The Worst Song Ever

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August 25, 2015 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

For some reason, the dawn of the new millennium was a creative low point in just about every aspect of human achievement.  Politics, music, economics, movies, music, fashion, culture, music, and even slang took an immediate downturn once the calendar shifted to the 21st century.    Although all of these low points coalesced in 2001, it wasn’t until around 2008 that pop culture began to (marginally) improve.  Just to put things into perspective about how bad the year 2001 actually was, let me remind you that A Beautiful Mind won best picture at the Academy Awards, Y2K fashion and hip-hop fashion were still in style, and people started to use the word “dumb” to describe another adjective.[1]  At times it seemed like the end of the world would have been desirable than the world of 2001.

Music in particular had never been worse in any one year than it was back in 2001.  In terms of pure creative output, 2001 was the worst year that popular music ever had.  Britney Spears was just starting to go off the deep end, Mariah Carey finally went off the deep end, Creed had one of the year’s highest selling albums, and O-Town came on to the scene to tell us that the boy-band craze of the late 1990s had officially jumped the shark.  The only thing that 2001 has going for it is that neither Korn nor Limp Bizkit released an album that year.

What cements 2001 as the worst year in music is the cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”.  The remake was done by essentially every famous musician, which isn’t saying much since almost all of the featured artists were either not talented, or at their least likable.  While the cover was recorded to raise money to fight AIDS in Africa, it seemed like the vast majority of the artists (colloquially referred to as the “All-Star Tribute”) included in the 21st century version of “We are the World”, saw this as a self-indulgent opportunity to upstage their peers.  It was the musical equivalent of a basketball team made up entirely of Allen Iversons, coached by Allen Iverson, and owned by Allen Iverson.  Co-produced by Bono, the 2001 cover of “What’s Going On” seems more like an attempt by Bono to let everyone know that he can do a better job of saving the world than Bob Geldof.[2]  Follow along as I vaingloriously try to prove my point:


0:01———-Of course Puff Daddy is the very first artist featured.  Probably just to remind everyone that he’s still involved in the music business.

0:18———-Because he co-produced it, Bono is giving himself the first verse on the track.

0:37———-Was Staind ever really that popular that lead singer Aaron Lewis needed to be included?

0:50———-Harmonies and echo singing between Nona Gaye and Brian Littrell…not such a good idea.

1:12———-Christina Aguilera has never loved anyone more in her entire life then she loves herself at this exact second.

1:14:———-Britney Spears was probably given one line only because she refused to cooperate after she found out Christina was going ahead of her.

1:20———-Jennifer Lopez in the thick her J.Lo phase which personified all of her worst characteristics and eventually gave rise to a ridiculous amount of name contractions.[3]

1:23-1:36—Who the fuck is supposed to be singing now and why is there a muffled voice repeating the chorus?

1:37-1:54—The fact that Ja Rule is in this video automatically dates it to 2001.  I don’t get his inclusion.  Is he supposed to bring a gruff sensitivity or was he just friend with the Neptunes?

1:55———-Nelly Furtado in her “I’m a real folk singer/Can’t you tell by the way I flippantly reject fame” phase.  Also, Nelly Furtado before her whole “I was paid $1,000,000 to perform for Muammar Gaddafi” incident.[4]

2:10———-I guess Michael Stipe wasn’t cool enough to be in the video.

2:18———-Puff Daddy’s patented chuckled.  Although given the serious subject matter, I don’t know what he has to chuckle about.

2:27———-J.C. Chasez?  Really?  They had to settle for the man who would be Justin Timberlake?

2:30-2:53—-There is way too much fucking harmonizing going on right now.  I feel like I’m being jumped by TRL.

2:49———I think Nelly just yawned in front of the camera.

2:55———-What the hell was that little jig Nelly just did?  It looked like a cross between the Macarena and the Monster Mash.

2:59-3:17—-You know that Nelly probably wasn’t invited originally, he was most likely brought along by someone else who actually was.  It was probably one of those “Well, I’m already hanging out with Nelly.  Is it alright if I bring him along” kinda deals.  Also if that’s Justin Timberlake reaching for those high notes, it sounds like he’s having an asthma attack while having sex.

3:19-3:36—-There’s a real good chance that Nas had that verse written eight years before recording this song.

3:37———-Oh yeah, I forgot Eve was famous.


4:07———-Giant steps?

4:20———-What the hell was Lil’ Kim doing here?  I didn’t hear her at all!


There are at least eight different remixes for this song.  In fact, an entire album was released featuring all the different remixes.  Yes, it’s true, you can trade money for a CD with eight different versions of the same song.  Besides being the visual cue for the worst zeitgeist ever, what really makes this version of “What’s Going On” terrible is that it’s incredibly under-mixed and over-produced.  It sounds like each artists recorded the entire song on their own, and then producers Bono, Moby, Jermaine Dupri, and the Neptunes cut and paste all the different recordings together into one song.  With all the backing vocals and incongruent harmonies it sounds like you’re in a room with 1,000 people all calling your name.  Every artist is vying for dominance on the mix as made evident by the overlapping of lines, and raucous cacophony of backing vocals.  You can’t really hear what’s actually going on.  Maybe it was the mixing, or maybe it was impossible to even create the illusion that all these egos could work harmoniously together.  Ultimately, the 2001 cover of “What’s Going On” proves to be one of those signs of the time.  It’s just a perfect sign for a pretty shitty time.

[1] For example: “Yo, that kid is dumb smart”.

[2] Although Bono has been trying to vaingloriously save the world since 1982, his personal quest to be canonized and recognized as the savior of the planet began in 2001 with “What’s Going On”.

[3] i.e. J.Law.

[4] It’s ironic that Furtado sang on this track and later performed for a man who once claimed that HIV is “a peaceful virus and not an aggressive virus” and “if you are straight you have nothing to fear from AIDS”.


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