Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Cee-Lo – Fuck You



Alfred Soto: At a party during Labor Day weekend two friends who can’t spell “Mediafire” were blasting this from an iPhone. That’s the audience for whom this track seems designed: casual listeners who know a good novelty record when they hear it. So do I.

Doug Robertson: It’d be easy to dismiss this as a bit of a sweary novelty, much along the lines of Eamon’s abomination, but there’s an upbeat joyousness about this that’s hard to ignore. Bouncing along like an aggrieved toddler on a space hopper, this is the fun side of bitterness; a raised middle finger with a fluffy puppet on the end.

Rebecca Toennessen: Yes! *Punches fist in the air* This is what I’m talking about. How much fun is this song? (A: all the fun). Cee-Lo’s got sarcasm, wit and humour and he ain’t afraid to use it — lyrically and vocally. I had to listen to this three times in a row. Possibly my favourite single so far this year.

Al Shipley: Recently here I defended the Neon Trees song as “catchy,” and Raposa zinged me back with “I think the adjective you really want to use is ‘virulent’.” I think the word applies well to this song, way more than “viral.” In short, fuck this.

Katherine St Asaph: Titling your new track “Fuck You” is such an obvious move that it almost shouldn’t work. In one fell swoop, you’ve roped in the fratty set (my downstairs neighbors have played it twice so far in one night) and gotten countless juicy headlines and blog posts, even if half of them think they need to use symbol soup. It speaks volumes about our ridiculous “decency” standards that this works so well, but if you object, just listen to the thing. The cursing isn’t the point. It’s just the vector that lodges Cee-Lo’s melody into your brain, indefinitely.

Martin Skidmore: He’s possibly my favourite new singer of the last twenty years or so, with gorgeous sweet soul tones combined with a nimble and muscular post-hip hop sense of rhythm and a convincing way with throwaway asides. I’m also all for being so blatantly radio-unfriendly, and I like the conflict in the lyric, the impulse to yell “fuck you” at your ex fighting the “I still love you” feelings. The disco backing here suits him fine too, giving him space and reason for a whole range of vocal styles and effects. A total joy on every level.

Mallory O’Donnell: This is way more enjoyable if you forget that it’s just the novelty single of last month and instead inject a subtext into it. Like, how hilarious would this be if this song and its whole bizarro retro-soul shtick were actually directed at Amy Winehouse? ‘Cause, really, fuck her.

Alex Macpherson: Yeah, you may as well accept — or resign yourself to — it now: you’ll be hearing “Fuck You” many, many more times in your life. Office parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs, probably wakes as well. It’s just one of those songs that seemed to emerge as an already-ubiquitous, fully-formed pop culture standard. That’s no reason to go overboard, though, either with “BEST SONG EVAH!” nonsense borne from the mistaken equation of popular with good, or with pre-emptivey creeping ennui. It’s too soon to tell whether “Fuck You” will be a “Single Ladies”, a mediocre song made great by its cultural position, or a “Hey Ya”, a mediocre song that swiftly becomes actively hateable from ubiquity. So, what we have here: a pretty catchy, moderately funny, but not especially distinctive ditty that plays a bit too heavily on the public’s uncritical adoration of retro signifiers, though at least Cee-Lo’s wry, shit-happens shrug of a performance is light enough to avoid bitterness. Definitely better than Gnarls Barkley’s boring-ass “Crazy”, definitely not as good as Cee-Lo’s collaboration with Fantasia on her new album, and several hundred miles behind Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” in both craft and charm.

Anthony Easton: The writing is so sharp, the vocal delivery is wry, those ooos are just lovely, the chorus might be the easiest to sing along to this year. This is a smart song that is so slippery that it cannot be written about smartly — sure you can trace the antecedents, where it came from and where it is going, but it’s as pleasurable, and as sophisticated as Koenig’s Case Study House 13, and so you just live in it.

Rodney J. Greene: You can be reductive and say the appeal is entirely Motown-plus-cussing. Yeah, sure. But that ignores two important factors. One, the more obvious, is Cee-Lo Green himself. Sweet Suga Lo is such a joy, so open and magnanimous, that any malice in the lyric just sounds like a smile and a rejoinder to sing along. The other factor at work is why Motown-plus-cussing works. Of course everybody and their great-grandma likes Motown and we all chortle like schoolboys when we encounter dirty language unexpectedly, but it isn’t as simple as that. The anachronistic cursewords serve to strip away any context implied by sound. Cee-Lo writes a song a Motown staffer would never write, and thereby avoids any risk of “Fuck You” sounding like a dusty period piece. Amy Winehouse gets this. Raphael Saadiq doesn’t. However, unlike the more lived-in, analog feel of Winehouse’s work, Cee-Lo opts for as bright and shiny and modern of a production as possible. This ironically aligns him with the Sound of Young America’s commerce-minded spirit more than the tambourines and “ooh-ooh-ooh” backgrounds ever could, cleverly reaffirming this song’s retroness and modernity at once.

