What’s wrong with T-Swift? She might be all-American, but last week, she ceded the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 back to Flo Rida’s ‘Whistle,’ a mediocre song whose description I’m less-than-comfortable laying out in the lede (tantalizing discussion below). What could Swift have possibly done to deserve this fate? Bad timing. 1
The summer was over and Whistle was the better back-to-school jam. Why? One word. Escapism. We’re back in school (even if you’re not, the people who listen to Top-40 are) and nostalgia for those summer days fills the mind. Try watching Whistle and not wanting to get away:
Rida’s very upfront about the meaning of his songs. Whistling is the image Flo employs to describe when a woman tries to get his attention (though he categorically refuses any “freaky” interpretations of his song). The track’s about pulling you out of your drab, daily life. Escapism with a hook.
Strangely enough, the competing Swift and Rida start their songs in the same way. We start with the picked acoustic guitar and three-note patter. But then Rida gets excited and pops up his pitch, gently reminding us to put our lips together, etc. The bass drops and carries us into the land of hip-hop. Rida treats us to his masterfully-clear, syncopated flow and delivers his lyrics whose simplicity hide a capacity for entendre that never ceases to amaze me (remember his work with Ke$ha?). Given the choice between Swift’s sing-along chorus or Rida’s rap, who wouldn’t prefer Flo’s fantasy echoing through the head during the endless hours of duplicating TPS reports?
It’s a helluva fantasy. His video takes us on an overnight, Indian-summer vacation to Acapaulco, where apparently there’s a local clothing shortage. We spend the day on the perfect tropical beach complete with a California-king four-poster (which seems a peculiar prop for a beach, unless I am going to the wrong beaches). After a day in the sun, we spend our nights in the club dancing carelessly underneath spinning, sparking Catherine wheels (the fire code being more lax in Mexico, we’re left to assume). The images invade our minds and steal us away to his tropical escape. We don’t stand a chance.
Last March, three of the Top 10 singles featured in their choruses “variations on a familiar, emphatic, percussive four-letter word,” as Jon Pareles put it in the New York Times. In the world of Top 40 music, subtlety is not in style. Pop stars are looking to capture your attention, and if it’s not by cussing, it’ll be by something else (the singular timbre of the whistle comes to mind). You gotta stick up out of the crowd and scantily-clad double-entendre will always win out over bouncing animals celebrating a break-up. Pop music is apparently an arms race and last week Ms. Swift just got outgunned.
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