It’s a yearly tradition for outlets to compile lists of some variety, including here at the Musical Divide. As always, we’ll take a look at the best albums, songs, and singles in due time. To start off, though, we’re going to look at the worst songs of the year, because at least things will only get better from here, right?
And to summarize mainstream country music this year, I’d say it was caught somewhere in the middle. There were some genuinely excellent singles that actually became hits, and there were some that didn’t. Honestly, the biggest hits this year mostly felt mediocre, as while I wouldn’t say songs like Dan + Shay’s “Speechless” or Luke Bryan’s “Knockin’ Boots” are bad, they inspire indifference more than anything else. The “bad” songs were there, but even mainstream country radio didn’t feel inclined to give them all a pass, as we’ll see below.
Before we get started, I should mention the criteria: First, eligible singles for this list had to be released anywhere from Dec. 2018 to Nov. 2019; second, some of these songs I’ve reviewed, and others I haven’t, so if you’re looking for a deeper analysis, I’d recommend checking out those reviews; lastly, I should mention this is a small part of a larger collaborative list I’m writing with Markus Meyer of This Is Country Music, where we’ll countdown the best and worst singles. Without further ado …
No. 10 – Chase Rice, “Lonely If You Are”
Every time I think Chase Rice is finally going to release another song in the vein of “Jack Daniels and Jesus,” he chooses something like this instead. For as much as Rice wants to distance himself from his bro-country past, his ideas of “substance” and “depth” have never been terribly interesting. Take “Lonely If You Are,” for example, a droopy, acoustic-led track that goes off the rails as soon as the snap track enters the mix. The darker tones add a weird, unsettling vibe to what is supposed to be an endearing, charming love song. It backfires against Rice, who sounds incredibly checked out and is only looking to score by any means possible. In other words, this is the same meat-headed track we all heard five years ago, with its only originality coming from being extra creepy, in more ways than one.
No. 9 – Jon Langston, “Now You Know”
If you don’t know Jon Langston … well, for one, you’re not missing much, but the most curious note about him is that he became the first signee to Luke Bryan’s UMG subsidiary 32 Bridge Entertainment last September. Perhaps that’s why “Now You Know” feels like a Cole Swindell-meets-Bryan tune from around five years ago – a meat-headed track reliant on machismo and posturing to sell its sentiment. Aside from being an absolutely atrocious singer, Langston spends the duration of this song trying to get listeners to care about what a proud country boy he is. It fit a weird trend of country songs this year featuring singers who couldn’t stop telling listeners how country they were, and this one just may be the worst for its obnoxious attitude.
No. 8 – Chris Lane, “I Don’t Know About You”
I already feel like I’m repeating myself with why these songs are bad – murky production that’s way too dark to accomplish what it’s going for, synthetic tones that only contribute to a generic wall of sound, and a chorus that finds Chris Lane creepily probe some poor woman as if it’s endearing. Slow your roll, dude.
No. 7 – Mitchell Tenpenny (feat. Seaforth), “Anything She Says”
While Billboard tries to push “boyfriend country” as a legitimate new trend, in reality, it’s just a fancy way to market uninteresting love songs trying to reach for some vestige of depth. “Anything She Says” is a prime example of this; the electric guitars are blocky, the piano opts for (and fails to reach) old school R&B flavor, and the snap track continues to add to the song’s choppiness. The same artist who recorded “Bitches” certainly isn’t convincing at being sexy or endearing, and I have no idea what bargain barrel Dan + Shay are contributing here.
No. 6 – Billy Currington, “Details”
Billy Currington possesses one of the most naturally charismatic personalities in the current country format, so why this backfires as bad as it does is beyond me. “Details” tries to be smooth and sexy, but the production is too flimsy and lethargic to carry any sort of pulse. And of course, the only details Currington focuses on are related to his lover’s sexual bravado rather than, you know, her actual character. Currington is far better than this.
No. 5 – LANco, “Rival”
LANco is a talented band, but they feel directionless. Hopefully the lesson learned from “Rival,” though, is that they don’t handle gritty southern-rock well in the slightest. Front man Brandon Lancaster is embarrassing in his role as a “tough guy,” and the anger on display feels unjustified and overblown. The production is somehow even worse, unfurling a mess of loud, muddy electric guitars onto the listener and letting the percussion sit at the front, as if this song wasn’t headache-inducing enough.
No. 4 – Mitchell Tenpenny, “Alcohol You Later”
There’s a part of me that wants to just to tell you to look at the title and take my word for it when I say “Alcohol You Later” is bad. But to break it down further, Mitchell Tenpenny’s stab at falsetto is painful to listen to, and his attempt at glorifying a one night stand represents the same smug, obnoxious attitude that plagues a good chunk of his material. But really, with a hook and title like that, there was no chance of this ever being good.
No. 3 – Sam Hunt, “Kinfolks”
Sam Hunt’s return certainly wasn’t welcome, because “Kinfolks” carries every bad element that’s marked his material before – overcompressed synthetic elements trying to balance themselves against acoustic guitars and percussion that’s way too loud in the mix, and writing that paints Hunt as shallow, self-obsessed and reliant on charisma he doesn’t have. For once, though, it’s the lyrical content that’s the most infuriating element of a Hunt song, as just like Chris Lane before him, Hunt goes from just meeting this woman to outright planning their entire future together. Again, slow your roll, dude.
No. 2 – Blake Shelton, “Hell Right (feat. Trace Adkins)”
To give Blake Shelton some credit, he certainly wasn’t uninteresting this year. If “God’s Country” was his best single in nearly a decade, then “Hell Right” has to be among his worst songs to date. Beyond just the odd background noises incorporated into the mix (it opens with crickets for some reason, and that’s probably the most normal element), “dark” and “foreboding” are the last ways one should describe a generic party anthem. Shelton proves once again why his attempt at half-talking and half-singing backfires as badly as it did on “Boys ‘Round Here,” Trace Adkins contributes next-to-nothing here, and what “hell right” is even supposed to mean is beyond me. It’s as if Shelton intended to create one of the messiest country songs ever.
No. 1 – HARDY, “REDNECKER”
Sadly, I think this is just the beginning for HARDY (Michael Hardy) – the writer behind Morgan Wallen’s “Up Down,” Blake Shelton’s “Hell Right” and a good portion of Florida Georgia Line’s Can’t Say I Ain’t Country album – and I’m not looking forward to it. His worst offering, though, comes courtesy of his own release, a song that may or may not be satirical. Whatever the verdict is for “REDNECKER,” however, there’s no excusing a line like “I piss where I want to.” Country music had an overabundance of songs centered around singers telling their audience how country they were this year, and depending on your perspective, “REDNECKER” will either be a fun jab at all of it or an unfortunate mess that only contributes to the entire trend. HARDY’s drawl is overexaggerated to an unbearable degree, the production is cranked and reliant on swagger to sell the sentiment, and joke or no joke, it was, without a doubt, the most obnoxious listen of 2019.