As dance music and pop culture in general continues the trend of turning back the clock (at clubs like our own beloved Decades), it’s probably a good time to sit down and think about those guilty pleasure songs that we’re probably going to be hearing a great deal moving forward. For as much as some of us cringe when we hear certain one-time hits, there’s something about some songs that allow them to still retain their classic appeal forever. From rap, to rock, to electronica, teen pop, and more, there are some songs that, though our eyes may roll when we hear them are still impressively get people moving, even right now. In a list compiled from everything from Billboard charts to numerous journalistic and DJ perspectives, here’s the top 10 biggest guilty pleasure club songs of the modern era.
The Backstreet Boys are unquestionably the greatest-selling boy band of all time. However, from an over-the-top video that features the band in a haunted house, plus signature whoops, hollers and more on the track itself, it’s one of the most unavoidable radio and MTV hits of its era. When your song is so massive that it finds its way into everything from Finding Nemo to the “Howard Stern” show, to being covered by “Weird Al” Yankovic, it definitely is going to get a response. With 12 million singles sold and being a top ten hit in 23 countries worldwide, it set a standard for hit songs that very few club-ready jams may ever meet or exceed.
The Spice Girls sold seven million copies of their hit song “Wannabe” in 1997 ALONE. A number one hit in 22 nations worldwide, there’s a mix of mass commercial marketing, good looking women, undeniable “girl power” feminism and extremely sing-able hooks that allow it to appeal to huge crowds in nightclubs forever. The songs that appealed to teenagers and college students in the late 90s appealing to 40-something mothers and professionals in the current age is where there might be a twinge of guilt in screaming about how in order to be your lover, a guy first has to be friends with ALL of your friends, but one “zigga zig uh” later, and all is forgotten.
German electronica artist Haddaway being so completely impassioned about understanding the definition of love makes this song a hit, but in retrospect might cause someone to pause and think, too. A stomping and pulsing wave of synth-driven electronic bliss, the vocal track adds significantly to its appeal, and ultimately really drives home to many what the early ‘90s both sounds and feels like. Guilt here might be that moment when you come to realize that it’s having a hook and beat that lock in perfect step that makes the biggest pop impact.
Remixes are the easiest way to both change a song’s appeal as well as extend its shelf life from pop radio into the nightclub. In the case of Italian DJ Miko’s cover remix of 4 Non Blondes’ 1993 hit grunge ballad, adding a hardstyle-like rave effect to the original’s yearning vocal-driven performance created significant crossover excitement. Miko became somewhat of a Eurodance superstar because of the remix, also taking a crack at The Knack’s 1980 smash “My Sharona” and 1982 Buggles hit “Video Killed The Radio Star” and more. Outside of a nightclub, a song feeling like it’s drumming deep into your soul might sound horrifying. However, at 1 AM on a Saturday night, there’s no better feeling in the world.
There’s a good rule of thumb when it comes to guilty pleasure songs. Songs that are actually describing things that are real-life guilty pleasures likely have a much better time of having a longer-lasting appeal. Thus, Shaggy’s big-time 2000 hit about a case of mistaken identity during a mate’s potential cheating episode absolutely fits the bill. Add in a sing-song hook, party-ready raps and reggae-fusion production and it’s an ideal blend.
1994’s most top-of-the-charts impacting pop act were Swedish quartet Ace of Base. Reaching as far back as the age of ABBA, Sweden’s had an undeniable cheesy-yet-top-selling effect on the American music marketplace. Many of the same elements that made ABBA great, from dance-ability to a two-man/two-woman dynamic are present here. Similar to what allowed “Dancing Queen” to conquer the charts 20 year prior to “Don’t Turn Around,” it’ impressive that 25 years later, both songs are equally beloved.
Most anyone who’s familiar with the soundtrack of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey star vehicle film Dirty Dancing has a very particular opinion about the song that accompanies the film’s ultimate dance sequence. The only Grammy and Academy Award-winning song on the list i this one though, which certainly speaks to one level of the song certainly being pleasurable. As far as the guilt in guilty pleasure, maybe there’s something in the film’s finest moments including lines like “never put baby in a corner” that has more to do with it than the clear excellence of the song itself.
Though not exactly Miley Cyrus proclaiming herself to be “Naughty by Nature like I’m ‘Hip Hop Hooray’” on her 2013 song “23,” “a Jay Z song was [definitely] on” for Billy Ray Cyrus’ daughter on 2009’s “Party In The USA.” One of the best-selling singles of all time, there’s something in Hannah Montana going “Hip-Hop” Montana that isn’t quite as seamless here as it was four years after this song’s release that makes it possibly one of the guiltiest pleasure songs of the past decade.
As an era, rap-metal spawned a ton of material that from Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie” to Kid Rock’s “Bawitdaba” and more, doesn’t exactly have unlimited appeal for the average dance floor. However, if you were to tune down the thrash and say, insert a looping melodic hook from Andrea True Connection’s cheekily seductive 1976 disco hit “More More More,” you’d have Len’s guilty pleasure one-hit wonder “Steal My Sunshine.” It’s the mix of rap, disco and pop-metal awkwardly coming together that multiple layers of guilty pleasure pop connectivity.
Swedish radio pop that blends bossa nova style and massive hooks defines The Cardigans’ 1996 single “Lovefool’s” guilty pleasure appeal. Add onto the song’s success the fact that it was included on the soundtrack of melodramatic teen-aimed reboot of the film version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as well as sexy teen romp Cruel Intentions, and there’s something about the song that truly speaks to the awkward and shy ‘90s mall-rat in all of us. However, when publications as vaunted as Pitchfork rate the song as one of the 100 best of the 90s it overcomes any guilty association and can be revelled in pleasurably on the dance floor.