Saturday, June 11, 2005

A tale of three Gwens

First and foremostest of all, I have to hand it to the Neptunes. A year ago, I had grown disillusioned . . . sure their milkshakes brought all the boys to the yard, but what were those boys going to do once they got there? Move around to the same tired handclaps? I had written Pharrel & Co. off and, well, you know what they say about second acts in American careers.

And I was wrong. First there was "Drop it Like it's Hot" with its glacial yet persistent pace, its tongue clicks and glottal stops, and now there's my new favorite song, "Hollaback Girl" now playing in three different incarnations on local radio. Before this song, the Gwen Stefani singles had been leaving me mostly cold. The first song just sounded a lot like Madonna, which is, you know, fine, but also not that interesting. The second song sampled from "Fiddler on the Roof" and mostly served to show that our girl Gwen is no Jay-Z (or, perhaps more accurately, Dr. Dre is no Kanye West . . . who, btw, appears on the new Common song basically saying everything that August Wilson is trying to talk about in Radio Golf . . . the man is a genius, Good Lord . . . but I digresss).

And then Gwen came out with "Hollaback Girl" which combines catchy beats, high school rivalries, and just enough swearing to have three different radio versions. The pop station, where I heard it first cuts out the bad word with a graceful elision, as if to imply that Gwen merely trails off, leaving us to fill in: "This my . . . this my . . ." In fact, the first time I heard it, I couldn't even tell if there was supposed to be a bad word there or what bad word was supposed to be. Next time was on one of the hip-hop-and-r&b stations, where it sounded like, "This my shhhh, this my shhh." And, finally, I heard it on my favorite hip-hop-and-r&b station where the offending word was replaced by a series of goofy sound effects (cowbell, bo-ing!, crash, etc.)

Wondering what all of this meant about the personalities of these radio stations, about race and gender in America (like you do) and the parallel lives lived by different social groups in DC, I checked out the video online. Where Gwen, at the crucial moment puts her finger to her lips, to "shhh" us, and it hit me:

Catchy beats, high school rivalries, finger-to-the-lips coyness -- 'fess up, Gwen, you stole your shit from OutKast.