As an introduction, this will be something I do every few months or so where I rank the current Billboard Top 20 songs in terms of quality, not popularity. This is subjective, so dont hate on the content. You can hate on the formatting, though, because it will be something I try and fix.
Pop music right now is interesting to say the least. Ironically it’s interesting in how disinterested most artists sound in their own songs. Music feels more clinical and artificial than any other time in recent memory, leading me to be bored while listening to most of these songs. While many of these songs are not inherently bad, they just suffer from sounding like they are made to be generic pop hits. Well, some of these songs are inherently bad, but we’ll get to that. We’ll get to that now, actually.
20. Me Too-Meghan Trainor
Look at that face. That face is the face of a woman that could not care any less about the quality of her own music. She was tolerable as a 50’s sound wannabe misandrist, but now she’s decided she wants to be Britney Spears. Not even decent early Britney, either. She’s like a really, really, really bad current Britney. “No” showed this and was bad in its own right, but was slightly redeemable. “Me Too” is far from redeemable, though. It is built around a lazy and awful sounding synth bass loop that you hear far too much with interludes of even lazier upbeat bubblegum pop. She trades misandry for straight up egotism, something Trainor is all too familiar with, but sings some of the lines in a feux-German accent. She at least sounds interested in what she’s singing, but her interest is in something truly awful. Probably reflective of her dating history.
19. Needed Me- Rihanna
Look, even Rihanna looks bored with this song! She’s always confused me as an artist. Sometimes she’ll release passionate, awesome music that displays her talent in full force, but then she’ll release songs that sound like “Needed Me.” The song starts off solely with a dream-like wobble synth with too much tremolo, making it sound more like a nightmare than anything. Then we find out who made the beat when “Mustard on the beat ho” is inserted into the mellow synth. It’s far too loud, disjointed, and awfully mixed into the song. Then synth bass and minimal percussion is layered in as well as Rihanna’s vocals. She sings egotistical woes about how much her ex lover needed her in a song full of bitter lyrics, but she sings them with very little passion save for some in the second verse. The beat continues to be far too repetitive and boring for it’s own good, leaving this song to become a pool of nothingness.
18. Work From Home-Fifth Harmony ft. Ty Dolla $ign
I’m baffled at how this song is in any way popular. It’s so…. boring. Not just in vocal performance, but the composition is so empty and bland. The song is built around a synthetic marimba and a synth bass that plays very sparsely. Sometimes those two things are all you here other than the vocals (in Ty’s verse all you here is him and the synth bass for a while actually). Occasionally there is a weird filler sound that sounds like a dog’s whimper and in the chorus there is a creepy consistent breathing. This song is a mess composition wise and the vocals don’t help. The ladies from Fifth Harmony sound awful (especially Dinah Jane Hansen on the second bridge) and Ty’s verse is trash. Do yourself a favor and avoid this song if you can. You probably cant, but you can certainly try.
17. Just Like Fire- P!nk
P!nk, what happened to you? You’re typically a breath of fresh air on the pop chart, bringing a balanced, emotional take on pop-rock. You’re really only good when you are able to inject raw emotion into your music while simultaneously knowing when to be restrained and when to be powerful. When it works it works really well, like in “Sober” or “Try,” and even the occasionally mediocrities of songs like “Raise Your Glass”or “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)” can be forgiven as they are far from bad songs. But “Just Like Fire” is really awful. Has an overpowering beat that doesn’t allow for any vocal emotion or personality to be injected, the guitar is out of place, and the gang vocals in the pre-chorus literally waste your time. P!nk’s vocals as I’ve mentioned are subpar and could have been performed by literally anyone. Except for the rap part. Not that no one else could have done it, just no one should have. Basically this song is just a waste of three and a half minutes.
16. For Free- DJ Khaled ft. Drake
To be honest, I hate this song so much simply because of the lyrics and Drake’s performance. The beat is actually solid, with solid percussion and a really interesting synth line. The only bad parts of the song than can be attributed to DJ Khaled are his cocky self-introductions in both the beginning and end of the song as well as the awkward sample he interjects twice. What does the sample say? “Would you fuck me for free?” Yep. That’s what the title means. Drake takes this and runs with it, talking about how good he is in bed and how the sex is so good that he, you guessed it, shouldn’t have to fuck for free. And he raps with such a smug yet simultaneously bored tone that it makes my skin crawl. He even has the audacity to reference a much better and more interesting Kendrick Lamar song of the same title. Listen to that song instead. Its so much better.
