By Kieran Graulich
Hello and welcome to “Last Resort,” a weekly column where I will reach back in time and take a look at what many consider the worst – and most painful – releases in music history. (And remember, this is all in good humor.)
Of course, music is an entirely subjective art. What I and others may find to be treacherous may be another’s favorite album. However, I think the best place to start is with what we can probably all agree to be one of the worst albums of all time.
This honor belongs to TV-personality, backup dancer, and ex-trophy husband Kevin Federline and his 2006 magnum opus “Playing with Fire.”
Released shortly before the demise of his marriage to Britney Spears, “Playing with Fire” is currently the lowest-rated album on Metacritic. It’s a prime example of what happens when a “personality” celebrity (read: someone who is famous for absolutely no reason) tries to prove themselves worthy of the fame that’s been handed to them and fails miserably. A personality celebrity branching out into something other than “Jon and Kate Plus Eight” and making a name for themselves is certainly not a bad thing: Kim Kardashian managed to maintain her image by branching into fashion business, and others like… well, maybe that’s it. Nonetheless, expanding yourself as an artist is not inherently a bad thing. However, Kevin Federline approaches his “art” in every wrong and selfish way possible, making it very clear he cares about little other than his fame, money, and – every once in a while – his wife.
“Playing with Fire” is the album that moviemakers will use in the background of their films in 2045 when making fun of the 00s and its music. It certainly has all the characteristics of a 00’s pop/rap album – flashy, materialistic, shallow, etc. While most popular albums of the 00s shared these traits, they were usually also coupled with lush and extensive production and were (usually) fun to listen to. “Playing with Fire” manages to encapsulate the worst of both worlds: vapid and selfish, yet poorly produced and an absolute bore to listen to. The beats on this album are of mixtape quality, which would be fine if a) this were a mixtape and b) Kevin Federline were a rapper.
Our hero K-Fed does try to pass himself off as a rapper; yet his lack of flow and interesting lyrics hinder that illusion. While many singers can rap and many rappers can sing, very seldom does an artist try to do both at the same time. However, K-Fed doesn’t try to do either: on countless songs on this album, Federline is not rapping or singing, he is actually just speaking over what afterthought beat his producers gave him.
If it seems like he just doesn’t care, it’s because he doesn’t. He makes it clear over and over that he could not care less about anything that isn’t his fame – and that includes not caring about the quality of his music at all. The entire lyrical body of this album is about Federline using his wife’s money to impress others.
Ironically, even though all of his wealth and fame comes from his wife, Federline spends a good portion of the album’s run time marketing himself to other women: the lines, “Girl make me happy and please make it snappy/I give you an order, you better run like an athlete,” and, “Like ‘Kev you still married’/ Yeah bitch, you can holla and call security,” are spoken on the same song. There are other lyrical gems on here, such as, “Everywhere I go they drop the red carpet/I’m the pancake man, fuck a handshake, man,” that pepper the album.
With almost no effort or time committed to the product, “Playing with Fire” was trashed universally by critics. A week after the album’s release, Britney actually filed for divorce and separated from Kevin.
He claimed to be shocked.
Kieran Graulich is a staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.