Friday, April 12th, 2013

Brad Paisley ft. LL Cool J – Accidental Racist

Ebony and ivory…


Alfred Soto: or “Accidentally, Like a Racist.”

Sabina Tang: To my non-critic friends who believe in “manufactured pop,” thought up by cynical executives and optimized through marketing research: one only wishes. A good, solid afternoon of focus group testing, and we would not now be living in a world in which the charming Brad Paisley has released a song called “Accidental Racist,” featuring LL Cool J. I happen to be a marketing professional, and I have many questions about this single, as follows: 1) Lynyrd Skynyrd have a Confederate flag in their band logo? 2) If Lynyrd Skynyrd has had a Confederate flag as part of their actual brand identity all this time and people still love them, how many fans will Brad Paisley realistically lose for writing a song called “Accidental Racist” that is accidentally racist? 3) Instead of pulling it off YouTube, why does the cynical executive not strike a backdoor deal with The Onion and get them to take ownership of the “Brad Paisley releases a song called ‘Accidental Racist’ that is accidentally racist, LL Cool J featured” video? Is its viral spread failure, or opportunity? 4) Does the Guinness Book of World Records have a “Wackest Guest Verse Of All Time” category? 5) Thinking real blue sky here, but if the symbol of your pride is also the symbol of institutionalized slavery, why not change the symbol? Wouldn’t that be easier than trying to explain to everyone in Starbucks that the little person with the triangle skirt doesn’t indicate the ladies’ washroom? You’re telling me your pride isn’t about institutionalized slavery in any way, right? 6) Is there any point in discussing the music?

Anthony Easton: Four questions about this song, and one statement. The questions: 1) Has a generational shift occurred within country music whereby people under 30 have spent their lives listening to hip hop, and by extension have integrated its formal qualities into their construction of identity? Do Paisley and LL Cool J, both over 30, perhaps not understand this integration and see the problems of whiteness as still extant? But Kid Rock is over 30, and Tim McGraw did that work with Nelly over a decade ago, and that was a text that was ambiguous enough to never be really settled. 2) What are the implications of actually inviting an African American argot musician who is working through hip hop onto a mainstream project, to talk through his own voice? But Paisley does not work in a hip hop context, and LL Cool J does not go country. Ludacris working with the Jawga Boyz might be the most immediate example — but are they mainstream? What does it mean that Justin Moore doing “Back That Thing Up” is mainstream but the Boyz aren’t? 3) What does it mean that the most popular African American country artists have worked in other genres and have avoided hip hop argot? 4) What would a good example of African American music in a country context that handles the issues of race look like? The statement: This is a terrible song.

Brad Shoup: The bit I loathe the most is unparseable. Whatever LL says on the topic of racism is out of my critical purview; it’s not my place, never will be, never could be. The text is what it is. But the fact of his inclusion is something else. In pop, James is juiceless. The radio can live without him. But in pop culture, he’s CBS’s panther-in-residence, one of those legends who will never lack for goodwill. How long was Brad’s longlist? Two names? One? Will Chuck D ever play us the tragic voicemail? Paisley’s hopelessly out of his depth, and not just on the matter of race. It’s as if he’s backing into an identity: first with “American Saturday Night,” then narrowing with “Southern Comfort Zone.” “Accidental Racist” pares things even further: now he’s aligned with the South’s indifferent and vile alike, papering over his whiz-kid personality with the help of the wardrobe department. His skimming of history is noxious, his whitesplaining horrifying. “Accidental Racist” is the classic solution in search of a problem, a box of bandages tossed into the emergency room.

Jonathan Bradley: Paisley is a canny performer who might be too canny here for his own good. The set-up works: a well-meaning audience surrogate starts to realize the ideas and icons he thinks innocuous actually aren’t, and all in the setting of the quintessentially country/not-country confines of a chain store coffee shop. The problem is that Paisley thinks he wants to talk about racism when what he actually wants to talk about is the South, which he frames as implicitly and exclusively white. He should know better; has he forgotten his “friend from school, a running back on the football team,” the one whose neighbors burned a cross on his front yard, from his Obama tribute “Welcome to the Future“? Paisley’s biggest mistake here is inviting LL aboard; the presence of the self-described “black Yankee” transforms the conflict underpinning “Accidental Racist” into one between African Americans and Southerners. “R.I.P., Robert E. Lee” he says, on a song penned by the son of a state that came into existence when it would not follow that Virginian general into treason. But as Georgian Shawn Jay had it: “When you see them Confederate flags, you know what it is/Your folks picked cotton here, that’s why we call it the fields.” Or T-Mo, of Atlanta, the fall of which enabled William Tecumseh Sherman to march to the sea and seal Lee up in Virginia in a siege of inevitable attrition: “In third grade this is what you told: you was bought, you was sold.” Paisley, who here calls himself “a son of the New South,” is, after all, a singer who extols the virtues of a pluralistic, inclusive America in the language of a part of the country more suspicious of such a thing than most, and in language that doesn’t suggest propaganda to his fans. Perhaps after his previous successes in expressing the duality of the Southern thing, he settled too easily into his Southern comfort zone. 

