The green sliver to your right represents songs that express environmental concern and don’t suck. It is populated by “Big Yellow Taxi” from Joni Mitchell. Oh, and “Mercy Mercy Me” by Marvin Gaye. “Earth Song,” by Michael Jackson, if you’re into that kind of thing. A couple of Neil Young songs. They call it a sliver for a reason.
With the recent explosion of “green” over the past few years, though, we’ve noticed a new wave of tunes that try to do better — to hip green so, you know, the kids can dance to it. Unfortunately, few of these new efforts have found their way to the sliver.
Here’s a list of recent eco-minded tunes, ranked from most to least cringeworthy. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
10. Dave Stewart (the Other Guy in the Eurythmics) has been instrumental in starting a posse of green celebrities called “Greenpeace Works,” which he characterizes, God help us all, as a “think tank.” The brain trust’s inaugural production is “Go Green,” a forgettable piece of didacticism set to stale mid-’90s pop beats. Imagine “We Are the World,” only with B-list celebs. And a corkscrew jammed in your temple.
The song is Greenpeace’s “Earth Day anthem,” which is as good an indicator as any that the human race is done for. When grumpy red staters imagine elitist liberal greens and their Gulfstream-flying Hollywood buddies, this is the soundtrack to their fuming.
9. Remember when Madonna didn’t give a f*ck what you thought? When she was just dancing around in ripped up clothes, all spunky and badass, like you could take your rules and stick ’em where the lucky star don’t shine?
We miss that Madonna. Nowadays, Madonna cares what you think. Really cares. In fact she’s tapping you on the shoulder so she can tell you what you think — thus “Hey You.” Converting Britney to Kabbalah? Fine. Making unwatchable movies? Fine. Collecting poor brown kids like tchotchkes? Hey, papa don’t preach. But this song? This is too much. Madonna must be stopped.
8. Did you know the Earth is, like, hurting? With global warming and stuff? Totally. “I don’t know what all this means,” admits synergistic multi-platform Disney entertainment conglomerate Miley Cyrus. Luckily, “tomorrow becomes another day.” Some of us grumpy post-pubescents might point out that tomorrow, insofar as it’s not today, is already another day, but hell, we’re just old! The kidz can make a diff! Wake up, America! As if you could sleep through this.
7. If you are, ahem, of a certain age, you will remember Jared Leto as the TOTALLY DREAMY Jordan Catalano from short-lived teen drama “My So-Called Life.” If you are of Generation Z or whatever we’re on now, you know Leto as the lead singer for mopey emo rockers 30 Seconds to Mars, who have distinguished themselves from dozens of other similarly tight-jeaned mopey emo rockers by … er … they went to the Arctic! To film a video, presumably in support of saving the Arctic.
Puzzlingly, the song isn’t about climate change. Or the Arctic. It’s about how life is totally a big lie and you just have to, like, maintain. “A quiet desperation’s building higher / I’ve got to remember this is just a game.” Oh, Jordan, if only it were. Er, Jared! We meant Jared!
6. Painfully bad white-boy rapping — and you’ll see more before you’re done with this list — is a delicate business. It requires a certain ironic detachment; painfully bad rappers have to be in on the goof. Ideally they deliver some good information, because if you gotta suck, you might as well suck informatively.
On all these scores, Darrick “D-Pain” Lee and Michael “Phat Mike” Darnel get a solid C. That’s C as in Canada, Land Where Laughing-At and Laughing-With Meet. These Vancouver hip-hoplings’ debut joint, “Hurtin’ Our Planet,” loses points for hectoring but gains ’em right back for the use of autotune.
5. Middle of the list, middle of the road, possibly the middle of the known universe: “I Need to Wake Up (Inconvenient Truth),” from Melissa Ethridge. Yes, this slice of OprAmerican cheese is meant to tickle Boomer ’60s nostalgia. (Wake up, hippies! Cast off those khakis!) And like most Boomer nostalgia it mistakes activism for therapy. But c’mon. Don’t you want the Boomers fired up? They’ll be retiring soon, with time on their hands. And they have all the money!
4. Slightly better white-boy rapping, from Vermont’s X-10, wins for being packed with an almost scholarly level of detail on peer-review, methane capture, efficiency, and voting margins. The song pleads with Vermont’s congress to override Gov. Jim Douglas’ veto of clean energy bill H. 520. That is keeping it real with wonk appeal. Word to the 350 in 802. Out.
3. will.i.am is making a play to be the new Bono, a performer taken seriously on matters of world import. Though he lacks Bono’s, er, understanding of matters of world import, he does have a huge Rolodex, the ability to project himself as a hologram, and an almost uncanny instinct for tickling the millennial American id, as demonstrated by his now-famous “Yes We Can” video. (Not to mention “My Humps.”)
Slightly less impactful, and with fewer lovely lady lumps, was “Take Our Planet Back,” a song Mr. i.am did for Mr. Gore. It’s a little sappy, but it does contain this immortal passage:
Nicola Tesla turned the Niagara Falls into energy way back when
and we still burnin’ coal when you can make electricity with solar and wind
now who’s gettin’ played?
and who’s getting paid?
2. In “Melting Ice,” 10-year-old Lil Peppi, the “king of eco-rap,” gets quite a bit of mileage out of a synthy old-school beat and being frakking adorable. My favorite is the outfit with the “Science Team” badge. Go Science Team!
Peppi also says “we gotta find a solution, no matter the cost,” which I take as comment on this matter.
1. Now we’re getting somewhere. “I pull up behind and you never heard a sound.” This is from comedy troupe Casual Mafia and it’s obviously supposed to be funny, but it’s kind of awesome too. They’re not making fun of my people are they?
(You might also enjoy “Douchebag Anthem.”)
Take it all the way to 11 — click to the next page to see the best eco-song out there.
Take one of the best pop songs of the last decade, add a cute girl, a goofy pink hat, and impossibly nerdy lyrics about home energy efficiency audits, and you have, quite simply, perfection. “Yeah, this record’s going LEED Platinum / If you got those skinny windows, better fatten’ em.” If this video were a man I’d gay marry it.