Christmas may be behind us, but there’s still one last gift underneath the tree.
We went from sixteen to eight last time, so now it’s time to narrow the field down even further and see who’ll be playing for all the marbles in the championship round. These contenders have already shown their mettle by surviving the first round, but who’s got the pedigree and the performance worthy of the best song of the 2010s? Let’s move to the matchups…
Quarterfinal #1: “Crash And Burn” (#1) vs. “Run Wild Horses” (#8)
This one feels like a dead heat to me. Both are moving songs (even if they move you in different ways), both feature great arrangements and decent vocals, neither are terribly deep tracks or have terribly clever lyrics, and where one saw more success on the radio (“Crash And Burn” hit #1, “Run Wild Horses” peaked at #33), the other generated far less controversy (“Run Wild Horses” was conventionally-built and raised no one’s eyebrows, while “Crash And Burn” generated, well, this). How the heck am I supposed to choose between the two?
Thankfully, we have a precedent from 2017, when a dogfight between “Drinkin’ Problem” and “Drunk Girl” was settled by a Splatoon parody song I had put together based on Midland’s tune:
Unfortunately, I don’t have any video game parodies of either of the songs in question here…but I do have a few albums worth of cover recordings from the last few years, and I’ve even performed some of these songs live in front of a very picky audience (read: a bunch of old people who think every song made after 1970 is garbage). Here, the distinction becomes clear: I’ve never subjected anyone to “Run Wild Horses” in any form, but I’ve forced an acoustic version of “Crash And Burn” down their throats on numerous occasions, and even made a makeshift recording of it (the most noteworthy part about it being the 3DS sound effects used for the “Hoo! Hah!” background chants). The reaction, surprisingly, has been nothing but positive.
Given my continued nervousness over COPPA, I’ll refrain from linking to the song here. The fact is, however, that I’ve gotten way more use out of “Crash And Burn” than “Run Wild Horses,” and that carries the day in this battle.
Winner: “Crash And Burn”
Quarterfinal #2: “Drunk Girl” (#15) vs. “Missing” (#10)
In truth, it’s not quite that simple, as “Drunk Girl” was great for different reasons than “Drinkin’ Problem” was. “Drunk Girl” had a strong social message in the face of the rampant misogyny and objectification of the Bro-Country and Metropolitan movements, and was backed by an excellent piano and perhaps the best performance of Chris Janson’s career (it’s certainly better than anything he’s “Done” lately). “Missing” used a lighter touch to get its point across, with a brighter, more-traditional arrangement and with William Michael Morgan putting the audience at ease through his charismatic delivery. In the end, however, “Drunk Girl” just feels more important, with Janson and its piano driving home the importance of their message with their words and actions. (Plus, he describes my old Austin apartment perfectly in the second verse, right down to the muted TV. I mean, I never cared that much about the Sunday Night Football matchup, and I was too busy creating Super Mario Maker levels to pay attention.)
“Drunk Girl” missed the top prize two years ago, but I think it deserves to get its proper due here. The question is, can it beat “Crash And Burn”?
Winner: “Drunk Girl”
Quarterfinal #3: “Dad’s Old Number (#14) vs. “My Year” (#11)
Levar Allen is a multi-talented vocalist, writer, instrumentalist, and producer, but at some point, this is Luigi we’re talking about. Sure, the vague father figure from Cole Swindell’s “Dad’s Old Number” isn’t terribly well-defined, but it provides enough detail and emotion to draw the listener in and fill in the blanks with their own memories. While Nintendo has fleshed out Luigi’s character a bit more in recent years, he remains a fairly flat protagonist that’s only slightly less-bland than Mario. I also think the softer, warmer production of “Dad’s Old Number” suits its mood a bit better, as the loud horn stabs make Luigi feel a bit more combative than the lyrics suggest (Allen’s melancholy guitar solos do a much better capturing the character’s spirit). “My Year” is fun, but unless you’re Thomas Rhett, fun won’t get you out of the second round.
