music / Columns

411 Music Top 5 12.04.12: Top 5 Worst Pop Acts

December 4, 2012 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas



5. Liz Phair

Perhaps the only thing keeping Phair from landing higher on my list is that she broke through on the strength of one of the most acclaimed alternative-rock albums of the early 90’s. It has been all downhill since 1993’s Exile in Guyville, though, and it is hard to conceive that the same woman who wrote “Fuck and Run” would try to break into the mainstream with a song about quickly falling for a guy (“Why Can’t I?”). The road to trying to gain acceptance via VH1’s audience somehow led to her rapping in a song called “Bollywood,” which may be one of the worst songs I have ever heard. Calling someone a “sellout” for trying to gain a larger audience isn’t as damning a turn of phrase as it used to be, but there were no upsides to Phair’s attempt at increasing her bank account.

4. Lana Del Rey

I suppose that Lana Del Rey is a fine singer from a strict objective standpoint, but it is everything else about her that bothers me. This is an artist who feeds on nostalgia without offering a new context for the sound that she is shamelessly aping, and though that has its cheap thrills, I can get the same experience at a halfway decent karaoke joint. Her act is one of smoke and mirrors, and what’s worse is that Del Rey appears to buy in to her own BS. It is only a matter of time before her house of cards falls, and in my eyes, that moment can’t come too soon.

3. Lindsay Lohan

Lohan can be a good actress given the right direction, but her bid at a music career made little sense to me–her voice doesn’t stand out in any way, and she seemed to require a fleet of writers and producers to make presentable music, leaving only her diminishing star power as the only justification for putting money behind her. Her first few songs were inoffensive, but when she tried to write music that was a little more personal (on her album A Little More Personal–no, really) and asked her audience to care about her, most responded by telling her to go cry into her stacks of money. Fortunately for us, her next film bombed, effectively ending her music aspirations, but this didn’t stop an ex-girlfriend of mine from putting one of her songs on a mix CD for me. If you’re longing for the Lindsay Lohan of old, keep in mind that her continued success would have resulted in more songs like the one embedded below and rethink your stance.

2. Willa Ford

I know that a lot of ink has been spilled complaining about the thin veneer of integrity, artistic and otherwise, that barely hid the über-sexual undertones of the “virginal” pop stars that were all the rage around the turn of the millennium, but acts like Willa Ford unintentionally exposed just how important that illusion was. Ford’s persona was that she was sexy, a trick that got her magazine spreads and a music video on TRL but failed to give her any sort of longevity, with the video for her song “I Wanna Be Bad” serving as both a reminder of what got her to the dance and why her fifteen minutes of fame literally almost lasted fifteen minutes. The likes of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera embraced their music and their sexuality simultaneously (or so we were told); Ford could barely be bothered with the whole “making music” part, which is kind of amazing given that she apparently produced most of her music. There are probably dozens of similar acts that I could have placed here to symbolize the whole “sexuality as market appeal” thing around the turn of the millennium, but pointing at her most successful music video is all I have to do to sum up the worst aspects of pop music ten years ago.

1. Chris Brown

Let’s set aside the whole “beating Rihanna senseless” thing–that has served as a convenient scapegoat to use to bypass that his music sucks. His first few albums saw him finding various ways of saying either “hey, let’s dance” or “hey, let’s make out” in the most obnoxious and childish ways possible. In the last year or two, though, he has evolved his sound to be even more aggravating while burrowing his head into the sand to distance himself from his “haters,” i.e., anyone who asks him to behave like a 23-year-old man who has been in the public eye for seven years. His music has finally landed on a reflection of his personality–consistently disingenuous and increasingly defensive, both critical flaws for a pop star. How the fuck does this asshole have a career?

Caveat: I try not to do these for Top 5s and try to keep them just to my 8 Balls, but in this case I had to throw one in. There are so many utterly horrific “pop singers” out there who are really just models or actresses who thought they could sing and vomited out an album. I wanted to focus on actual musicians–or at least people who are wholly dedicated to music careers and not doing it for vanity. That left the Lindsay Lohans, Paris Hiltons, Amber Roses and such out.

