Hated in the Nation: The 30 Biggest Punching Bags in Pop History
We open up the case files to see who's gotten a bad rap and who's just bad
CHARGE AGAINST: The Marianas Trench of yacht rock, a beacon of flaccid sentimentality borne by a gentle cushion of hackneyed studio fluff sinking what was left of the ’70s singer-songwriter model into the quicksand of 1980s radio schlock.
CASE FILES: Is there a more cloying, nut-tickling hit single than “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)”? (Answer: Yes. James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful.” But it’s close.) Christopher Cross’ biggest hit, four minutes of high-pitched sap, was ubiquitous in the early ’80s. On the back of his debut album’s unavoidable singles “Ride Like the Wind” and “Sailing,” he won five of what are widely regarded as the most indefensible Grammys ever, while “Arthur” hoisted an Oscar onto his mantel too. All of which stranded a mediocre talent on a peak where he didn’t belong, wildly overvalued for his modest gifts.
THE DEFENSE: Rather than turn into a bitter jerk unable to regain his fame, Cross remained pretty grounded, freely admitting that his “early songs were possibly a little bit simplistic. The ones that did real well…they’re not timeless.” IRA ROBBINS
CHARGE AGAINST: British neo-colonialist fops whose clunky dance pop kept funk off ’80s radio.
CASE FILES: In the early 1980s, Duran-bashing was the favorite pastime of insecure, jealous high school dudes (and insecure, jealous dads) policing the sexual fantasy lives of teenage girls who craved swishy pretty boys. In Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, author Rob Sheffield says the band inspired the most venomous arguments around his high school cafeteria tables. But even to hard-core music fans, they often seemed like a blight: At a time when George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” was struggling for airplay, radio programmers insisted that young Americans dance to these limp Brits, who, to make matters worse, had shouldered past more interesting new-wave countrymen like ABC and the Psychedelic Furs on their way across the Atlantic. Said Robert Christgau: “These imperialist wimps are the most deplorable pop stars of the post-punk if not post-Presley era.”
THE DEFENSE: The ’60s generation can keep “Like a Rolling Stone.” Our text is poptimism, cool synth sounds, and “Save a Prayer,” and we’re not apologizing for it. K.H.