I’ve been struggling for months to think of something to say about Capital Cities’ “Safe and Sound.” It’s been on the Hot 100 for 36 weeks now—peaking a while back at number eight and taking its time sliding back down. Last week it was down to number 45, this week it’s back up to 28—and during that entire time I haven’t come up with enough to say about the song to fill an entire blog post. I messed around with ideas, like how the song sounds like the computer-generated sonic average of a decade’s worth of bland electro-pop, or how much I hate the pile of non sequitur pop cultural references that make up its video, but none of that seemed substantial.
Then last week I heard “Safe and Sound” for the first time ever in public, at a deli while I was waiting in line to buy a sandwich. My first reaction was to abandon my sandwich plans and leave. Two weeks after the end of 2013, I’ve become fairly certain that it’s my least favorite song of the year.
There were worse—much worse—songs that came out in 2013. But even those gave me something in return for their badness. For as much as I never wanted to hear Ylvis’s “The Fox” after the first time I heard it, I find horribly irritating sounds perversely enjoyable. And as much as Anna Kendricks’s “Cups (Pitch Perfect’s ‘When I’m Gone’)” offends my aesthetic sensibilities to their very core, overhearing it in public gave me an opportunity to sort of examine the many ways I despise it, which is good for the critical faculties. (Both songs also had fantastic backstories.)
But “Safe and Sound” is so flimsy that it doesn’t even provide a solid enough surface to work up much hatred. Sure, it’s a blatant copy of Phoenix and Cut Copy, but bands have been ripping them off for years, and not usually with this level of technical proficiency. Sure, the band’s entire visual angle is based on easy references to retro pop culture crossed with indie twee, but so do most of the people on Etsy.
What makes “Safe and Sound” my least favorite song of the year is that I’ve already hated everything about it to the point where I don’t care anymore. The part of me that once would have been annoyed at someone trying to pass off as clever cover art of a blimp carrying a wooly mammoth in Wayfarers, all rendered in just-so faux-vintage screen-printing emulation, has already been worn down by seeing the same type of thing literally thousands of times before. The circuits in my brain that once would have been offended by its sub-middlebrow quirk are all burned out, and the intensely blank feeling that it summons up is more horrifying than anything Pitbull could do to me.
It sounds like being literally bored to death. Thank God for the fact that there are three Chris Brown songs on the Hot 100 so I know that I’m still capable of a proper negative reaction to something.