Winner: “Dad’s Old Number”
Quarterfinal #4: “Uptown Funk” (#4) vs. “Shut Up And Dance” (#5)
In some ways, these songs feel like mirror images of one another, as they’re lighthearted, uptempo romps with lots of energy and charismatic vocalists (and repetitive choruses). So what differentiates them?
- “Uptown Funk” isn’t as secretly slimy as “Get Lucky,” but there’s some explicit objectification here (especially in the opening verse) that’s hard to ignore. “Shut Up And Dance” focuses more on the scene and action than the characters involved (all we get are “a backless dress and some beat-up sneaks” and a generic “teenage dream” compliment).
- “Shut Up And Dance” is an unrelenting sugar-rush from start to finish, with brighter production, a faster tempo, and . “Uptown Funk” goes in a funkier direction, throwing in some slower and more-subdued sections and diversifying its arrangement a bit more.
So where does that leave us? While I’m rarely a fan of sugar rushes, I kind of prefer it to the slightly-disconcerting aftertaste of “Uptown Funk”‘s attitude. I think WALK THE MOON and their *sigh* all-caps styling takes the victory here.
Winner: “Shut Up And Dance”
Semifinal #1: “Crash And Burn” (#1) vs. “Drunk Girl” (#15)
So now we’ve come down to a battle of legacies: “Crash And Burn,” silly and shameless as it is, has clearly impacted my life more than “Drunk Girl,” but the latter song is the kind of song that has the potential to make the world a better place, the kind of track I wish we heard more of from country music. So does personal or societal impact mean more in this context of this tournament?
I think it’s time to start asking the tough questions, starting with “Which of these songs would I like to hear more of in the future?” For “Crash And Burn,” this isn’t really a hypothetical: Since its debut in 2015, the Metropolian movement showed just how off the rails experimental songs like this could go (Zac Brown Band’s “Beautiful Drug,” Sam Hunt’s “Body Like A Back Road,”or Keith Urban’s “Never Comin’ Down,” etc.). In Chris Janson’s case…well, the songs that followed were never that great either (Tim & Faith’s “Speak To A Girl,” Urban’s “Female,” Abby Anderson’s “Make Him Wait,” etc.), but at least they seemed to have a higher floor than their Metro-Bro counterparts. In short, I think I like “Drunk Girl” better as a tone-setter for the genre than “Crash And Burn,” so it pulls off the upset and moves into the final battle.
Winner: “Drunk Girl”
Semifinal #2: “Dad’s Old Number” (#14) vs. “Shut Up And Dance”
In some sense, this is a slightly-weaker version of the last match: “Shut Up And Dance” doesn’t resonate with me personally as much as “Crash And Burn” did, and “Dad’s Old Number” doesn’t have the same social significance as “Drunk Girl.” So which one earns the right to challenge “Drunk Girl” for the decade crown?
Well, just because its message is a bit more personal doesn’t make “Dad’s Old Number” any less impactful—in fact, it might make it resonate more. The one-two punch of fatherhood and death is a potent combination, and this track is so effectively vague that it makes the listener contemplate their own familial relations, thus deepening its connection and impact even further. “Shut Up And Dance” is a solid tune that contains more optimism than Jimmy Carter and more energy than a Red Bull, but it’s not a song that sticks with you for very long or makes you think deeply about how it relates to your life. Which of these songs do I want to hear more of in the future? In this instance, it’s not even a contest.
Winner: “Dad’s Old Number”
Well, I can’t say I foresaw a #14 vs. #15 matchup for the title, but looking back at this competition, I think I see how we got here. “Drunk Girl” and “Dad’s Old Number” are the songs that feel the most meaningful in the field, the songs that seem to transcend their recordings and touch audiences on a much deeper level than anything else. Which one cuts the deepest? Find out next time, when we conclude our tournament and crown our champion!