2010s in Review: The Best Television Moments

There were many great moments this decade, but the ones highlighted here tend to oscillate between wildly funny and greatly disturbing, sometimes at the same time. These scenes and descriptions may contain major spoilers. You’ve been warned.

Onion SportsDome
– Rape accusation (2/9/2011)
Onion SportsDome was a brilliant evisceration of ESPN, and it lasted for one glorious season. Its finest moment has found its way outside the context of the show, a sadly relevant perversion of the human interest story. Like the best Onion pieces, it hurts to laugh.

2011 NBA Western Conference Semi-Finals – Game 4, aka “The Mother’s Day Massacre” (5/8/2011)
It would be hard to pick just one moment from the Mavs’ incredible run in the 2011 NBA Playoffs, culminating in their first and only championship. Their Game 2 Finals performance, when they came back from 15 down late in the 4th quarter, was a contender, as was Dirk’s tearful exit at the end of regulation of Game 6. But this was crucial for several reasons: 1. Only Charles Barkley predicted the underdogs could topple the reigning champs. 2. The Mavs not only beat them, but swept them, closing out Game 4 in devastating fashion. 3. This was a preview of what the NBA would become: with a major focus on 3-pointers. 4. Phil Jackson retired after this season and the Lakers have not won a playoff series since.

Breaking Bad
– The Man Who Laughs (9/25/2011)
Again, it was hard to narrow down an ultimate Breaking Bad moment, but I’m going with the moment Walt was officially off the deep end: After realizing his stash is missing and everything has gone to shit, he has no choice but to lay there and laugh like a maniac.

Rob Ford says, “I’ve got more than enough to eat at home.” (11/14/2013)
One thing we may have forgotten about the pre-Trump era is that nutty press conferences were pretty rare. But Toronto mayor Rob Ford, a walking gaffe, made them a special event. Asked about a sexual harassment scandal, Ford could have said, “No comment” or even offered an “I wouldn’t do that” defense. Instead, he goes for the most insane answer possible. R.I.P.

A scene from True Detective
True Detective
– Stash house raid (2/9/2014)
The episode that won Cary Joji Fukunaga a well-deserved Best Director Emmy, this harrowing episode features the most impressive one-take scene of any TV show. With McConaughey’s undercover working with racist bikers to rob a stash house, everything goes awry almost immediately, and whatever delusions Rust entertained about being better than his cohorts evaporates in five minutes.

House of Cards
– Frank kills Zoe (2/14/2014)
The murder heard ’round the world. Dropping the second season of House of Cards on Valentine’s Day 2014, Netflix went for the jugular right away, killing off Frank’s main foil in gruesome fashion in the premiere. I’ve never gotten so many “WTF” texts about a show in a single night.

Martin Starr in Silicon Valley
Silicon Valley
– The dick joke (6/1/2014)
Apologies for having to see T.J. Miller if you click the link, but the high point for Silicon Valley‘s first season – and for highbrow takes on lowbrow humor – came in its season finale, when an off-handed joke about how impossible it would be to win the competition they’ve entered turns to a scientific exploration of efficient handjobs.

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What I Watched This Week: 1 Dec 2019

Watchmen – “An Almost Religious Awe” (A-)
Flashbacks. Exposition dumps. A huge twist. Plenty of shows have done this to varying levels of success, but few have done it as gracefully as Watchmen. On any other show, the big confrontation between Laurie and Jane would have ended when Jane took out a gun and shot Laurie. But here, Laurie’s sitting on top of a trapdoor that doesn’t quite work. It’s genius, as is the big reveal that Angela is hooked up to an elephant as her “natural host.” And they used a Hall and Oates song in a devastating way.

Silicon Valley – “RussFest” (A-)
One of the most stress-inducing episodes they’ve ever done, as the crew features setback after setback at Russ’ insane Burning Man knock-off. But it also felt like an episode of an older vintage, one that focuses on solving problems then delivering incredible jokes.

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2010s in Review: The Best Comedy Specials

Stand-up grew into a major cultural force this decade, thanks to Netflix and its willingness to spend money on many comedians, including some that hadn’t gotten a shot at the big leagues yet. It was boon for the comedians as well, as the specials drove ticket sales, raising their profiles even further. These were my 10 favorites.

