Saturday, October 3, 2009

"Barbie Girl" by Aqua (1997)

Okay, as you may have noticed so far, kitsch and novelty don’t grate me as much as they grate some people. A song that can laugh at itself will generally not bother me as much as some masturbatory piece of wank that takes itself dead serious. Pop can get pretty light and still please me. The thing is that some people seem convinced that music is always art and should be challenging. Yes, I love challenging art, but music is more than one thing. It can also be entertainment that aspires to nothing more than being uplifting.

In this case, though, I’m not really sure what it is that I’m hearing. To a certain extent, this song seems calculated to annoy. I man, if it’s just a song for kids, fine. Some kids’ music is pretty good, actually, but where it isn’t (Sharon, Lois and Bram) I just say, “well, I’m not a kid, so this music is not for me.” Sticking a Raffi song on this list just for the purpose of saying, “Pffft! Doesn’t this suck!” is not only Grinch-like but also entirely pointless.

But this song appears to be juvenilia for adults. The Japanese can do this, but the Europeans don’t seem to have much of a knack for it. The lead vocalist’s singing is pitch-shifted to the point that it crosses a pain threshold, while the group’s Fred Schneider seems to actually aspire to evoking anger in listeners.

By being hateful-cute, this song does a great disservice to enjoyable-cute stuff everywhere. And the fact is that the juvenilia aspect of it is really quite upsetting. It seems to evoke blow-up sex toys and innocent child playtime in equal measure, and it does so with a smirk on its face that is frankly the most unsettling part of it. I suppose there are little girls who bop around the room happily when they hear this song, but all I can imagine are greasy-haired middle-aged men guffawing as the song comes on the radio.

This is one of very few songs that appear both on this list and on the countless other lists of ‘worst songs ever!’ out there, because frankly my sense of what makes a bad song is different from most other people’s. That hatred of this song is so nearly universal almost makes me wonder if that was the point of the song: a kind of Crazy Frog before its time.

But if this song was deliberately annoying, all of those people (adults) who rushed out and bought it, in volumes high enough to, according to Wikipedia, send it to #1 on the charts in Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Italy, the UK, France, Ireland, Belgium (for two months, no less), Germany, Australia and Switzerland: what the hell was wrong with them?

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