haphazard use of sports analogies that can't even stick to one sport and have nothing to do with "friend zone" whatsoever? The line about how you have to spend money to get into a woman's heart? The limp "Bass and the beat and my banjo" breakdown that has nothing to do with either? The delivery and production that sound like a 14-year-old trying to cover Iggy Azalea on karaoke night? Whatever it is, it's a Human Centipede of all the worst elements of 21st century female country-pop.

"God Made Girls" by RaeLynn
This song is absolutely hilarious. RaeLynn seems to have this oblivious, doe-eyed. childish view of life that makes it seem like she was transported from the most conservative 1950s sitcom. Combine that with her chipmunk voice, the sterile production, and the fact that FOUR WOMEN WROTE THIS SONG, and I am utterly confused that this appealed to anyone. This song may have been almost as damaging to the perception of women in country music as the entire bro-country movement was, given that it was a female singing that yes, she just wants to be the silent little plaything for her man.

"Good Girl" by Dustin Lynch
The signs were showing as early as "She Cranks My Tractor," weren't they? Dustin Lynch used the genuinely exceptional "Cowboys and Angels" to Trojan horse us with a bland mush of Aldean-meets-Sam Hunt  R&B-rock-country that has none of the flavor or personality. Lynch is a capable singer, so his decision to drown himself in Auto-Tune is beyond me. The snap beats (hi, Grady Smith!) are in full force. And the hook -- "I got it good, girl, 'cause I got myself a good girl" -- yes, the next rhyme is "world") sounds like it was written by me in the fifth grade. Maybe not the worst of all time, but there is absolutely nothing "good" about it.

"Hotdamalama" by Parmalee
Parmalee are yet another example of a fine country tradition: a bottom-tier band that never even remotely manages to sound like a band at any point, and therefore sounds completely different on every single they release (a little something I call Ricochet Syndrome). I thought all of Parmalee's previous singles were passable to good, but this one completely negated every semblance of competence. Already swimming in a sea of stupid made-up slang ("delta donk," "Can I get a woo woo," and of course "Hotdamalama" -- not to mention quite possibly the first ever use of hashtag-rap in a country song!), it reeks of the bro-country leftovers that have been sitting in the fridge since Chase Rice's first album.

"Humble and Kind" by Tim McGraw
Easily my most controversial pick on here. Lots of people love this song. I utterly, thoroughly, absolutely do not. I can't stand songs that just list a bunch of vague platitudes without a narrative (something I call "I Hope You Dance" Syndrome), and most of these don't even stay on-topic. What the hell do root beer popsicles, keys hidden under doormats, and using windows instead of AC have to do with being "humble and kind?" What kind of nonsense disjointed phrase is "bitterness keeps you from flying?" This is the kind of song whose lyrics get posted alongside a GIF of the Minions on some middle aged housewife's Facebook feed.

"I Believe" by George Strait
I kind of hate to criticize a song that was inspired by real-life events. The Sandy Hook school shooting was one of many tragic events this decade that left an impact on many people. It's certainly an event worth writing a song about. But this song barely has anything to do with it, other than a couple offhanded mentions of "26 reasons." The rest is just a bunch of vague sad lyrics about "hearts that'll never be the same" and "shattered lives" that could be about anything, tied together with a vague message of belief. Maybe someone could get a mesage of hope and comfort out of it, but I just felt like it was a big cliché-fest. I also felt it was uncharacteristic coattail-riding for a guy whose music seemed never before to follow sociopolitical trends of any kind.

"I'm Gonna Love You Through It" by Martina McBride
After about the 10,000th Martina McBride song about someone in an unfavorable situation, I just kinda get numb to it. I once said that most Martina McBride songs feel like a Lifetime Movie of the Week where everyone is screaming their dialogue. Same melodrama about real-life situations exaggerated nearly to the point of parody; same bombastic pop production; same ear-splitting vocal histrionics; same Martina song that makes me switch to Liquid Metal faster than you can say "Concrete Angel."

"Lookin' for That Girl" by Tim McGraw
The only time that a 40-something-year-old man should be singing about "lookin' for that girl" is if his granddaughter has gotten lost in the mall. Otherwise it just sounds like creepy Uncle Timmy is looking for something a little more specific and unsavory. And that's before we even get to the dopey Florida Georgia Line-level meatheaded lyrics and canned, Auto-Tuned production, both of which seem like Tim was trying to cash in on a trend when he'd already proven time and time again that he didn't need to. At least Big Machine had the decency to pull this garbage in favor of the stunning "Meanwhile Back at Mama's".

