Thursday, April 9th, 2009

The Lonely Island ft. T-Pain – I’m On A Boat

And this week’s T-Pain cameo is…


Alex Wisgard: A novelty YouTube sensation never makes for a good pop song, especially novelty whiteboy-goes-urban genre pisstake like this. Somehow The Lonely Island have managed to buck the trend with each of their singles so far (Boyz II Men on “Dick in a Box”, electropop on “Jizz in My Pants”), by paying just as much attention to detail in the production as they do to the lyrics. Put it this way: with or without T-Pain excitedly exclaiming “I never thought I’d be on a boat!” with all the wonder of a small child (with access to a vocoder), this is still an impressive piece, which, at just two and a half minutes, also leaves it just short enough to still be both catchy and, as importantly, fucking funny. “THIS BOAT IS REAL!”

Edward Okulicz: Much better as a song than it is as a joke. You can slice it any way you like and say it’s parodying profanity-laden rap in the lyrics at the same time as bling-laden materialism in the video, but the verses and the authentic T-Pain cameo have to do a lot of lifting to compensate for the witless chorus which doesn’t outlast its surprise/shock value. To their credit, they nearly manage it – it’s a slick-sounding gag that doesn’t quite work away from the slick-looking clip. Also, boats suck.

Martin Skidmore: I’m not entirely convinced that copying other acts and sounding a little bit Eminem, a bit Atlanta and so on, actually amounts to parody, or what I am supposed to find funny. It is the best pastiche of hardcore black hip hop by white people that I have heard, lyrically and musically, so certainly skillful and sort of impressive. This generation’s Weird Al, except without any jokes.

Jonathan Bradley: “I’m On a Boat” is quite simply the greatest rebuke to Marxism since the fall of the Iron Curtain. The Lonely Island, with spiritual assitance from T-Pain, ascends to some blissful consumerist nirvana where transcendence can be achieved by mere means of presence on a watercraft. “I never thought I’d be on a boat,” T-Pain auto-croons like some modern day version of Kenneth Grahame’s Water-Rat, the Wind in the Willows character who delighted, “There is nothing — absolute nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” Yacht, ferry, or dinghy, could any boy be so lucky as to find himself on a boat, with the opportunity to tell the entire world of the exhilaration he is experiencing? Some may be tempted to see this as sneering parody, but disregard those buttoned-down killjoys. “I’m On a Boat” is wild-eyed homage, a joyous celebration of Rick Ross-esque money-porn, even while it renders many lesser examples of such music obsolete.

Alex Macpherson: Ugh, dorky white dudes trying to be funny, failing miserably. This is why I hate comedy. Reluctant point for the halfway decent beat, but the vileness of the overall aesthetic outweighs it.

Dave Moore: Three points about the Lonely Island. (1) They write excellent songs. This production is, like, a real song — pretty accurate as an emulation of an epic DJ Nobody (feat. Everybody) track, epic in its own right, and a good use of T-Pain’s guest spot that’s as important (and as funny) as it is in “Blame It.” (2) They’re smart. Not only smart, they’re smart in character, which is one thing that sets them apart from obvious (but different) peers Flight of the Conchords. It might be easy to make “nautical-themed pashmina afghan” sound funny, but I bet it’s a lot harder to make it sound cool. (3) They’re not really joking: whenever I listen to this song, and I’ve listened to it a lot — more than any other song this year in fact — I really want to go ride on a motherfucking boat. I mean, fuck. They’re on a boat. Think about it.

Jordan Sargent: “I’m on a Boat” comes close to pitch-perfect satire of Khaled Culture, but where they come up short is in their utilization of T-Pain as merely backing vocals. Had they given him the chorus, “I’m on a Boat” would’ve been a better joke than every 2 Pistols, Ace Hood and Plies single combined.

Keane Tzong: T-Pain’s commitment to this unimpressive, one-note joke is laudable. But even rats know when it’s time to escape a sinking ship, so I can’t help thinking that he should have known better.

Ian Mathers: So between this and “Like a Boss”, Rick Ross’ career is over, right?

Additional Scores

Hillary Brown: [7]
John M. Cunningham: [6]
Rodney J. Greene: [5]

19 Responses to “The Lonely Island ft. T-Pain – I’m On A Boat”

  1. I’m with Dave on this one. Not least because I’ve been singing “NEVER THOUGHT I’D BE ON A BOAAAAT” around the house for the last week. Or “wearing a coat” or “registering to vote” or “milking a goat” or whatever. One of my first ever teenage poems was based around the -oat suffix so extra points for that.

  2. It is truly disappointing that Girl Aloud is in our top ten and this isn’t.

  3. The point of this, just like “Dick In A Box” and “Jizz In My Pants,” is to ridicule the original genre — to laugh *at* people who equate the amassing of material goods with personal authenticity. To whatever extent Jonathan Bradley might be joking, this is closer to Marxism than to any repudiation of it, and so it marks the final nail in the coffin of the black-Jewish alliance.

  4. Martin K is completely wrong. This is a song saying that being on a boat is awesome. Which it is!

  5. Lex I understand that part of your life’s philosophy is that no white person should ever be allowed to make a joke about rap music but this is just a good pop song, I didn’t even know it was a comedy record until I bothered looking them up. I’d have given it 7.

