Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Flowtation Device Prezents: "I'm On a Boat" by Lonely Island ft. T-Pain (DETAILED DISCUSSION OF PROFANITY)

The Flowtation Device doesn't actually have much to say about this one, but when has that stopped us before? Sometime before you lose your sense of humor, you should really watch this video, if you're not one of the 10 million people who's already done so:

And if irregular buffering gets you down, you can always just listen to the song:

The Singles Jukebox, an entertaining critical roundup, was divided into thirds over whether this song was a really good parody that was also an homage, an OK joke that could have been better executed, or a lametard joke that insulted its target and wasn't funny at all. Since it was my favorite single of 2009, I'm going with the first choice, but I'd like to downplay the importance of the "parody being simultaneously an homage". Of COURSE it's simultaneously an homage! This is not so unusual. In fact, the genre of parodies could plausibly be divided into thirds: one third simultaneously pays tribute to its target (Lonely Island, Hot Fuzz, some Spike Jones); one third insults its target (other Spike Jones, "Smells Like Nirvana"); and one third you can't really tell (most other Weird Al songs). These thirds are probably unequal; I haven't done the math, nor do I intend to. Please contact me if you're interested in doing so, and I'll endorse your results.

The guys in Lonely Island are pretty good rappers, and they're good in a way that highlights the shortcomings of the Flowtation Device. Read on the page, a line like

"i'mRIDin /
ONaDOLphin*.DOin / FLIPS_ANDshit=theDOLphin's /
SPLASHin=.GETtinEV'ry / BODyALLwet*"

is sort of funny, but rhythmically it's simple and boring. Accented syllables fall about where you'd expect them to, and the only item of interest is the syncopation that sometimes occurs on the "and" of beat 2: "FLIPS_ANDshit" and "EV'ry / BODyALLwet". (Let's call that the "rhythm of the boogie the beat" phrase-ending syncopation, for short.) But the Lonelies' delivery makes the line and puts over the rest of the song. It's the Beastie Boys effect. Lonely Island are aggressively in character and they really sell this idea that being on a boat is the most covetable example of conspicuous consumption that's ever existed. Plus they have T-Pain singing the funniest parody cameo since Michael McDonald offered to get your car detailed for 20 bucks, at the end of the South Park movie.

Alas, the Flowtation Device cannot depict flow delivery. So we'll end by pointing out two elements that DO fall under our jurisdiction, but that you probably could have noticed without our help:

1. The Lonely Island may not be the most skilled rappers, but they make themselves appear more skilled by changing flow patterns every four lines. The array of patterns--five different ones over six verses--helps create the impression that a whole posse of guest rappers is in the studio, and the brevity of these four-line verses keeps us from getting bored by what are some fairly pedestrian rhythms. Some of the verses start their lines on beat one, some rest on beat one, some rhyme at the end of each line, some rhyme on beat 2--they've identifed a variety of simple ways to change things up.

2. The one surprising rhythm (and maybe I'm just easily surprised) occurs in verse 5, the "motherfucker" verse. I expect lines like


to end on the "and" of beat 3, which would continue the "rhythm of the boogie the beat" phrase-ending syncopation, discussed above. Instead, Mr. Lonely holds out "FU--" for a whole beat, and hits second syllable "CKAH" right on beat 4, if not the barest smidge before. Ordinarily, hitting every beat in a bar would be the most boring rapping imaginable, the sort of parody you'd get from some blowhard who'd only ever heard rap blasting out of car windows and felt threatened by it. But since they've cannily established the expectation of ending phrases on offbeats--since we know the Lonely Island are capable of syncopation--the refusal to syncopate just emphasizes the word "motherfucker," in all its ridiculous glory, even more.

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