"Lose It" by Kane Brown
I once remarked that Kane Brown sounds like a shart. Surprisingly he doesn't on this song -- he just sounds like any of the 847 other R&B/bro-country/pop/rap amalgamations that Nashville has spat out in the past few years on this song. You know, your Jordan Devin Dylan Dustin Brett Stells of the world.  Maybe it's not the most objectifying of this kind of song. Maybe it's not even the dumbest or objectively worst or whatever. But at the very least, it's one of the least interesting. It's kind of hard to even write about, simply because there's just so little to work with so I'll just say that Kane Brown sucks.

"Mmm, Mmm, Mmm" by Dylan Scott
Speaking of the 847 other R&B/bro-country/pop/rap amalgamations, meet the nothingburger that is Dylan Scott. I could've picked "My Girl" or "Hooked," but those were pleasant enough background noise. This one has an obnoxiously over-the-top "silly" tone to it that feels forced, a hook that's impossible to say, and a laundry list of hot-girl tropes that somehow don't even objectify -- unless maybe having sex in a duck blind is your thing.

"Ready Set Roll" by Chase Rice
Get your little fine ass on the step, bitch. Or else get your little fine ass back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich. Maybe I'm reading too much into that one line alone, but the way he just snarls it out always rubbed me the wrong way. Combine that with all the times I saw him call people "retarded" for not liking the song, and I just feel like he's an aggressive, ill-tempered, misogynistic jerk who's gonna slap that girl senseless if she doesn't shimmy up inside. (Oh, and the weaksauce hip-hop beat and dopey robot voice bookending the song didn't help matters either.) At least he seems to have mellowed out since then.

"Red, White, and You" by Steven Tyler
I like Aerosmith. Who doesn't? I even liked Steven Tyler's first attempt at a country song, "Love Is Your Name," because it at least sounded country. This, however, is a knuckle-dragging, womanizing mess straight out of the Florida Georgia Line playbook, with a dash of cartoonish jingoism that even Toby Keith would laugh at. I don't think country radio has seen an older act strain so hard for youth cred since Alabama released "When It All Goes South". But at least that song didn't have a cringey single-entendre like "Free fallin' into your yum yum."

"Ridiculous" by Haley Georgia
See everything I said in the "Becky" review, double down on both the "drunk teenage girl trying to sing Kesha" vocals (now with extra Auto-Tune!) and the pop-rap production, and replace the "Baby Got Back" shout-out with an incredibly stupid hook of "You're ridic, you're ridic, you're ridiculous." Get it? Because it sounds like she's saying "You're a dick!" And boy does she beat you over the head with it. The rest of the song does set up a reasonable if uninteresting infidelity scenario, but any goodwill is completely blown away by the stupid title and blatantly un-country surroundings.

"Said No One Ever" by Jana Kramer
One of the other songs out of only four that ever got a "D" from Country Weekly. (The other two, by the way, were "Bad for You" by Waterloo Revival and "High Class" by Eric Paslay.) Alternating between a laundry list of obvious non-jokes (everyone knows who the Rolling Stones are, hates Mondays, "reality" TV is fake, blah blah blah) and anti-love requests ("I, I don't need your love and affection... said no one ever"), it's an unfocused mess done in an overbearing faux-twang (You're from Michigan just like me, Jana. Sound like it.) And I hope to God "bring back the payphone" wasn't Natalie Hemby trying to write in a callback to "Automatic." This is Jana Kramer's best song, said no one ever.

"See You Again" by Carrie Underwood
I remember reading a "story behind the song" in Country Weekly about this song, and the article was less than half the average length -- they had to pad it out with not one, but two sidebars just to fill the page. That just goes to show you how little thought and effort was put into the most generic anthem ever to the loss of an unspecified love one. I'm sad, but I'm also not sad because I know I'll see you again. How many other songs have played that exact same card? How many of them have had even the tiniest semblance of the emotions that this one so utterly lacks? I could tell even before I read the non-story behind the song that it was written for a movie soundtrack but didn't make the cut.

"Something 'bout You" by Sir Rosevelt
I'm in the minority that actually liked "Beautiful Drug," and I thought Zac's collab with Avicii on "Broken Arrows" was good too. At least those songs had energy and passion to them. This song's first lyric is "you ain't even trying," which is a good summary of the song itself -- a lifeless beat, uninspired lyrics about that unexplainable hot girl who's given no qualities whatsoever, an utterly phoned-in vocal, and no concessions to the electronic sound other than a few token snap beats. This could easily be recorded by Kane Brown without changing a note, and it just makes the whole rigamarole about a new-sounding side project seem more like trend chasing instead of actually wanting to extend creatively. Or just toe the line between "midlife crisis" and outright trolling your fans; that works too.

