The Song: will.i.am feat. Mick Jagger and Jennifer Lopez, “T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever)”
The Crimes: Overhashtagging, sub-“Dancing In The Streets” incoherence from Jagger, using “feces” as a term of braggadocio.
Sometimes I feel bad for the music industry, which has had a rough go of it these past 10 or so years. Yes, they tried to make more money off artists with thin catalogs when Billboard eliminated the physical-single requirement from eligibility for the Hot 100 and ushered in the era of the $18.99 maxi-single; sure, they blew their wad when the Recording Industry Association of America established the Diamond Award, bestowed on albums with 10 million copies shipped (the last album to receive that honor was Usher’s Confessions, released in 2004); and yeah, they probably should have been a bit more proactive about the whole “internet” thing. Still, though, there are a lot of good people working inside the fortresses of the big labels, and they’re not the complete wastelands of lousy music that up-the-empire types who only like cool DIY bands like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails make them out to be.
But my sympathies get powerwashed away when I am confronted with money pits of idiocy like the solo career of will.i.am, which continues to kick along even after his 2007 solo album Songs About Girls landed here with a thud. Fresh off the success of the Black Eyed Peas’ most recent collection of repurposed pop tropes and Fergie wails, will decided to once again try and make it on his own—assisted by two pop figures of yore who had slightly improbable comebacks this year. Share the wealth, right?
“T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever)” not only continues to shine a spotlight on will’s proclivity for acronyms (recall that The E.N.D. was actually short for The Energy Never Dies—good to know he’s ditched the whole “using a noun” constraint), it contains cameos by Jennifer Lopez, who thanks to a not-terrible judging turn on American Idol returned to a pop-cultural place where her being in commercials spotlighting her wealth was annoying instead of funny, and Mick Jagger, the Rolling Stones frontman namechecked lyrically these days because his name rhymes with “swagger.” (The stealth influence of Goddess In The Doorway will have to wait a couple of years.)
Like the Black Eyed Peas hits that have blanketed the airwaves these past few years, “T.H.E.” is a Frankenstein’s monster of recent trends—pecked-out notes as the backbone, a synth line that sounds like a giant zipper being sampled, an anonymous-sounding female providing the hook, profligate bragging about riches. (No Occupy Wall Street cameo for will.i.am.) As the listener is instructed to either go hard or go home, there are multiple parallels drawn between will.i.am’s “hardness” and erections. And there is lots of hashtag rap—including the worst self-congratulatory line in the history of hashtag rap and the history of rap as well, a tossed-off statement that ranks in at least the top 10 of the worst historical ways of being boastful. It’s a line that Luda “BALLOOOOONS!” Cris has probably already sent him flowers over:
This beat is the shit/ Feces.
Alone these elements are aggravating enough—this, friends, is what it’s like to watch someone crap on a pile of money, then have that person wipe your face with the smallest-denomination bills in the whole mess—but then Jagger comes in. He’s first yammering away as he provides a backing vocal for Lopez, and then on the outro, he gets to rap—well, at the very least, he chokes out the instructions re going hard or going home a few times while also engaging in a bit of freestyling that I hope came off the top of his dome, because, Jesus Christ: “This is crazy/ psychology.” He also calls both geometry and trigonometry hard. He both sounds like Shaun Ryder on the Happy Mondays’ “Jellybean” and makes the ever-chemically-enhanced Mondays frontman sound like the pinnacle of lucidity. He makes you wonder just how much money was set on fire in order to make this collision of ego happen, how much money was spent on the plane in the video, how much money. This is the one percent at their most self-indulgent, the Nu-Gilded Age at its absolute marrow-sucking worst, the sort of vanity project that people rightly point at when they talk about how the music business is filled with moustache-twisting sots who are playing a very expensive joke on the public. It’s more than enough to make a grown man—or woman, or sentient being with ears—cry.
The 11 Most Infuriating Songs Of 2011
11. Kreayshawn, “Gucci Gucci”
10. will.i.am feat. Mick Jagger and Jennifer Lopez, “T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever)”
9. Katy Perry feat. Missy Elliott, “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) (Remix)”
8. Tyler, The Creator, “Bitch Suck Dick”
7. Maroon 5 feat. Christina Aguilera, “Moves Like Jagger”
6. Bon Iver, “Holocene”
5. Rihanna, “S&M”
4. Brian McFadden, “Just The Way You Are (Drunk At The Bar)”
3. [White Person], [White Person Cutely/”Seriously” Performing Urban-Radio Hit]
2. Lana Del Rey, “Video Games”
1. Jessie J, “Price Tag”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 21, 2011