Parental Advisory: this column contains explicit content
ONCE upon a time there was an Irish-American rapper called Eamon. A few years ago he released a song called Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back). It was one of the biggest-selling singles of the year and it torpedoed its way to No 1in charts worldwide.
In those pre-YouTube days, it took months for the song to get passed around by word of mouth. Its “naughty” lyrics were much sniggered over by teens everywhere, and the record company behind it just couldn’t wait to tell us how the song had made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for having “the most expletives (33) in a No 1 song”.
You can’t really build a musical career on frat-boy humour, though, and Eamon disappeared even more quickly than he arrived. When you begin your recorded output with liberal use of the F-word, there’s nowhere really to go (and no, using the C-word to ratchet up the shock is never going to work).
Would Eamon’s song have been such a massive hit if he sang Damn and Blast (I Don’t Want You Back)? Would it still be chanted at football grounds whenever an ex-player trots out for the opposing side? Would Eamon have got out of Staten Island without the use of a word that, when it was first broadcast on TV, caused its speaker (the theatre critic Kenneth Tynan) to be labelled “the most notorious man in the country”.
Eamon could have picked up a trick or three from Kenneth Tynan – the theatre critic had a very bad stammer so, as Private Eye noted, when he used the offending term in 1965, he made it “the first 13-syllable four-letter word ever broadcast”.
We’re back knee-deep in expletives this week. The American rapper Cee-Lo – the Goodie Mob/Gnarls Barkley singer – and his “F-bomb dropping kiss-off soul nugget” single Fuck You has become an ultra-viral sensation.
Never mind the quality, feel the market penetration: since going up on YouTube on August 20th (with full lyrics scrolling over the song), the video has been viewed more than two million times and has become the most viewed, most discussed and most commented footage on YouTube.
With the song not hitting the shops or download sites until October 1st, it has been said that this is the most pre-release activity around a new single in the history of recorded music. And there’s an album to follow in December. The record company employees charged with “working” the song can just go to the pub and stay there until December – their job has been done for them by massive technological forces beyond their control or wildest dreams.
As with the Eamon song, there remains – even in today’s more relaxed and informal world when it comes to the use of expletives – a curious fascination about the recorded use of the f-word.
It is the word most of us still reach for when we are in the same situation as Eamon and Cee-Lo (being dumped for not being good enough), but there is something inexplicably thrilling about hearing it on usually sanitised media channels.
And it really doesn’t matter that when the song goes to radio it will be called Forget You, we’ll just substitute that in our head for the original word.
If Noël Coward once noted that it was extraordinary how potent cheap music is, he could never have imagined the giddy kerfuffle that still attaches itself to the use of the word “fuck”.
We have been here many times before with popular music: Eminem, Lily Allen ... and so on. Even Britney got in on the act with If You Seek Amy (think about it), and this gives me the chance to get into print the strangest sentence I’ve ever written: Britney was paying homage here to James Joyce’s Ulysses. You’ll have to join the dots up yourself with that one. None of the above, however, used the term as the lyrical core of the song. Cee-Lo’s latest offering has become the new Downfall. Such is the potential for using the lyrics that you can now see Cee-Lo’s song spliced (to great effect) with the opera music scene in The Shawshank Redemption and the end of Dirty Dancing.
You can expect many others to appear over the weekend.
Cee-lo: Don’t jilt this man, or he’ll drop the F-bomb