I spend 99 percent of my time listening to music about which most people don't know or care. I assiduously avoid chart pop's mansion and the endless smorgasbord of cotton-candy-on-white-bread sandwiches it serves while its overlords expect you to smile till your face cracks. So who better to assess the 20 most popular songs of 2015, per industry bible Billboard? Let's rue this:
20. "Fight Song" by Rachel Platten
Young attractive white woman sings about vengeance in general, universal terms, using the pensive-verse/rousing-chorus formula, bolstered by clap-enhanced beats. Did your chest swell on the string-augmented climaxes or your throat lump when everything dropped out except the pianist delicately tickling the instrument's far right keys? Of course it did; you're being manipulated by master craftspeople who want to you to relate, above all else.
19. "Where Are Ü Now" by Skrillex and Diplo with Justin Bieber
On this cut by two of EDM's most bankable stars, Biebs is in panty-dropper mode, tremulously singing about an absent lover. The inevitable bass drop is rather tepid by Skrillexian standards, and the tentatively jaunty accelerated-rhythm part doesn't really get the pulse racing. In a nutshell, this is a sappy quasi-night-bus joint with a bratty frontman operating at "simmer." There's no madness to this meh-thod.
18. "Shake It Off" by Taylor Swift
Fuuuuccckkk. The video for this song has more than 1.2 billion views and the ad before it hypes Swift's 1989 Tour: Smells like world domination. Swedish über-producer/writers Max Martin and Shellback have manufactured a crisp, eminently danceable rhythm over which Swift dynamically flexes her buoyantly sassy voice, vanquishing her post-breakup blues. "Shake It Off" is what happens when Scandinavians and an ex-country superstar appropriate urban tropes. Should funk be this squeaky clean? Not in my utopia. Can billions of viewers be wrong? Oftentimes. But "Shake It Off" is undeniably infectious, and one feels like the most noxious curmudgeon for begrudging its charms.
17. "Want to Want Me" by Jason Derulo
Billy Joel–scented new-wave rock melds with modern R&B lover-man sentiments sung in a near-ecstatic falsetto by Mr. Derulo, whose name connotes white dude rather than black guy. Whatever the case, JD exudes a suave, cheerful desperation for a girl whom he wants to "get up next to." For better results, pull up Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing."
16. "Lean On" by Major Lazer & DJ Snake
What happened, Diplo? Back in 2004, you issued a down-tempo sampledelic classic titled Florida and rocked parties with feral funk in Hollertronix. Now you're pandering to backward-ball-cap-wearing bros and the obtuse women who love them. In the Diplo pantheon, "Lean On" is a subdued trifle, its vaguely Caribbean sway, stodgy beats, and defiant female vocals by Danish diva MØ barely causing a ripple of excitement.
15. "Bad Blood" by Taylor Swift (featuring Kendrick Lamar)
T-Swizzle's incursion into hiphop is a big-budget blockbluster. Kendrick Lamar is brilliantly mercurial, as usual, within this basic orchestral-pop/hiphop hybrid that depicts the protagonist dealing with post-relationship ill will. Why are all these dudes hurting Tay? She seems nice.
14. "Take Me to Church" by Hozier
Sincerity fetishists, rejoice! Here's your goddamn anthem. Irish singer/guitarist Hozier distills that Christian-y folk rock that's been gaining mindshare since Fleet Foxes burgeoned and makes it even more palatable to casual music consumers. However, the video for this song focuses on religious intolerance toward homosexuality, which makes it progressive for a mainstream smash.
13. "Love Me Like You Do" by Ellie Goulding
Songs like this convince one that pop music exists to lift the spirits of bland people as innocuously as possible. Songs like this make one want to bomb suburban malls. (Don't worry—I'm too technologically inept to carry out that act.)
12. "Can't Feel My Face" by the Weeknd
Sumptuous, bumptious funk that sounds like Bruno Mars, but with a more girthful bass line. "Can't Feel My Face" is perfectly poised, radio-ready passion synthesized into a focus-group-tested slice of well-modulated coke-party-sex music that makes listeners/dancers feel like their odds of carnal action are 100 percent. Holds up to multiple listens/fucks/snorts, I'd conjecture.
