In the past decade we’ve seen a new band rise to the top of the charts, against many peoples’ will: Imagine Dragons.
Every era of popular music seems to have its worst acts. In the 70s, Pat Boone was notorious for making bad music, the 80s had Vanilla Ice, and in the 90s, with post-grunge following the death of Kurt Cobain, Bush claimed the title. And after this, for a long time, Nickelback held the spot.
Music is, by default, a very subjective thing, with someone unceremoniously having to claim the title of Worst Artist On the Planet – against their will, and perhaps dubiously attributed.
In the past decade we’ve seen a new band rise to the top of the charts, against many peoples’ will: Imagine Dragons. Depending on who you ask, the Las Vegas pop-rock band (whose sole remaining original member is vocalist Dan Reynolds) create really catchy tunes they love to listen to or really grating “music,” best served for sleeping or getting angry. Beauty is in the ear of the listener, I suppose.
But are they really the worst band on the planet? Should we trust anything Slipknot’s Corey Taylor says? Probably not, but it seems the Internet would agree with the singer. Over the ensuing years of the decade, and with each Dragons album being released to increasingly little fanfare, the public’s disgust with the band has grown.
More than one critic has deemed them an “algorithm band,” and I would have to agree. The songs suffer mostly from lifeless, dead production. But it isn’t like most pop songs, whose producers seem to shout about offering the same thing as every other “name” producer. Instead, they’ve turned up the algorithmic production, causing Imagine Dragons’ music to be drowned out by the volume of Reynolds’ anthemic shouting.
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This is a quality that’s become a trademark of their sound, something touted by many of their fans. I get it, but don’t guitars have a place? You decided to include them, why not give them some space to be heard? If this were a one-man rant-act, I’d just listen to Wesley Willis.
Also to be considered is the formulaic nature of the group’s songs. In a world where the music on the radio is increasingly sounding like a group of the same four people wrote the songs (spoiler alert: that’s literally what’s going on), their music sounds like the same algorithm found a code it liked and then turned it loose, like a virus, out-of-control, unable to be stopped.
For a brief explanation, the songs have an opening riff or two, followed by Reynolds going into either pseudo-rap or soft vocals, and then the whole band chants like they’re at a campfire or a protest – or maybe a campfire at a protest? – and then back to the beginning. This is every single hit they’ve had, so it’s all the further anyone has been able to get.
There must be some fans, somewhere? I don’t know. I haven’t met anyone who has said they’re genuinely an Imagine Dragons fan. It’s usually just one or two songs they like, which is fine. I like a few of their songs, for the record.
But does all of this make them the worst band ever? I wouldn’t say so. First off, how would we even go about quantifying that? At this point, with file-sharing sites like Bandcamp and SoundCloud – as well as sites like YouTube allowing uploading – there are quite literally millions of albums and artists out there.
You’d have to sit down and write it all out with pen and paper, or make a spreadsheet or database, to figure it all out. I doubt anyone has time, so we heap all our distaste on one super-popular act.
I’d argue, as others have, that it’s this popularity that has led to the hatred of Reynolds and co. The average Internet user in Kansas or Tennessee just won’t be aware of a Japanese experimental act or a polka group from Canada with one-hundred followers – and if they are, their dislike will be offset by the ones who come out in favour of whichever group they dislike.
Imagine Dragons gets the backlash they do because they are well-known enough to experience an overload of contempt. It’s the same as with Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Twenty-One Pilots, or Post Malone. All these acts get the hate that they do because they’re mega-famous.
But with Imagine Dragons, it’s a different story. We see them mocked even more because it feels as though we’re being force-fed more so than with the other four artists. And that part may be true.
Perhaps the point isn’t so much that they deserve contempt for what they do and the kind of music they produce, as it is that we should be more disgusted that we aren’t more active in what we choose to consume. Don’t be angry at Dan Reynolds and whatever hired players he brings on.
Be mad at yourself for letting yourself be mad – when you have every chance at listening to and devouring the material that you like, on your terms.
Don’t let others define what you listen to. Be an active consumer. And remember, if you like Imagine Dragons, like them! But if you don’t, go check out more interesting stuff! Live a little in your musical experiences!
Stephanie Knarr recently moved to Pittsburgh, PA from the Harrisburg, PA area. Her writing appears in Harrisburg’s local magazine, The Burg, and her work will soon appear in Unwinnable and Five:2: One. Her favourite drink is RC Cola, and her favourite band is probably Animal Collective.