Cee-Lo’s new song is brilliant, and not just because it uses a brandishes a bad word about like the flag of a conquering army. It may be a deft creative strike against the plague of being overplayed into oblivion.
In pop music, you have this rarefied echelon of songs that start with the artists’ loyal following, slip into mainstream play and suddenly become ubiquitous at sporting events, BBQs, bar jukeboxes, and even the iPod nano your mother takes to the gym. See: Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle,” Feist’s “1234.” Contrast this to any song from the Black Eyed Peas or Smashmouth, which seem to be constructed solely with the intent of seeing how many commercials and between-inning stadium pumping-up they could profit from.
Even rarer is the strata that “Hey Ya” and Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” occupy which, despite an unrelenting assault of repetitiveness after hitting the mainstream, are strong enough to hold against the wear and tear of overplay. Even on the 100th listen at University of Maryland basketball games in 2004, “Hey Ya” still got people out of their seats and singing along. It was just that good.
Cee-Lo’s new song, the title of which instructs you to forcibly have sex with yourself, may have brilliantly built in an automatic defense against overplay. Simply put: you’re not going to find many sports events, TV commercials or mainstream top-40 radio stations that are going to let Mr. Green tell his ex and her new beau to get effed at the top of his lungs. The artistry of the song is just as good as “Crazy,” and it’s possibly even more catchy. And the profanity is so integral to the song’s success that a watered down edited version would be a moot point to the millions of people who lost their mind about it on the internet in just the first week of its release.
The genius may go even deeper. Billboard reports today that an edited version of the song will be making its way to radio soon. It’s called “Forget You,” and you can hear it here from the BBC’s Trevor Nelson show (skip ahead to the 52-minute mark). Compared to the original, it sucks. The whole crux of the song is the wining soul of a scorned lover. The way he drops the F bomb isn’t casual; it’s a remote-guided patriot missile using the latest navigation technology.
So even if the watered down version gets an intense amount of radio play (how could it not? What else is out there, anyway?), “Fuck You” will still be the true song, and it won’t be forced down our throats at every turn. Gaining this kind of instant following and broad penetration would be impossible in the days when artists relied on radio and album sales to spread their music. F You would be buried on the album somewhere, enjoyed mostly by devoted fans who bought the full release.
I like to think Cee Lo did this on purpose. Overplay ruins a song faster than anything else. I was amazed this week while taking a road trip in a rental car with no audio choice but to turn on the radio, that Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” was still in heavy rotation. STILL. I was already sick of hearing this song before Beavis and Butthead even premiered. And yet stations think people still want to hear this, at least a few times a day?
Cee-Lo might be throwing a bone to economics by releasing a radio-friendly version. But the fact that the original he put online last week was such an instant success is kind of a jab at the mainstream music ecosystem, especially since he did it through a text-only video that maximizes the impact of the words. Sure, he said, I’ll make money off hearing this song on CSI’s credits or on Starbucks radio. But for the way I really feel, you’ll have to listen to this one on your own terms.
I might be able to still handle hearing “Jeremy” if we had this option 18 years ago.