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Listing bad songs is easy -- it's simple enough to find songs (or entire albums) that're bad on purpose, let alone songs that are godawful via traditional means. There's no point in making a list of the musically worst songs ever, because the list would be endless and repetitive and could just be a list of songs by the Shaggs, who may have been well-meaning but were objectively the sonic equivalent of a terrifyingly rapid descent into madness in which you are grinningly beaten to death with the entire contents of a hardware store. Listing inept and/or embarrassing songs is pointless. But there are certain kinds of songs that I would argue are 10,000 times worse than the atonal hammering of the Shaggs, or Troll Lou Reed, or Contractual Obligation Neil Young, or anyone else, and here are the worst of them ...

5
The Post-Grunge Nightmare

And they're all rock songs and they're all from the early 2000s -- the point in rock music where everything had been done already, but before the genre as a whole realized viable ways forward (polished retroism and desert rock, for starters). Pop music is sort of consistent across time, and rap probably still has final frontiers to explore, but rock was firmly in transition back then, and the era was marked by a vacuum of innovation held up by a previously established infrastructure, allowing the talentless to coast in on the historical momentum of the genre. It was shit, in other words.

And emblematic of this wave of Shit-Rock was the Fred Durst-championed Puddle of Mudd, and emblematic of them was the moron anthem "She Hates Me" (complete with ultra-cool censoring):

In the '80s, rock was dominated by asinine hair metal, people with nothing to say saying nothing and living the rock star life while using women as hood ornaments, and just generally being more full of shit than Ayn Rand after a Mexican buffet. Then, in a conscious reaction to all that, a new generation started to make some generally better rock music (and then the British made some better rock music in reaction to THAT). Hair metal disappeared virtually overnight, and though the new stuff sucked in its own ways, mainstream rock was at least sort of about weirdo self-expression again for a little bit. It was a natural and necessary evolution. "She Hates Me" is essentially the reverse of all that condensed into three jock-tastic, fake-angsty minutes. Evolution? Fuck you!

4
The Canadian

To succeed, all you need to do is copy successful people, right? Well, the big American acts all have attractive singers and catchy tunes and slickly produced videos with imagery of cars and rocking out, and the kids like the "urban" music, so let's urbanify it 18 percent, and if we just combine all that in our big musical blender then logically we'll produce the exact same success, right? Well, I'll go ahead and let the artist known as Kazzer answer that one for you:

The Kazzers of the world are the result of wanting to make music but not needing to, and then, lack of talent in hand, pursuing glitzy, American-style success by copying others (speaking as a Canadian, it's a pervasive issue with all our godawful major music exports -- the ones we're constantly apologizing for, and that distract from all our really good artists). But the kind of person who thinks they can succeed by copying others is generally the kind of person who can't even copy others properly. They copy successful artists -- they don't copy what MADE them successful.

And so what you get is Kazzer -- a genuinely unnerving uncanny-valley image of what someone in a boardroom thinks a musician looks like. It's musical gentrification -- where people with the means to live anywhere fucking insist on moving into the one part of town where all the cool shops are, and there goes the neighborhood.

As much as desire for fame being your sole motivation can in some cases be a bridge to success, it's a way more common trait among the Never Were. Sustained success in art is generally the weird combination of filling some societal need while filling your own (like it or not, even Fred Durst needed art to fill a hole in his life). Someone has to need it, especially you. Copy the superficial elements and what you mostly get is that nondescript band with the one hit and whatserface from last year and that guy and are you fucking serious and Kazzer and the fourth-worst song ever, because the only need they were all filling was their own need to be on TV.