Neal Brennan in 3 Mics
Neal Brennan: 3 Mics (Netflix)
Using three microphones to tell one-liners, stand-up and harrowing true stories, Neal Brennan finds a truly creative way to be emotionally naked without being cliché.

Dave Chappelle in The Age of Spin
Dave Chappelle: The Age of Spin (Netflix)
One of four specials to hit in 2017, this is Chappelle reclaiming his throne as one of the greatest stand-ups ever. While the one filmed in Austin meanders and gets into some ugly political bits (that aren’t that funny and don’t really have a point), this show filmed in L.A. is much more focused, but still as unapologetic and hilarious.

Billy Crystal in 700 Sundays
Billy Crystal: 700 Sundays (HBO)
This one hit me right in the feels. Billy Crystal takes his book about his all-too-brief time with his dad and turns it into a poignant but hilarious one-man show. His recreation of a family video is priceless visual comedy, but his recollection of treasured memories makes this a classic.

Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie in Flight of the Conchords: Live in London
Flight of the Conchords: Live in London (HBO)
A kiss is not a contract, but it’s very nice. And while this isn’t another season of the New Zealand folk comedy duo’s brilliant HBO show, this delightful concert is a worthy substitute. Playing lots of old favorites, as well as two killer new tracks, this was a fun hour that left you marveling at the band’s intricate wordplay.

Hannah Gadsby in Nanette
Hannah Gadsby: Nanette (Netflix)
Is it still comedy if there’s not a lot to laugh about? Hannah Gadsby proves it doesn’t matter. Her raw one-woman show is disarmingly low-key in its first half, all the better to devastate you with her tales of survival in the second half. It’s groundbreaking and important television, even if you’re not cracking up.

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2010s in Review: The Best Music Videos

While the music video has basically disappeared from any place of prominence, plenty of filmmakers crafted short and long-form pieces that stunned me.

Beyoncé – Lemonade
Directors: Kahlil Joseph and Beyoncé
Instantly iconic, this defined the term “visual album” and meant it. Drawing influences from a wide-ranging stable of artists of different media, it combined to look like absolutely nothing else. So of course the Grammys decided to vote for a fucking Beatles documentary instead.

Childish Gambino – “This Is America”
Director: Hiro Murai
Don’t let some of the goofy dances fool you. Donald Glover is filling this video with some of the most horrifying images of America’s past and present: from minstrel shows to mass shootings, he and Hiro Murai are reinforcing the title, even in the silences.

Girl Walk: All Day

Director: Jacob Krupnick
Fan-made videos are nothing new, but this group of New York dancers took it to the next level, moving and grooving their way through the Big Apple, creating a narrative for Gregg Gillis’ mash-ups in the process.

LCD Soundsystem – “Oh Baby”
Director: Rian Johnson
Johnson made three incredible features, the best single episode of TV and this heartbreaking music video this decade. A lovely short film about a couple trying to create a teleportation machine, it doesn’t need any dialogue between its Oscar-nominated actors to tell you everything you need to know.

The Lonely Island – “Jack Sparrow”
Director: Akiva Schaffer
There’s really no describing what it was like to watch this as it was airing on Saturday Night Live, instantly becoming the best Digital Short they ever produced. Mocking the glitzy rap videos of the late 00s and early 10s, it’s constantly interrupted by an extremely game Michael Bolton belting out his ode to Johnny Depp’s pirate, long before we got sick of both him and his character. That it ends with him paying tribute to Scarface – already over-referenced in hip-hop – is the icing on the cake.

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2010s in Review: The Best Albums – Honorable Mentions

There were still plenty more albums that didn’t make my Top 50. So here are 15 superlatives, along with an additional 50 honorable mentions.

Best Epitaph for a Genre

Girl Talk – All Day
It seemed like Gregg Gillis would release albums like this forever. Every two years, here comes another incredible mash-up, taking hundreds of songs from past and present and fusing them into something breathtaking. But he hasn’t put anything else out since, and neither has anyone else. Mash-ups were the domain of the 2000s, but not of the 2010s. We just didn’t realize it at the time.

