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The 25 Worst No. 1 Pop Songs

on January 15, 2014, 1:38pm
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Last year, we rounded up the worst rock songs to ever hit No. 1 on Billboard‘s ever-changing list that tipped off as Top Tracks, evolved into Top Rock Tracks, at once was called Album Rock Tracks, and finally became Mainstream Rock Tracks. It was fun, polarizing, and oddly rewarding. So, we decided to reclaim that magic with a list of the worst pop songs to ever hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It wasn’t the easiest of tasks — especially given the grueling, headache-inducing listens, oy vey — but, whatever, we did it. And something tells us few arguments will be had over these choices.

Maybe not.

Artwork by Sam Moore; titles by Steven Fiche.

25. Rick Astley – “Never Gonna Give You Up”

Two decades after “Never Gonna Give You Up” had been consumed, disposed, and forgotten by the public, Rick Astley’s first and biggest hit returned to life thanks to Rickrolling. If you spent any time on the internet in 2008, you fell victim to the clickbait-and-switch troll at least once. So, why was the art of Rickrolling such a successful form of trolling? “Never Gonna Give You Up” sounds like just another product from the assembly line of a cynical team of executives, scientists, and composers that calculated the exact percentage of repetition needed to lodge a song into a listener’s head for several hours upon even minimal exposure. Rickrolling became officially over after a cover by Barry Manilow and an IRL troll job from Astley himself on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. –Frank Mojica

24. Paul Anka and Odia Coates – “(You’re) Having My Baby”

In another world, “You’re Having My Baby” soundtracks an Anchorman dream sequence, something like this one, where Ron Burgundy professes his gratitude to Veronica Corningstone for carrying his child with a perfectly cheese-drenched, scathingly 1974-satirical ballad as they ride unicorns across the sky. “The seed inside ya, baby/ Do ya feel it growin’?” he growls, singing while playing flute. “I’m a woman in love and I love what’s goin’ through me,” she answers, nuzzling his moustache. It becomes one of the most quoted scenes in the movie. In our world, this song was actually once the U.S.’ most popular. —Steven Arroyo

23. Right Said Fred – “I’m Too Sexy”

You can’t even joke about “I’m Too Sexy” anymore. If you really want the cheap laughs that come with “that bald dude isn’t too sexy for anything, girlfriend” jokes or white tank top-ripping parodies, turn on VH1. Something about Right Said Fred should be on within the half hour. In a social media world, “I’m Too Sexy” would have been burned to the ground with holy Twitter fire, especially for its egregious Jimi Hendrix sample, and buried right next to Rebecca Black’s “Friday”. In 1992, despite it supposedly being an indictment of runway model culture, it caught the imagination of the fading yuppie remnants of the self-obsessed ’80s. –Chris Bosman

22. The Osmonds – “One Bad Apple”

The Beatles had The Monkees, Transformers had Gobots, and The Jackson 5 had The Osmonds. Their transition from Andy Williams Show staples to teen idol pop group may have been as awkward as puberty itself, but it still connected with a large audience as the white counterpart to The Jackson 5.

“One Bad Apple” isn’t so much bubblegum pop as it is a five-year-old piece of Bazooka Joe that will break your teeth long before a cavity ever gets to form. And, despite what Donny’s high-pitched squeal tells us over and over (and over) again, science proves that one bad apple does, in fact, spoil the bunch, thanks to the release and spread of ripening agent ethylene. The song was actually written with The Jackson 5 in mind, but they wisely turned it down in favor of a little number called “ABC”. –Frank Mojica

21. Pitbull feat. Ne-Yo, Afrojack, Nayer – “Give Me Everything”

“Me not working hard?
Yeah, right, picture that with a Kodak.
Or better yet, go to Times Square
Take a picture of me with a Kodak”

