[2 July 2010]
Last year when Flo Rida’s album R.O.O.T.S. dropped to chart-crushing popular acclaim, it was easy to miss the peculiarities of the album’s fourth single, “Be on You”. Perhaps tempered by the influence of the rapper’s several other hits that year, including “Sugar” and the number one Billboard hit “Right Round”, the sheer oddness of “Be on You” went pretty much unnoticed. And what, exactly, is so unique about “Be on You”, one might ask? Oh, nothing except that the song’s chorus and title are lifted wholesale from the Will Ferrell comedy, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004). While many dance pop tracks have made the sexing up of one’s significant other their subject matter, this may be the only song that can truthfully tout itself as “baby-making music”. Flo Rida’s “Be On You” is not just another rapper’s homage to Scarface but a musical tribute to a character who describes his dog/life coach as “a miniature Buddha, covered in hair”. Knowing this, is it even possible to take this song seriously, and by “seriously”, I mean even on the level dance-pop is meant to be taken? Is the song meant to be earnest (as far as any pop music is earnest), ironic (insofar as pop music is capable of irony), or staking a claim in some post-ironic netherworld of genre definition where the likes of the Insane Clown Posse reign supreme?
Before proceeding, a definition of “post-irony” should probably be attempted. At least in terms of the minimum understanding required for conversation’s sake, and with an all-encompassing disclaimer in terms of the actual ins and outs of nascent terminology: A) when hipsters listen to Britney Spears because they think her music is awful, ever saying to themselves “Ha, look how awful she is, how clever I am, etc.”, their appreciation is ironic; and B) when the same hipsters have been listening to Britney Spears way too long for their appreciation to be truthfully called “ironic” anymore, their appreciation is post-ironic. The hipsters have, in fact, started to genuinely like Britney Spears. Their enjoyment happened by way of irony but is not actually ironic. Now that that’s out of the way…
A re-contextualization of the scene from Anchorman as a sincere proposition seems…problematic. Getting any measure of realism out of the lines, “I want to be on you” would be like trying to cull actual play-by-play commentary from Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine, or citing Mel Brooks’ A History of the World, Part I as a primary source. Then again, maybe Flo Rida was just carrying on the joke rather than retrofitting Ron Burgundy for dance pop. If the song was never meant to be taken seriously (again, in the way pop music is taken seriously) and, thus, was a mere extension of Anchorman’s parody of the swinging ‘70s, the joke would be on everyone who has interpreted the message of “Be on You” as one of sexual healing.
Consider the directionality of Flo Rida’s reference, both of genre and medium. Usually it’s the world of comedy drawing from that of rap, the flow of ideas moving from bonified hip-hop tropes to overdrawn, super blinged-out comedic versions, as in Chris Rock’s CB4, the Wayans’ Don’t Be a Menace 2 South Central While Drinking Your Juice ‘N Tha Hood, and SNL Digital Shorts “Like a Boss” and the T-Pain-approved “I’m on a Boat”. Could it be that the misdirection of “Be on You” is an attempt to take something funny and make some larger point with it? Two examples of this maneuver that spring to mind are Woody Allen’s joke from Annie Hall about how people stay in relationships “because they need the eggs”, or the Marx Brothers’ standard, “Hello, I Must Be Going!” from Animal Crackers. Yet Flo Rida gives no wink to his audience, no moment of mugging to the camera to bring them into the joke (this is, no mugging beyond the usual… oh, never mind). As comedy, “Be on You” would have to be very subtle indeed, and the song’s assignation as such would need to happen outside the actual “text” of the song, if anywhere. Even a brief sampling of Flo Rida’s other music, or any of his videos, makes the possibilities of this kind of subtlety pretty slim.
It seems more likely that, just as many have claimed the Insane Clown Posse of being only half-aware of the true nature of their appeal among the less-than-Juggalo, Flo Rida’s Anchorman reference was made as cluelessly as it was earnestly, and where everyone else is laughing and/or cringing at Ron Burgundy, Flo Rida considers Will Ferrell’s ‘70s-era Lothario to be quite the smooth operator. In short, the song is unintentionally funny, and Flo Rida is not in on the joke. Not that there is necessarily such a rigid division between hero worship and comedic send-up. The veneration by hip-hop artists of stereotypical characters like Scarface’s Tony Montana and The Godfather’s Michael Corleone have as much to do with these characters’ comedic impact as their unchallenged status as badasses. At the very least Flo Rida is a fan of Ron Burgundy, at most a kind of wrong-headed disciple.
Whatever the case, phenomena like the Insane Clown Posse, as well as tracks like “Be on You”, are examples of just how far the demographic of a given genre can extend. And if white guys in clown make-up rapping about murder and miracles can captivate a whole nation of rock-rap leftovers, there’s no reason Will Ferrell’s love letter to tight pants and freewheeling sexual politics can’t extend into a rap/R&B slow jam. Who knew that a Venn diagram of hip-hop, circus performers, and movies featuring Saturday Night Live alums was so possible, so danceable?