Honorable Mention: Celine Dion, Justin Bieber, O-Town

5. Miley Cyrus

I actually almost left Miley off this list, because while I think she’s absolutely terrible as a pop singer she has at least tried to change her sound a bit as she’s grown older. The problem that I couldn’t get past was how agonizingly bad that change in direction ended up turning out. “Can’t Be Tamed” was one of the most ear-splittingly poor songs of 2010 (and had a laughable, bizarre music video too, for the record). Yes, it was different but it proved she should have stuck with what she had before…which, for the record, was some of the blandest and boring pop music created in the last decade. And that includes Justin Bieber. Think about that for a moment.

4. Ashlee Simpson

Remember Ashlee Simpson? You know her. She’s Jessica’s sister with a small fraction of the talent who was caught lip synching on Saturday Night Live, where the performances are supposed to be…you know. Live. Simpson gets the edge over Miley on this list because while I don’t like Miley’s music, her voice is a bit less Auto-Tuned than Ashlee’s is. She has released three studio albums, and I guarantee you can’t find more than about forty seconds’ worth of interesting music between all three albums. We’ve been blissfully free of her music for almost four years, but beware: a new album is coming in 2013. I’m afraid.

3. Ke$ha

Oh, Ke$ha. Ke$ha, Ke$ha, Ke$ha. Before I get too far into this, I need to point something out; this ridiculously over-the-top hot mess does actually get some respect from me. For one, I think that she is a very smart person who understands how pop culture and the music industry work, and she plays the game remarkably well. Also, I at least appreciate that she has written every song she performs. That being said, I hate her music. Her style is the most irritating combination of rapping and pop music I’ve ever heard, and her subject matter has the depth of a puddle. Perfect example: she claims that she wrote “We R Who We R” as an anthem of gay support in the wake of the wave of suicides that followed gay bullying in 2010. Look at the lyrics to the song. It’s about partying in ripped stockings and hot pants with Jesus necklaces on. She literally doesn’t know how to write a song that is about anything but getting wasted and partying. It’s the worst kind of one-trick ponyhood.

2. Rebecca Black

Like Miley Cyrus, I almost considered not putting Rebecca Black on this list. I don’t think anyone can legitimately call Black a “star,” and besides that it seems mean to pick on a fifteen year-old who was thirteen when she hit it big. But the fact remains that she was one of the most talked about things in pop music in 2011, albeit for all the wrong reasons. “Friday” is quite literally one of the worst professionally recorded songs I have ever heard in my life. If you can believe it, she has released more songs and they have not been much better. She is the perfect example of a kid who has a dream but no real talent…something that has never stopped the music industry if they think they can wring a few bucks out of her.

1. Milli Vanilli

Really, does this need explanation? I actually have to say that I don’t think Fabrice Morvan was all that terrible of a singer. Rob Pilatus is another matter entirely. But the fact that the duo remains the only people ever have their Grammy Award revoked because of the now-infamous lip synching scandal. This is the perfect example of what’s wrong with the pop music industry; it’s all about image, and not actual talent or musical quality. And I saw that as a FAN of a lot of pop music; I do absolutely think there are a ton of good pop musicians out there. But more often than not they fall along the lines of these two poor sad bastards. In fact, part of what makes Milli Vanilli so bad is that they symbolize a much bigger problem with pop music in that yes, there was outrage at what happened, but it didn’t really stop the industry from manufacturing pop stars. They just became smarter about it and created AutoTune and other innovations to make bad singers sound passable.

The Final Word
As always, the last thoughts come from you, the reader. We’re merely unpaid monkeys with typewriters and Wikipedia. Here’s what you need to do: List your Top Five for this week’s topic on the comment section using the following format:

5. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
4. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
3. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
2. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it
1. Artist – “Song”: Why you chose it

article topics

Jeremy Thomas
comments powered by Disqus