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3
Finding Out You Wish You Were Deaf

Here's one of those songs you have definitely heard but don't know the name of (because it was named by idiots), the twilight world of shadows and suffering that is "Finding Out True Love Is Blind":

This might be too straightforward, actually. Sometimes a song is just objectively a blight on humanity because it's laughably cobbled together from the hoariest paint-by-numbers rock cliches, or because it's the dirtiest, oldest men on the radio trying to appeal to young people (or anyone), or because it has that lame talk-singing to disguise that the guy can't sing, or because it's so perfectly representative of a genre and format that was out of ideas, or just because the singer looks like Ozzy Osbourne if he did that thing in Timecop where you disastrously come into contact with yourself from another plane of existence but stopped halfway through to buy a horrible leather jacket, and as he too-loudly proclaims his big, racist list of beyond-imaginary sexual conquests, even the most ardent opponent of virgin-shaming (myself among them) has to conclude that there has been a lot of sex happening in the world and none of it has ever been happening within 500 yards of these awful men and their third-worst song in history.

2
The Poe's Law Hellscape

Poe's Law, when applied to art, is that thing where you can't tell if something is bad on purpose (spoiler: It isn't) because satirizing it would involve not making any changes whatsoever. It's so hopelessly, overpoweringly clueless that to mock it would just be futile. Instead of including the materials to deconstruct it, it is composed entirely OF them -- it's so shit that throwing shit at it just makes a bigger pile of shit.

Critic-proof, but in a bad way; timeless, but in an even worse way; and unmissable, but in the worst possible way: Poe's Law-level art is thankfully as rare as it is terrifying. And thus you could go ahead and stupidly click below and watch the video of "Fever for the Flava" by Fucking Whoever and have your mind shriekingly eat itself in a panicked attempt to rationalize something that's literally impossible to poke holes in (MY GOD IT'S MADE OF HOLES) -- something that is frankly a towering achievement in its own ghastly way -- or you could just skip to the next part of this list (which isn't any better, of course ...)

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1
Yes, It's Fucking Nickelback

I know, I know -- even I am sick of hating Nickelback at this point, and I'm the Hipster Lord Mayor of hating Nickelback, because, yes, I hated them before it was popular -- I hated them the minute I saw their first stupid video (and thought "Who are these douchebags?!"). I hated them every time I heard them on the radio (and I lived in Western Canada when they first emerged, so rock radio was literally just Nickelback and ads for tires). And I unyieldingly and fanatically continued to hate them, even when others lost their passion, because truly they are Mankind's Darkest Hour. So passe as it may be, I honestly can't make a list like this and not have them be #1, and thus I give you the Worst Song of All Time:

The thing is, it's also the best Nickelback song of all time (of the six songs I've heard, at least) -- the quiet/loud dynamic, the general catchiness, the energizing singalong lyrics (You got just what you wanted!), the drums lifted from "When the Levee Breaks" that are impossible to base a bad song around. How, exactly, is this the worst song in history, then? For the same reason every other song is on this list: Because it's good and catchy.

Nickelback aren't a band, you see -- they're quite literally the result of a small-town con artist/drug dealer finding out he could make more money selling CDs than he could running a telemarketing center (but don't take my word for it!). They're a transparently cynical attempt to use an art form for pure self-interest, and it actually completely misses the point to criticize their music, because it's not trying to be good -- it's trying to capitalize on a specific market in the same way that any similar product does. It literally doesn't count as music. But then you listen to it, and oh for fucking fuck's sake it's catchy and it's dynamic and it gets stuck in your head forever just like actual music does. This could easily be a list of the Top 5 Earworms, and that's the problem -- something comes from a place of mindless, talentless self-interest, yet ends up having the same desired effect as something slaved over by real artists. It's the same way Mr. Fucking Puddle of Mudd's stupid soulless stupid voice sounds exactly like Kurt Cobain's, and it's a hijack and it's absolutely the most mockingly unfair thing ever (OK, second-most). It's the real reason I hate these five songs, and it's the reason that preventing shitty music will always be impossible -- because even idiots can harness its power.

That's why the best Nickelback song is easily the worst song of all time -- because I can't get it out of my goddamn head (possible solution here). It's just not right. That doesn't mean they win, but it does mean I lose.


Winston Rowntree is also available in webcomic form. Like me on Facebook too, or I'll get you ...

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