Yes, someone had the audacity to rhyme “Kodak” with itself for a double-dip of distracting product placement. As if the lyrics weren’t aneurysm-inducing enough, the beat to “Give Me Everything” is just a slight variation of the same sound found in every Afrojack track. Pitbull was actually sued because of this chart-topping club pop anthem’s rhymes. Not because of undue emotional distress from being exposed to such unprecedented and unrepentant laziness, but for having it “locked up like Lindsay Lohan.” Her defamation suit was discarded because of that obscurity called the First Amendment, and Pitbull was free to revel in his club-obsessed buffoonery. Where’s Michael Vick when you need him? –Frank Mojica

20. D4L – “Laffy Taffy”

I downloaded this song in 2006. I paid money for D4L’s “Laffy Taffy”, a memory that I had buried deep in my subconscious until this piece, and now I sit here, a sullen man embarrassed by his past decisions. This song is garbage, quite possibly the least musically worthwhile thing on this list, and with good reason. Who the fuck is it aimed at? I know that as a seventh grader, roughly 75% to 95% of the lyrics were over my head, so clearly the song isn’t for kids. But what self-respecting adult/hip-hop fan is going to ride around town bumping a song that sounds like it could/should have been played in a carnival fun house? –Pat Levy

19. Sisqo – “Incomplete”

Things Sisqo has: A grand piano, jewelry, a mansion with a sprawling backyard, “a bank account bigger than the law should allow,” “pretty faces from the covers of the magazines,” “fame and fortune,” a nifty camcorder with an LCD screen (nothing to scoff at in 2000), expensive cars, a tennis court, a goddamn white tiger, and an ocean view. Things Sisqo does not have, rendering him helplessly incomplete: You, girl, and any other #1 hits besides this to show for his career. –Steven Arroyo

18. Chris Brown – “Run It!”

In 2005, the world was introduced to Chris Brown, an artist who would punch his way into our hearts, and it was his lead single, “Run It!”, that launched his debut into the pop music conversation. The guest spot from Dipset mainstay Juelz Santana is almost entirely recycled from other songs, including Will Smith’s G-rated “Switch” and The Ying Yang Twins’ “Wait (The Whisper Song)”. This song really makes me sad for the state of pop music at that time, when a kid more baby-voiced than Bieber could have a hit song about stealing girlfriends. He barely sounds old enough to have crushes or not be afraid of cooties yet. –Pat Levy

17. Usher – “OMG”

For a song with more than 90 million views on YouTube, you’d expect something a little more nuanced than a beat of dueling metronomes and Usher pining for a woman he could likely just walk up to and have. will.i.am.’s contribution doesn’t amount to much more than Auto-Tuning one of the least imaginative verses of this millennium, while Usher isn’t trying much harder with his lyrics. “Honey got a booty like pow, pow, pow/ Honey got some boobies like wow, oh wow,” has to be something that Usher’s 13-year-old nephew wrote for him, right? –Pat Levy

16. Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em – “Crank That (Soulja Boy)”

Compared to most songs centered on comprehensive boogieing routines, “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” remains purely useless for one, essential reason: It doesn’t even teach you the goddamn dance steps. Lyrically, it eschews decipherable English in favor of nonsense phrases that are repeated to no end. It’s as if someone erased the rapping from the track, leaving us with four painful minutes of hype man shtick. “Soulja Boy off in this oh/ Watch me crank it, watch me roll/ Watch me crank dat, Soulja Boy/ Then Superman dat oh,” Soulja intones, expecting both our brains and dancing feet to know exactly what’s going on. That was 2007. Nearly seven years later, we still have no clue. –Dean Essner

15. Fergie – “London Bridge”

If I ever have to enter therapy, it’ll likely be because I had an acid flashback to being driven by my mother to baseball practice, radio blasting, her singing with complete obliviousness, “Every time you come around, my London Bridge wanna go down.” So, thanks for that one, Fergie. “London Bridge” is what happens when you replace the badass feminist quirk of Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” with thinly veiled blowjob puns. Seriously, Ferg, how can you quote a Vietnamese prostitute (“Me love you long time”) in one of your songs and expect to be taken seriously? –Bryant Kitching

