Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What the F**k?!

This week's Billboard Hot 100 singles chart has a rather unusual feature--three songs within the top 10 that include the f-word in the title, making it the most profane top 10 ever. Profanity in popular music is certainly not something new, but shouting it so prominently by making it part of the title isn't exactly commonplace for major mainstream hits.

The trend started last summer when Cee Lo Green released his rather shockingly titled "F**k You!," which, although it caused a few hands to clutch the pearls, has ultimately turned into a major international smash due to its memorable, cheeky premise. Then more recently, P!nk's greatest hits set's second single, "F**kin' Perfect" became a major hit, almost at the same time as Enrique Iglesias's "Tonight (I'm F**kin' You)."

Now I'm no prude and I've certainly never been a fan of musical censorship, but this degree of foul-tongued songwriting has even me feeling a bit school marmish. Dropping the f-bomb is supposed to add particular emphasis, but if it's this common now, does it lose some of that power?

The extent to which the f-word in these songs is resonant depends a bit on its use, which, in the case of these songs is different for each word. The f-word is a remarkably flexible term, embodying clear and varying meanings even within its verb, noun and adjectival forms.

It's most obvious form is as a verb to indicate coitus, which is how it's used in the Iglesias song. This use is considered obscene and frankly, most people I know when they use the f-word, it isn't in this manner. As such, the Iglesias song as actually the most offensive of the lot. I would definitely recommend avoiding having it play on your office iPod speakers.

When used as a command, as in Green's song, the f-word doesn't seem as obscene, although it is still clearly vulgar. Although technically this is still a coitus usage, I doubt most people think of it that way, and mean it just to say "I really don't like you" but in a nastier way.

P!nk's use of the f-word is adjectival, purely to provide extra emphasis, and as such doesn't really mean anything. Consequently, her use of the f-word in "F**kin' Perfect" is the least vulgar, although it is also the least meaningful.

Being as they are commercial-minded pop singers, all three of these songs showed up in radio friendly versions: "Forget You," "Tonight (I'm Loving You)," and simply "Perfect" (any airplay chart that claims stations are playing "F**k You!" instead of "Forget You" is lying). In these sanitized forms "Perfect" suffers the least, since frankly, the f-word serves little purpose in that song. "Tonight" becomes a typical pop music come on, rather than a really slutty one. But "Forget You," while fun, is a shadow of the greatness of "F**k You," since here the contrast of the sweetly retro melody and a sharp profanity serve the song well--a contrast that disappears with "Forget You," making the song's protagonist sound weak and undeserving of the woman he has been pursuing.

The moral of all this, if there is one, is that if you're going to drop an f-bomb in a pop music song and expect me to like, you'd better make it count. Otherwise, I'll be seeking out a more office friendly version.


John said...

I like all three songs, and I've caught myself singing along with the uncensored version. Having said that, I think P!nk's song could live without it, and Cee-Lo's works as well for me with "Eff You," which is the version that's gotten play on Sirius XM's Hits 1 channel.

ww_adh said...

Thanks John. I didn't know there was an "Eff You" version. Interesting.

Chris B. said...

Interesting. In your view, what is the distinction between vulgarity and obscenity?