Jonathan Bogart: Can we get, I dunno, Miranda Lambert and Killer Mike to do an answer song? Because that’s the only way this could have any beneficial purpose.

Will Adams: Just to be clear, this would be a shitty song without these lyrics. For starters, it’s six fucking minutes long. Six minutes of a thick guitar-wah stew; an extensive chorus that doesn’t so much cadence with grace as it does fall flat on its face; and one of the most incongruous bridges I’ve ever heard. I’ll defer to the other writers to do the heavy lifting of the lyrics. All I’ll add is that writing a song about racism requires a bit more than exploring your own personal stake in it. The sole point is for the final chorus making me laugh out loud when I first heard it.

Ian Mathers: Here’s someone much more qualified than I am to tell you why this song isn’t just a trainwreck, it’s poisonous. 

Katherine St Asaph: A tour de force! Brad begins mock-serious, very labored-meek — you know, all “this is just to say/that I have eaten the plums/that were in the icebox/and also I’m an accidental racist cherry-picker of Skynyrd tees.” (Who wants to bet it didn’t even say Skynyrd?) If you think it’s accidental acting, check out his follow-up: “[I’m] just a proud rebel son.” How long must it have taken Brad to come up with the worst possible follow-up not involving slurs? And without belaboring the irony in the title? Not an accident; satiric gold. Our sometime Skynyrd fan now spends maybe four seconds on reflection before saying fuck it, let’s just go for the Big Soaring Chorus: “I’m just a whiiiiiiiiite man….” And again: “I’m just a whiiiiiiiiite man!” AGAIN: “I’m just a whiiiiiiiiite! man!” LL Cool J can’t upstage him, though he tries with “if you don’t judge my gold chains, I’ll forget the iron chains.” (Context: even Rap Genius now says “WHAT?”; further context: so many white critics seem way more critical of LL.) No, it’s all about Brad’s braying hubris. He could be our sharpest comedian — almost. If this were really comedy, the song wouldn’t be so goddamn boring 

Josh Langhoff: ISSUE ONE: THE T-SHIRT. If “the only thing” Paisley meant to say is he’s a Skynyrd fan, why does he call himself a “proud rebel son” two sentences later? He obviously knows what “that red flag” means if he’s throwing around Confederate lingo. So if he’s disingenuous, maybe he’s an unreliable narrator…? ISSUE TWO: WHO THE HECK’S NARRATING? He whips from Starbucks patron to oblivious Skynyrd fan to proud rebel son to thoughtful amateur sociologist making a fair point about Reconstruction. This sounds less like a consistent character, or even like Paisley’s multitudes, than it does a songwriter capitulating to each bloc in his audience, trying to reassure us we’re all welcome. He’s Group Counselor Paisley. ISSUE THREE: GROUP COUNSELOR PAISLEY IS A SCHMUCK. Like many well-meaning adults hosting assemblies or desks-in-a-circle “rap sessions,” he thinks shuffling clichés freshens them up — “elephant in the corner of the South,” “walk a mile in someone else’s skin” — and he is wrong. ISSUE FOUR: THIS IS A SONG, NOT A SUMMIT. Has there ever been a song that led to bygones being bygones? Trolls like “Homeboy” and “Brown Sugar” trust their audiences to sort them out; lovefests like “Black and White” and “Black or White” are exhilarating pop tunes first. Also, the rapping in “Black or White” is way better. ISSUE FIVE: LL RAPS LIKE YOUR SCHOOL COUNSELOR. His rhythmic acuity dulled by the nonexistent beat, LL settles for the simplest rhyme scheme imaginable and still resorts to a nothing line (“I really wish you would”) and the non-rhyme “book,” letting the “k” drift away as though it’s ashamed to be there. It’s the one moment that captures how anybody listening to this song actually feels. PREDICTION: “Accidental Racist” will inspire heartfelt soul searching among those who allowed Brad Paisley to produce himself.

