Number Ones - LMFAO 'Sexy And I Know It'
Who's saying what
In a piece about last week’s #1 single, Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Mr. Know It All’, I spent several paragraphs endorsing the argument that pop is moving away from LOLpop towards The New Boring; that people were getting tired of the R&B-flavoured dance pop clogging the charts. I was wrong. This week, ‘Mr. Know It All’ is back down to #6. The new #1 single here in Australia is by a band called LMFAO, and is called ‘Sexy And I Know It’. The term ‘LOLpop’ may well have been invented specifically to describe this song. It is LMFAO’s second #1 this year, after ‘Party Rock Anthem’ had 10 long weeks at the top, and was written and produced by LMFAO’s Redfoo and Skyblu and their cronies (e.g., GoonRock who sung on ‘Party Rock Anthem’ is listed as a co-writer).
LMFAO - 'Sexy And I Know It'
I was browsing a record store the other week to pass the time while waiting for a friend. While I was there, two shop assistants were going through the racks, stocking new releases, making sure that everything was in its right place. I eavesdropped on their conversation. Some wag had apparently placed LMFAO’s album Sorry For Party Rocking in the alternative section, and the two shop assistants were debating where its rightful place was. The dance section? The pop section? “Actually,” said one, “I think it should be in the kids’ section.” “Really?” “Yeah, it’s always kids who buy this stuff. Every time kids come in here with their parents, that’s the album they want.”
If you’re not slightly horrified at these parents, you haven’t watched the horrific video (above) for ‘Sexy And I Know It’ yet, have you? In a nutshell, the video seems to revolve around a tussle between two supremely self-confident gangs (one led by Redfoo, one by Skyblu) who apparently battle by dancing wearing no pants. It features dozens of pants being pulled off. It features a profoundly disturbing shot of LMFAO’s Redfoo wearing just speedos. Um, let me clarify -- almost the entire video features profoundly disturbing shots of LMFAO’s Redfoo wearing speedos. There’s one section in particular, just after Redfoo has pulled off his day-glo leopard print shorts for the first time, where he is thrusting towards a camera pointed at his crotch, wearing naught but speedos. As he thrusts, his penis rhythmically flaps about underneath the not-very-tight speedos. In slow motion. And this is the point: I think the symbolism here (and I do use the word symbolism sarcastically) is that LMFAO are so supremely knowledgeable about their respective sexinesses that they are willing to shamelessly wave their crotches at a camera. Mind you, LMFAO claim that my interpretation of the point of the video is wrong; in a recent interview with GetTV Australia, Redfoo said with a completely straight face: “The video was never intended to be a cock show. It was a work of art.” To be fair, I do think I see a distinct look of existential shame in (the older, chubbier) Skyblu’s eyes as he relentlessly thrusts his member at the camera later in the clip.
Believe it or not, novelty rap has a history of men in leopard-print speedos who draw too much attention to their penises. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the video to MC Hammer’s 1994 tune ‘Pumps And A Bump’ (watch it below). It well and truly killed Hammer’s career. Complex Magazine recently listed the video as the #12 Worst Hip-Hop Fail Of All Time. Humour website Funny Or Die simply posted it without comment. Roughly 99% of the reason as to why it killed Hammer’s career was how he wore some sort of leopard-print speedo thong which made the contents of those speedos exceptionally clear. Seriously, don’t click that Hammer video I just linked to. There are some things you can’t unsee. Anyway, considering MC Hammer, the video for ‘Sexy And I Know It’ should have killed LMFAO’s career. I mean, Redfoo wears dayglo leopard print speedos. But no. No career destruction for LMFAO. Instead, it’s a number one single. Perhaps Hammer was just ahead of the times.
MC Hammer - 'Pumps And A Bump'
So why is 'Sexy And I Know It' a number one, you ask? One possible reason is that perhaps there are quite a lot of male strippers out there. “Finally”, The Chippendales rejoiced, huddling around the crystal set. “We can dance to something other than Right Said Fred’s ‘I’m Too Sexy’!”. (I can only imagine that song must drive male strippers insane after a few years on the job). You could also imagine ‘Sexy And I Know It’ soundtracking a fair amount of drunken dickhead dancing in nightclubs; perhaps it makes sense as a reminder of good times. But I’m not convinced. Most 9 year olds (I hope to God) neither work as male strippers nor get drunk at nightclubs. Then again, if the real audience for ‘Sexy And I Know It’ is 9 year olds—like the record store clerks were suggesting—maybe the song’s appeal actually makes some sort of sense.
