What’s a non-essential song, you ask?
We all have some idea of what an “essential” song is. Our pals over at the Current have spent the past week counting down listeners’ choices for the most essential songs of the 21st century, and they racked up plenty of great music as a result. Scroll through this list and you’ll see lots of your favorites, songs with a solid amount of emotional heft and tug, music that people of taste acknowledge and agree upon.
But that leaves out all the rest of the music we love—the non-essential songs. The jokes you still laugh at 50 plays later. The walloping beat or overstuffed guitar hook or cornball synth blast so big and dumb and undeniable it slaps whatever petty, tasteful reservations you have right out of your brain. In less enlightened times, songs like these were called “guilty pleasures,” but who are we, Mike Pence? Pleasure is nothing to feel guilty about, and non-essential songs are straight-up pleasures.
An essential song is a moving valedictorian address; a non-essential song is an armpit fart in the back of the auditorium. An essential song is a night of passionate lovemaking; a non-essential song is giggling so much during sex you pee instead of cum. An essential song is fine dining; a non-essential song is the half a Slim Jim you find on the floor of your Lyft and scarf down on your way home from the bar.
And just as not every artist can record an essential song, many of the greats will never produce a truly non-essential song. Radiohead couldn’t write a non-essential song even if it would stop Brexit. Beyoncé? She isn’t even capable of a non-essential Instagram post, let alone a song. No, for non-essential music we’ve got to turn to the second-tier teen-poppers, the jerky pop-punks, the comedy rappers, maybe even will.i.am if we’re not careful.
Oh, who are we kidding—no way we’re getting through this list without running into the Black Eyed Peas. So buckle up, bozos. Things around here are about to get real non-essential real fast.
Hey, wait a minute… that spells “fuck.”
Every great pop phenomenon gets at least a few quality imitators, and Hoku was the Dave Clark Five to Britney’s Beatles, the Stone Temple Pilots to Christina’s Pearl Jam, the Fall Out Boy (2013-present) to Mandy Moore’s Fall Out Boy (2001-2009). But did any of those groups have a confused but supportive robot attempting backup vocals? Point: Hoku.
A slinky little country-pop sex jam that is, unfortunately, probably about a corpse.
The thing about sex is: It’s good.
In 2010, Far East Movement’s “Like a G6” answered the question “What if the Black Eyed Peas were less annoying?” Later that year, the female singer on that hit answered an even better question: “What if ‘Like a G6’ was hot?”
Nerd-punk cult hero buys a fixer-upper. Nerd-punk cult hero notices destructive powers of the hammer. Nerd-punk cult hero writes a great dang synth-blasted song about it.
The perfect marriage of Kesh’s trashy “I’m so much smarter than this dumb shit but I love it” attitude and Mr. Bull’s suave “I’m even dumber than this dumb shit but maybe that girl will get naked” obliviousness. And there’s a harmonica.
The thing about being naked is: It’s good.
Do you like rap music? Danielle "'Cash Me Outside' Girl” Bregoli is a legit rapper, oozing ‘tude and swagger. All hail Gen Z!
This sassy, all-but-forgotten girl group mimics and catalogs the BK catcallers they fend off on the daily, while they’re still young enough to find the unwanted attention a novelty.
Nothing has undermined my faith in America’s young people quite like the sad fate of “Yahhh!” Soulja Boy selflessly offered our children an interjection — “Yahhh, trick! Yahhh!” — the absurdity of which should have perplexed parents and teachers nationwide throughout 2008. Aging rappers, uptight bloggers, and unrepentant rockists should have been stamping their collective virtual feet in collective virtual outrage. Seriously, kids, why did this not become a thing?
Cincinnati xylophone rap group Why? season all their music with a dash of absurdity, but never has it been so inexplicably fun as here. “I don’t wear rubbers and I don’t wear sunscreen,” frontman Yoni Wolf raps. “I wanna heat my hide not hide under something.”
A pitch-perfect Pet Shop Boys parody that somehow works if you’ve never even heard “West End Girls.” “No one cares, no one sympathizes/So you just stay home and play synthesizers”? Now that’s good comedy, folks.
A bizarre and beautiful thing happened at the height the TRL era: A bunch of alt-poppers (including members of Fountains of Wayne, Jellyfish, that dog, and Letters to Cleo) whose historical moment had clearly passed got to work on the soundtrack for this wacky music-biz satire/Gen X nostalgia-bait teen-comedy. And made—no joke—one of the best pop-punk albums of all time.
The thing about hot moms is: They’re good.
Note to frisky city boys: Never get between a country girl and her bait.
The funniest Lonely Island song is whatever one you just heard last. Today, that song is this. Check back in tomorrow.