John Seroff: As a long-time Goodie Mob/solo Cee-Lo/Gnarls Barkley fan, it pains me to pan what’s likely to be Carlito’s biggest break-out solo hit but this is a glazed doughnut: painted with sugar and hollow in the middle. It’s catchy, sure; it’s also built on surprisingly weak and formulaic songwriting. Cee-Lo’s voice is amazing as always but there’s no emotional grounding; Kelis covered this ground much more convincingly and madly and in a way that holds up a decade later. On the other hand, “Fuck You” goes from fun to frustrating in only a few listens. What a bummer.

Kat Stevens: The unlucky protagonist in Weird Al’s “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” lists a number of assassination attempts he has escaped, committed by his rather creative girlfriend. The delicate acoustic guitar picking contrasts the descriptions of bathtub piranhas and cranial drilling, which in turn contrasts the singer’s naive melancholy as it slowly dawns on him that there’s a possibility his girlfriend is no longer enamoured of him. That song is eighteen years old, and it was an ancient joke even then. Thousands of similar retreads of violent, profane, lewd or surreal lyrics over traditionally heartbreaking ballads or breezy gospel choirs (see also William Shatner’s “You’re Gonna Die”) have now found their spiritual home on YouTube. So what makes the cheerful swearing in “Fuck You” so fresh and enjoyable in 2010? Buggered if I know.

27 Responses to “Cee-Lo – Fuck You”

  1. I am proud (or not proud, who cares) to say that I have yet to hear this song. Never really cared about anything else Cee-Lo’s done since his Goodie Mob days (“Crazy” included), and I’ve been busy listening to other music, so I haven’t bothered to actively seek it out. I meant to, at first, but then just never got around to it. Anyway, I just decided to make myself part of an experiment — I want to see how long it will take before I hear it by accident. Could be days, could be years.

  2. John, I’m not sure that it’s fair to say that there’s no emotional grounding here. I agree that the musical backing cuts no new ground, but the lyric is absolutely bonkers — it professes love and hatred at the same time, it shifts randomly between yelling at the girl and at the new boyfriend (“I still love you! I see you driving ’round town with the girl I love”), and the breakdown in the bridge is accompanied by … well, a breakdown. Cee-Lo is so unhinged that there’s no way that he can claim justification for his feelings; he barely even *knows* what he’s feeling (unlike Kelis, imho) and so he’s reduced to useless expletives. There’s an emotional maelstrom here that to my mind is articulated with precision, not sloppiness.

  3. Martin, the sent-up, jazz-hands, post-Saadiqness of “Fuck You” makes it just about impossible for me to take the inner life you outline seriously; it’s hard for me to buy these lyrics as heartfelt and not just a hail mary of “what rhymes?” when Cee-Lo is a guy who could afford six Ferraris and the X-Box is last-gen technology. The “useless expletives” seem more gratuitous than evocative (and this from a guy that likes the occasional Anal Cunt track); FUCK YOU sounds so sweet coming from Cee-Lo that it saps any sting and makes heartache sound cutesy-poo. There’s not much maelstrom in the song to me at all, either in construction or beneath the skin. It’s just carefully calibrated pop precision. Sometimes that’s enough but when you’ve got the feral gospel power of Cee-Lo’s voice, caging it up in that kind of hokey structure, putting a tee-hee-aren’t-we-so-naughty bow on it and selling it as stuff white people like is a damned shame.

  4. Wish I was able officially offer my two cents on this, tho it would’ve just been me giving this thing a shrug and a[6] (or a [5], depending on how much I let my lack of love for the video bring me down). (Would it have killed the pimped-out hard-ass Cee-Lo to actually pretend like he was enjoying himself?)

  5. Hey Ya is awesome. Shut up Macpherson.

  6. The video is pretty horrible, isn’t it. The song’s likeability, such as it is, is based on the way it’s NOT performed with bitterness or an emotional maelstrom. The final scene of the video, with the girl sweeping the road…ugh.

    For me, the litmus test of great pop is how addicted I get to it, whether I feel the need to play it on loop over and over again every day. I thought that might happen with this, it didn’t. I’ve only heard it a couple of times and never feel any active desire to listen to it.

  7. He’s in the top ten! Right between Ciara/Ludacris and “Drunk Girls.”

  8. I’ve only listened to this three times, but there’s an almost aggressive cheerfulness in the music (in the melody and in the arrangement) which I find kind of borderline nauseating — in a “listen to how much FUN we are having don’t you wish you were having so much fun TOO” kind of way. (Note that this is coming from someone who would’ve rated “Hey Ya!” a 9.0 the year it came out and probably a 9.5 or 10.0 now… in other words, I have a huge tolerance for certain types of pop feel-goodism.) I guess I just also dislike the guy’s vocal ticks too. That being said, I can’t dismiss it entirely. It’s, um, interesting. I’d probably give it a 5.5, with no immediate plans to go out of my way to hear it again.

  9. Lex pretty much completely OTM here. (ugh, “Crazy”, most overrated single of the 00s, such horrible boring production ruining a good tune)

  10. The thing with “Crazy” is that I’m SURE no one rated it at the time! I was aware of it way before I heard it and no one was repping it or enthusing or telling me I needed to check it out. And then it just squatted like a toad at No 1 for like 5 years, and suddenly in retrospect it’s a pop classic? NUH-UH.