"Speechless" by Dan + Shay
Another song that just infuriated me on first listen. I don't hear a romantic night on the town with this song at all. Instead I hear a horny teenager slobbering over his prom date, stuttering out half-formed attempts at compliments in hopes of getting laid. And for some reason, this song has a "wedding mix" despite the lyrics having fuck-all to do with a wedding, because Dan + Shay are utterly unable to complete a sentence without gushing about their wives. I once got accused of toxic masculinity for hating this song, but I think it'd be better to call this song what it is: toxic emasculation.

"Take a Knee, My Ass (I Won't Take a Knee)" by Neal McCoy
I don't want a knee in my ass anyway. I don't want a boot in anyone's ass, either. I have no issue with football players who take a knee as a means of nonviolent protest. Nor do I have an issue with people who see that as a sign of disrespect. But whatever side of any issue you're on, there is little I hate more than people who get defensive and start attacking the other side. By punctuating his patriotic paean with "...my ass", not only does he make for some very confusing and anatomically impossible mental imagery, he also comes across as a bitter, cranky jingoist whose cartoonish patriotism makes me want to listen to "America, Fuck Yeah" instead.

"That's My Kind of Night" by Luke Bryan
Another dopey song almost more known for its controversy -- Zac Brown calling it the worst song he's ever heard, and then all of Luke's fellow bros rushing to his defense, combined with the label hastily pulling it for the much better "Drink a Beer" -- than its content. But why would you know it for its content? Other than an admittedly interesting melody, it's nothing but another list of country-boy party clichés, with some absolutely head-scratching name-drops (who the hell was still listening to T-Pain in 2013?!) for extra dopiness. Even at the time, nearly every review I found of the song was highly negative, and it's hard not to see why. This was one of the defining songs of the bro-country movement by being one of its worst.

"There Is a God" by Lee Ann Womack
One of my most controversial opinions is that I absolutely cannot stand "I Hope You Dance", for many of the same reasons I mentioned above in "Humble and Kind" -- I hate songs that just list off vague feelgood platitudes. At least unlike "I Hope You Dance," this one isn't a pop ballad that fits Lee Ann's twang about as well as Alan Jackson trying to cover Lil Wayne. But it's hard not to poke holes in the lyrics anyway. For instance, "hear the doctor say he can't explain it but the cancer is gone." If the person died of cancer anyway, would that be proof that there isn't a God? But what really set me off at this song was the dig against science ("Science says it's all just circumstance... but if you want to shoot that theory down, look around") that utterly dismisses centuries of research with a vague handwave. Because it's impossible to believe in both God and science, right?

"This Is How We Roll" by Florida Georgia Line featuring Luke Bryan
By this point in the list, I feel like I'm just repeating myself. It's a bro-country jam. The lyrics are just a laundry list. The beat is oppressively un-country. But then everything gets worse when Tyler Hubbard, who has barely ever even managed to prove competency in singing without Auto-Tune, tries to rap and comes off sounding like an early-1990s TV commercial for a kids' product. That's the point when this song goes from merely another cornerstone of a thankfully bygone subgenre to outright painful. And that's even before you find your way to the remix with JaaaaAaaaAAAson DeruuuUuuUuuLooooo. (Sorry, I always have to say his name that way.)

"Tippin' Point" by Dallas Smith
So oppressively bro that I can't even be bothered to write a proper review. And at this point in the list I don't even care anymore. Blah blah Daisy Dukes, tailgate, lips, "hottie," moon... you can tell Florida Georgia Line wrote this, can't you? It even has the same producer. Only somehow Dallas Smith's feeble nasal whine manages to sound even worse than Tyler or Brian. And somehow this was one of the genre's biggest hits in Canada. And somehow I heard this garbage on WATZ a lot. And somehow I'm still talking about it. Let's just forget it existed.

"Wanted" by Hunter Hayes
I really want to like Hunter Hayes, because I am genuinely impressed by his Cajun background, his prolificacy on multiple instruments, and the fact that he's been doing this since he was 4. He also seems incredibly likeable and intelligent in interviews. But other than "Storm Warning" and one or two other songs, he's just not cutting it for me. And least of all on this song -- boring monotone melody I could've written when I was 4, combined with vague teenybopper lovey-dovey lyrics that I doubt even the swooning tweenage fanbase managed to remember after the first listen (the most romantic thing he can come up with is hand-holding?). I think he's struggled to make a solid followup because he's still chruning out the same bland tween-pop mush instead of, you know, making actually good music. If you really want to wow me, Hunter, use that Cajun heritage and go cut a duet with Eddy Raven or something.

4 comments:

  1. Gee Farcer, thanks for the horrific trip down memory lane.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You forgot "Hillbilly Bone", "Hell Right" and "Truck Yeah" (Easily Tim McGraw's WORST song ever)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I actually like "Hillbilly Bone". "Hell Right" doesn't seem to have peaked quite yet (hard to tell with holiday charts), and I legit found "Lookin' for That Girl" about 100x worse than "Truck Yeah".

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