It’s all in the title: Macalester grad Will Sheff rattles off celeb throat surgeries (Gary Coleman, Mary Wells, Dylan Thomas, Ray Davies) with loungey tenderness. Poignant. Hilarious. Unexpected.
“3-2-1/We came to fuck.” Now those are some damn words to live by, friends.
My college hockey team used to warm up to “See You Again” to show opponents we were just there for the post-game beers. So how essential is this high-water mark for everyday teen-horny Miley (long before she became cartoonishly shock-horny Miley)? At least as essential as Mid-Atlantic Division 3 club hockey, I’d say.
The thing about jokes is: They’re good.
Dubstep was millennial disco, and while the more obnoxiously mediocre stuff’s been thankfully forgotten, the style did have its ABBA, its Chic, and its Walter Murphy all wrapped up in the form of Skrillex. “Bangarang” was the “Dancing Queen”/”Good Times”/”A Fifth of Beethoven” of a genre that didn’t deserve it.
No song better captures the adrenaline rush of striding coolly into the club as your favorite song blasts from the speakers and the crowd parts to let you take your rightful place in the middle of the dancefloor. Or so I imagine. Maybe one of these days I’ll leave the house and find out.
Blink scholars will note that the dog is in fact the fourth choice: He tried to fuck your mom in the ass, tried to fuck your dad in the ass, and tried to fuck a fuckin’ pirate in the ass. Could only find the dog. (And his ass.)
You don’t have to agree with Shakira that regular attendance at Mass entitles you to feel up the son of Argentina’s deposed president (and rip off a Bangles tune) in order to swoon to this. But it doesn’t hurt.
Nu-metal aggro-vulnerability at its psychodramatic-est. Cut his life into pieces already!
Lemme tell you a little story: It was New Year’s Day 2015, I was waiting for a PATCO train underneath Philadelphia, and beside me on the platform a woman was distracting an impatient toddler. A traditional patty cake soon led to a more contemporary call-and-response. “No flex!” shouted mom. “Zone!” the child answered. “No flex!” “Zone!” In unison: “They know better! They know better!” After a few rounds the girl was crying again. But for a minute there it was cute as hell.
You’ve heard it at proms. At weddings. Probably even funerals. It has infected you, affected you, become you. You are forever trapped within Fergie’s melodic vice, eternally jumping off the sofa, condemned to do it and do it and do it, do it, do it. And then you'll do it again. Mazel tov. (L'chaim.)
What if instead of being about speed the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat” was about the indignity of being a 40-year-old man who still has to go out to loud, messy clubs to find someone to sleep with? And what if it made you wonder which addiction was worse?
Avril was right: Always date the scruffy punk or you’ll end up a sad single mom whose friends don’t invite her to stuff. (RIP)
This song has a very nice message, as Lil Mama offers to teach the jealouss eye-rolling, cheap-lip-gloss-wearing girls who lack her ability to enrapture boys how they too can develop a familiarity with a wide range of quality cosmetics. Fact: There has never been a bad song called “Lip Gloss.” Also a fact: The only other one that I’ve heard is by that dog.
Kreayshawn is to hip-hop as Avril Lavigne is to punk. In this essay I will
Someday DJ Snake will be recognized as the Hendrix of catchily modulated cyborg puking. Why not today?
The most effortlessly listenable track of all-time? So we say, and who are you to argue? Charli gets boy-crazy over a luxurious beat as that 16-bit coin sample bleeps with infectious repetition.
“Almost certainly the best song ever recorded about wearing the same dress to a party as Zendaya,” I once opined, and there’s no reason to back down from that bold stance now. Also, this song is literally about the City Pages staff.
Whoever elected to use the “abortion” echo effect deserved to win 10,000 Grammys.
Look, I would never go far as to say, "Mashups are the best thing to happen to music in my lifetime." But I would nod vigorous encouragement to anyone else who did.
Some CP staffers would argue that lines like “What’s your dick like, homie, what’re you into?” make this an essential song, actually. But: Whatever!
Two Lower East Side weirdo lifers—a yelping septuagenarian song encyclopedia and his wry Gen X enabler—transform the divine Ms. Polizzi into the bona fide folk heroine 21st-century America deserves. Whenever I’m DTF, longing for vicarious alcohol-poisoning, and ready to punch a cop, this is my fight song.
What do you call a recovering Nicki Minaj stan who drawls parodic fanfic about a Red Dead Redemption 2 character over a Nine Inch Nails beat, goes viral and makes the entirety of the Nashville establishment look like racist assholes, then hits number one and keeps Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, and Ed Sheeran off the top of the charts? We call him our hero—and the future of non-essential pop.