As modern consumers of music, we have been lucky enough to have been blessed with the artistry of some of the most game-changing and emotive artists the world has ever seen. Since pop culture really took off in the 1950s, Western-centric audiences have been treated to countless audio delights, whether that be through the medium of a live show or record.
The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Prince, Björk, the past 60 years have given us not only game-changing records within music, but within society itself. Music has often been a weapon of the righteous, a means of tearing down barriers or ripping up the rule book to aid progression. When you think of your favourite album or song of all time, it is most likely an ever-changing opinion, owing to the sheer amount of brilliant music that is out there.
However, when you take a step back and look at the vast quantity of music that has been – and continues to be – released, you will realise that the majority of it is, in fact, garbage. That is the beauty of music though, one person’s garbage may be another person’s crown jewel as music is nothing but subjective.
With this being said, there have been numerous occasions over the years where songs have been released that were hailed as downright terrible from across the spectrum. There have been many occasions where your grandmother, obscure uncle and the man who runs your local chippy will be unified in their cries of “urgh”, “yuck”, “shameful!” when discussing a song — and we’re not talking about the divisive concept of a one-hit-wonder either.
The concept was extensively explored in the 1980s, ’90s and ’00s, and seems to have died a death owing to the internet wearing down the shock value of anything, with audiences now left in a constant state of shoulder shrugging.
While overtly terrible, many one-hit wonders have a likeable, corny element to them, which has contributed to their regular reoccurrences in disparate environments ranging from a sticky Student’s Union bar to a cousin’s wedding or even on the radio for the ‘kitsch’ value. These types of tunes number in their hundreds. ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’, ‘Tubthumping’ and ‘MMMBop’, you get the picture. One would argue that ‘Agadoo’ or ‘Macarena’ are prime examples are this as well.
Then you get the songs that are just plain terrible. I’m not talking about the stuff that is put on Soundcloud by your regular bedroom musician, rather the tracks that were a concerted effort by an already established musician, with the financial backing of a record label. Examples include the unbearably corny ‘Your Body Is a Wonderland’ by John Mayer or the ridiculously overblown lyricism of ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire‘ by Billy Joel. In fact, when Joel delivers the line “JFK – blown away, what else do I have to say?” he sounds as if he is literally about to explode into a world-destroying cloud of methane.
On the other hand, you then get outliers such as Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’, Aqua’s ‘Barbie Girl’ and Rednex’s ‘Cotton Eye Joe’. However, these outliers still have a central comedic element, which has culminated in their enduring presence at parties worldwide.
Then you get anything misguided YouTubers such as Jake Paul and KSI release, which are plain terrible but again, they have an element of comedy inherent to their spectacle and makes their quality seem secondary. For instance, KSI’s ‘Really Love’ features vocals from Craig David, and at one point in the hilariously bad CGI video, David is trapped in an ice cube singing away.
Then we come to the music that is just plain awful. Whilst all of those mentioned above have made a good case for the worst song ever written, one would wager that it is another. This obscure track has slowly made its way back into the collective conscious following the advent of TikTok.
Released in 2012, as part of her second studio album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, Nicki Minaj offered the world a truly soul-destroying piece of music. Truthfully, at first, it is a humorous piece of music, but as ‘Roman Holiday’ takes us through its kaleidoscopic twists and turns, by the end, you are left begging for mercy. It quickly becomes a hysterical, oppressive piece of music.
It sounds as if Nicki Minaj has actually cracked or is tripping on copious amounts of Lysergic acid. Lyrically concerned with Minaj’s alter-ego ‘Roman Zolanski’, the song is a dizzying clash of musical and vocal styles. Around the time of the album’s release, Minaj gave a highly rational take on the character: “If you’re not familiar with Roman, then you will be familiar with him very soon. He’s the boy that lives inside of me. He’s a lunatic and he’s gay, and he’ll be on Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (the new album) a lot.”
The song features rap, opera, sound effects, sonic drops, synths, lasers and a brief rendition of the hymn, ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’. Whilst people might be quick to argue that it is actually a post-modern work of brilliance that straddles boundaries, I would argue that it is simply an unhinged nightmare, topped off with terrible production.
However, it is brilliant at delivering surreal, nonsensical lines such as “Anyway, stylist, go get Bvlgari/I am the ultimate Svengali”, “Quack, quack to a duck and a chicken too/Put the hyena in a freakin’ zoo, phew!” and “Witch, twitch, bitch/Motherfucking right, this is World War 6”, which place Minaj up there with Cohen and Dylan as a modern-day master of syntax.
Ultimately, ‘Roman Holiday’ is quite possibly the worst song of all time. It is an experience that definitely needs to be had once, but a word of warning, listen at your own peril.
Listen to ‘Roman Holiday’ below, if you can stomach it.