11. "Cheerleader (Felix Jaehn Remix Radio Edit)" by OMI
More heteronormative, patriarchal bullshit— albeit sun-kissed, Auto-Tuneful, hand-percussion- and trumpet-powered heteronormative, patriarchal bullshit. This laid-back house-music paean to OMI's "queen" and "cheerleader" comes off as oppressively unctuous.
10. "The Hills" by the Weeknd
"I just fucked two bitches before I saw you/You don't have to do it at my tempo" won't win Abel Tesfaye any feminist points, and the track itself is a ponderous bastard, trap bass like an airborne toxic event and beats like a stalker's footsteps. "The Hills" is a warts-and-all seduction song ("When I'm fucked up, that's the real me"), but it's a flaccid ordeal to listen to.
9. "Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)" by the Weeknd
This guy again, now in oleaginous ballad guise, one of my least favorite styles. Sure, the Weeknd can sing, expressing desire with nuance and beaucoup emotion. But the song is a stilted bolus of grandiosity, inspiring more senescence than tumescence, if I may be so bold.
8. "Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)" by Silentó
"Do the stanky leg/Now break your legs" (repeated six times each) is a great lyric, much better than anything Smokey Robinson or Curtis Mayfield ever wrote. Yep. It's cool that the charts have room for sparse rap tunes that consist of an MC asking people to watch him do various dance moves, but do they have to be as inane as "Watch Me"? Five consecutive plays of this will induce suicidal ideation in the hardest motherfucker.
7. "Blank Space" by Taylor Swift
All Swift videos cost more than you earn in a year (or multiple years). This may be an insurmountable obstacle to enjoying her music. "I'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream," she coyly sings while relating how romance inevitably turns her into a crazy woman. "Boys only want love if it's torture," she cautions, making me wonder why someone of her station moves in such sordid circles. The music is saccharine, clunky dance pop that Madonna would discard for being too trite.
6. "Shut Up + Dance" by Walk the Moon
INXS and Rick Springfield circa "Jessie's Girl" had a baby... and it was Walk the Moon. They should've aborted. "Shut Up + Dance" is strenuously anthemic in that try-hard normcore way that gives your ears a hernia. Just STFU.
5. "Sugar" by Maroon 5
Super-pro Californian funk pop with falsetto vocals by a group of status-quo white bros whose generic quality will make you yearn for the bold innovations of Robin Thicke. "Sugar" is 21st-century, major-label sonic fructose metabolizing into profit.
4. "Trap Queen" by Fetty Wap
Plinky, materialistic modern rap hits like "Trap Queen" spur me into stereotypical old-man rants about how hiphop peaked with Public Enemy, Gang Starr, and Tribe. Just because that view is cliché doesn't mean it's not ablaze with truth. I miss the filthy funkiness and lyrical skills of Golden Age™ rap—sue me.
3. "See You Again" by Wiz Khalifa
Charlie Puth sings a melodramatic ballad, and then Wiz Khalifa spits heartfelt words about the late Furious actor Paul Walker over a rugged, martial funk rhythm. Wash, rinse, repeat, raise hands for the "OH OH OH!" interlude. It is not unmoving.
2. "Thinking Out Loud" by Ed Sheeran
Milquetoasty UK singer-songwriter proves yet again to be his generation's Mick Hucknall with a medium-rare stab at Marvin's "Let's Get It On" vibe. Simply Green, amirite?
1. "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson
Exceptional homage to early-'80s funk, fusing the Time's "Wild & Loose" with Zapp's "Doo Wa Ditty." Bruno Mars channels Michael Jackson at his toughest, and the music is so righteous, it nullifies the disposable lyrics.
In sum: Fuck (most of) this top 20.
There's more radical pop musculature in one minute of Donna Summer/Giorgio Moroder's "I Feel Love" or David Essex's "Rock On" than in the entire running times of these corporate conformists. Sorry if this sounds predictable, but with music critics increasingly embracing the "If it has nine-figure YouTube views, it must be good" ethos, I have to call bullshit. A lot of embarrassing mental acrobatics are required to justify mediocre-to-awful music these days, and I can't in good conscience cosign.
I look forward to a happy new year of ignoring the hits.