“Mooo!” by Doja Cat

I’ve been pretty harsh on the subject of female singer/rapper Doja Cat in the past, and her association with notorious sociopath Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald has never been the primary reason (it didn’t exactly raise my opinion of her, but I’ve managed to get past worse faults in artists if their music was good). And I will admit that her latest album, Planet Her, marks a significant improvement in her work, with interesting-sounding production and some surprisingly good Rap lyrics.

That said, none of that makes the puerile viral hits she built her career on any less embarrassing. If I still was willing to call attention to Kesha’s appalling early work after a masterpiece like Rainbow, you better believe I’m not letting Doja Cat off the hook for her earlier stuff just because she’s released a decent album.

Now, “Say So” was the biggest of her viral hits, and is quite terrible in its own way, but there’s only so many ways to say “irritatingly perky oversexualized formula Pop”. This song, on the other hand, is one of those tracks so stupid you can barely believe they exist in the first place, and thus provides much more material for a review. It takes the joke in Kelis’ “Milkshake” (which it even samples towards the end) to its illogical extreme, and contains some of the worst puns and most disgusting analogies for sex I’ve ever heard in my nine years of covering the Pop charts. Jason Derulo’s “Wiggle” sounds intelligent next to this horror.

The song is also mind-numbingly repetitive. While this winds up taking a backseat to the lyrical problems just because those problems are so extreme, this is still actually worse than even the worst of the “repetitive chorus” songs from back when that was a common phenomenon. This is mostly because even “A Milli”, “Imma Be”, and “Whip My Hair” at least weren’t endlessly repeating a phrase as stupid as “Bitch, I’m a cow”. I haven’t heard an artist open themselves up to unintentional ridicule this blatantly since David Cassidy recorded “I Am a Clown”.

Verdict: This is quite literally one of the worst songs I have ever heard.

“Songbird” by Kenny G

Music meant to be played as half-conscious background music isn’t necessarily always a bad thing…there are plenty of legit acts in Ambient Music and the higher reaches of the New Age Music genre. But there’s a fine line between Ambiance and Muzak, and Kenny G tends to fall on the wrong side of it.

That said, this, his one big hits on the Pop charts, was actually nowhere near as bad as it’s now made out to be. That he can do worse is obvious (anyone who’s heard his butchering of the hook to “My Heart Will Go On” knows that), but the truth is that, at the time this was recorded, he hadn’t yet completely sold out.

At this point, he was essentially a non-vocal version of Barry Manilow. This song is admittedly far less interesting than Manilow’s work (partly because the most interesting thing about Manilow was his gifts as a vocalist), but the melody is pretty and actually rather poignant: if it’s still essentially background music, it’s at least background music that has the decency to sound sad.

And he would continue more or less in this vein for two more albums, Silhouette and Breathless. It wasn’t until his first Christmas album in the mid-Nineties that he gave up even trying to evoke any emotion in his music and became the utterly soulless Muzak purveyor we all know and hate today.

Verdict: This song, and the other material from Kenny G’s early albums, aren’t by any means great, but they’re still a cut above his later work, and at least qualify for the title of “not terrible”.

“Lucid Dreams” and “Wishing Well” by Juicewrld

I make it a point not to speak ill of the recently dead, but now that a decent grace period has passed, I can say that I had mixed feelings about the late Juicewrld’s music. He did have an impressive gift for vocal melody, and I can see why “Lucid Dreams” was his biggest hit…it features a sample of Sting’s atmospheric Soft Rock classic “Shape of My Heart”, and Juicewrld does offer a genuinely interesting variation on the original melody.

Unfortunately, at the time that song was recorded, he was (to put it bluntly) an extremely poor lyricist, which severely hampered his attempts to be taken seriously. Now, I’m aware that Hook-Rap isn’t really a lyric-driven genre, but we’re not talking about standard Rap cliches, or even random stream-of-consciousness non-sequiturs in the Young Thug vein. We’re talking about a melodramatic, self-pitying, and frankly rather mean-spirited rant about the world in general and the gender of women in particular. Even in the Rap field, the misogyny rarely gets this personal, and since Juicewrld isn’t a shock-rapper like Eminem, all this ugly sentiment seems to have been intended straightforwardly.

As far the Hook-Rap subgenre recently dubbed “Emo-Rap” goes, if the late XXXtentacion was the equivalent of My Chemical Romance with their ambitious concepts and take-no-prisoners personal introspection, then Juicewrld at this point was more the equivalent of bands like Simple Plan and Good Charlotte, coming off in his writing like a self-involved, insufferably melodramatic teenager who thinks he invented suffering. I have no real way of knowing if this reflected his personality in any way or if he just wasn’t very good at communicating through lyrics, but either way, the resulting effect makes his early work, for all its melodic inventiveness, kind of unpleasant.

I actually expect the latter is true, however, because after Juicewrld’s untimely death, the Legends Never Die album came out and changed the minds of nearly all of his previous detractors, including me. Tragically, it seems that he died when he was just coming into his own as a Rapper. “Wishing Well”, the lead single and arguable highlight of that posthumous album, shows the same impressive gift for melody as Juicewrld’s earlier material, but jumps light-years ahead in terms of lyrical depth and profundity.

With some of the most perfectly chosen words ever harnessed to express true despair, this song is a magnificent achievement that, like AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”, takes on a particularly intense power and poignancy because it was essentially the final statement of a human being who already seemed to know their self-destructive behavior was about to catch up to them to a fatal degree.

Verdict: For “Lucid Dreams”, not totally without redeeming qualities, but not precisely good, either. For “Wishing Well”…this is one of the finest Hook-Rap songs in the entire genre, and one of the best Rap songs of any kind from the last ten years, and it makes me weep for what might have been if this artist had lived.