Best Greatest Hits Collection

The Flaming Lips – Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 (Deluxe Edition)
The Oklahoma band has put out some of the greatest music of my lifetime, but they’d never had a proper retrospective until 2018. It’s 30 years in three discs, but it’s the rarities disc that makes the set, providing all the hidden gems from their incredible career.

Best Collaboration Album

Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus were already among the best singer-songwriters of their generation. Combining their powers was almost too much to take. This EP is only 21 minutes, but it’s a knockout.

Best Diss Track

Pusha T – “The Story of Adidon”
Like mash-ups, diss tracks all but died in the 2010s, for a variety of reasons. But Pusha T unleashed a definitive one in his beef with Drake. Uncovering not just a photo of him in blackface, but a fatal blow with the line “You are hiding a child.” It’s ugly and brutal. Drake may have survived, but it began a noticeable decline in his public perception.

Best Covers Album
Peter Gabriel – Scratch My Back

Peter Gabriel – Scratch My Back
Gabriel hasn’t released much music since the turn of the century. This was his first album since 2002. His covers are carefully chosen, with absolutely nothing half-assed. While his companion album And I’ll Scratch Yours didn’t completely work out, with some artists declining to participate, he delivered an essential album, with a few versions that even surpass the originals.

Best Live Album
Kate Bush – Before the Dawn
Until 2014, Bush hadn’t graced a stage in 35 years. Understandably, people were excited, resulting in a 22-night sell-out. This collection of highlights proves she hadn’t missed a step, performing most of Hounds of Love and Aerial in full. The only thing more impressive would have been to experience it in person.

Best Reissue

The Replacements – Dead Man’s Pop
Don’t Tell a Soul
was already an excellent album, the group’s most underrated effort. But this 30th anniversary box set makes it even better, using the original mix and sequencing, throwing in a host of demos to see how the songs evolved, plus a complete show from their drunken heyday.

Best Resurrection

Prince – Originals
I’ve wanted to hear Prince’s version of “Manic Monday” for as long as I’ve known he wrote it. In 2019, I finally got my wish and more. His estate released this album, comprised entirely of songs he wrote for other people, including Sheila E.’s “The Glamorous Life” and the Time’s “Jungle Love.” In rough form, they don’t surpass the originals, but you hear how much craft went into each one.

Best Box Set
Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound
And speaking of Minnesota R&B, this box set of Prince’s forerunners and contemporaries is a fascinating look at a scene that was much larger than people outside of native Minnesotans and music historians knew about. It’s easy to imagine how with a little more luck and the right connections, any of these bands could have at least been as popular as the Time.

Best Instrumental Album

G A S – Narkopop
G A S’ first album in 17 years was a hypnotic mix of ambient, ominous untitled songs. Luckily, we didn’t have to 17 more years for more.

Best Odds & Ends

Bruce Springsteen – The Promise
Just how prolific was the Boss in the late ’70s? He released a double album of unreleased songs (with some new vocals and instrumentation) in 2010 like it was nothing. It’s even more impressive than his Tracks box set, yet another piece of evidence that he’s one of the greatest artists of all time.

Best Free Album
David Ramirez - SerialBox Presents EP

David Ramirez – SerialBox Presents EP
In the late 2000s and early 2010s, free and pay-what-you-want albums were, before streaming came along and ended that. But that was my first introduction to Austin singer-songwriter David Ramirez, which included the original version of “Fires,” which my wife and I danced to at our wedding.

Best Album You Have to Assemble Yourself

Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
Kanye’s follow-up to Yeezus experienced delay after delay. Even after he officially released it, he kept tinkering with it. The final product is the definition of a mixed bag, featuring some of his highest highs and lowest lows. But thanks to streaming services, you can keep tinkering with it yourself, trimming all the fat and heinous couplets. Instead of 19 tracks, mine is a much more manageable 11.

Best Brotherly Love

Bear and the Beasts
My extremely talented brother-in-law has started a number of bands this decade, but Bear and the Beasts feels like the ultimate form of his sound – complete with horn section! – that blows me away, and would do so even if we weren’t related.