  11. i got a promo vinyl copy of the crazy single when it first came out and played it to death around the house; everybody I knew in industry thought it was a homerun.

  12. Sorry I missed this one. A [10].

  13. Is it just me or is the Top Ten this year just as weird as the Controversy Ten?

  14. For reference:

    1. Nicki Minaj – Your Love
    2. The Knife – Colouring of Pigeons
    3. M.I.A. – Born Free
    4. Liz Phair – Bollywood
    5. Jonsi – Go Do
    6. MGMT – Flash Delirium
    7. Ciara f. Ludacris – Ride
    8. Cee-Lo – Fuck You
    9. LCD Soundsystem – Drunk Girls
    10. Robyn – Fembots

  15. The whole year is weird (was just listening to Alexandra Burke’s incoherent “Start Without You” and was contemplating how incoherence is becoming the norm, is resulting in hit after hit).

    I’m a 7 on this: starts with deadening soul moves; after half a minute the beats take us in hand and we have an irresistibly catchy 90 seconds, followed by emotional maelstrom a.k.a. intolerable hamming and mugging.

  16. I wouldn’t really call the year weird? The opposite, if anything. It seems that with at least 75% of chart hits I can predict exactly what they sound like before hearing them these days, just going on the artist and the credits, and usually I’m right. Like with the horrible new Nicki Minaj/will.i.am single, and she’s one of the ODDER pop stars out there. Better words for pop music in 2010 might be “boring” and “shit”.

  17. Dave, is that the Controversy list you posted, or the “Top Ten” (and if so, the Top Ten of what, of Singles Jukebox ratings?). Using radio as a barometer — which I’ve listened to way more frequently in 2010 than in any other recent year, thanks to owning a car stereo that actually works — and which, obviously, can now only be considered one of many contexts available in which to consume pop — I don’t hear an overwhelming amount of weirdness in the pop world right now. Mostly, I just hear a lot of Katy Perry and Taylor Swift and Eminem and Taio Cruz and Jason DeRulo and B.O.B. and Ke$ha, etc., not a one of whom (well, maybe Ke$ha) strikes me as particularly invested in weird or left-field or whatever (not that that’s my own ultimate criteria for goodness anyway; Perry, Ke$ha, and even DeRulo have a shot at making my top 10 this year). Of course, stuff becomes less weird the more it does its job as being “pop” but even so… I mean, I thought “Boom Boom Pow” was pretty oddball, and nothing I’ve just mentioned even touches that level of strangeness, does it?

  18. I probably should give Ke$ha a little more credit in the weirdo sweepstakes, come to think of it. To paraphrase Christgau on a certain seventies icon, “she has a nice feeling for weirdos, herself included.”

  19. Top Ten list’s over there on the left side. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if we’ve changed our collective minds by now on at least a few of those.

  20. Scott, “weird” and “invested in being left-field” aren’t the same thing. Alexandra Burke hardly seems like a weirdo or invested in much of anything (at least not on record; I never did see her in that talent show). But on her single she’s attempting “Single Ladies” for several bars and then half a minute later she’s on “Hooray! Hooray! It’s A Holi-Holiday,” though that description makes the song seem a lot better than it is. In contrast, “Boom Boom Pow” is actually pretty damn rigorous in its aesthetic. Of course, rigor can be its own strangeness, but it’s not this year’s strangeness.

    (But as you say, once the asparagus-butterscotch sundae becomes a pop hit, you come to expect that sort of thing.)

  21. I guess I meant something more like “unpredictable,” or even “volatile.” Which doesn’t preclude weird OR boring, just that the kinds of boring (or weird) I’m hearing don’t seem to have a clear story to them or a connecting thread. Has more to do with not knowing exactly where this stuff is coming from or going than it consciously going for “left-field” or capital-W weirdness.

  22. Yeah, “invested in weird or left-field” is a bad way to put it (though you added the word “being” which I wouldn’t have put either!). I think what I meant — or which I mean now, since you’ve pointed this out — is something more like “imbued with weirdness.” I certainly don’t mean “attempting to BE weird,” though I can see how what I said comes out that way. I’d have to re-think the relative weirdness of “Boom Boom Pow” — I think I was thinking the “structure” was at odds with most pop music out there, but that’s probably not correct at all, it more just feels that way. I confess I’ve never even heard of Alexandra Burke until now, though, so she’s just not part of any pop context I’m currently familiar with. Though that sentence is now past tense…. I will investigate.

  23. [x-post btw]

  24. Gah… why did I put scare quotes around “structure”?

  25. I agree with everything the people who don’t like it said. A way better song that I was going to make a comparison to, only to realize they really have nothing in common, is Z-Ro’s ‘I Hate You Bitch,’ a Texas sing-rap classic. Do take a listen:


  26. That’s really apples and oranges.

  27. Like I said, nothing in common other than the same theme, expletive-containing hook. The one song’s sincere, the other’s a cheap gimmick, the one song’s depressing, the other’s “fun”…