Sunday, June 12, 2011

50 Cent Gets it Right

Way back in the summer of 2010 (we sure wore some embarrassing outfits back then, huh?), sjculver sent me a link to Cee-Lo Green's "Fuck You" -- in the spirit of, "Hey, if you're in a bad mood, this will cheer you up!" She even reviewed the song and her feelings about it here.
Of course, we all know how this story ends: Cee-Lo releases a cleaned-up version of the song called "Forget You"; Gwyneth Paltrow covers the song on Glee; they perform it at the Grammys; Cee-Loo Green goes on to be a judge on NBC's The Voice*. A law is passed, whereby radio stations are required to play "Forget You" every ten minutes. The song is still a top-selling song on iTunes.

*I'm super-aware of this, as I watch NBC's Thursday comedy night, because I am a pretentious twenty-something. NBC knows that I'm sneaky and that I fast-forward through the commercials, so they even pop ads for The Voice at the bottom of the screen, so that I cannot possibly avoid them -- and even if you're as sneaky and accurate with the fast-forward as possible, you're still going to catch a little bit of a last ad before the show comes back, which is inevitably for The Voice. I feel like writing NBC some kind of letter saying, 'I respect how important advertising is [er, obviously, I have adsense on my own blog and I'm going to see how it works and how I feel about it; the jury is still out] and that you as a network are hurting right now and need ratings; I'm a total fan of your comedy programs and want you to have other, highly rated shows to make more money for you so that Parks and Recreation can stay on. But I am never going to watch The Voice. This is no offense to the show; I'm sure it's fine. But reality-show talent contests are maybe the one form of debased entertainment I don't get into. No judgment! It's just not my thing! And it's never going to be! So can I sign some kind of contract attesting to the fact that I've seen X number of ads and they have had no effect on me, and that I promise to be a good consumer and watch or buy something else? And then maybe I don't have to see the judges of The Voice giving my the "V" sign on the bottom of my screen?'

Anyway, on The Colbert Report, Colbert questioned Cee-Lo about the lyrics of "Forget You", asking some questions I'd wondered, too. Is the song addressing the man who has taken the "girl you love" away from you ("I see you driving 'round town with the girl I love and I'm like, 'Forget You' ") because it seems to change from that initial form of address to addressing the actual object of the love herself ("I guess he's an X-box and I'm more like Atari, but the way you play your game ain't fair"). Anyway, Cee-lo didn't seem to have the answers to these questions, explaining that the song wasn't in any way autobiographical (so who it is addressing is sort of a moot point).

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Cee Lo Green
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And indeed Bruno Mars came out and said that he and Cee-Lo Green wrote the song in two hours, which goes a long way to explain the incoherence in the point of view in the song and the fact that Cee-Lo Green doesn't seem particularly emotionally attached the lyrics.

So, I get that we're not supposed to take the lyrics very seriously. We're supposed to shout "FUCK YOU!" at the top of our lungs and enjoy the consonance of "I'm sorry I don't own a Ferrari" with the saucy twist of "But that don't mean I can't get you there!"

But the lyrics still bug.

For one, it's super-obnoxious to assume that the reason the girl doesn't want you is because you're not rich enough: "If I was richer, I'd still be with ya, ain't that some shit?....Oops! She's a gold digger! Just thought you should know, n----")

Really? Really? Cee-Lo Green, sour grapes called, and they wanted to tell you, they're not sour, I guess? (That fell apart, I'm sorry). The point is, it's actually sort of sexist and, beyond that, just kind of asshole-ish to assume that the only reason some lady isn't with you is because of money and that the only reason she prefers some other dude is his money.

Anyway, we're all familiar with the push-pull between despair and anger that happens when we're foiled in love: that alternation between, "I pity the fool that falls in love with you/Fuck you" and "Baby, baby, baby, why you why you want to hurt me so bad?*...I love you! I still love you!" so I get that: it's part of why the song is so fun. But it still rubs me the wrong way.

*Why are you asking, "Why?", dickhead? Didn't you answer your own question?: She's a gold-digger. Which proves the underlying unreliable narrator of the pop song: If she was really an evil whore, you wouldn't be asking "Why?" at all.

I suspect Cee-Lo Green might share some of my sentiments about the lyrics, which is why he was so insistent on the Colbert Report to distance himself personally from them: he's playing a role for fun in the song, not expressing his deepest, darkest thoughts.

So even though the last thing the world needs is another version of "Fuck/Forget You," I was still happy that when a version came out featuring 50 Cent, the rapper took the opportunity to not to underscore the narrator's point of view ("Yeah, fuck you, gold-digging bitch!") but rather to take the persona of the man who is now with the girl and to respond to the obnoxiousness of the song in general:

You know what? THANK YOU, 50 Cent. I'll even write you the freestyle for you:

You know I really don't like how you talk to my chick
I think you're just mad cause she's not your bitch
It's nobody's fault but your own you're not rich
Man, I shouldn't even have to tell you this shit
She could do better by her damn self
(You know that)
When the bills come your ass just can't help
See the red on the bottom of her Christian Louboutins
Match the Ferrari and that's why she gone?
See, I understand, I'm a man and you're sick
You should play the lotto and try to get rich quick
She won't let your love turn her into a bum
What the fuck you think she is, dumb?

Thank you! My thoughts exactly!: 1) There's no need to be an ass just 'cause you're jealous; 2) Don't take out your frustrations about not being wealthy on the girl; 3) She can do better by her damn self; 4) So what if she likes nice things?; 5) You're so fabulous she's just got to pretend she doesn't care that you're broke? Why? Especially when you're being a petulant child about the whole thing?

I maybe wouldn't have said "bitch," but other than that, right on.


Ryan said...

Totally had a reaction to the lyrics nearly identical to yours when I first heard the song. While admittedly this is likely giving entirely too much credit to Cee Lo, given we share a surname and could possibly be a distant cousin (ahem), I must play devil's advocate and suggest the song is possibly more about the irrationality of unrequited love framed in a specific relationship than it is about an honest appeal to the woman to reconsider his advances or express antipathy towards her lover. That the song's direction oscillates between tageted rage, first at the object of the author's love and then her lover, seems to be rooted in the need to fault someone other than the author, something every jilted lover has experienced in the process of working through the stages of grief.

Easy O said...

I never thought about it before, but I can actually see a distinct family resemblance between you and Cee Lo. You should get in touch!

While I agree with you that the "speaker" in the Cee Lo song expresses vacillations between anger and sorrow that are both typical of, and painfully resonant with, the pains of injured love, the fact that the the speaker's rage is expressed in such narrow, and indeed problematic, terms -- resorting to crude stereotypes that accuse his love of whore-ish-ness and gold-digging -- still needs to be addressed. For instance, it would still be inappropriate and reflect poorly on the speaker were he to hurl racial epithets at his love, were she a different race than he, even if such insults came from a place of affronted love.