Unmentionables

I am one of the Mongol hordes who have fbed and twatted and blogged about this Cee-Lo video, the name of which most media outlets describe as “unmentionable” because of its profane lyrical content. I am also one of the silent many who have put up with the backlash of sentiment against the song, not—mind you—-objecting to its profanity, but rather to its patriarchical rant against this “gold digging” woman whom the protagonist has lost but pains for.

Finally there’s a response that acknowledges this problem in the song, but addresses it with a reasonable amount of adult skepticism about getting up on our high horses when (A) the song is hot and fun, and just as novelty as you’d like, and (B) things suck right now.

Without further ado,the “Pop Off” team, Maura Johnston and Jay Smooth of Illdoctrine.com.

Jay Smooth: So Cee Lo’s new song — it’s unmentionable yet unavoidable. How did this song become so ubiquitous overnight, despite having a title I can’t say here?

Maura Johnston: Well, it helps that this is the second single he’s assisted on to successfully capture the seeming national mood in five years. In 2006, Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” lit up peoples’ iTunes playlists.

MJ: And in the summer of 2010 — a summer marked by oppressive heat, a lousy economy, widespread political rancor, and a frustrated flight attendant who cursed out a passenger before exiting his plane via the emergency slide being briefly transformed into a national hero — it seems almost inevitable that a song with an angrily expletive-laden chorus would become a viral hit.

MJ: Plus the fact that while the unprintable kiss-off is being delivered, Cee Lo sounds almost *joyful* … it definitely helps.

MJ: And dropping it on a Friday in August with a catchy-looking video in which the unmentionable words dance across the YouTube window? That’s almost up there with a yawning kitten as far as a surefire Internet hit.

JS: Yeah, this is why I’m torn between loving the song, hating it, and hating to love it. Mixing the wholesome nostalgia and joyful bounce of the Motown sound with the profane sentiment of the title is such a simple and obvious conceit that this track almost feels like a novelty song. (See also: Dre and Snoop’s “Ain’t No Fun” and Ani DiFranco’s “Untouchable Face“, or the nerdy remakes of gangsta rap songs like Ben Folds’ “B*****s Ain’t S***” and Dynamite Hack’s “Boyz-N-The-Hood.”)

JS: But it’s so well executed, and the pottymouthed catharsis of singing along with the chorus just hits the spot too well. I can’t resist it — it’s like sugar water. Under normal circumstances nobody considers that a meal, but if you’re stuck in a mine and need that basic sustenance it’s the only thing that works. Not to make light of what is a far more serious situation, but emotionally speaking we’ve been stuck in a mine and need that simple sugar water of yelling [SONG TITLE!] along with Cee Lo.

MJ: Especially when you’re reading the newspaper these days.

MJ: But what of the words that link the kiss-offs — the verses?

JS: I tend to wonder how much attention people will pay to the actual verses, which are a fairly trite serving of sour grapes, with Cee Lo dismissing the woman who just left him as a “gold-digger” and so on. I could live without yet another pop song demonizing women for daring to have standards, and guys are already latching onto the song as a blow for their side in the battle of the sexes. Samhita from Feministing said that male friends of hers are posting the song on FaceBook alongside “yeah take that, uppity women!” sentiments.

MJ: Yeah, I can definitely see the verses being a minefield as far as men trying to complain about women who they think Want Too Much (this seems like an appropriate place to note that 50 Cent, class act that he is, has already tacked on a verse in which he plays the role of the richer-than-thou lady-stealer).

JS: But I think the song’s basic sentiment will override the details, and people will reclaim it for whatever grievance they prefer.

MJ: A la “Born In The USA,” or “Every Breath You Take.”

JS: Ha, yes. And it should be noted that Cee Lo may even be doing a Randy Newman-style mockery of the sulking male ego, which is given away with the “wahhh!”s toward the end. I actually thought of Prince’s begging at the end of “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” when he’s desperately pleading for more time with her.

JS: And Prince, back then, was a master of the “unreliable narrator,” conjuring up sincere emotion while also seeming to mock himself.

MJ: So then does that mean that the joke is on the two of us? Because I think that would inspire yet ANOTHER round of swearing.

JS: I just wonder if we’ll be cursing the song itself about nine months from now, when the song is settled in as a karaoke staple and featured on the soundtracks to Sex And the City 3 and/or Eat Pray Love 2, with Julia Roberts and or Sarah Jessica Parker singing it to herself in the bathroom mirror while she gets her mojo back.

MJ: Only nine months? I think you’re being generous. I personally can’t wait until Bristol Palin cha-chas to it on Dancing With The Stars.

JS: Oh dear. Is she really going to be on that show? [SONG TITLE!!!]

MJ: Yes. Which, I mean, just proves that this is the song’s time. NOW MORE THAN EVER.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “Unmentionables

  1. zeneba

    Jenn,
    this story was SO huge in England that week! This woman was identified through CCTV, and attributed this action to ‘stress’. She was named on national TV (repeatedly, every day, for all the days we were there), and she was receiving many death threats. I think she had to get police protection.

  2. Jenn Lena

    One amusing note: You posted your comment in the thread about Cee-Lo’s song “Fuck You.” Funny to imagine the woman Cee-Lo’s protagonist misses was named on British TV and faced death threats.
    But you’re obviously talking about the cat bin lady.

  3. Peter

    The official video to this song (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pc0mxOXbWIU) makes me like it a whole lot less. A whole lot. I wonder what your reaction is to it.

    For me, I think it’s clear this is not (and never really was) a “Randy Newman-style mockery of the sulking male ego” from the video, and the fun of the song for me is the quick line between how up and fun the song is, the kind of funniness of the lyrics, and a bit of the burying of the sentiment behind it. The visuals for the video now, instead of typography, unbury that sentiment.

    The little girl and the ladykiller aren’t helping. There’s something about saying fuck you to a little girl that strikes me as just mean, and the ‘just desserts’ combined with Cee-Lo being the man at the end makes him out to be just another I’m-rich-rub-it-in-your-face jerk.

  4. Jenn Lena

    I’ll probably have to see it a few more times before I’m certain how I feel. My first reaction is different than yours–the “just desserts” at the end I like and although the scene with the youngest kids is disarming, the truth is that I’ve always felt we do a disservice pretending that kids’ emotions don’t come in adult sized disappointment cups. But let me think. Thanks for posting it.

  5. Bridget

    When I listened to it, I thought of it as a man trying to find a reason that he had been left by the woman that he loves. Perhaps its the social psychologist in me, but I thought it was him labeling her as a gold digger because that means that the fault is hers and that this other guy is not truly better than him at all.

    The only part of the video that bothered me was the end (where she has a mop?), but even that makes sense in terms of struggling for an explanation that makes us feel better about ourselves. Jenn, I like your point about “pretending that kids’ emotions don’t come in adult sized disappointment cups.”

    I get the critiques. And, there is an issue with this stereotype for women and we probably don’t need more media reinforcing it. But, if art imitates life, a man using this stereotype to feel better rings true. But, even with that, I love this song. Thanks for posting it, because I hadn’t seen it elsewhere.

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