In HateSong, we ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world.
The hater: Anthony Jeselnik’s Comedy Central show, The Jeselnik Offensive, combines the late-night format with the uncensored feel of a podcast panel show. With guests such as Aziz Ansari, Patton Oswalt, Nick Kroll, Amy Schumer, Kristen Schaal, and many others joining him each week, Jeselnik presides over ridiculous news stories and helps to viciously pick them apart. In a segment called “Defending Your Tweet,” he reads a tweet written by a panel member and forces them to defend it—a surprisingly funny commentary on the permanence of a fickle medium. It’s the blackest version of a talk show to come along in years. The second season of The Jeselnik Offensive premières July 9.
The hated: Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” (1994)
Anthony Jeselnik: You know, I read The A.V. Club a lot, and as soon as I saw the HateSong thing, I immediately thought, “Oh my God, ‘Black Hole Sun’ by Soundgarden.” And then I got really bummed last night because I had to listen to it and watch the video again, and it’s… the worst song in the world.
The A.V. Club: Do you remember the first time you heard it?
AJ: I guarantee I was a kid… it came out in what, 1994?
AVC: Yeah, it was May 1994.
AJ: It was toward the end of MTV’s heyday, when people would just watch videos all the time, and they played the bejeezus out of “Black Hole Sun.” They tried to make it the hit of the summer, and I guess it was, but I just remember that video and it just being played constantly. The video is awful.
AVC: The video makes no sense at all.
AJ: No sense, and it’s like someone who worked on that video discovered that they could make people’s eyes and mouths bigger and thought they were James Cameron doing Terminator 2 and just threw it everywhere. It’s awful, just aggressively boring, annoying, and uncomfortable.
AVC: After the song became a huge hit, Chris Cornell said that he’d written it in about 15 minutes.
AJ: I totally believe that. I don’t believe that Soundgarden likes that song. Like, I remember Eminem once said that he knew his song “My Name Is” was going to be a huge hit because the first time he heard it he was annoyed. It’s something about an annoying song that just grabs onto people. But I don’t think that anyone likes “Black Hole Sun.” I’ve never heard of anyone who likes it. I don’t understand why it gets played so much. It’s become a summer jam, and it’s not a summer song at all.
AVC: Kim Thayil called it the “Dream On” of their set.
AJ: But I like “Dream On”—I fucking love that song. Every key of this song is designed to annoy. It’s aggressively annoying. The pacing of it—it’s over five minutes long, which is inexcusable. It should be two minutes, then maybe I wouldn’t hate it so much, but it’s the one song where every time it comes on the radio I will dive for the dial and change it.
AVC: There’s a story in New York Times Magazine about Jason Everman, who got kicked out of Nirvana and then Soundgarden, and ended up as a Special Forces soldier.
AJ: Yeah, I heard about that.
AVC: Getting kicked out of Nirvana is one thing, but getting kicked out of Soundgarden sounds like a blessing in disguise.
AJ: Absolutely, maybe he wasn’t ugly enough to fit in with the rest of the band and they had to get rid of him, and then he had to go to war to get “Black Hole Sun” out of his head.
AVC: Did the song get progressively more annoying to you as it went on, or was it just immediately something you hated?
AJ: I never would’ve thought about it again, the first time I heard of it, except they just played it all the time. It’s almost Pavlovian, you just hear the keys start to come up and hear him start to say, “Black hole sun, won’t you come” over and over again, and it’s this malaise that infects your brain. I think the more I hear it, the worse it is. The first time I heard it, if I’d never heard it again, I would never think of it. It’s just a bad song that got way overplayed and it’s still overplayed. It’s the one song I’ll hear all the time, still.
AVC: It’s on alt-rock radio all the time.
AJ: It crosses all barriers, and it sucks every time.
AVC: Cornell called the lyrics “the closest to just playing with words for words’ sake” of anything he’s written. And reading them now, that makes sense.
AJ: Absolutely, they’re completely nonsensical and—I don’t know a lot about music, but the tune is terrible. If you just heard the instrumental version, you’d want to kill yourself. And when you hear the words, the lyrics are brutal, and the way he sings them. If you watch the video, look at the band while they’re playing the song. They have the look on their faces that everyone has when they listen to the song, of just pure unadulterated boredom and annoyance.
AVC: That video is particularly abysmal.
AJ: It’s just trying too hard. I don’t know what they were doing, if they were trying to make a commentary on something about people in the suburbs, but every character is annoying in their own way, they all have this dumb look on their faces. It’s like, “Okay, you’re chopping up a fish, or you’re combing your hair,” but they do it as hard as they can. It’s just this slow draw from beginning to end, there’s no story, there’s nothing you could ever enjoy. Every single person in that video sucks, every actor sucks, and the director sucks. Everything about it just sucks.
AVC: It has all those canted-angle shots of the band with those terrible green screen clouds behind them.
AJ: Oh, it’s the worst green screen. And then the black hole shows up. I read a little bit about it, and they said that they had done two versions of the video. One version was kind of lo-fi with a little bit of effect, but then when it started to get a lot of airplay, they did another one with even more stretched-face effects. But you never see one and think, “Oh, that’s cool.” I’ve never reacted so badly to a special effect before, and they use it over and over again.
AVC: Then that black hole starts sucking everything up by the end.
AJ: It looks like someone spilled a Pepsi on a projector, is what it looks like. It just doesn’t look like anything remotely resembling a black hole, or that you would ever be scared of, or that these people somehow deserve whatever fate they’re getting by being pulled into a sun. I assume that’s like the physical embodiment of the experience of listening to “Black Hole Sun”—being yanked out of your life toward a black hole.
AVC: Is it just this Soundgarden song, or do you hate all of them?
AJ: I don’t like Chris Cornell’s voice. Some people are like, “You must not like Eddie Vedder or Scott Weiland,” but I love both those guys. It’s just something about Chris Cornell, that everything he sings sounds awful and the same. He sings everything the same.
AVC: Does that affect your opinion of Audioslave as well, even with the guys from Rage Against The Machine?
AJ: Oh absolutely, Audioslave was ruined for me. I even hate “Spoonman.” But something about “Black Hole Sun” slowed him down enough for maximum atrocity. I hate it. It wasn’t even a question of what to pick. My only fear of doing this segment was that you would say someone else just did “Black Hole Sun,” and then I wouldn’t know what to do.