Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself after airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.
Natasha Bedingfield – “Unwritten” and “Pocketful of Sunshine”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #5 in May 2006; #5 in July 2008
A year and change after George W. Bush’s reelection. The Iraq War saw no signs of abatement. K Street was a sewer. Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” was the sound of the times.Designed for maximum hook power, “Unwritten” was ten times the menace of any Vanessa Carleton or Sheryl Crow composition: the folk pop valentine equivalent of 4 Non-Blondes’ loathed “What’s Up.” Although it stopped at #5, Bedingfield’s song kicked off its sandals, put its feet on the table, and hung around for-fucking-ever, appearing as bumper music in movie trailers and commercials and as accompaniment to weighing avocados in the supermarket produce section. Upbeat, glimmering, and positive, “Unwritten” was too volatile for CIA agents to use against terrorism suspects held at black sites.
Three years later, the British singer returned with another torture instrument, whetted by a confidence in her multi-tracked ability to charm and to persuade the makers of Febreze that “Pocketful of Sunshine” is the ideal accompaniment to a darling white couple fitting a new Small Spaces deodorizer into the wall plug. Is “Pocketful of Sunshine” Fresh Twist Cranberry? Or Mediterranean Lavender? Okeechobee Umber? (I made the last one up.). Riding on an acoustic riff as fresh as a vacuumed rug, “Pocketful of Sunshine” wafted into the top ten without effort, matching the peak of “Unwritten.” It hasn’t proven as durable, a sign that the universe occasionally asserts itself by fixing the patterns that were meant to be.
Listeners will remember the chorus: TAKE ME AWAAAAAAAAAYYYYY/TO A SECRET PLAAAAAAAAACE, yelled with the gusto of a Costco customer whose parking spot near the entrance was taken. The agreeable lilt to the backup singers and Bedingfield’s overdubs recalls TLC or period Destiny’s Child; it was not long before “Unwritten” that R&B ruled the Hot 100. She also sounds like she heard Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” as a teen and like millions of us loved it. But the rest is a stalled car. Why do we care she has a pocketful of sunshine? The fuck is a pocketful of sunshine — molly? Maybe after dropping it she’ll see the “place” where “the rivers flow.” Producer John Shanks and co-writer Danielle Brisebois of New Radicals forget that they’ve got a minute of Juicy Fruit-scented air to fill.