Most Unfairly Maligned
U2 - Songs of Innocence

U2 – Songs of Innocence
I still maintain if a hipper artist had done exactly what U2 did – put their new album on your iPhone for free – they’d have been hailed as brilliant forward thinkers. But because few bands are as un-hip as U2, everyone bitched about it, often without even listening to the album. But it’s certainly among their best albums of this century, with the triumphant “Every Breaking Wave,” the heartbreaking “Song for Someone” and the intense “Raised by Wolves” as highlights.

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2010s in Review: The Best Albums, Part 2

This is Part 2 of a two-part series. Read Part 1 here.

The National – High Violet
The Cincinnati band’s best album of the decade – sorry, fans of Trouble Will Find Me – meshed all their gifts into one overwhelming package. Singing along to “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” will be one of my fondest concert memories.
Further Listening: Sleep Well Beast

Frank Ocean - Channel Orange
Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE
When he received rapturous acclaim for this album, a lot of people thought we needed to tone it down, that it was too much too soon. Now at the end of the decade, it’s clear it wasn’t hyperbole. He’s quickly shed the baggage of Odd Future, becoming one of the essential artists of the 2010s.
Further Listening: nostalgia,ULTRA.; blond; “Moon River”

Josh T. Pearson – Last of the Country Gentlemen
Lift to Experience was one of the great unsung bands of the 2000s, and while they never got their due, Pearson never lost his mojo as a songwriter, delivering an album of heartbreakers, recorded in Europe, where he got much more love than in America.

A Moon Shaped Pool
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
For years, it seemed like Radiohead might never reunite, with the underwhelming The King of Limbs as their last recording. But with this album, they’ve gone out(?) on a high note, recontextualizing older material and delivering new classics.
Further Listening: “The Daily Mail/Staircase,” “Spectre”

The Heart Speaks in Whispers
Corinne Bailey Rae – The Heart Speaks in Whispers
While she’ll always be best known for “Put Your Records On,” she re-emerged from a tragedy (as documented on The Sea) with a vibrant masterpiece that feels reinvigorating upon every listen.
Further Listening: The Sea, The Love EP

Rihanna – Anti
Despite being one of the most successful artists of the millennium, I never particularly cared for Rihanna’s music. That all changed with Anti, which feels like the first album she actually had control over. Her music was finally quality over quantity. Unfortunately, she hasn’t made anything new since.

Robyn – Body Talk
An incredible compilation, combining the best tracks from her two previous EPs, this was the ultimate dance album of the decade, with “Dancing on My Own” serving as the anthem for lonely hearts everywhere.
Further Listening: Do It Again (with Röyksopp), Honey

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2010s in Review: The Best Albums, Part 1

Even as the album faded as a cultural force this decade – recently, A Boogie Wit a Hoodie’s Hoodie SZN sold only 749 true copies to earn a No. 1 slot on the Billboard chart – there were still plenty of artists who made the most of their LPs.

Adele – 21
On rare occasions, the biggest album of the decade is among the best. The only diamond-certified album of the 2010s is among the few things we could agree on as a culture. Adele makes extremely personal-yet-universal pop music that feels authentic. That’s why her albums are treated as events, and why she stands head and shoulders above most of her peers.
Further Listening: “Skyfall,” 25

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Released the week I graduated from college, few albums carried as much deep relevance as the band’s best album: a perfect summation of middle-class ennui that only magnified in the years since, as the ever-expanding areas around the major cities served as a symbol of our worst indulgences.
Further Listening: Reflektor, “I Give You Power” (with Mavis Staples)

Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
One of the most gifted songwriters of my generation, this Australian genius has a cleverness and brash honesty that caused this album to stick with me, even with stiff competition.
Further Listening: The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, Tell Me How You Really Feel, “Everybody Here Hates You”

Beyoncé – 4
While Lemonade was no doubt a game-changer, divorced from its striking visuals, it’s still not as good as 4, her best album to date. But it was also her lowest-seller, and I’ll always wonder how different her career would have been had this album – with its full band and positive lyrics – had been the monster her follow-ups were.
Further Listening: Lemonade, “Before I Let Go”

