In 2011, it was pretty easy to make a splash with a bad pop song—just Google “Rebecca Black” for a primer. These 11 songs, however, leapt past lousy to the realm of truly offensive, whether they set out to or not.
11. Kreayshawn, “Gucci Gucci.” The least charismatic “controversial” figure of 2011 made her splash with this nasal broadside against women whose fashion sense is uncreative because they have the gall to wear clothing with designer labels. She followed up this song’s fast travels around the Internet with an appearance at the Highline Ballroom where she wore a $100 T-shirt by the streetwear imprint A Bathing Ape and performed this track twice in a row.
10. will.i.am feat. Mick Jagger and Jennifer Lopez, “T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever).” Lead Black Eyed Pea will.i.am wins the Worst Brag About One’s Ability to Make Beats of the Year award with the putrid hashtag-rap turd “This beat is the shit/feces.” The track’s one redeeming factor? Mick Jagger’s “rap” makes his turn on that “Dancing in the Streets” remake from 25 years ago seem absolutely lucid.
9. Katy Perry feat. Missy Elliott, “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) (Remix).” A crass-in remix designed to boost Perry’s ode to getting, like, totally wild to No. 1 on the Hot 100, thus allowing the grating singer to boast that her album Teenage Dream (EMI) had just as many chart-toppers as Michael Jackson’s infinitely superior Bad (Epic). The once-next-wave Elliott, making her first appearance on a major pop track since 2009, mumbles a bunch of nonsense about getting drunk, capped by a not-very-subtle dick joke. No, Missy, you were supposed to rub off on Katy, not the other way around!
8. Tyler, the Creator, “Bitch Suck Dick.” If the rape-fantasizing, bratty, punk-by-the-numbers leader of the overly self-impressed Los Angeles rap collective Odd Future weren’t into skateboarding and Tumblr and the Neptunes, he would have been pegged as this decade’s Fred Durst straightaway. Unfortunately, he puts the “right” cultural signifiers to use, so the rest of us are stuck listening to his sub-horrorcore fantasies and the attendant debates about how, despite his profligate use of “faggot,” he’s not a homophobe because he has gay friends, and how, even though he’s really into telling people to fuck off, everyone should be nicer to him because he loves his mom. This track is a particular nadir, probably even more so because right now someone on the Internet is trying to convince their friends that the line “Bitch suck dick like bitch suck dick” is a genius metacritique of sexism in hip-hop that they’re just too uptight to really understand.
7. Maroon 5/Christina Aguilera, “Moves Like Jagger.” “Jagger” rhymes with “swagger,” which is why even despite embarrassments like the aforementioned will.i.am track and SuperHeavy—his ego-stroking supergroup with Dave Stewart, Joss Stone, A.R. Rahman, and a Marley—the Stone’s leader is cited as a paragon of cool by so many these days. (Quick, someone come up with eight self-congratulatory words that rhyme with “Bolan.”) This whistle-assisted earworm blanketed America this year despite Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine’s unsexy instruction to his paramour: “Take me by the tongue.” God help us if Levine is trying to sound like Jagger’s rap on “T.H.E.” in order to get himself into any sort of mood.
6. Bon Iver, “Holocene.” Mostly here because of the way it robbed rightful Record of the Year and Song of the Year nominations from Nicki Minaj’s sparkling, infinitely superior ode to a hot coke dealer “Super Bass.” But also because when a song doesn’t inspire pleasure as much as it inspires an internal plea to get to the point already, maybe someone needs to get out their red pen and do a little editing.
5. Rihanna, “S&M.” This year, the Barbadian pop icon won Esquire‘s Sexiest Woman Alive title, which was clearly the result of her reading a self-help book called The Anything but a Secret Because Did I Mention That I’m Really Into Sex? This song, which transformed the zipless fuck into sex that was also bloodless and joyless, was that particular campaign’s most irritating manifestation.
4. Brian McFadden, “Just the Way You Are (Drunk at the Bar).” You know what 2011 needed? A smug ode to date rape from a former boy-band member. Happy Year of the Woman, everyone!
3. [White Person], [White Person Whitening Popular Urban-Radio Hit]. Chief among the offenders here is the Berklee-educated duo Karmin, a viral-video smash whose smugly competent covers of “Super Bass” and “Look at Me Now” got them TV exposure and a record deal where they could, finally, make blandly honking pop tracks of their own. But this particular genre went far beyond Karmin, oozing into any webcam-enabled computer owned by a person who sort of liked Beyoncé’s “Countdown” but was too embarrassed to admit that they, you know, enjoyed a pop song. Of course, this sort of repression-by-the-numbers is huge among the nerd-blog cognoscenti, who seem to have never met a Hot 100 hit they couldn’t wrestle to the ground and make less fun.
2. Lana Del Rey, “Video Games.” All the debates about this online lightning rod’s persona and lips and backstory fade into the background when you listen to this drowsy, bruised track, which meanders around for five minutes, with Del Rey muttering about her boyfriend’s foibles. Those who consider Del Rey’s pouting and huffing to be an incisive critique of male-female relationships should watch the opening scene of Contempt; those who find the maddeningly overwrought music pleasant should listen to the bad-romance odes on Lykke Li’s underheralded and way hookier Wounded Rhymes (Atlantic).
1. Jessie J, “Price Tag.” The year’s most grueling pop personality was this British yelper, who’s still trying to replicate Perry’s Brute Force Path to Pop Stardom; born Jessica Cornish, she’d change her name to Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum if she thought it would get her more notice. Over a lite-reggae beat that is apparently supposed to underscore the lyrics’ “chilled-out” vibe, Jessie barks out platitudes about how she just wants to make the world dance, and damn the capitalist pigs for being all interested in things like returns on investments. If her record label hadn’t spent so much time and money ensuring that she was promoting her grating, hollow album Who You Are (Universal Republic) in any venue that would have her—the MTV Video Music Awards, VH1 Divas Live, your mom’s birthday party—the “Screw money, let’s party” sentiment might seem merely misguided, a tone-deaf attempt to capitalize on the bubbling anxiety about the lousy economy. But in the context of Jessie J’s assault, it’s downright offensive, least of all because of how she’s once again trying her damndest to ingratiate herself into a crowd of people who could not care less.