A study on guilty pleasure songs including Carly Rae Jepsen, WHAM, MC Hammer, Journey and more.
I don’t necessarily fall in line with this list of guilty pleasure songs, as more than half of these songs provide me with totally guiltless pleasure. I guess, as a child of the ’90s, I still appreciate them non-ironically. It’s hard to explain to a younger person just how many tough times the Baha Men got me through.
This list comes from Spotify, which analyzed tens of thousands of user-compiled playlists users called “guilty pleasures,” then figured out the 14 most common songs across those playlists. While I’m not thrilled with some of the results, I really like that they picked an arbitrary number like 14. As an arbitrary number guy myself, it always makes me disappointed when a good list only goes to 10.
(The three songs that filled spots 12, 13, and 14 on their list are I Want It That Way by Backstreet Boys, Wannabe by Spice Girls, and Toxic by Britney Spears, respectively.)
Here are the 11 most popular guilty pleasure songs, as data mined from 120,000 Spotify users.
11 | What Makes You Beautiful by One Direction
This strikes me as a classic “Who gives a shit?” situation, but I guess there are, in fact, people who do give a shit. Having a current boy band on a list like this is curious, since you’d have to assume they have an entire legion of fans who don’t consider them a guilty pleasure but rather a significant pleasure. I guess One Direction’s spot on this list is from all the adults who couldn’t resist the scientifically engineered chirpiness of this song.
10 | Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen
I feel like this song got so over-saturated during its peak it transcended guilty pleasure status and moved onto “played-out pop hit” status, but clearly thousands of people disagree. I actually think watching Carly Rae Jepsen’s attempt to throw out the first pitch at an MLB game is more of a guilty pleasure than the song.
9 | U Can’t Touch This by MC Hammer
This song has a special place in my heart because it was my gateway into listening to music on the radio. It was huge when I was in 6th grade and I would listen to the radio just waiting for them to play it. In the process, I became acclimated to other popular music of the time. By 7th grade, I was listening to the radio for that music, not just for MC Hammer. And by “that music,” I of course mean things like C&C Music Factory.
8 | Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley
I guess if you get tricked into clicking a link that takes you to this Rick Astley video enough times, you actually grow to like the song. You won’t admit you like it, per se — which is why you bury it on a guilty pleasures playlist — but you’ve been gradually Stockholm Syndromed into Rick Astley fandom.
7 | Who Let the Dogs Out? by Baha Men
I went to a journalism school where most of my classmates took themselves (and journalism) very seriously. I was with a group of other students my senior year presenting some journalism basics to motivated freshmen and we got to the challenge of who versus whom. The other mentors gave pretentious explanations of who versus whom (“Whom applies to an object in a subordinate clause”) and when it got to me, I said: “Just remember: Who let the dogs out? The dogs were let out by whom?” The room was oddly silent for a moment, until one freshman dude started laughing. No one else made a sound. And that young man went on to become… well, I wish I knew. I don’t even remember his name. It would be great if he’d won a Pulitzer but he’s probably long since abandoned journalism for a career as a lawyer like oh so many people.
6 | You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) by Dead Or Alive
This is one of about two dozen songs that have now been supplanted by their Pitch Perfect versions in my mind. Even though in Pitch Perfect the guys do the Flo Rida song that samples You Spin Me Round, I still can’t hear it without thinking of that movie.
(Other songs I can’t hear anymore without thinking of the Pitch Perfect versions and/or singing them with their Pitch Perfect mash-ups: Don’t Stop the Music, Let It Whip, Titanium, Since U Been Gone, No Diggity, Magic and, of course, Don’t You Forget About Me. I am thankful it, somehow, did not ruin The Sign for me — likely because the Bellas’ version was so intentionally bad.)
5 | Cotton Eye Joe by Rednex
I learned so much about this song during my research for this list, and that’s a good thing. I was really thinking my brain was missing a wealth of trivia about a 20-year-old one-hit wonder. Turns out the song Cotton-Eyed Joe had been around in various versions since the 1920s. The Rednex were Swedish and decided to make an upbeat version called Cotton Eye Joe. The song got TWO boosts years later: Once in the last ’90s a part of an iconic ESPN Jock Jams mix track and once in the early 2000s when a dance remix became popular.
4 | Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey
I’ve talked about this song extensively before (in 11 Songs From Past Decades That Got Played Out in the 2000s and 11 Deceptively Bad Karaoke Songs. Suffice to say I have always been a big Journey guy and was sad to see the result when a good nostalgia song gets too overexposed. (Same thing happened to Baby Got Back.) That better not ever happen to Baby, What a Big Surprise by Chicago.
3 | My Sharona by The Knack
I recently saw an interview with the actual Sharona (her name is Sharona Alperin) — she’s a real estate agent here in L.A. now. She even has the domain name MySharona.com, which plays My Sharona. I guess when a song is written about you it helps you skirt ASCAP issues.
2 | Wake Me Up Before You Go Go by Wham!
So when I was writing about Cotton Eye Joe I decided to pop it on Spotify, then I just let the Rednex album (Sex & Violins) continue playing. So these are Swedish guys who apparently did nothing but bluegrass-y English dance songs? How were they only one-hit wonders? Anyway…
As for the Wham! song, that’s another one on this list I have a personal connection with that’s connected to the actual music in a tertiary way at best. When my friends and I moved into our apartment senior year of college and got our phone installed — it was the tail end of the landline era — the number we got assigned had the last four digits 9426. We quickly figured out that spelled WHAM, and our apartment became known as The Wham. For many years after that, two of us continued to maintain 9426 as the last four digits of our phone numbers no matter where we moved. As for the song itself, it’s fine, I guess.
1 | Mambo No. 5 by Lou Bega
This song came out during (and was sometimes lumped in with) the brief late ’90s swing music revival — which continues to grow more and more puzzling as time goes on. This song wasn’t swing music but whitey could easily transfer a lot of the moves over. And somehow, 15 years later, this is the song that emerged from that whole era.
What are the odds that Lou Bega eventually decides to cash in and release Mambo No. 6? He can just call it Rocky Balboa.