15. Controlla- Drake
I don’t hate this song. From now on I don’t hate any of the songs on the list. Despite this, this song is probably the song on this list I was the most bored by. The beat is empty and monotonous with just weird synth chords and percussion that both fade in and out. This accompanied by a synth bass that is essentially just extra percussion and some really odd production decisions. For example the song ends with a weird acapella Jamaican chant of sorts, and midway through the song there is a Caribbean chant over 90’s hip hop style snares that sound really out of place. The lyrics kind of make no sense whatsoever and Drake sounds more bored than he ever has, leading to what ends up being a mess of a song.
14. Treat You Better- Shawn Mendes
Oh look, a popular song that relies heavily on a 3-3-2 rhythm but doesn’t use it to it’s advantage! The 3-3-2 is a dance style beat that has become popular in the past year or so. It can either add a lot to the songs style and danceability (see “Sorry” by Justin Bieber) or sound clumsy and out of place (see “Work” by Rihanna). You may be asking “What do you mean by ‘3-3-2?'” Well, listen to this song and hear the opening guitar. Then you’ll notice something: This song is not a dance song, so why does it use a dance beat? Beats me (heh). The songs arrangement is clumsy in every aspect, as the percussion doesn’t even go through with the full 3-3-2 in the second verse and the synth tones in the chorus detract from the vocals. The latter can almost be seen as a positive though, as Shawn Mendes cannot sing. Also the lyrics are so unbelievably cliche that it hurts. Mendes sings about how he’ll treat this girl better than the guy that she’s currently with, but there’s two major flaws with it: 1. He gives no justification as to why he can, making it feel unbelievably whiney. 2. He uses lyrics like “Give me a sign, take my hand and we’ll be fine” seriously. Both these make him sound unbelievably douchey.
13. One Dance- Drake
I liked this song a lot when I first heard it. Then I heard it again and again it I started to find significant flaws in it. The biggest flaw is how it’s essentially a completely empty song. It follows the trend Drake’s Views album seems to follow in that he uses a weird tropical, Caribbean feel to his songs. This is prevalent in the punchy piano chords and the tropical guitar that enters later on in the song. The production on this song ends up feeling empty, though, as it has no underlying textures of any kind and the beat ends up being the aforementioned piano chords, four on the floor bass, and a weird temple block synth throughout the whole of the song. The lyrics also practically have no meaning and the song has no real climax. It sort of just ends awkwardly, leaving the song to not be very satisfying. At least it’s easy listening and not really offensive in any way.
12. Panda- Desiigner
Why is this song popular? I have asked myself this questions many times. The answer? I really don’t care. This song embodies things that shouldn’t be popular. For one, Desiigner bought this beat off of a Youtube channel for $200. t’s actually a decent beat, it’s dissonant chords and percussion creating a dark tone (just could do with out the random vocal noises he added into the beat). You also can barely understand anything he says which makes the lyrics literally not matter. Sometimes you can understand him saying the titular word “Panda” against a stripped down and when he says “I got broads in Atlanta.” Really, this song is sort of just…. there. It has no major flaws and the only notable aspect of it is the absurd fact that it’s popular as hell.
11. Don’t Mind- Kent Jones
I shouldn’t like this song, but it’s sooo dumb to the point it’s hard to hate. He raps about how he’ll be able to love a girl no matter where she’s from. By love I mean have sex with, a distinction made very clear in the verses. Some of the lyrics are so bad it’s somewhat shocking, but due to the lighthearted tone of the song it makes me laugh more than anything. The hook is also hilarious, consisting primarily of him portraying a conversation where him and the girl say hello in multiple languages. The beat is somewhat generic, but it’s more lighthearted and positive than most on the chart and is likely the reason this song works. It takes a certain kind of song to use the lyrics “her weed comes with diplomas” and make me not hate it.
