It's not so much that the year's worst music was egregiously terrible, or altogether unlistenable. Rather, the worst of the year felt oftentimes like a total cash grab and blatant trend chasing. At least with the likes of Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line in the worst years of bro-country, they were true believers; they honestly thought that what they were doing was important, that music was about having a good time, and that the critics were just haters. The folks on this year's list, though? Hard to see it as anything other than blatant pandering for commercial gain, leaning into whatever cheap tricks they have to to make a quick buck. And power to them, I suppose. It's a tough industry and they have to make a living. But it also doesn't mean we have to pretend that what's being fed to us is in any way substantive or good.
Anyways, I think that's the through line of the worst singles of 2022. Not painful to listen to, but disheartening and somewhat pathetic. Without further ado, here are This Is Country Music's worst 20 singles of 2022!
Priscilla Block, "My Bar"
I liked Priscilla Block's debut single, which was called "Just About Over You" and was a moody, complex post-breakup track where she couldn't outrun an old flame who kept appearing in the same bar she frequented. And I guess I'd like a literal part two of that ... if it didn't trade in the darker production and emotional framing for loud posturing that feels more distanced and less interesting than before. Meh. - Zackary Kephart
Kenny Chesney and Old Dominion, "Beer With My Friends"
Honestly, this just sounds like they're totally half asking it. The only difference between this and the other 5863 Chesney beach songs is Old Dominion is on this, and they add nothing. Production is just wallpaper and it's not even catchy. Aggressively pointless. - MM
Jason Aldean, "That's What Tequila Does"
There's like, a nugget of a good song here, but like 90% of Aldean singles, the production is jacked up for no reason. Its biggest offence is it sounds like everything he's done since like, 2015. No real details, no real plot, just "I'm sad so I drink". Totally interchangeable and not an original thought to be had. - MM
Zac Brown Band, "Out In the Middle"
Sad as it is, this is still an improvement for them. But they've recorded plenty of songs with this same southern-rock swell and muscle hundreds of times before, and way better every time, too. This is just your average, "we live in the country and are better than you because of it," pandering schlock that's beneath them. Or at least, once was beneath them. Their latest album was indeed a needed comeback, but this song can forever stay in the woods, for all I care. - ZK
Lady A, "Summer State of Mind"
Perhaps the most annoying single of the year. Hillary Scott does not sound good, there's a random drum machine loop in the background for some reason, and the songwriting is just juvenile rhymes and half baked metaphors. Truly awful and I wish they would grow up a bit and go back to their Golden material. - MM
Jordan Davis, "What My World Spins Around"
At its best, it has one of those titles you might think was a long-lost Nashville Sound song from the '60s. At its worst, it's as corny and cloying as many of those tracks were, and, with it being another tepid boyfriend country song that's a chore to both listen to and discuss, with worse production. - ZK
Old Dominion, "No Hard Feelings"
Man, everything these guys do just grates on me so hard. Every melody they have just beats you over the head. The chorus here feels so offbeat int he same way like, "Hotel Key" did. Throw in an obnoxious snap track and some bizarre whistles and you have what is for me a totally unlistenable track. - MM
Parmalee, "Girl In Mine"
These guys are the #1 culprit when I talk about shameless cynicism. They know what they're doing -- they're just recreating the success of "Just the Way" over and over again, with completely unoriginal, overly sappy and totally spineless love songs. I have a hard time believing that this former rock band (whose excellent "Carolina" is one of my favorite hits of the last decade, may I add) sincerely believe that this saccharine nonsense is art. It's not even that this unlistenable, I just have no respect for it. It's slick background music that might make the casual listener drift into nothingness for three minutes, but leaves no lasting impact. It's a blatant cash grab and I oppose it almost solely on principle. - MM
Shania Twain, "Waking Up Dreaming"
Ugh, this one hurts. I've preferred to just think Twain’s output stops around the early 2000s, given that this is another work of hers to feature the same horribly cheap vocal production that strips her of any of her charisma or flair and makes her come across terribly just on a technical level. And the overblown percussion-over-melody approach is here to make sure this doesn't feel as melodically smooth, groove-driven, or fun as any of her best work. - ZK
Luke Bryan, "Country On"
I mean, of course this is just another giant masturbatory pander-fest, where the general conceit is to use the hook as a flat rally cry with all heart and little actual passion. I mean, it's a nice enough sentiment in theory, but neither Bryan nor has anyone on his team ever really been great at storytelling, which means the shoutouts feel like gross character portraits over anything else. Not terrible, just embarrassing. - ZK