David Bowie – Blackstar
Learning Bowie died just days after this was released was devastating. That the album is filled with goodbyes even more so. He knew he was leaving and he gave us all this beautiful gift. Of the many older artists grappling with mortality through song, this was the absolute peak of the form.
Further Listening: The Next Day

Leon Bridges - Coming Home
Leon Bridges – Coming Home
This Fort Worth singer seemed to ascend in real time, earning every Sam Cooke comparison. With his raw talent and effervescent personality, he’s impossible not to root for. His debut album is one of the easiest listens of the decade, perfect for just about any situation.
Further Listening: Good Thing, “That Was Yesterday”

Bright Eyes – The People’s Key
I’ll always regret not going to see them on their final tour. This album feels like the summation of the metaphysical path the band went down on Cassadega, weaving in spoken word pieces and allusions to African history. It’s a shame we likely will never get any new music from them, but they leave behind an incredible legacy of iconic indie rock.
Further Listening: Conor Oberst’s Ruminations, Better Oblivion Community Center’s Better Oblivion Community Center

Cut Copy – Zonoscope
This Australian band was one of the most consistent groups of the last decade, regularly matching great beats with profound lyrics. Their 2011 record hooks you from start to finish, beginning with the earnest plea of “Need You Now” and closing with the epic 15-minute “Sun God.”
Further Listening: Free Your Mind, Haiku from Zero

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
There really wasn’t anything this French duo couldn’t do on this multiple Grammy winner.  Truly collaborating – as opposed to just leaning on – artists as varied as Pharrell, Paul Williams and Julian Casablancas, they delivered one of the most eclectic and lasting albums of the decade.
Further Listening: TRON: Legacy (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) 

The Decemberists – The King Is Dead
The Portland, Oregon, band has rarely varied their sound or songwriting style. It’s not for everyone, but has certainly worked for me. Their only No. 1 album is also their best (at least of this decade), a collection of short stories that are alternately rousing, depressing and engaging.
Further Listening: What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World; “Ben Franklin’s Song”; I’ll Be Your Girl

Drake – Take Care
It’s a little hard to take seriously Aubrey Graham’s turn from sensitive kid naming songs after Diane Keaton tearjerkers to tough guy asking someone to start shit so his crew can beat them up. But for a brief moment, he was the ultimate mix of emo, R&B and hip-hop. His massive second album features absurdly great production, collaborations with singers and rappers at the exact right point in their careers and a peak inside an artist’s mind we wouldn’t really get again.
Further Listening: Thank Me Later

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Streaming Picks: December 2019

Top Picks
Malcolm X – Netflix 12/1
The Last Black Man in San Francisco – Prime 12/5
Marriage Story – Netflix 12/6
Wild Rose – Hulu 12/16

Malcolm X is an increasingly rare great movie added to Netflix. Spike Lee’s masterful biopic features Denzel Washington’s finest hour. Everyone knows he should have won over Al Pacino, but the movie itself should have led all eligible categories that year.

The other three films are among the best of 2019: The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a poetic ode to a city that’s increasingly forcing all its most vibrant residents out. Marriage Story is Noah Baumbach’s brilliant, heart-wrenching comedy about a marriage falling apart, featuring career-best work from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. And Wild Rose announces the arrival of Jessie Buckley as a major talent.

Recent Selections
This One’s for the Ladies – Hulu 12/2
Killers Anonymous – Hulu 12/5
The Push – Hulu 12/6
Light of My Life – Prime 12/9
Fast Color – Hulu and Prime 12/11
The Sky Is Pink – Netflix 12/11
Bumblebee – Hulu and Prime 12/13
Depraved – Hulu 12/13
The Sound of Silence – Hulu 12/13
The Kid – Hulu and Prime 12/18
Cold Case Hammarskjöld – Hulu 12/19
Loro – Hulu 12/20
The Wedding Year – Prime 12/20
The Kill Team – Prime 12/21
Night Hunter – Prime 12/25
Sweetheart – Netflix 12/25
The Day Shall Come – Hulu 12/27
The Secret Life of Pets 2 – Netflix 12/27
Running with the Devil – Hulu 12/30
What Men Want – Hulu and Prime 12/30
Wonder Park – Hulu and Prime 12/30

