The Worst Songs of 2016, a Year In Musical Monstrosities

Images via screenshot, clockwise from left: Lukas Graham, “7 Years; Shawn Mendes, “Stitches”; Meghan Trainor, “No”; Adele, “Hello”; Zayn Malik, “Pillowtalk”; Justin Timberlake, “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”

When the Jezebel staff was individually queried on their worst song of the year, an informal debate emerged: was Shawn Mendes 2016's most offensive musician, or was it Lukas Graham? As you can see here the consensus was split but equally flogged with their music, though there was plenty of other trash to go around. In a 2016 that largely belonged to the Knowles sisters, Rihanna, Angel Olsen, Ariana Grande and more, there were certainly plenty of warts to mar the beautiful landscape they built. Here, we contend with the tracks that made us recoil in disgust.

A playlist below, if you must.

Justin Timberlake, “Can’t Stop the Feeling”

This song is the work of someone who has a record deal they desperately want to get out of so they can continue to try to make it as a big-shot actor, and you can feel it through every last cheesy, pseudo soul-inspired note. It could have easily been included in Josie and the Pussycats as one of the songs used to brainwash the youth into buying things they don’t need; as you listen, you can almost faintly hear a voice screaming “THIS WAS WRITTEN FOR A TERRIBLE ANIMATED CHILDREN’S MOVIE AND WILL ALSO BE PLAYED AT EVERY SINGLE WEDDING YOU GO TO FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE!!!” The worst thing about it is that it works—when it comes on, you do always end up dance, dance, dancing, like JT is some kind of cult leader con man. Oh wait, when it comes to this song, he is. —Kate Dries


Sia featuring Sean Paul, “Cheap Thrills”

The way this song vibrates makes it move through me like an electric shock or maybe rotten meat. When I hear it, I feel screamed at in needless melisma. Why does “Cheap Thrills” have to be “reggae” by the way, and why is its beat’s backbone those square quotes? Why didn’t Sia dress up like a Rastafarian banana in this song’s video to underscore the mockery at hand? Why did this go to No. 1 and why did so many other songs that went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 this year come THIS CLOSE to getting my vote on this list (including: Zayn’s “Pillowtalk,” Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself,” Desiigner’s “Panda,” Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” and the Chainsmokers’ “Closer”). The answer is: Because we live in hell. And this is our soundtrack. —Rich Juzwiak


Zayn Malik, “PILLOWTALK”

My pick was an extremely tight race between this and Lukas Graham’s “7 Years,” an awful song that I’m 100-percent certain was added to the waiting-room soundtrack in purgatory. These three-plus minutes of Zayn Malik wailing sounds like a teen reaching to sound deep (“It’s a paradise...a warzone”), and the melody activates intense boredom within me. Other things about this song that bother me include the way Zayn sings “Reck-a-less behavior” and “Pillow towlk.” But the main issue is this: he and whoever recorded it think he sounds good. —Clover Hope


Meghan Trainor, “No”

My review is no, my take is no, my response is no, this song has got to go. —Gabrielle Bluestone


Mike Posner, “I Took A Pill In Ibiza”

I very vaguely remember Mike Posner as that white guy who seemed like he wanted to be black and who had that song that was kinda popular during my senior year of college. I actually find it very difficult to wrap my mind around this song being a real thing we allow to be labeled as “music.” It legitimately sounds like something written for a Lonely Island knockoff. That’s right, this song isn’t even good enough to be a real Lonely Island song. There is one useful aspect to this—one of the top 15 most embarrassing performances I’ve ever heard in my life—as it completes the full invalidation of the Grammys due to its nomination for Song of the Year. The next time someone tries to argue that the Grammys mean anything or are at all interested in honoring the best of music, play them this song. —Kara Brown


The Chainsmokers f. Halsey, “Closer”