Dan + Shay, "You"
Just copy-paste my Parmalee writeup here. Just keep milking the money machine, I guess. They've made the same soulless pop love song about two dozen times since the excellent "Tequila". They're not even trying to hide the grift at this point. Every effort is just a crappier version of the already mediocre "Speechless". - MM
Sam Hunt, "Water Under the Bridge"
Oh, how the mighty fall. Sam Hunt tries his hand at reviving bro-country, and man, it just ain't pretty. It's just yet another snap-heavy song that gets drowned in its own bombast and adopts no sense of greater dynamics or decent flow - or taste. Hunt sounds terrible here, ditching his usual embarrassing attempts at rapping but choosing to sing in his upper range, which is just nasal and leering in a way that's always made my skin crawl when it comes to this guy's music. The dull writing is the best part, which isn't saying a whole lot. - ZK
Dustin Lynch, "Party Mode"
Between this and "Where It's At," he's got a thing for songs that, yeah, are catchy as hell ... but in the most annoyingly awful and cloying way imaginable. Not even my favorite instrument getting to shine - the dobro - saves this from being a paradoxically lifeless mess. There's a Jake Owen song called "Life of the Party" that does this better; I recommend that instead. - ZK
Blake Shelton, "No Body"
Shelton has the charisma needed to make a '90s country-themed song work, but this just feels clunky and flat from beginning to end. The slower pace and curdled electric axes offer no sense of groove, and Shelton's robotic delivery and flow make the already corny and cutesy sentiment sound cringeworthy - at best. "No body" wanted this. - ZK
Lee Brice, "Soul"
I think Lee Brice is by and large one of the good guys in country music. Sometimes he veers too hard into mainstream nothingness, but generally he's rock solid. This is aggressively bad though. He sounds like he's trying to do something funny or sexy, but it's honestly just embarrassing to listen to. The production is a total disaster, with background noises and voices popping up for no reason while Brice sings way too aggressively and with no charm. Just awful. - MM
Morgan Wallen, "Wasted On You"
Sure, it's almost too easy to hate on Wallen these days. But I've never liked the oily, droopy, unflattering synthetic tone characterizing this song from day one. And as for the writing, I like "dark and lonely" to a fault, but not when it's utterly miserable and whiny and never once considers his ex-significant other's perspective in their respective downward spirals. There's a way to unleash anger like this and make it feel cathartic, but this is just stewing in one's own misery for the sake of - yeah, really fun stuff. - ZK
Walker Hayes, "Y'all Life"
Hello darkness, my old friend, you've come to grace our list again. Ugh, I swear he's just the little dad joke that could and keeps on chugging with diminishing returns ... somehow. Hayes is here again to run the conceit of "Fancy Like" into the ground for yet another copycat single that's produced like boiled ass, lousily performed, and even just embarrassing on paper alone. It's catchy, but so is gonorrhea. - ZK
Morgan Wallen, "You Proof"
How this has become a historic country radio single I will never understand. I'm not even one of these guys that doesn't understand the Wallen appeal -- I don't agree, but on some level, I do understand. That said, he sounds just awful here. There's no personality, no dynamism, just obnoxious snarl drowned by layers of autotune. Once again we have a terrible snap track and drum machine, and the entire song is built around that dumb "I need something you proof hook" -- no development, no depth, but I bet they thought they were geniuses for coming up with that around the songwriting table. This is a deeply painful record to listen to and exemplifies all the worst artistic aspects of Wallen's career. No ambition, no creativity, just commercial pandering through and through. -MM
Russell Dickerson feat. Jake Scott, "She Likes It"
See, part of me believes this is a "joke" song. Like one of those "Own The Critics" songs where the artist will tell interviewers "Yeah man like I'm just trying to get a reaction you know why are you so serious all the time!". The over the top badness of this -- from the processed vocals to the obnoxious hook to the pathetic songwriting -- isn't really what bothers me. I hate this song so much because it embodies this current trend of aiming for Tik Tok vitality. You can just tell they want so bad for that dumbass chorus to go viral, so that Dickerson can be temporarily elevated from the C-List. It's so transparently cynical and making that play that it enrages me. This isn't like Walker Hayes, who has been doing this kind of nonsense for years and is (or pre-"Fancy Like", anyways was) a true believer. This is the raw embodiment of making fake art for profit's sake. It sucks on its merits anyways, but beyond that, it's just the worst example of trying to become Tik Tok famous. Quit this while you still have your pride, Russell. - MM