10. H.O.L.Y.- Florida Georgia Line
This might be the best Florida Georgia Line song I have ever heard. It had a low bar, but this song is not awful like every other song they have put out. It has a pretty standard ballad arrangement, with a basic four on the floor beat accompanied by piano chords, background choral vocals, and an underlying organ tone. The only thing country about it is the guitar at the beginning that quickly fades. Oh, and the overwhelming cliches. “I’m high on loving you” has been played out so much it’s almost grating. The most shocking thing about this song though is the vocal performance. Brian Kelly and Tyler Hubbard sound honestly good, there voices full of actually quality and energy songs like “Cruise” led me to believe was impossible. This song might not be great, but it’s harmless and pretty good. If this is the direction F.G.L. are going in, I might not hate them anymore.
9. This is What You Came For- Calvin Harris ft. Rihanna
A lot of people seem to really hate this song. They complain about the lack of lyrics, the monotony of the beat, and the boredom of Rihanna. And you know what? All of that is only kind of true. The lyrics aren’t varied, but what is their is honestly better than most lyrics on the chart today. It reflects (in an admittedly repetitive manor) how there is this dynamite of a woman that everyone is staring at, but she keeps an eye on you, the nondescript man or woman (It’s 2016, can assume anything.) Calvin Harris’s beat is honestly fine here, and while it repeats a lot what gets repeated is good. Rihanna does sound bored, but it’s a sad sounding bored which leads to the narrative of the song (if you can call it that). I interpret it as Rihanna realizing she has no chance versus this electric woman so she’s telling the guy she’s obviously interested in to go for her. I could just be trying to read too far into it, though.
8. Can’t Stop The Feeling- Justin Timberlake
This song is the most harmless thing one the radio. There’s honestly not much to say about it. It’s generic bubblegum pop, everything it says has been said in so many different songs, but it is so much fun and energy that many of it’s shortcomings are accepted. This song is everything generic about pop music, but it’s generic in an okay way.
7. Heathens- twenty one pilots
I have almost just as little to ay about this song as “Can’t Stop The Feeling.” That fact is funny since this song is almost the exact opposite of Timberlake’s smash hit. This song is dark, cynical, and really unique. It can get hard to listen to at points simply because of how dreary it is. It’s one of the reasons why for a long time I was not a fan of twenty one pilots. They tend to be too pessimistic about the world around them. This song gains a lot of points back when you realize it was made for “Suicide Squad,” making it so the tone is fitting. The song ends up being this high because it’s still incredibly well crafted, with a solid somber vocal performance and really cool instrumentation. It’s just… really depressing.
6. Don’t Let Me Down- Chainsmokers ft. Daya
This is the second biggest shock to me only behind “H.O.L.Y.” This is a song made by the artists behind the abomination of “Selfie” and the mediocrity of “Hide Away.” This song has no right to be good, but it is. First of all, this song is absolutely carried by Daya’s unbelievably passionate and incredible vocals. She belts about needing someone in a time of desperation and stress. She sounds like she truly is desperate, too, making her saying “don’t let me down” feel less bitchy and more necessary. The Chainsmokers’ production is fantastic too, and is one of the best examples of using the 3-3-2 to enhance a song. It is full of fun arrangement, with bombastic percussion when the beat is building, a dramatic guitar riff (a stretch admittedly, but I count it as a riff), and subtle textures built throughout the hook. The only questionable part of the song is the beat drop which features a really odd brass synth as its centerpiece, but it’s only done twice in the odd manor and even then it grows on you on repeated listens. This song is an example of production driven EDM done really well, but not quite as well as the next song.
5. Cold Water- Major Lazer ft. Justin Bieber & M0
When looking at the charts to start this list, I didn’t expect to like this song. It’s the one song in the top 20 I hadn’t heard (It’s its first wee, but the names did not excite me (I will never forgive Major Lazer for “Bubble Butt”). But this song is honestly really solid. It has an awesome arrangement that’s really unique as it’s focused around actual instruments with it’s somewhat Caribbean guitar line and good percussion. This is sort of forgotten post chorus when it’s carried by a since line, but the song still sounds real. It is yet another song following the recent trend of the 3-3-2, but it’s coherent and adds to the song. The lyrics are also good, using a somewhat generic metaphor of drowning and water in place of relationships. They go deeper though (heh) by talking about how we can forgive mistakes as they are how we grow, but that it’s also important to have someone by your side to get through them. Bieber sounds less bored than he usually does but still sings the song will, but M0 shines in her verse. While the song doesn’t really have a bridge or a breakdown, it is a satisfying listen with no major flaws.