The positioning of this ungodly track at the top of several Billboard charts for an unfathomable amount of weeks this year was surely given a boost from the perpetually viral and devoted fanbase of Jersey singer Halsey, who loans her voice to it. It’s a midtempo pop “Jack & Diane” for the emo generation, its insipid mediocrity disguised in overly processed synthesizers and Halsey’s sweet tones. I was positive at some point after everyone in America had heard it 33,000 times we’d all wake up to how passively awful and snakily misogynist it was—but I was wrong about Clinton, too. Not even after the duo’s awful Billboard cover, a document of their unfailingly stupid and unapologetically white-frat-bro behavior, did their popularity wane, life in Trump’s America. In that piece, they got wasted and publicized their collective penis size, talked about loving “pussy” and making music for the purpose of date models and, most notably, described the writing of “Closer” as being about “Taggart’s experience hooking up with an ex, then ‘realizing he actually still hates her.’” (Lyrically, that’s fairly obvious: “Four years, no calls,” sings Taggart. “Now you’re looking pretty in a hotel bar.”) The fact that they’ve been cravenly betting on sexism to sell albums from the beginning—recall the cynical gender stereotyping of 2014's “Selfie”—made “Closer” even more flaccidly infuriating, and yet utterly perfect for the idiocracy into which we found ourselves plunged. —Julianne Escobedo Shepherd


Adele, “Hello”

Somewhere between the song’s own immensely repetitive qualities and the fact that it was played over and over and over and over again until my ears nearly detached themselves from my head and lunged into oncoming traffic, I began to really, really hate “Hello.” I think my strong feelings also have something to do with Mike Huckabee, who filmed a tremendously shitty “Hello” parody during his GOP primary campaign on what appears to have been a cell phone and the lyrics “Hello from the caucus night / If Bernie wins I’m gonna die” were stuck in my head for the next 9 months. Which isn’t Adele’s fault, I guess, but I’ll continue to blame her. —Ellie Shechet


Ellie Goulding, “Still Falling For You”

I freaking love an Ellie Goulding power love ballad, especially if it’s written exclusively for a soundtrack of a movie I’ll never see. (“Love Me Like You Do” is one of the top 20 songs of the decade; please don’t @ me.) I wanted so much for “Still Falling For You” to even approach the level of “Love Me Like You Do,” and it was clear that Goulding and her producers did too. It was probably this ambition, that dangerous task of attempting to recreate a perfect song (again, please do not look at me or @ me), that made this song so utterly bad. The song, from Bridget Jones’s Baby (oh god) for some reason relies on a series of syncopated lyrics and heavy-handed rhymes that force you to really listen to how stupid they are. It begins, “Fire and ice/This love is like fire and ice/This love is like rain and blue skies/This love is like sun on the rise/This love got me rollin’ the dice/Don’t let me lose/Still fallin’ for you.” The b-section swells are pretty good, but the rest is trash and made me stupider. But one thing is certain, with 2017 will come another bad rom-com for Ellie Goulding to attempt to elevate. Please do better next time. —Joanna Rothkopf


Bruno Mars, “24K Magic”

I love Bruno Mars: his voice, his charisma, his swag—it’s all top-notch. He’s probably one of the best performers in the business right now. But this dumbass song does him no favors. It’s overproduced, its every component trying just a little too hard (ironic, given the song’s premise). And these lyrics: “second verse for the hustlas (hustlas), gangstas (gangstas), bad bitches and ya ugly ass friends (haha)”—oh, please. “24K Magic” is the sort of song that, if I hear it while I’m drunk in a club, I’ll scream and bop around like an idiot because the lyrics and beat are both giddy and easy. Otherwise, I’m left mourning the death of emo Bruno—an extreme proclamation, I know. —Rachel Vorona Cote


Every single song from Meghan Trainor’s album Thank You 

Bobby Finger

Lukas Graham, “7 Years”

This song has the sort of plunking, plodding, up-and-down peaks and valleys melody, likely intense to inspire something other than rage, but hey, here we are. First he’s seven, then 11, then he’s 20. “Soon we’ll be 30 years old,” he sings. Yep. That’s how life works, bud! YOU DON’T GET ANY YOUNGER. The trick with this song is if you’re standing on line at Duane Reade and this shit does on the radio, if you’re not paying attention, you maybe start to hum, because you definitely know it, and part of the reason why it’s so fucking infuriating is that it’s an insidious ear worm that burrows into your brain and never, ever leaves. —Megan Reynolds


Shawn Mendes, “Stitches”

Shawn Mendes’s cloying song “Stitches” was released in 2015, but didn’t hit peak radio play until 2016—as if this year needed anymore pain. Truth is that I didn’t know who Shawn Mendes was until about five minutes before writing this blurb. All I knew is that there was a song with the word “needle” in it that drove me INSANE in a bad way every time it came on the radio at gym or in the car.


