(EDIT: since checked and it’s still Number One! Woo! Both because it keeps this relevant and it means all is still right with the world.)
It’s been harder and harder to find anything to say about the recent crop of #1s, and I’ve got more and more behind. Tinie Tempah? Bruno Mars? Alexandra Burke again? The top spot has been a success of sighs for a few months now and, with the X Factor machine revving up, the near future looks bleak. But then sometimes Pop does exactly what it’s supposed to, and surprises you.
And so the song that was like a number one beamed in from an alternate, slightly better universe, is actually Number One.
CEE LO GREEN – F’ YOU
That title is a bit contentious. Because the version actually listed on the official chart is Forget You. Which is precisely 40% less fun, thanks to that removed f-bomb.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with censoring. It’s understandable, and there’s no other way this song could have conceivably gotten to #1. Regular readers might be aware that I’m partial to a bit of substition myself, in the interests of keeping the blog family-friendly (and for my own amusement).
Thing is, getting rid of the swear takes away some of the fun. Replacing it with ‘forget’ changes the song entirely.
1) It steps down the emotion of the song, from a desperate regretted-in-hindsight late night Livejournal entry* to a shrug of the shoulders.
2) It undermines the big silly idea at the centre of the song: a mash-up of squeaky-clean Motown pop and the foul-mouthed self-expression of modernity.
…But, ignoring my own subjective and (very) occasionally flawed opinions, the biggest problem is:
3) Tacking on an extra syllable makes it impossible to curse along with the radio.
That’s just uncool. It says a lot, then, that running at 60% capacity, this is still the best Number One we’ve had since California Gurls, the song which kickstarted this semi-failed experiment. My reaction to finding out this had made #1 was to reflexively shout ‘yes!’ out loud. Take that, Take That! Forget you, X Factor!
(I was originally going to do a run down of the singles that have made it to #1 between this and the last time I did one of these, and why FU is better than every single one of them, but ultimately I just couldn’t be bothered with them, it’s been that drab. So I’ll just explain why this is so great and leave the comparison to you, trusted reader.)
It takes a great gimmick and works it into a perfectly constructed slice of catchy Pop. Everything is built on a solid shoulder-shaking, finger-snapping foundation. Then it layers on the beautifully physical voice of Mr Green, dealing with a relateable sentiment: “I see you runnin’ round town with the girl I love…” Then, bam!, in comes the first f-bomb, balanced exactly between you tell ’em! empathy and oh no he di’n’t! funny. It’s not that swearing is shocking or new, but the context – that classic pop sentiment, the sound of it all – is enough to leave your mouth agape on the first listen.
But just in case that didn’t get your jaw to drop, inventive moment after moment is constructed around this. The harmonising backing singers, dropping the classic couplet “Oh sherbert she’s a gold digga/Just thought you should know, fella.**” The way Cee Lo extends out the high-pitched “pity the fooooooool” that accompanies it. The bit where it builds to Cee Lo’s voice, like hot tar, letting it all out seeming to worry about shape, while fitting perfectly to the rest of the song. Just how effortless it all seems…
That effortlessness makes the song hard to write about. Pulling back the curtain a bit, there’s a reason it’s taken me so long to get this blog finished. Perfect is the word that keeps cropping up and getting backspaced out. The whole thing is polished till it shines, but that makes it water-tight and impenetrable. I’ve listened to the song a couple of dozen times in an attempt to get in. The best thing I can say about it – the quality which makes it a perfect #1 – is that I still want to hear it again.
**An example of the aforementioned censorship, there.