  6. I bet Karl Marx never thought he’d be on a boat, a big blue post-capitalist road.

  7. Kavka, I’m not joking at all. Rappers fetishize luxury goods (i.e. boats) because they symbolize wealth, whereas Samberg and co. fetishize luxury goods with no apparent knowledge that they symbolize anything at all — they enjoy being on a boat because boats are, to them, intrinsically enjoyable. The humor derives from the audience’s awareness that much hip-hop was already approaching such a state, but still retained a connection between the signified element and the signifier. Both performer and audience are keenly aware of the tropes involved, and enjoy the skewed relationship in this song.

    I never get the sense The Lonely Island laughs *at* genres, because the humor is so reliant on familiarity with and enjoyment of the genres they operate within. This isn’t Weird Al where you laugh at the silly words or the disconnect between musical style and subject matter. Like Dave said, when you listen to this song, you want to go ride on a boat.

  8. Well, “I’m on a Boat” works partly because it almost functions as a song in the genre it’s parodying – partly because yelling out “I’m on a boat, MOTHERFUCKER!” is fun, but partly because they’re BOTH ridiculing and celebrating the kind of insane materialism present in a lot of rap.

    (NB. by the latter I mean they’re celebrating the musical expression of that materialism, not the materialism itself… I think)

  9. Does their attention to detail — their craft, the immaculate production — add to or detract from ‘the funny’ ? The most over-thought jokes are often the least funny, but in music comedy the music is often too rubbish to be listenable. It’s a catchy song, and I think for me it’s most of all “charming”, perhaps not so funny.

  10. Thanks for the clarification, Jonathan. Just for myself, I have no desire to go on a boat after listening to this; if this had the affection of, say, “Lazy Sunday,” I assume that they’d have set the video on the Circle Line (or a tiny motorboat). I’m not sure why I find the song so affectionless — even mean-spirited — but perhaps I could phrase it this way. A “nautical-themed pashmina afghan” is not being fetishized because it’s intrinsically enjoyable. In fact, it’s not being fetishized at all. What Samberg et al are doing, by throwing that line in there, imho, is claiming that anyone who fetishizes a boat is *just as idiotic* as someone who fetishizes a nautical-theme pashmina afghan, i.e. quite idiotic indeed and perhaps just a little faggoty.

  11. I’m a bit hesitant quote from my own blurb, since it was cut, but it does relate to this discussion (essentially, I agree with Ian): “…while they’re obviously parodying the bluster and bravado endemic to mainstream rap, they’re also celebrating it. You get the feeling that this is done as hip-hop not just because of the dependable humor of white guys pretending to be gangsta (in fact, it relies fairly little on that shopworn shtick), but because it’s the best platform these days for glorifying things that are universally awesome, e.g., being on a motherfucking boat.”

  12. I just assumed the nautically themed pashmina afghan was thrown in because it’s a semi-clever rhyme and it’s a fairly random object, precisely the sort of thing rapper DON’T fetishize. I didn’t catch any whiffs of homophobia from this one.

  13. And yeah, I think Jonathan’s hit on something important; none of the rap songs I’ve heard the Lonely Island do rely on the old “look at us, we’re white people acting like stereotypical black people!” trope that’s so odious.

  14. Also, if I’d realized all the shit this song was going to get, I probably would have rated in higher in protest.

  15. Yeah, I really do think that the production and rapping are both genuinely good, and help bolster the idea that these guys really *like* DJ Whatever stuff they seem to be parodying. Thing is, it’s not 100% parody, in the same way that Weird Al usually doesn’t take on the performers of his songs (I think Nirvana is the only exception?), and ends up always revering his source material, simply by following it so closely. Like, “White and Nerdy” is a genuinely impressive rap turn from him.

  16. “Does their attention to detail — their craft, the immaculate production — add to or detract from ‘the funny’ ? ”

    This is a side issue, I think. I generally prefer tracks that, when they’re obviously indebted to a style, get the style right, but there’s no reason why something that’s either immaculately produced or a shitty approximation of something would or wouldn’t be funny. But I think in this case the massive production is something that changes the *nature* of the funny — that is, what’s funny isn’t necessarily that they’re commenting on boring tropes of what’s wrong with materialist rap music, but that they’re using the interesting musical tropes of materialist rap to do something else, e.g. geek out on what they want to geek out on. But the rappers are geeking out on “5,000 Ones” in the same exact way (and trying to be funny about it, too), it’s just a different setting.

  17. Anyway, re: Jonathan’s points, I already talked about meta-bling a while ago. If you want a song about being on a boat that’s really about symbols of etc. etc. etc. whatever, try Rihanna’s “Lemme Get That” (which is also very funny). And yes, LIL’ MAMA PRESAGED THE ECONOMIC DOWNTURN.

  18. It doesn’t work as a joke, because it’s not funny (and also, Khaled Culture is ALREADY its own joke – it’s ridiculous and it knows it, and sure as hell doesn’t need dorky white guys going “HEY LOOK THIS IS RIDICULOUS AND HILARIOUS”) in all caps. And it doesn’t work as a song because it’s nowhere near as good as the DJ Khaled originals (which are better at conveying how awesome material things are, have better rappers, hooks, beats, everything). It’s dependent on the comedy aspect to have any worth at all, but it’s not actually funny.

  19. But Lex, what I’m arguing (whether you agree or not) is that it’s not parodying Khaled original — it’s taking Khaled as a mode of production and replacing a strip club or taking over the world or whatever with something much, much more banal; it’s not taking being on a boat for granted. And I think “5000 Ones” is actually doing something similar — it’s taking every dollar bill in the video into account. OH MY GOD, LOOK, I HAVE 5,000 ONE-DOLLAR BILLS! THINK OF WHAT YOU COULD PURCHASE WITH THAT! AND I HAVE JUST STREWN THEM ABOUT THE CLUB.