Since being told to name my most hated song of 2016, I’ve asked everyone know if they can name “the annoying needle song,” but shockingly no one seemed to know what I was talking about until this afternoon when I sang a bastardized version of how I thought it went (I was wrong) and Joanna somehow pulled the title out of thin air. Anyway, Joanna rules and “Stitches” sucks balls.

No one asked what I think the best song of 2016 was, but I’m going to name it anyway: Judith Light singing “One Hand in My Pocket” on Transparent. —Madeleine Davies


Fergie, “M.I.L.F. $”

Fergie’s fame has always been a bit of a mystery to me. She doesn’t quite sing so much as rhythmically talk but, in her defense, she’s gifted pop music with some of the most ridiculously enduring lyrics of the 21st century (see: Fergalicious’s declaration that she be “up in the gym just working on my fitness”). “M.I.L.F. $” finds Fergie back in full force with a song that can’t seem to find its rhythm and has lyrics that are little more than mashup of words that seem relevant in that particular subgenre of female empowerment pop music (Fleek! Girlfriends! Independent! Haters!). Somewhere in there, Fergie decided to coin the word “milfshake,” which was unexpectedly hilarious. Then there’s that whole interlude where Fergie tries to sing. I was confused!


The video had some cute kitschy vibes—who doesn’t like Kim Kardashian in massive heels?—but that aesthetic didn’t translate to the joyless-sounding, irritating single. —Stassa Edwards

Lukas Graham, “Mama Said”

Picking a Lukas Graham song from the buffet of ear-splitting horror fare that this apparently multi-person recording artist subjected us to this year to call the worst was nearly impossible, but my coworker Megan did me the favor of choosing “7 Years” already, so I present you the second worst song of the year. You know a track is going to be both saccharine and grating when it has “Mama” in the title, so I don’t know why anything about this whole affair surprised me when it rudely showed up in Spotify’s “Today’s Top Hits,” which I was listening to while minding my own business on the way to work and not, as far as I know, doing anything to bother Lukas Graham. But it shocked me in how hauntingly awful it was anyway. The opening bars feature a chorus of demon children not singing but chanting an adaptation of the worst song from “Annie,” which is strike one. Strike two: Lukas Graham, whoever they are, join in, shouting “It was ok! Mama told us we were good kids!” It is the kind of song I imagine running through my head in the final hours of a slow death by advanced syphilis. Strike three. I’m out. Fuck this song. —Kelly Stout


Lady Gaga, “Perfect Illusion”

I have bad taste. I like shitty pop music, trashy novels, mindless TV, and I’ll dance to anything with a beat. All I ask of a song is that it not feel like punishment to listen to it. Lady Gaga’s lead single off Joanne sounded so bad that Jezebel wrote not one, but two posts about it. It opens with what sounds like an instrument screaming for help, and once Gaga starts moaning, “It wasn’t laaaaahvv, it wasn’t laaaaaahvvvvv,” I feel like I’ve been possessed by the haunted spirit of disco dancer who died of a cocaine overdose under the strobe light—and they want revenge. Lacking musical sophistication as I do, the exact explanation for why this song causes a twisting physical reaction in my spine still isn’t something I really understand. But I want to run out of the room whenever it comes on. —Aimée Lutkin


Shawn Mendes, “Treat You Better”

I would conservatively put the number of times I’ve heard this song unwillingly this year at 20 million. It’s followed me on road trips and nights out and quick trips to CVS and will probably tag along with me into the depths of hell. With each fresh play I get angrier at how boring the lyrics are: “I know I can treat you better than he can/And any girl like you deserves a gentleman.” What the fuck does that mean? Why don’t you let the creepy object of your fixation make her own choices? Are bros going to start describing themselves as “gentlemen” now and if so can I just stick my face into a fedora and smother myself to death? I don’t know who Shawn Mendes is, besides a literal demon sent to earth to punish me, but this one and its bland, anodyne sentiments to some imaginary woman is the most soulless example of top 40 songwriting-by-committee that’s ever existed. —Anna Merlan


Democratic National Convention, “Our Fight Song

This song lost Hillary Clinton Pennsylvania, and the music video lost her Michigan and Wisconsin. —Brendan O’Connor


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