Pop Off: We Can't Say The Name Of This Song. Do We Like It? : The Record Jay Smooth and Maura Johnston wonder whether a song by Cee Lo gets by on the strength of pervasive profanity or despite it.
NPR logo Pop Off: We Can't Say The Name Of This Song. Do We Like It?

Pop Off: We Can't Say The Name Of This Song. Do We Like It?

This particular still from the video falls entirely within our obscenity limits. YouTube hide caption

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If you've been on the internet since last Friday, you've probably already heard the new song by Cee Lo, or maybe watched its very simple video, which features the song's extremely profane lyrics bouncing by in a stylized font over a colorful background (warning: video contains audio AND spelled-out images of four-letter words).

Some people love the song. Some people think it’s simply a gimmick -- a novelty song not worth all of the attention it’s getting. And it is getting a lot of attention.

So much so that our Pop Off team --  music writer Maura Johnston and Jay Smooth of Illdoctrine.com -- decided to weigh in.

Jay Smooth: So Cee Lo's new song -- it's unmentionable yet unavoidable. How did this song become so ubiquitous overnight, despite having a title I can't say here?

Maura Johnston: Well, it helps that this is the second single he's assisted on to successfully capture the seeming national mood in five years. In 2006, Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" lit up peoples' iTunes playlists.

MJ: And in the summer of 2010 -- a summer marked by oppressive heat, a lousy economy, widespread political rancor, and a frustrated flight attendant who cursed out a passenger before exiting his plane via the emergency slide being briefly transformed into a national hero -- it seems almost inevitable that a song with an angrily expletive-laden chorus would become a viral hit.

MJ: Plus the fact that while the unprintable kiss-off is being delivered, Cee Lo sounds almost *joyful* ... it definitely helps.

MJ: And dropping it on a Friday in August with a catchy-looking video in which the unmentionable words dance across the YouTube window? That's almost up there with a yawning kitten as far as a surefire Internet hit.

JS: Yeah, this is why I'm torn between loving the song, hating it, and hating to love it. Mixing the wholesome nostalgia and joyful bounce of the Motown sound with the profane sentiment of the title is such a simple and obvious conceit that this track almost feels like a novelty song. (See also: Dre and Snoop's "Ain't No Fun" and Ani DiFranco's "Untouchable Face", or the nerdy remakes of gangsta rap songs like Ben Folds' "B*****s Ain't S***" and Dynamite Hack's "Boyz-N-The-Hood.")

JS: But it's so well executed, and the pottymouthed catharsis of singing along with the chorus just hits the spot too well. I can't resist it -- it's like sugar water. Under normal circumstances nobody considers that a meal, but if you're stuck in a mine and need that basic sustenance it's the only thing that works. Not to make light of what is a far more serious situation, but emotionally speaking we've been stuck in a mine and need that simple sugar water of yelling [SONG TITLE!] along with Cee Lo.

MJ: Especially when you're reading the newspaper these days.

MJ: But what of the words that link the kiss-offs -- the verses?

JS: I tend to wonder how much attention people will pay to the actual verses, which are a fairly trite serving of sour grapes, with Cee Lo dismissing the woman who just left him as a "gold-digger" and so on. I could live without yet another pop song demonizing women for daring to have standards, and guys are already latching onto the song as a blow for their side in the battle of the sexes. Samhita from Feministing said that male friends of hers are posting the song on FaceBook alongside "yeah take that, uppity women!" sentiments.

MJ: Yeah, I can definitely see the verses being a minefield as far as men trying to complain about women who they think Want Too Much (this seems like an appropriate place to note that 50 Cent, class act that he is, has already tacked on a verse in which he plays the role of the richer-than-thou lady-stealer).

JS: But I think the song's basic sentiment will override the details, and people will reclaim it for whatever grievance they prefer.

MJ: A la "Born In The USA," or "Every Breath You Take."

JS: Ha, yes. And it should be noted that Cee Lo may even be doing a Randy Newman-style mockery of the sulking male ego, which is given away with the "wahhh!"s toward the end. I actually thought of Prince's begging at the end of "If I Was Your Girlfriend," when he's desperately pleading for more time with her.

JS: And Prince, back then, was a master of the "unreliable narrator," conjuring up sincere emotion while also seeming to mock himself.

MJ: So then does that mean that the joke is on the two of us? Because I think that would inspire yet ANOTHER round of swearing.

JS: I just wonder if we'll be cursing the song itself about nine months from now, when the song is settled in as a karaoke staple and featured on the soundtracks to Sex And the City 3 and/or Eat Pray Love 2, with Julia Roberts and or Sarah Jessica Parker singing it to herself in the bathroom mirror while she gets her mojo back.

MJ: Only nine months? I think you're being generous. I personally can't wait until Bristol Palin cha-chas to it on Dancing With The Stars.

JS: Oh dear. Is she really going to be on that show? [SONG TITLE!!!]

MJ: Yes. Which, I mean, just proves that this is the song's time. NOW MORE THAN EVER.