4. Too Good- Drake ft. Rihanna
Drake and Rihanna work really well together. As of late I have issues distinguishing between the two musically. I mean, they both share a lot of qualities, some of which I have already discussed on this list: R&B artists, incredibly popular, been around for a while, and completely disinterested in every song they are in. While they used to make interesting music that meant a lot to them, now they both are just bland artists that can always make popular music with Drake relying too much on his beats and Rihanna wasting her vocal bombast on simple low key melodies. Want to know why I say all of this again? I say it because this song embodies all of that. And it’s good. Really good. The beat follows the tropical theme of Views, even with foreign sampled lyrics in lieu of a breakdown like in “One Dance.” This beat matches the melancholic lyrics about a relationship between two lovers in a rough relationship. They have issues communicating, they both feel like they work too hard to make things work, and as the title suggests they feel they treat the other too good. Drake and Rihanna both give soft, bland performances, but they weirdly work to bring across the melancholic scene of two lovers that have know idea why they work as a couple. Which is ironic to me, since I’m still not 100% sure why this works as a song. Maybe they should work together more. Between this and “Take Care,” one of the best songs of the last decade, they have a pretty good catalogue. Unless you remember “Work.” I try not to.
3. Send My Love (To Your New Lover)- Adele
If I’m being honest, I was overall disappointed by the singles off of Adele’s 25 so far. “Hello” was boring and far too safe of a song, and although I enjoy “When We Were Young” it doesn’t have the same magic that “Rolling in the Deep” or “Somebody Like You.” Her latest single in “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” has that very same magic. That magic is simple: it’s genuine. No matter what she does Adele sounds good, but she sounds great when she is genuine. Arrangement wise this song is primarily just guitar and bass drum with some more percussion as well as background vocals being added in the bombastic chorus. Adele’s wonderful voice sings to her ex-lover how she’s forgiven him and how she’s giving him up, but does so in a slightly wistful way that makes it feel real. She’s not completely over him, but she realizes that she needs to be. So she sends her love to whoever he falls in love with next. The only downside to the lyrics is that Adele portrays herself as superior to the man, but it’s still done in a genuine reflective way. Her hating on the men she’s been with isn’t anything new anyway, so it’s acceptable.
2. Cheap Thrills- Sia
Sia is the best artist in the modern landscape of pop music. It’s not the rising scene hit of twenty one pilots, not the soulful power of Adele, it’s the bombastic energy and songwriting prowess of Sia. She has written some of the best songs performed by artists like Rihanna(all the time for Rihanna) and Beyonce, and has even written for Celine Dion! She’s pretty awesome, an aspect that is reflected in her music. While her current smash “Cheap Thrills” does not have the same emotional bombast as songs like “Chandelier” or “Alive,” this song shows something that shows how amazing of a performer Sia is: restraint. On top of a simple but well-constructed beat based on a 3-3-2 rhythm Sia vocals match the somewhat apocalyptic dance jam this song is. Those are the best kind of dance jams, by the way. The lyrics of this song honestly do not matter, something I rarely feel is an appropriate description for a song. It’s pure ear candy, with an awesome beat and great vocals that have a somewhat dark tone and you can’t help but dance to. It was really hard for me not to put this song as number one, but I feel my other choice deserves it just as much.
Oh yeah, this is the Sia only version we’re talking about. Big Sean doesn’t exist to me.
1. Ride- twenty one pilots
Remember how I said it took me a while to like twenty one pilots? This is the song that did it. This song is so good it’s almost hard to describe. Tyler Joseph has a great way of turning otherwise really upbeat sounding songs and turning them into something more twisted but simultaneously meaningful. The song is built around a great sounding synth-marimba which creates a pseudo-calypso sound, but this is a song that doesn’t define the song. The choruses break into straight rock that is pure elation. What puts this song over “Cheap Thrills” is the emotional core behind it. It’s messages about existentialism in the verses are thought provoking and genuine, but the core is brought to the surface in the bridge. The song is stripped to nothing but an acoustic set up of piano, drums, and bass where a female voice croons over the idea that she’s “been thinking too much,” a sentiment that Joseph echoes in the end of the song. The song ends up being a message about how one should think less about the more existential aspects of life and “take their time on [their] ride,” but it also shows how difficult it can be to do so. This song is honestly really close to perfect for me, with great instrumentation, wonderful vocals that know when to be bombastic or restrained, and lyrics with a message that I know speaks to me on a personal level.