Editor’s note: Please keep in mind that all remarks extend only toward the music and not the artists themselves.
While not my personal favorite list to make, the worst of mainstream country music in a calendar year always makes for an interesting discussion. This year though, the problems were more directed at the industry itself rather than the songs. There were a lot of boring, generic, mediocre singles released this year, but the list of songs that will live on as points of shame to the genre felt slimmer than previous years.
Still, it wasn’t all perfect, and while there should be less spaces for outright negativity, mainstream country music as a whole is still a pivotal discussion point. Like before, these singles had to be released anywhere from Dec. 2017 to Nov. 2018 (no, “Meant To Be” didn’t qualify). Let’s get started!
No. 20 – Little Big Town, “Summer Fever”
Little Big Town’s most exciting singles are usually their lead ones, but “Summer Fever” was an exception. This song saw the band trying to recreate the flavor of the month in country music to little success, with the mood sounding more somber than cheery. The result was a summer song that lacked both an upbeat summer feel and a “fever” at all.
No. 19 – Blake Shelton, “Turnin’ Me On”
This song almost made me say this was more interesting when it was called “Sangria,” but then I realized that song wasn’t interesting either. In other words, “Turnin’ Me On” is par for the course for Blake Shelton’s material this decade.
No. 18 – Morgan Evans, “Kiss Somebody”
Truthfully, “Kiss Somebody” probably shouldn’t be on the list at all. I have it here because of what it says about the current country music climate. “Kiss Somebody” is almost everything wrong with country music right now in a nutshell. This is what I mean when I say quite a few songs couldn’t move me either way this year. It’s like an ambassador for blandness, and in some ways that makes it worse than the songs higher on this list. At least I’ll remember those songs. Sadly, I can’t even really say Morgan Evans is better than this considering he’s got another song on this list. From its production to its lyricism to Evans’ vocal performance though, “Kiss Somebody” just may be the blandest song to ever exist.
No. 17 – Carlton Anderson, “Drop Everything”
Simply put, “Drop Everything” carries the torch for one of country music’s overlooked trends happening right now – douchey male narrators lusting after women they can’t have. In these situations, the man tries to play head games with his love interest by manipulating her into thinking there’s something wrong with her current relationship. While no evidence is usually ever given to suggest something has gone awry, it nonetheless reveals the narrator’s sleazier intentions. It’s a gross trend that needs to stop, and “Drop Everything” unfortunately joins the same camp as songs such as “Break Up With Him” and “Singles You Up.”
No. 16 – Eli Young Band, “Love Ain’t”
Simply put, “Love Ain’t” carries the torch for one of country music’s secret trends happening right now – douchey male narrators lusting after women they can’t have. In these situations, the man tries to play head games with his love interest by manipulating her into thinking there’s something wrong with her current relationship. While no evidence is usually ever given to suggest something has gone awry, it nonetheless reveals the narrator’s sleazier intentions. It’s a gross trend that needs to stop, and “Love Ain’t” unfortunately joins the same camp as songs such as “Break Up With Him” and “Singles You Up.”
… Wait a minute.
No. 15 – Maren Morris, “Rich”
This song is about as edgy and sharp as a plastic knife. What could have been a fun, upbeat summer song is hampered by clunky, stiff production and Maren Morris’ equally awkward, stiff vocal delivery. The problem with implementing humor in a song too is that it eventually wears off, especially if everyone already knows the joke. “Rich” is unable to remain interesting for three-and-a-half minutes because of this, making it no fun to listen to at all.
No. 14 – Keith Urban, “Never Comin’ Down”
”Never Comin’ Down” is another example of Keith Urban trying to be hip in the vein of say, that infamous Steve Buscemi meme. It just sounds horrible overall, and if you’re looking for your next summer jam, this ain’t it.
No. 13 – David Lee Murphy feat. Kenny Chesney, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”
I hate throwing this overused term around, but there’s very little that’s authentic about “Everything’s Going To Be Alright.” Granted, both David Lee Murphy and Kenny Chesney have recorded their fair share of escapist beach tunes, but this is mind-numbing even by those standards. The song’s nihilistic perspective that problems will magically go away by drinking is shallow at best. In terms of the production, the monotone recurring guitar riff is not helped by the song’s overall stiffness in sound. In short, it’s a song about nothing that says nothing … at least nothing real.
No. 12 – Garth Brooks – “All Day Long”
Garth Brooks has consistently been the boy who cried wolf in the post-retirement phase of his career. He gets us hyped up for something big and exciting only for it to be nothing much at all. Beyond featuring the most dated production I heard all year, “All Day Long” just goes overboard in every way possible. Brooks tries hard with his vocal performance, but a normal Friday night makes him sound like he just won the Super Bowl. Elsewhere, the fact that this sounds as dated as it does takes most of the “fun” out of it, and considering the song also panders lyrically, “All Day Long” is Brooks’ umpteenth consecutive miss this decade.
No. 11 – Luke Bryan, “What Makes You Country”
In some ways, it’s songs like this one and “Huntin’, Fishin’, Lovin’ Every Day” that are my least favorites in Luke Bryan’s catalog. His country pride anthems are typically filled with cliches and insecurities about his authenticity, and this is no exception. It does have good intentions by pointing out how country music is a wide umbrella, but it’s also filled with an egotistical sentiment (good on you for getting that “dirt road cred” though). In other words, it’s just a vacuum for Bryan to tell listeners how country he is because he does country things in the country with his country family and makes country music. Did I mention he’s country?