Especial de Natal Porta dos Fundos: A Primeira Tentação de Cristo – Netflix 12/3
A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby – Netflix 12/5
The Confession Killer – Netflix 12/6
Especial de Natal Porta dos Fundos – Netflix 12/12
6 Underground – Netflix 12/13
Don’t F**k with Cats – Netflix 12/18
After the Raid – Netflix 12/19
The Aeronauts – Prime 12/20
The Two Popes – Netflix 12/20
Como caído del cielo – Netflix 12/24
The App – Netflix 12/26
Hot Gimmick: Girl Meets Boy – Netflix 12/28

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What I Watched This Week: 24 Nov 2019

The Simpsons – “Thanksgiving of Horror” (B+)
More bonkers and scary than the last several years of Halloween specials, this holiday special was a pleasant surprise.

Watchmen – “This Extraordinary Being” (A)
Radically reinvents the superhero origin in just under an hour, dispensing vengeance with an extremely complicated figure at its center.

Silicon Valley – “Tethics” (A-)
Brilliantly exposes the bullshit commitment to ethics tech companies claim to care about but never do. Gilfoyle and Monica’s feud with HR comes to an hilarious (and unethical) end, while Dinesh’s trip to paradise becomes hell on earth.

Modern Family – “The Last Thanksgiving” (A-)
Quite literally has too many cooks in the kitchen, but it also represents the show at its quick-witted best.

Sebastian Maniscalo: Stay Hungry (B)
A little less, “You believe what these young people are doing?” than his last special, but it still can’t help but feel a little retrograde.

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2010s in Review: The Worst Songs

Even as radio faded as a source of importance, it was still extremely difficult to avoid these terrible songs. Listen to a Spotify playlist of these songs here, if you dare.

AJR feat. Rivers Cuomo – “Sober Up”
Rock radio really bottomed out this decade, as even the “butt rock” of the 2000s would be preferable to whatever the hell this is.

American Authors – “Best Day of My Life”
It will hardly be the best day of your life if you have to hear this relentlessly cheery song in the wild.

The Black Eyed Peas – “The Time (Dirty Bit)”
Sorry, Dirty Dancing fans. “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” is not a good song. But it has its cheesy charms, unlike this dreadful interpolation of it. This might be the worst thing the Black Eyed Peas ever did, which is really saying something.

Dr. Dre and Eminem feat. Skylar Grey – “I Need a Doctor”
This No. 1 song is so awful it calls into question all previous praise of Dr. Dre and Eminem. You will need a doctor, preferably one who can perform a lobotomy, to help you forget this song.

Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee feat. Justin Bieber – “Despacito (Remix)”
It’s really sad that the only Spanish-language No. 1 songs in this country are this and the fuckin’ Macarena. This song was already bad by the sheer presence of Daddy Yankee. But throwing on Justin Bieber to sing the hook to make it more palatable for white audiences took it from bad to worse.

Andy Grammer – “Honey, I’m Good”
The worst country-dance hybrid since “Cotton Eye Joe,” this low point in pop music features an asshole protagonist who brags that he’s drinking alone when his significant other is at home, and that he could be going home with you if he was drunker, but will refrain for tonight.

Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa and Imagine Dragons with Logic and Ty Dolla $ign feat. X Ambassadors – “Sucker for Pain”
The worst comic book movie of the decade deserves the worst song written for a movie to match. Record executives must have just thrown darts at a board to come up with this collection of mostly dreadful artists combining for a completely incoherent track that goes together about as well as, well, “peanut butter and jellyfish.”

MAGIC! – “Rude”
Canadians trying reggae. It’s not advised.

Maroon 5 feat. Christina Aguilera – “Moves Like Jagger”
I will never understand the enormous popularity of this completely stupid song that takes a band and an artist that generally put out decent music. I don’t know how they landed on Jagger either, since most musicians have better moves than he.

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