14. Mims – “This Is Why I’m Hot”

Rappers are supposed to boast about themselves in their lyrics, waving those big ol’ chains about and bragging about how high they can stack all the cash that they hide under their mattresses because they don’t trust banks (and really, who does anymore?). But if all that crowing involves repeating “This is why I’m hot” over 30 times, then you’ve worn out your welcome. Not only that, but when your explanation for why you’re so hot is because you are, in fact, “fly,” and you’re using that word in 2007, you might not have been welcome to begin with. Maybe if the beat weren’t so nauseatingly redundant, the nauseating redundancy of the lyrics wouldn’t chafe so much. Hey Mims, do you really think you could “sell a mill saying nothing on the track?” Just for fun, let’s see you try. –Ben Kaye

Rappers are supposed to boast about themselves in their lyrics, waving those big ol’ chains about and bragging about how high they can stack all the cash that they hide under their mattresses because they don’t trust banks (and really, who does anymore?). But if all that crowing involves repeating “This is why I’m hot” over 30 times, then you’ve worn out your welcome. Not only that, but when your explanation for why you’re so hot is because you are, in fact, “fly,” and you’re using that word in 2007, you might not have been welcome to begin with. Maybe if the beat weren’t so nauseatingly redundant, the nauseating redundancy of the lyrics wouldn’t chafe so much. Hey Mims, do you really think you could “sell a mill saying nothing on the track?” Just for fun, let’s see you try. –Ben Kaye

Maybe we should all actually give a hand to Nelly for introducing the wide world to grills back in 2005. I mean, can you think of anything else of cultural/fashion importance from that year that Kanye West still flaunts with pride? And yet, no matter what their lasting influence may prove to be, that doesn’t change the fact that Nelly’s musical ode to the blinged-out dental apparatus is just plain awful. Seriously, how many metaphors for ice can a genre of music possibly come up with? I’ll admit, the line where he calls his mouth “a smile on the rocks” is kind of clever, but the fact that he rhymes that with, “If I could call out a price, let’s say I call out a lot” is just proof of this track’s underlying face-palm-worthy, borderline novelty song stupidity. –Bryant Kitching

12. Bruno Mars – “Grenade”

In the world of inoffensive, genre-defiling mom rock, Bruno Mars is freaking Mozart, and none of his songs capture his knack for the bland better than 2010’s “Grenade”. Songwriting doesn’t get much lazier than simply listing things, and boy does Bruno do a lot of that here. Want to know what he’d do for you? Well, he’d jump in front of a train, throw his hand on a blade, take a bullet through the brain… just about any pointlessly morbid thought he could string together will do just fine. A few times through this song and you’ll be praying there’s another bullet left in that gun. –Bryant Kitching

11. Will Smith – “Wild Wild West”

It’s a commonly known fact that Will Smith turned down the role of Neo in The Matrix to play the lead in the steampunk clusterfuck Wild Wild West. I, for one, would’ve loved to have seen Smith in the role — not because I think he would’ve been a good fit, but because it would’ve spared the world of the unholy “Wild Wild West” theme song, which topped the charts for one dark week in May 1999. Smith’s success as a crossover superstar is undeniable; he bridged the gap between hip-hop and acting better than anyone. But this song is proof that two things that should never be bridged are hip-hop and westerns. –Bryant Kitching

10. James Blunt – “You’re Beautiful”

Teen angst, anyone? High school breakups? That “flying high” (which appeared on the CD version as “fucking high”) reference notwithstanding, this 2005 chart-topper earned James Blunt a spot on Oprah and the adoration of teen girls everywhere who felt underappreciated by those dumb lugs in their chemistry class. Blunt’s sad-sack appeal, however, was undermined by the fact that this song made him the first Briton in nine years to top the U.S. charts. Bet that beautiful girl who blew him off regretted it later – or not, considering how treacly and melodramatic this little number is, despite its blockbuster success. –Katherine Flynn

