Whether you’re a heavy metal guy who has a secret love of a certain boy band or a hip hop head that can’t help but groove to some hair band’s power ballad, guilty pleasure music comes in many shapes and sizes.
And if we’re being honest, everyone has some guilty pleasure songs. But how do you define a guilty pleasure? Is it a song from a genre you wouldn’t normally listen to that you secretly groove to? Is it something that’s cheesy and corny that you can’t help but love?
Most importantly, is it something you should even feel guilty about? We all like being seen as a person of exquisite taste, but if you like a song, should you really feel guilty about it? As long as a song isn’t advocating for something bad like harming someone else, why feel guilty?
So let’s put our collective guilt aside and think about how something gets classified as a guilty pleasure and look at a list of some great guilty pleasure bands and songs. After that, we can put our new knowledge to good use with some party ideas so you can revel in all of your friends’ guilty pleasures as much as they indulge in yours.
Where Do They Come From?
Seriously, though. Where do guilty pleasure songs come from? For the most part, no one sets out to make music that people won’t admit to liking. So how does it happen? It’s not like there are dedicated guilty pleasure artists just looking to make secret hits.
These songs that people pretend not to like actually come from a lot of different avenues. Let’s break down some of the most common origins of guilty pleasures with a few examples of each.
Perhaps no source contributes more guilty pleasure songs to the culture at large than one-hit wonders. These songs from artists who never managed to follow up with a second hit often outlive better songs from their eras in the public consciousness because they’re just so catchy.
The 80s and 90s were full of one-hit wonders. Probably the biggest one-hit wonder of all time came out in the 90s— the Bayside Boys remix of The Macarena by Los Del Rio. It was everywhere for a while. And it still shows up alongside The Chicken Dance as a song your drunk aunt will go all out for at a wedding dance.
A list of guilty pleasures from this source include:
- I’m Too Sexy, by Right Said Fred: An English guy lists various things for which he is too sexy
- How Bizarre, by OMC: A guy lists some things that are bizarre, I guess. The chorus is really good.
- You Spin Me Round (Like a Record), by Dead or Alive: The singer gets spun right round like a record, baby.
- Tubthumping, by Chumbawumba: A person gets knocked down but they get up again. You’re ne-ever gonna keep them down.
Memes and Oddities
From getting Rickrolled to falling down a YouTube rabbit hole of weird music videos, the internet is a gold mine of guilty pleasure songs. TikTok has become a great source for music as memes. It seems like every other day another video goes viral with a sound from some obscure song.
These songs become guilty pleasures because you start listening to them ironically. But as you listen more and more, you stop laughing at the song and start genuinely digging what you’re hearing. That could mean there’s a good beat or a solid song structure, but something gets you to keep coming back.
What are some guilty pleasures from this source? I’m glad you asked.
- Never Gonna Give You Up, by Rick Astley: The most important meme song ever. As long as the internet exists, safe money says people will keep getting Rickrolled.
- Gimme Chocolate, by Babymetal: Though they have since developed into a legit group that has been endorsed by the likes of Rob Zombie and Rob Halford from Judas Priest, this first big kawaii metal song is still jarring to listen to. It’s got a great hook, though.
- Gangnam Style, by Psy: The song that kind of broke Kpop into the mainstream in America, this comedic gem from South Korea’s clown prince is as catchy as covid.
- Friday, by Rebecca Black: Does it feel bad to make fun of the kid who recorded this? Yeah. Does it feel really great to sing along as loud as you can without having to worry about how bad you sound? YES.
Things Teenage Girls Like
Ok. Time for some real talk. The tastemakers and gatekeepers of what is cool to like have always turned their noses up at the stuff that teenage girls like. If you want proof, tell a music snob that you’ve always thought of The Beatles as a boy band (which they were) and see how mad he gets.
The fact is that no matter how well constructed or catchy a song is, if it was recorded by a young woman or a group of good looking boys, it will face judgment from a large segment of the population. This is unfortunate because teenage girls like some awesome stuff.
- We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, by Taylor Swift: There could be a million different Swift songs here, but this one has one of the most infectious hooks ever. How can you resist singing along to this one?
- Butter, by BTS: Amazing production quality, a cohesive, impressive sound that blends pop and hip hop influences, and a band leader that used to be called “Rap Monster.”
- As It Was, by Harry Styles: Harry Styles is very pretty. Also, this song has a great, driving beat that Styles’ voice positively floats over.