Real. Country. Dammit.
No. 10 – Danielle Bradbery, “Worth It”
Danielle Bradbery redeemed herself with “Goodbye Summer” this year, but “Worth It” still remains a black eye in her career. The saccharine production is grating enough, but the whiny lyricism reeks of entitlement. Bradbery is far better than this.
No. 9 – Chris Young, “Hangin’ On”
Truthfully, “Hangin’ On” probably shouldn’t be quite this high on the list. I have it here because of what it says about the current country music climate. “Hangin’ On” is almost everything wrong with country music right now in a nutshell. This is what I mean when I say quite a few songs couldn’t move me either way this year. It’s like an ambassador for blandness, and in some ways that makes it worse than the songs higher on this list. At least I’ll remember those songs. Chris Young is far better of an artist than this. From its production to its lyricism to Young’s vocal performance though, “Hangin’ On” just may be the blandest song to ever exist.
… Wait a minute.
No. 8 – Jake Owen, “I Was Jack (You Were Diane)”
Jake Owen’s formula of talking his way through his verses needed to stop years ago, especially when there’s been very little else redeemable about many of his past singles, this song included. The smooth, sterile production clashes with a song that’s riddled more with country music clichés than rock ones. This is simply more of the same generic fodder we’ve expected from Owen for a few years now ever since “What We Ain’t Got” was the little engine that couldn’t. At least he’s consistent I guess.
No. 7 – LOCASH – “Feels Like A Party”
I believe in the concept of actually writing out fair criticism for these songs, but this is one instance where I can’t. Someone needed to tell LOCASH that the bro-country party was over long ago. Even if they were trying to bring it back, they don’t have the firepower to do it, so let’s just turn off the lights and declare this party over, shall we?
No. 6 – Morgan Evans, “Day Drunk”
This song is more comical than anything else. It rips off the melody from Sam Hunt’s “Body Like A Backroad” which ripped off Flo Rida’s “My House” before it. Sure, there are some memorable lines here and there, but they usually end up working against the narrator. Carelessly indulging in your girlfriend’s father’s birthday gift makes you a less likable person. Otherwise, the song is shallow and unmemorable in this department. Elsewhere, Morgan Evans continues to be the blandest vocalist in country music right now, both technically and emotionally. Overall, with this song and his debut single, Evans appears capable of little more than forgettable sounds and thoughtless writing.
No. 5 – Dustin Lynch, “Good Girl”
Dustin Lynch graduated from making completely garbage music to something that’s at least mediocre. Progress?
In all seriousness though, while “Good Girl” isn’t Lynch’s worst offering, it’s not exactly good. His usage of minor chords once again contradicts the looser atmosphere he’s aiming for, and the lyrics are shallow at best. You’ll find yourself counting how many times he says the word, “girl” rather than focusing what this cloud of nothingness is trying to say (by the way, the answer is 14).
No. 4 – Michael Ray, “One That Got Away”
While “One That Got Away” should be Michael Ray’s grossest song yet, it’s sadly just one of many at this point. This is probably the least subtle attempt at glorifying one-night stands in music, with Ray treating this woman as a piece of meat rather than with respect. It’s a disgusting track where the mediocre production winds up being its only good element.
No. 3 – Rodney Atkins feat. The Fisk Jubilee Singers – “Caught Up In The Country”
Where to begin with this song? It’s a mess all around in every area – vocals, production and especially lyricism. Atkins” fast, half-spoken delivery reads like a Mad Libs edition of country boy clichés. It’s contradicted by its loud, overblown production. It also somehow gets progressively worse as it drags on. This is country music for people who think Justin Moore’s Outlaws Like Me is an album of the year contender.
No. 2 – Keith Urban feat. Julia Michaels – “Coming Home”
Nothing about this song makes any sense. The lyrics are broadly written at best, Julia Michaels serves absolutely no purpose here, and why Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” of all songs was sampled here is beyond me. Yes, Urban is forging his own path, and that type of spirit in this genre is commendable. But his efforts are ultimately scattershot, making “Coming Home” feel nothing like a tribute to a past legend. Instead, this song serves as one of many songs that should just be swept under the rug and forgotten. At the very least, time will ensure that happens anyway.
No. 1 – Walker Hayes, “90’s Country”
The other 19 songs on this list are all bad, but they haven’t reached the furthest depths that past contenders have. As evidenced already, their main failings stem from being bland, formulaic, messy or all of the above.
“90’s Country” is the exception to that rule though. It’s the proof of how much this stupid civil war in country music between pop and traditional country fans has plagued the genre’s art. “90’s Country” is not a fitting tribute to a much better era in country music – it’s an embarrassment. Walker Hayes is as horrible of a vocalist as ever with his whispered delivery coupled with a chorus where he clearly can’t hit many of the notes right. This, along with song’s limp production, should be as low as this song sinks, but sadly the lyrical content brings it even lower.
While Hayes deserves credit for name-dropping a few obscure hits from this era, ultimately they’re just crammed together with no meaning. They’re referenced not for honor, but to allow Hayes to drool over his love interest. In a year where mainstream country music was mostly boring and uneventful, “90’s Country” at least made for good comic relief.