Usually, in some fuddy-duddy ‘Won’t somebody think of the children!?’ piece decrying the sexualisation of modern pop (like this one so far), the author eventually gets to the point where they talk about how it wasn’t like this in my day! In my day kids liked wholesome good-hearted music! But, you know, I remember being 9 years old in 1991-1992, and I remember how there was plenty of blatantly sexual music clogging up the charts back then too. Take the aforementioned ‘I’m Too Sexy’ by Right Said Fred, ‘I Wanna Sex You Up’ by Color Me Badd, ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ by Salt ‘n’ Pepa, or ‘People Are Still Having Sex’ by LaTour. And that’s just the songs with the word ‘sex’ in the title.
Now, I’m not entirely sure if I’ve turned out totally normal and healthy in regards to sex -- does anybody, really? But as far as I am aware, hearing those songs at that age didn’t really do me any harm. I don’t think I’ve ever seriously told anybody that I want to sex them up. I don’t feel that I talk about sex particularly often, and I’ve definitely never quit singing a song because I thought I was too sexy for it.
But I remember buying ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ in its cassingle format at the local K-mart, back when department stores used to stock cassingles. I am not entirely sure what my mum thought about me doing this as a 9 year old, or whether she (a single mother at that point) was even paying that much attention. But part of the thrill of the purchase was definitely that the song was slightly naughty. I was aware that ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ wasn’t really naughty of itself -- even then I knew it was basically a public service announcement. But the song had the word ‘sex’ in the title, and is well aware that this that was slightly shocking. Even now, when you search for it on YouTube, the predictive text shows ‘Salt n pepa let’s talk about’, OMITTING THE SCARY S-WORD. I knew even then, as a 9 year old, that sex was quite important to adults and that they were very weird about it. But I didn’t understand sex at all. I suspect it’s a bit hard to understand what the fuss is about without first at least having gone through puberty. And I think this not understanding the fuss is at the heart of any appeal that 'Sexy and I Know It' has to 9 year olds.
After all, 9 year olds see enough TV, see enough magazines, and see enough of the Internet to get the impression that adults are totally obsessed with sexiness. Every second ad is trying to sell a product by appealing to some sense of sexiness. Deodorant commercials, for example, try very very hard indeed to try to take a product mostly designed to avoid bad smells and strongly associate it in your mind with sex appeal. This has been the case for so long now that deodorant commercials now border on kitsch and self-parody; take that bow-chicka-wow-wow ad (see below), where otherwise respectable-looking women make fools of themselves in public places while a confused male deodorant wearer stands there looking awkward.
And like the poor women making bow-chicka-wow-wow noises, Redfoo waving his dick around in leopard print speedos is plainly ridiculous. But I’m not entirely convinced that LMFAO see it this way, that they are aware they are ridiculous. Redfoo comes across as quite serious (or at least wants to appear so) in the GetTV Interview. He claims with a straight face that ‘Sexy And I Know It’ “…is a song about being sexy, feeling confident about yourself. And that is the attitude of Redfoo/Skyblu. We are probably the sexiest dudes on the planet, and, you know, the girls can’t stand it.” This is adult music, in a variety of ways; the ‘party rock’ in ‘Party Rock Anthem’, for example, may well be taken as slang for cocaine. And ‘Sexy And I Know It’ isn’t a million miles away from a bunch of other ‘confident bro’ dance tunes, like Enrique Iglesias’ ‘Tonight (I’m Fucking You)’ or Pitbull’s ‘Hotel Room Service’. All of these tunes are intending to suggest that the singer is indeed so sexy that the girls flock to them like nerds flock to queue for new iPhones. And these songs have plenty of adult female fans too; plenty of women are apparently attracted to confidence (according even to Pitbull himself), and sometimes are only dimly aware of the fine line between confidence and arrogance/smarminess.
But I’m pretty sure a 9 year old just thinks ‘Sexy And I Know It’ is meant to be ridiculous. Because, for the 9 year old, adult sexuality as portrayed in the media, in deodorant commercials and so forth, is pretty ridiculous in the first place. And, as Freud argued, the things we find funny are very often the things we are deeply uncomfortable with. And most 9 year olds would be deeply uncomfortable with how sexualised pop culture is -- not having gone through puberty, they’re not going to ‘get it’. If the things that make us uncomfortable are also basically the things that make us laugh, ‘Sexy And I Know It’ may well appeal to the same childish sense of humour as books with titles like Zombie Bums From Uranus.
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