Jer Fairall: Paisley claims that seeing Lincoln and Django Unchained made him realize that racism is still a touchy issue in America after all. This makes him an idiot, sure, but until now, there was little evidence to suggest that he was necessarily a harmful one. “Accidental Racist,” in which he tells off snooty Starbucks baristas for sneering at his Skynyrd shirt and essentially urges the rest of the country to get over it with a “mistakes were made” shrug, reveals him as an asshole of the sadly not all that rare, FOX News breed. LL Cool J’s list of false equivalencies (do-rags vs. red flags, gold chains vs. iron ones) will be read as an ironic “fuck you” shouted back at Paisley’s whole gallingly wrongheaded premise to those who wish to hear it that way, and apologetic pandering to anyone dumb enough not to (you will recognize them by their hearty sighs of “finally!” as LL gives the illusion enough blame to go around), essentially rendering it useless. Which, except for its function as a conversation starter on the shit that we continue to tolerate (and purposefully thorny stuff like Django Unchained that we misjudge), this whole fiasco absolutely is.

Patrick St. Michel: Honestly, it seems silly to revisit the myriad reasons why “Accidental Racist” is a total mess at this point. You’ve heard all the dead-on points and the reheated-but-still-accurate Crash jokes. But what gets me — besides what the hell LL Cool J was thinking getting involved in this — is that Brad Paisley actually delivered one of the major themes of “Accidental Racist” in a way, way, way better package last year. This lyrical muck-up is just as intent on celebrating the South as it is trying to, ugh, bridge races together, but focuses on all the wrong stuff. For an hour after first hearing “Accidental Racist,” I found myself thinking, “Was I wrong for considering “Southern Comfort Zone” one of my favorite songs of 2012?” Nope, that song soars, managing to highlight Southern culture and the world above and beyond that Mason-Dixon, Paisley letting the sound of “Dixie” and his Skynyrd-evoking chug do the talking instead of bumbling over excuses. I’m giving “Accidental Racist” one point because part of me suspects (wants to believe?) that it was released as a trollish way to remind the world Paisley has a new album out this week, and maybe Paisley’s other songs can get some deserved attention out of this disaster.

Reader average: [0.62] (16 votes)

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9 Responses to “Brad Paisley ft. LL Cool J – Accidental Racist”

  1. Tied with Alyssa Reid for lowest Jukebox score, but far more deserving, IMO.

    Also, to be clear, the point of my blurb was not meant to downplay the lyrics – I simply anticipated that the rest of y’all would take care of them far more eloquently than I would.

  2. PS: Miranda Lambert + Killer Mike = dream collaboration CAN WE MAKE THIS HAPPEN PEOPLE

  3. “This sounds less like a consistent character, or even like Paisley’s multitudes, than it does a songwriter capitulating to each bloc in his audience, trying to reassure us we’re all welcome. He’s Group Counselor Paisley.” I think this is about as close to where I settle on this one — the song says a lot of *junk*, some awful, some not-terrible, some wishy-washy, some confusing, some just generally barfy. If he were savvier he would have done something in a “End of the World as We Know It” style and just overwhelmed us with scattershot TMI to cover his tracks.

  4. I cosign and applaud Katherine’s point of how so many white critics pointed to LL as the main problem with the song, ignoring that Brad’s lyrics are incredibly problematic, and terrible from the beginning of the song. I like the “accidental rockists” jokes that have been floating around as a result.

  5. There’s nothing good to say about this song really, other than (as Patrick sort of implies) it makes “Southern Comfort Zone” sound like a miracle in comparison. That song’s a 10 for me now.

  6. I kept going back to this, thinking, “I’ll give it a point because it not only started a national conversation, which is no more than Paisley intended; it actually *united* all of North America from Canadian pundits to neo-Nazis to Rap Genius in WTFing at this song.” And then I hear the LL Cool J verse, and it loses a point for sheer musical reasons, so back to [0] it goes.

  7. You guys all went in but Brad’s “Will Chuck D ever play us the tragic voicemail?” made me laugh and Bradley had all bases covered.

    I’m happy to still have not heard this song

  8. I’m with Daniel.

    I almost clicked on “video”, as I don’t actually mind some of the Brad Paisley I’ve heard, but thankfully I saw the score before making that mistake.

    Reading the lyrics, LL’s lines seem like they were penned by whoever wrote that late 80s Windows 386 ad.

  9. I keep thinking abt Sabina’s blurb every few days or so because of, “‘manufactured pop,’ thought up by cynical executives and optimized through marketing research: one only wishes. A good, solid afternoon of focus group testing, and we would not now be living in a world in which” etc.

    I dunno what else to say rn, but that taps into something v close to the artistry/authenticity/poptimism discussion and I love it.