09. Daniel Powter – “Bad Day”

Daniel Powter, where are you now? Plying your trade in a corporate coffee shop somewhere? Trying on knit skull caps at the mall? While his work on “Bad Day” was somewhat catchy, it was the kind of tune that didn’t seem SO bad on first listen, but decreased its tolerability half-life with every radio spin. “You’re faking a smile with the coffee to go,” is just one of many groan-worthy lyrics on this gem. In December of 2006 it became the first song ever to sell two million digital copies in the U.S., a testament to the marketing power of the annoying earworm that just won’t leave your head until you give it a listen. –Katherine Flynn

08. Crazy Town – “Butterfly”

Let’s take a moment to talk about how this rap-rock (those were the days, amirite?) manifesto reached number one in 15 countries. This might be because its awful, dirty-nursery-rhyme simplicity transcends language and culture: lyrics like “Hey, sugar mama, come and dance with me/The smartest thing you ever did was take a chance with me” hardly require high TOEFL scores to understand. The cover for the single featured a curvaceous woman’s naked back with a butterfly tattoo etched in black ink in the lower righthand corner, and this one image pretty much says it all – think of this song as a musical homage to every tired stereotype you’ve ever heard about girls with tramp stamps. –Katherine Flynn

07. Bryan Adams – “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You”

Once upon a time, in the dark days of the early ’90s, Kevin Costner and Christian Slater were major movie stars, and Bryan Adams’ saccharine ballads infected the airwaves with baffling ubiquity. All of this came together like a perfect storm of datedness for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Because music was still a viable source of income back then, every summer blockbuster was required to have a tie-in single, preferably a ballad, and Robin Hood had “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You”.

We’ve seen rock bands go the insipid power ballad route to great financial success, such as when Aerosmith provided the soundtrack for that creepy Affleck-Tyler-animal cracker scene in Armageddon, but Bryan Adams never actually rocked. Ever. So, logic dictates that such a schmaltzy declaration of pathetically living one’s life entirely to serve another would be more forgivable. It should, but then there’s Adams’ trademark constipated delivery and a guitar solo at the song’s midpoint that was probably performed by Chester Cheetah. –Frank Mojica

06. Los Del Rio – “Macarena”

Anyone who was 12-14 years old in the mid-to-late ’90s and had any Jewish friends has been haunted by the “Macarena” for the better part of a decade. The first few rotations of the highly repetitive bar/bat mitzvah staple were amusing enough, but after maybe two of the song’s four minutes, turning in a circle and flapping your arms about is torturous. Then, of course, you have to deal with that “funny” guy who thinks he knows all the Spanish lyrics (you don’t, so please stop trying).

What once was a youth dance staple is now a head-splitting irritant, but dammit if the song doesn’t have a legacy. It spent 14 weeks atop the Hot 100, lasting a disturbing 60 weeks on the chart. It wouldn’t be until Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” 15 years later that a number one single would chart for so long. In terms of numbers, that means there wasn’t a more popular song between 1995 and 2010 than “Macarena”, and that’s fucking terrifying. –Ben Kaye

05. Milli Vanilli – “Baby Don’t Forget My Number”

We know Milli Vanilli lip-synched, something that is de riguer with today’s pop-stars, so in my book, that’s forgivable. And their other No. 1 hits include “Blame it on the Rain”, a categorically great pop song, no matter who was singing. Why then is “Baby Don’t Forget My Number” such an abomination?

First off, we can assume that a record exec somewhere decided that while “867 5309/Jenny” was a great song, it only scraped the surface of phone-number related melodrama. So to go deeper they Frankensteined together snippets of the worst pop trends of the late 1980s. A touch of heavily-syncopated “rap,” a sprinkle of C + C Music Factory’s indelible dance-track magic, all leading to a hook anchored by the verse “(Buh, buh, buh) Baby don’t forget my number/ Love is stronger than thunder.”

The song-writing team behind Milli Vanilli’s hits couldn’t imagine a force of nature more powerful than thunder, best known for scaring the family dog under the bed. For shame. –Kris Lenz

04. Vanilla Ice – “Ice Ice Baby”

Back in 4th grade, I ran into the cool kid of the class at a local arts and crafts shop, and while talking he revealed a cassette of “Ice Ice Baby” in his pocket. As if it were some kind of treasure and something to brag about. At the time, it probably was, because Vanilla Ice was taking over the airwaves and became the first hip-hop artist to top the Billboard charts.

