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"Robin Williams," CeeLo Green
There’s something pretty sad about trying to profit off the memory of the late Robin Williams while using his suicide for your own spiritual journey, as CeeLo does here: “We don’t know what the next man’s going through … life reminds me of Robin Williams / we’ve got to laugh the pain away.” It’s even worse when you consider that CeeLo probably hoped the song would improve his public image following last year’s egregious tweets about rape and consent.
"Marvin Gaye,” Charlie Puth featuring Meghan Trainor
After hearing the cringe-worthy line “Let’s Marvin Gaye and get it on,” you’ll wonder why the Gaye estate didn’t also sue these two in addition to the “Blurred Lines” guys. Surely Puth has done more harm to the soul icon’s legacy with a lyric like that? It’s telling that Meghan Trainor, no stranger to this list, is actually the song’s redeeming quality.
"Hey Everybody," 5 Seconds of Summer
Not to invoke a rivalry or anything, but at least when One Direction mined the pop sounds of decades past for inspiration, they never had to share a writing credit with the band they were aping. If the Australian quartet really wanted to send Duran Duran some royalty checks, they should have just covered “Hungry Like the Wolf” instead of coming up with this uninspiring imitation.
“Daddy,” Psy (feat. CL of 2NE1)
“Daddy,” the recent single by South Korean musician PSY, of “Gangnam Style” fame, may be timely—it celebrates the phenomenon of “dad bod” popularized in a viral essay this year—but that’s about the only thing it has going for it. When divorced from the absurdly entertaining visuals of its slapstick video, all that’s left is a generic dance song with uninspired lyrics: “You be my curry, I’ll be your rice,” PSY offers. Thanks, but we’re not hungry.
“Downtown,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Macklemore struck back against his critics—those who’ve said he’s just playing at being a rapper—with a song in which he raps about riding mopeds. Late in the song (after guest vocalist Eric Nally’s laughably impassioned, context-free singing about being “downtown”), Macklemore says, “It’s me, the M, the A-C, the K.” No surprise: who else could ever have been so corny?
“Focus,” Ariana Grande
“Focus” has just about everything except—what’s the word?—a certain sort of sustained attention to detail. Grande’s vocals are dwarfed by too-big instrumentals, just as they’d been in “Problem” and “Break Free,” but at least those songs had a sustaining energy. Here, we jump from Grande’s vocals to a chorus comprised of, strangely enough, Jamie Foxx screaming “F-f-focus on me” as though through gritted teeth. Coming off her donut scandal, Grande needed a tightly constructed, elegant hit, and this isn’t it: How exactly are we supposed to focus on anything in a song this scattershot?
“Better When I'm Dancin',” Meghan Trainor
The “Peanuts” franchise’s wistful vision of childhood as an endless string of indignities colored by moments of grace has been beloved for generations. Who better to bring it into the world of music than the “All About That Bass” songbird? Trainor’s Peanuts Movie theme song has as little to do with the franchise as any other song this side of “Hotline Bling:” worse yet, its lyrics’ attitude of high-spirited joy aren’t matched by a blandly indifferent delivery.
“Pretty Girls,” Britney Spears and Iggy Azalea
These days, Spears is focusing all of her energies on her Las Vegas residency. Good for her! But bad for anyone listening to this overbearing instrumental track she decided to (or was told to) diffidently talk over. Iggy Azalea doesn’t have a stage show she can blame her weak verse on, but why blame her at all? This may come to be seen as a precious testament to what, exactly, was so maddening about the Australian rapper’s affectless delivery during her career.