- Bye Bye Bye, by *NSYNC: This is a bit of a throwback, but name a better song from the late 90s boy band boom. You can’t. This song and its associated dance rules.
Every parent wants their kid to love the same music as them. It doesn’t always work out that way. One of the most damning things you can hear a teen say about a piece of music is, “Ugh. That sounds like something my dad would listen to.”
But this section isn’t called parent music. It’s called dad music. That’s because there’s a certain x-factor to a piece of music that immediately makes you think of dads vibing out.
Some dad music guilty pleasure songs are:
- Photograph, by Nickelback: The poster boys for uncool but extremely popular music, Nickelback oozes the essence of dad rock into every ear that listens to them.
- Sailing, by Christopher Cross: For the wistful dad, nothing can compare.
- The Joker, by Steve Miller Band: While this is bordering on grandad rock at this point, nothing says “I’m a dad but I still party” like this song.
- Just the Two of Us, by Will Smith: This is literally a song about being a dad. The most memorable line from it is “Daddy loves You! Daddy loves You!” after all.
Corny and/or Cheesy Music
For some people, admitting that they have wants, needs, and feelings in general is the height of being uncool. But those are the people who get home and crank up the corniest music even when they think no one is listening.
This is where those hair band power ballads and syrupy slick pop songs come into play. The songs that are so sincere, you don’t quite believe them at first. But somehow, they still speak to that part of you that’s still a teenager experiencing a first crush.
These are songs that a bus full of people will wind up singing together in spite of themselves. Songs like:
- Sister Christian, by Night Ranger: This comes on, and the whole room will be singing “You’re Motorin’! What’s your price for flight?!” before the song is over.
- To Be With You, by Mr. Big: Another great sing along song. This singer just wants to be with you! Deep inside he hopes you feel it, too!
- Truly Madly Deeply, by Savage Garden: This song is almost hyperbolically cheesy. Fun fact: this song sounds great when sung by soccer fans.
- Wonderwall, by Oasis: Nothing kills a party faster than a dude whipping this out on the acoustic guitar he just happened to bring with him. But this song is really earnest and fun to sing along to outside of that specific context.
Music That Defines the Dumbest Trends of a Decade
Nostalgia is one hell of a drug. And sometimes there are songs that are so representative of the dumbest parts of a decade, you can’t help but think back to those days if you lived in them. If you didn’t live in them, you usually just laugh at how stupid the people were back then to like such a thing.
These guilty pleasure songs have often outlived the songs whose good qualities the artists were poorly mimicking. Sometimes they are just a snapshot of a moment in time. A very, very dumb moment in time.
Let’s take a look at some standouts of this variety:
- Funkytown, by Lipps, Inc: This was the turning point between 70s disco and 80s synth-heavy pop. It’s a great song, but you still cringe a little when you listen to it.
- Mambo No. 5, by Lou Bega: For some reason, big band and swing music had a big resurgence in the 90s. This was an offshoot of that movement. It was more popular than lots of songs that were truer to the big band sound, though. It’s just very of-its-time.
- I Ran, by A Flock of Seagulls: Nothing defined the toothless pop that killed New Wave better than the lead singer of A Flock of Seagulls’ hairstyle. Nothing.
- What Is Love, by Haddaway: This song not only defined 90s dance music, it defined bad early 2000s club music as well. That’s thanks to the characters played by Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan on Saturday Night Live.
And these categories are just the tip of the guilty pleasure iceberg. You could start thinking of different guilty pleasure songs and pretty much never stop. So once you have a list, what do you do with it?
Guilty Pleasure Parties
There are lots of great guilty pleasure party ideas out there, but perhaps the most inclusive of your guests is the collective guilty pleasure playlist.
For this type of party, have everyone that’s coming prepare a list of a few of their favorite guilty pleasures. As people arrive, collect those songs in a streaming playlist. You may want to create a private event playlist so that everyone’s guilty pleasure songs don’t corrupt your streaming algorithm.
When you have all your guests and all of their songs in a list, set the list to play in a random order. Then you can try to guess whose song is whose, have huge sing-alongs, and generally enjoy how silly and fun everyone’s guilty pleasures are.
Let Your Freak Flag Fly
The reason people hide their guilty pleasures is that they are afraid of judgment from the people around them. We all want to be seen as cool. But even the coolest person in the world likes some things that someone else might think is a little corny.
Guilty pleasure songs don’t hurt anyone, so throw away your hang-ups and embrace them! You might discover that the people you were afraid of have the same silly tastes as you!