What is Cee-Lo Green playing at? Perhaps the smart kids are already all over this, but Cee-Lo Green's fantastic single has a troublesome title. The song is called Fuck You, and it is worth every bit of the vulgarity. Great song, great lyrics, great video, so get past the F-bomb. It Happens. The thing is huge. I challenge you to watch the original "not so clean" version and not love it:
Now he has come out with a "clean" version, below, which is poorly done. It is obviously poorly done. It is obviously intentionally poorly done. Don't take my word for it; watch the bleeping video:
So is this just a petulant Cee-Lo acceding to a record company demand? I doubt it. He would just as likely tell them to go forget themselves. When I saw the original version, in full frontal crudity, I instantly adored it, and at the same time wondered if Cee-Lo were mounting a challenge to speech laws, in the spirit of George Carlin and his seven words routine. After all, a song that catchy doesn't get that way by accident--it was designed as an atomic weapon in the pop charts arms race, and dropped with enough talent and style to end a war before it begins.
The language in the original is no accident either. In recommending the video a month or so ago, I noted that the language was justified, even necessary for the execution of this particular effort. You may not like Eminem, but I do, and he has a point when he raps:
"Will Smith don't gotta cuss in his raps to sell his records
well I do, so fuck him and fuck you too!"
Just try to pull that off without swearing.
Likewise, one of my favorite jokes simply does not work without dropping a juicy F-bomb right at the end. It starts, "Two old retired racehorses are out walking out in a field..." If you want to convey a certain level of surprise, jaw-droppedness, gob-smackedness, then having the speaker revert to gutter language is a good way to do it. It shows that the speaker has been shocked right out of his manners. Obviously, it should be for emphasis, even out of place a bit, in order to have impact. Otherwise it is mere vulgarity, and a crass laziness on the part of the writer, or singer, or comedian; even a contempt for the audience.
Eminem uses vulgarity as a symbol of defiance--he parodies himself as he parodies his whole genre. George Carlin used it in stand-up in a crisp, almost professorial tone, after a great deal of explanation about language in media and discourse. Cee-Lo has a pleasant gospel-feeling bubble-gum toe-tapper with an old sailor's vocabulary. An old sailor who needs a shower.
Cee-Lo has crafted a pop chart monster, a song with instrumentation from a local church, a story straight from every single American's heart, and a bassline that reaches out to thump you and the horse you rode in on. The lyrics themselves, however, are dead on arrival in the pop charts. Not-gunna-happen, wouldn't-be-prudent, read-my-lips, NO. Can't play it on the air without hovering over the bleep button, or scrambling parts of the track.
And I suspect that this is the point Cee-Lo is making. He releases the single on YouTube, with a link showing where the album can be pre-ordered, when it becomes available for pre-order. So there's the business rationale. Meanwhile, the Cee-Lo Green-consuming audience on YouTube is jumping to their feet and belting out the chorus with a bawdy abandon, upsetting their co-workers (or, uh, so I'm told); building an expectation.
Then he drops the "clean" version, with enough re-filmed and re-voiced parts to demonstrate that it is authentic, not some YouTube photoshop re-hash done by a fussy fan. But having established the fact that it is indeed Green who has done the clean version, he then poorly matches some of the singing, poorly fits in what could easily have been done better, and unless I am struck by a particularly consistent video hiccup, even has the video stop as if buffering while to music plays on.
I think he is making a point about authenticity in art, about artistic freedom (license, even) and editorial control. He has demonstrated in a more than one way, the difference between what the artist intended and what the industry will allow. The video hang, the odd timing, and the obvious mismatch (at time) between audio and video--all of these are allegories in one form of quality for another.
"Fuck you" is a Subject-Verb-Object sentence with and implied subject of "I", so the whole thing is an imperative. Variations on the verb do not change the nature of the subject and the object. The two objects are "you" and sometimes "her". It's easy enough to fir "her" into a narrative, but then who is "you"? This is the same "you" in "I see you driving 'round town with the girl I loveIf "Fuck You" is a protest song, then is the nominal object (the girl who broke his heart) art itself, and the nominal direct object, the "you" in "Fuck you" to whom the song is actually sung, not a rich boy who stole his girl, but the music industry which used to have more control over Cee-Lo's art than he liked? Well, it would certainly clear up one of the mysteries in the lyrics, which is why the singer focuses on the guy who stole his girl, rather than the girl herself.
Because in this case, his beloved is not a thinking actor, but a thing of beauty without freewill, the art itself.
So the question is this: if Cee-Lo Green has been prevented from executing his art as he sees it, but now has the power to push back against the industry, and has reached great success with his new girl, so to speak, where does that leave the girl from the first video?
I think Cee-Lo has a trip back to that diner in his future. Expect a mix of very thoughtful and very raw work in the near future. More of this, perhaps:
Now ain't that some shit.