Nearly 24 years later, the name Vanilla Ice is both the setup and punch line for one of music’s biggest jokes. What snapped us out of our spell? Was it the fact that the best part of the song was nicked from Queen and David Bowie (and initially without credit)? The realization that the Ice man was a right-place-and-time novelty? In any case, how did a song get to top the charts when its so-called chorus consists of “Ice Ice Baby Vanilla” being repeated four times? We should be ashamed of ourselves for letting this fly. –Frank Mojica

03. The Black Eyed Peas – “I Gotta Feeling”

For 14 consecutive weeks in 2009, this steaming pile of vapid electro-garbage courtesy of will.i.am & Co. stood atop the charts, eventually selling over eight million copies and even taking home a Grammy. That, to me, might be the most frustrating thing about “I Gotta Feeling”. Sure, every song on this list achieved enough popularity to earn Billboard’s top spot, but few were as insidious or as culturally ubiquitous in a way that wasn’t novelty (like, say, “Macarena” or “I’m Too Sexy”) or that could’ve fallen into the so-bad-it’s-kinda-good category (looking at you Rick).

Instead, “I Gotta Feeling” offers absolutely nothing to the listener except five, yes, five whole minutes of mind-numbing, meaningless exclamations like “Let’s do it!”, and “Fill up my cup!”, and, because why the hell not, “Mazel tov!” There’s no story being told, no journey being taken here – just empty escapism without the slightest hint of creativity or self-awareness. Vanilla doesn’t get any more vanilla than this folks. –Bryant Kitching

02. Bobby McFerrin – “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”

Perhaps the most appalling atrocity surrounding this former No. 1 hit (and there are many) is that THIS is how most people remember Bobby McFerrin. McFerrin, the genre-redefining performer and composer with an inimitable vocal style that slides between modal and falsetto styles to create a polyphonic effect. He recorded the first ever unaccompanied, undubbed vocal jazz album (and no, it is not terrible). He has travelled the world collaborating with the greatest composers and musicians of our time. And yet he is also responsible for this farce.

What’s the worst part? Is it nursery rhyme-esque AA-BB-CC rhyme scheme? Or maybe its the faux-Jamaican accent the Brooklyn-born McFerrin inexcusably exercises? For me, it’s the pretension that such a saccharine platitude would actually have a palliative effect on someone who has “lost their bed,” (pretty big problem, needs immediate addressing). The great irony being that the song engenders such feelings of hate and anger. To McFerrin’s credit, he stopped performing the song live after George W. Bush used it as the official song of his presidential campaign, thereby snatching a shred of dignity from the pit of shame. –Kris Lenz

01. Owl City – “Fireflies”

Lurking somewhere on the Internet is an unfortunate reference to the few moments in college when someone handed me Owl City’s first record (then merely a crude CD-R labeled with a Sharpie) and I kind of liked it because it was like two years after Give Up and I needed a fix. It was a dark time. I hope you can all forgive me. Or at least show some restraint and wait a few days to post it on Reddit after I give your favorite band’s record a one-star review.

Listening back, that CD-R was hackneyed, cloying, derivative stuff. It was Postal Service without Ben Gibbard’s storytelling. It was Passion Pit, but fronted by someone who was emotionally well-adjusted and subsequently boring. But it still wasn’t as bad as “Fireflies”, the musical equivalent of overloading a diabetic with insulin. There might not be a more childish (Not “child-like.” Not “precocious.” Childish.) lyrical image than “10 million fireflies” leaving “teardrops everywhere.” Or maybe just 10,000 of those “lightning bugs” giving Owl City frontman Adam Young “a thousand hugs… as they teach me how to dance.”

Some pop songs wink their sugar sweetness, and that lends those tracks a hidden bitterness that makes it possible to swallow. But “Fireflies”, bereft of anything other than soul-crushing earnestness, was a 10-foot pinwheel peppermint candy that we all collectively choked on back in 2009. –Chris Bosman

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