"Hey, Soul Sister"

by Glee Cast

(20th Century Fox TV/Columbia)

It's pretty safe to say that Train's "Hey, Soul Sister" was the most widely despised record of 2010. Not just by my colleagues (two of whom, Maura Johnston and Christopher R. Weingarten, named it worst of the year in the Village Voice) but by people I'd encounter in situations that had nothing to do with music, who just wanted the damn thing out of their lives already. It popped up in movie trailers and on TV so much that someone started a Facebook page to try to ban it from advertising and show placement. I'm with all of that. So when I saw that this version had entered the December 18 Hot 100 (#29), my morbid curiosity took over—and was summarily let down.

My pop-loving friends don't even bother anymore with the Glee songs that routinely clog the Hot 100. If you're going to listen to garbage, better to let it come to you. Those chart placements reflect downloads more than radio airplay, which means I don't hear a lot of Glee music when not watching TV. Rather than placating me over time, each encounter is a fresh version of an old hell: But it's so lame.

But "Hey, Soul Sister" is lame, you might say. Not quite. The Train record is robust—that's why we hate it. It's not just a lame guy at a party; it's that guy dancing on the table with a lamp shade on his head, playing a ukulele. The Glee version of "Hey, Soul Sister" is more like the first example—the guy so palpably uncomfortable that he says four words and you want to run. Listening to Darren Criss utter the opening "Hey-ey-ey-ey-ey" like he's not even out of bed is bad-first-date painful, it's not a bit entertaining, and everything about the track's instrumentation follows suit. It's a spent rag.

If anything, it does the original a favor. Not everybody hates "Hey, Soul Sister," after all—Greil Marcus has called it his favorite record of the year—and all that airplay does tend to get under one's skin. Think of how people hated Stone Temple Pilots in 1992, but by '94 all the gunk that came in their wake suddenly made them sound okay, or of how "Don't Stop Believin'" muscled its way into the rock-critical canon. The other day, I went into a diner and, like clockwork, Train's song came on. Because it was the end of the year, the record somehow felt more like an oldie. It wasn't any better than it ever was, but in that moment I didn't hate it at all. recommended