I didn’t feel like writing about Blender’s 50 Worst Songs Ever when it first came out. Even though it is the “definitive” list, I didn’t care. It’s self-serving publicity for magazine editors earned by taking broad shots at obvious targets done only to allow them to brag about how much cooler they are than the rest of us simpletons. I have no use for that and don’t generally wish to give any credence to that ploy. Yet, with the arrival of this article from USAToday.com about the shelf-life of American Idol contestants, I must write about it to make that connection with evidence I found in the articles. Consider this:
The Idol stage, however, has a trapdoor. [Clay] Aiken, in the lead with 2.5 million albums sold, “probably won’t have a lasting and meaningful career,” [Blender editor Craig] Marks says. “Kelly has juice left, but none of them will be around much longer, and they don’t necessarily deserve to be.”
Even a brief observation of Blender magazine shows that they wouldn’t be receptive to the American Idol “formula”. What exactly is the point in having Mr. Marks comment on the projected length of Clay Aiken’s career? I can only assume that it’s to show me what the “cool kids” know. I apologize for missing that memo in “How to be kewl like everybody else 101”, but I think this is poor journalism. It’s equivalent to newspapers and magazines that have non-country music fans review country music.
A source should have an affinity for the topic, or at least an objective viewpoint. This way, the music can be judged within the context of its niche. I’m not promoting formulaic music, but there is no “right” or “wrong” genre. Like what you like and enjoy it.
However, when looking at talent, can we blame the talent scouts instead of the fans? Continuing on in the article, there is this nugget:
Kim Buie, a talent scout for the Lost Highway label, agrees that Idol’s fruits are perishable.
“There’s no greater platform in this country than TV,” she says. “Viewers get involved in these kids’ lives and see their strengths and weaknesses week to week. The exposure absolutely helps in the launch of a record.
“Is the success long-term? Ask me again in five years. My guess is probably not. These singers deal in pop music of the moment. They’re told what to record and with whom. Long-term success is more complex. You grow into yourself; you have a point of view. Singing well isn’t enough.”
Coming from a talent scout at Lost Highway, that’s an interesting quote. Lost Highway is the “rebel” label that supports offbeat, less commercial music. They had Kim Richey on the label, but dropped her. She’s an amazing singer/songwriter who records great albums, so I can only assume it’s because her records weren’t selling well enough. Which leads to the conclusion that music is a business. Stunning.
Yet, that doesn’t stop the incessant ranking of what’s cool and hip. Continuing on with the American Idol theme, consider this assessment of three former contestants.
Sales: A. Airplay: B-. Artistic merit: C+. Celebrity Value: B. Overall: B
Sales: C. Airplay: C-. Artistic merit: B-. Celebrity value: C-. Overall: C+
Sales: N/A. Airplay: B-. Artistic merit: C+. Celebrity value: C+, Overall: C+
This is silly. Talent-wise, it’s impossible for me to comprehend that someone believes R.J. Helton has more “artistic merit” than Clay Aiken. Forget whether or not you prefer their music; for this discussion, it’s irrelevant. Clay Aiken has more raw talent and potential for the future than R.J. Helton could hope to dream about. Clay Aiken has a future to shape with his voice. If he needs to improve his song selection and reduce his cheese factor, that’s what his second album is for. And his third.
The word we’re looking for is “career”. As Ms. Buie said: “Long-term success is more complex.” It comes from musicians willing to change and grow. Who knows if Clay Aiken will… But he shouldn’t be counted out because he became famous on American Idol.
Consider Hanson‘s career. They were labeled a “boy band” because they were kids, they released a pop record (Middle of Nowhere), and that was the label in 1997. Slap the “boy band” label on them and there’s no thinking needed. When they have success, chalk it up to crazy little 13-year-old girls and smirk when they end up in drug rehab. It’s too bad they didn’t follow the script.
While Middle of Nowhere is a brilliant pop record, their second album, This Time Around is a stunning, raw rock record. They matured and it showed in their music. Yet, the album didn’t sell. Maybe it was the “boy band” label, maybe not. Whatever the reason, I’m sure there was some pre-conceived notion about them that hurt sales. But that doesn’t change the album.
Yesterday, they released their latest album, called Underneath. This is an amazing album. It’s a tremendous step forward in craft, both musically and lyrically. I’m glad I didn’t dismiss them because they’re not kewwwwwl. Growth is fun to watch.
Since that’s not cool to discuss in hip circles and making fun of people is acceptable, we have the list of “50 Worst Songs Ever”. Here’s the list of Blender’s “Bottom of the Barrel”:
1. “We Built This City” – Starship (1985)
2. “Achy Breaky Heart” – Billy Ray Cyrus (1992)
3. “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” – Wang Chung (1986)
4. “Rollin'” – Limpbizkit (2000)
5. “Ice Ice Baby” – Vanilla Ice (1990)
6. “The Heart of Rock & Roll” – Huey Lewis & The News (1984)
7. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” – Bobby McFerrin (1988)
8. “Party All the Time” – Eddie Murphy (1985)
9. “American Life” – Madonna (2003)
10. “Ebony and Ivory” – Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder (1982
I don’t like all of those songs, but the worst songs ever? Doubtful. Just like you, I now need to load up “Party All the Time” and blare it at full volume. These songs are not going to save the world, but that doesn’t mean they’re not valid. Music can be good without being serious. In this context, my definition of “good” is “fun”. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying fun music.
There is a caveat for a song to make the list, as Blender editor Craig Marks explains:
Each dud had to be a hit to make the hit list. Though Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy got in, such novelties as Macarena and Who Let the Dogs Out, which by design are cheesy, were nixed. The jury also whittled down the bulk of “rotten, excruciatingly bad low-hanging fruit from the ’70s,” Marks says.
However, so that there’s no confusion over what we’re supposed to think, there’s this:
Starship’s 1985 anthem, the runaway No. 1 stinker, “seems to inspire the most virulent feelings of outrage,” editor Craig Marks says. “It purports to be anti-commercial but reeks of ’80s corporate-rock commercialism. It’s a real reflection of what practically killed rock music in the ’80s.”
The list may contain a diversity of songs, but most of the “worst” songs are from the 80’s and very early 90’s. Blender believes it knows exactly how to define good rock music. I suspect they whittle this down to a simple maxim: rock music paused with the end of Led Zeppelin and un-paused with the arrival of Nirvana. Ridiculous.
Finally, to make sure that everyone understands the truth, there’s this wonderful nugget of open-minded insight:
To accommodate coming horrors, the list can’t be considered definitive. Noting that Clay Aiken’s Invisible landed at No. 11, Marks predicts that “as soon as the American Idol season is finished, there will be a new entry.”
Lists like this are stupid. But we can all agree that “Achy Breaky Heart” is the worst song ever.