Earache

A tribute to bad music and the public that (secretly) loves it

So, I can't stop listening to American Idol reject William Hung's CD. And I can only chalk it up to its overwhelming guilty-pleasure aspect. The mutilated notes, the castration of everything decent about the human voice; it's all there waiting to make love to my ear. Violent, atonal love. His debut disc, Inspiration, is 40-some minutes of cover songs ("Bailamos," "Hotel California," "I Believe I Can Fly") and inspirational nuggets of verbal gold. And it's fucking awesome. Because it's so ridiculously bad.

Why is America so obsessed with bad? Hung sings like he's been doing karaoke in a cave for the past five years. His vocal cords cry out like he swallowed a weed whacker. So why is everyone all up on his game?

Maybe this question is coming a little late. The public at large has always been fixated on the underdog, the down-and-out "Everyman." We love to see people fail, gloriously, and preferably in public. And Hung was willing to make that sacrifice. He took one for the team. Now look where he is: a record deal, an appearance on The Tonight Show. What's next? William Hung's Totally Rad Dance Party on the WB? Because that would be great.

Hung has become huge for his kitsch factor, his nerdy, friendly, lab-partner vibe. He's not threatening. He laughed in the faces of Herr Cowell and pancake-face Abdul. And he still has time to be positive (on the opening track from Inspiration, Hung advises "I want to thank all of you for buying my album and wish you all the best in whatever you choose to do with your life"), and humble (in the video for "She Bangs," Hung cavorts with hot chicks across various music video clichés before interrupting the take and saying he just wants to be himself).

William Hung may have obtained a certain pinch of the magical pop-idol powder, and he may have spoonfuls of chutzpah. But he's not the first. And he won't be the last. Here's a toast to some other bands and musicians that are so bad, they're good:

Raooul

Why it's so bad: Lots of screeching, unintelligible lyrics and indistinguishable instruments. See also: Blatz.

Why it's good:Pissed-off all-girl band from the early '90s. They covered "Summer Lovin'" from Grease, therefore taking a cute song and turning it into a sonic car wreck involving five scary teenage girls. Take that, Newton-John.

The Kids of Widney High

Why it's so bad:Because it's so bad. It's the recipe for disaster: Plinky Casio beats, off-kilter singing (complete with giggles), and a chorus of tone-deaf special-ed kids.

Why it's good: We're not saying making fun of handicapped kids is right. But these troopers from Widney High get an E for effort. They have self-confidence in spades. This line from their Special Music from Special Kids album just smacks of it: "I can breakdance, I can spin on the floor/When I put on my pants, I'm not so fat no more."

The Shaggs

Why it's so bad:The classic guilty-pleasure band. Three teenage sisters singing out of tune, playing out of tune, and making a whole album out of tune (1969's Philosophy of the World).

Why it's good:Incompetence is always fodder for the guilty-pleasure machine. The Shaggs didn't pretend they knew how to play their instruments. Therefore, their music had a certain charm that was part outsider brilliance and part grade school refrigerator painting.

King Diamond

Why it's so bad: Oh shit. It's King Diamond. And he's going to disembowel you with his voice, foolish mortal. Evil, evil, evil. He can shift from a horrifying falsetto to a near aneurysm-inducing growl. The 1987 goth-rock classic Abigail is a schlocky black metal falsetto-fest concept album that you'll probably only "get" if you're high.

Why it's good:You are high.

Cinnamon Teardrop

Why it's so bad:This now-defunct Fort Lauderdale band hopped on the whiny bandwagon years before Carrabba and friends, penning lyrics like "It hurts/It hurts/The floor/My eyes/Cries/It's Wednesday/I can die." Legend has it singer J. Pendergast's voice actually caused listeners to spontaneously develop tinnitus.

Why it's good:High School Fire, their first and only EP before their breakup in 1998, contained fragments of the lead singer's journal, salvaged from an actual fire, and a devastating cover of Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused." If only they had thrown down some inspirational advice, they coulda been hangin' in the halls of Hung.

 
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