Monday, May 26, 2014

Music Review: My Humps


"My Humps"
  • Artist: The Black Eyed Peas
  • Album: Monkey Business
  • Release: 20 September 2005
  • Label: A&M
  • Genre: Hip-hop
  • Writers: William "will.i.am" Adams, David Payton
  • Producerswill.i.am

Recently I happened to hear the Black Eyed Peas's "My Humps" on the radio for the first time in years.  The fact that I hadn't heard the original version in so long surprised me, considering how much the song had seeped into our collective culture since then.  It's garnered cover versions and parodies by the likes of Alanis Morisette, Flight of the Conchords, and the cast of MADtv.  It's been (mis)quoted in the treadmill scene from Blades of Glory, only for that scene to be sampled again by Jay-Z and Kanye West's song "[nouns] In Paris".  And its reputation has snowballed to that of one of the worst pop songs of all time.  But now that it's been given a cooling-down period, in which like a dozen songs have taken its place as "worst pop song of all time", I think now might be the time to ask, what makes it tick?  What gives "My Humps" its reputation, whatever it may be?

First, we must understand the core concept of this song.  I'll give it to you myself before Fergie has a chance to jump in.  Apparently, , which she accepts despite her internal reservations.  Well, I must say that has great potential as a topic to write a song about.  As someone who's played Spec Ops: The Line, I'm a big fan of cognitive dissonance as a narrative tool.  So how does Fergie portray this message?
I drive these brothers crazy
I do it on the daily
They treat me really nicely
They buy me all these ices
Okay, so Fergie (or the character she's portraying in the song) is such an attractive mating prospect that all the random men around her are attempting to get her attention by offering her presents of expensive brand-name luxury items.  Now for the product placement parade!
Dolce and Gabbana™
Fendi™ and then Donna
Karan™ they be sharin'
Okay, so maybe that wasn't exactly product placement, per se.  I mean, I don't know if whatever brands I satirically embellished with trademark symbols actually paid to have themselves mentioned in this song, which is the textbook definition of "product placement".  But with so many brands mentioned in such a short span of time, it can't be a coincidence, right?  Okay, maybe it is a coincidence.  But even if these recording artists are doing all these promotional references simply pro-bono, the sum of it all still contributes to an unhealthy culture in which personal value is measured not by what one does with his or her life, but by what one buys.  Let me put it to you this way: the world needed Macklemore's "Thrift Shop".
All their money got me wearing fly
Whether I ain't asking
What's this?  She wasn't asking for any of these gifts in the first place?  Please, Fergie, tell me more!
They say they love my [noun] in
Seven Jeans™, True Religion™
Aw man, I thought we were done with the product placement -- oh, I'm sorry -- "product placement".  The quotes are important.
I say no but they keep giving
So I keep on taking
And no I ain't taken
We can keep on dating,
Now keep on demonstrating
My love
And here's the conflict.  Fergie's initial response to all those suitors is to decline them, not that we're ever privy to her reasons for doing so, mind you.  I mean, she doesn't even have a boyfriend in this song.  But those luxury goods the fellas sweeten the deal with have apparently broken her down, because now she's accepting them with the prospect of them being friends.  But to what end?  Is she just in it for the free goodies?  Because that's the most I've got to go by!  That's why I'm more disappointed with "My Humps" than any other emotion: an intriguing concept has been set up by setting the stage of Fergie's internal conflict of interests, but by not giving us more detail on the matter, the concept fails to live up to its potential.

Or so I thought, but then I remembered that will.i.am has a verse on "My Humps" as well.  Huh, you'd think with his ego he'd have jumped in sooner.  But, it'll be interesting to hear the man's perspective on our ongoing dilemma.
I met a girl down at the disco
She said hey, hey-hey, yeah let's go
I can be your baby, you could be my honey
Let's spend time not money
Wait a minute, "spend time, not money"?  
And mix your milk with my cocoa puff
Milky milky cocoa
Mix your milk with my cocoa puff
Milky milky riiiiide...
Uhh...  Was that supposed to be a sexual innuendo, or just some lame attempt at launching a catchphrase?  Oh yeah, and there's also this call-and-response bit between will.i.am and Fergie, arguably the most famous part of the song.  I won't bother pasting the lyrics for this part, because you probably know it already, and there's nothing to analyse, really.  And now back to Fergie.
You can look but you can't touch it
If you touch it, I'mma
Start some drama
Oh, so you do have standards.
You don't want no drama
No-no drama
No-no-no-no drama
Yeah, we get it.  You don't want drama.  Can we move on, please?
So don't pull on my hand boy
You ain't my man boy
I'm just trying to dance boy
And move my hump
Wait a minute, Fergie!  Didn't you say at the end of the first verse that you and he "can keep on dating"?  What's up with the sudden switcheroo?  I like to think that some time has passed between the first and second verse, and Fergie's picked up a number of boyfriends in the interim time, only to get sick of their company.  But that's just it: I only think that all this happened.  If the consumer is required to read between the lines in order to receive the full experience, then you have on your hands a defective piece of art.

Speaking of defective, the music isn't exactly minimal, but I would describe it as "cheap".  If I didn't know better, I'd claim this was produced by the Neptunes on a bad day.  But that's not the worst part of this song.  Nor is it the lyrics, or the themes they (attempt to) present.  In fact, in the hands of more capable performers, this song might even be salvagable.  My problem with this song is that Fergie's performance lacks the sense of irony needed to pull this off.  Without it, she just sounds like an annoying idiot, and those qualities unfortunately seep into the character she plays, transforming her into a materialist "dumb blonde", hair colour notwithstanding.  Even taking all of the above into account, I wouldn't nearly call this the worst pop song of all time, especially next to the likes of "Hollaback Girl" and "Laffy Taffy", both of which came out in the same year as this.  But "My Humps" could have -- nay, should have -- been a lot better.

Music: 1 out of 5
Lyrics: 2 out of 5
Performance: 1 out of 5
The Call: 1 out of 5 (F)

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