10 Years, 100 Songs: #95. “T-A-S-T-E-Y”
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 8, 2009
I’m not too proud to admit it, but I spent a healthy chunk of the decade–the better part of the first three years, really–turning a relative blind eye to pop music. Most of the really big stuff still got through, of course–I was still in high school, a time in my life when big hits could still be relatively unavoidable–but I missed out on a whole lot of the little stuff. Consequently, when pop music eventually crawled its way back under my skin around ’03, I had absolutely no idea what to make of the Black Eyed Peas. When last I had seen them, they were a relatively unassuming, rootsy hip-hop group, the helmers of one of the better underground/backpacker/whatever rap songs of the late 90s, “Joints & Jam.” What the hell happened? Why is the lead singer dressing like a disciple of the Jay Kay school of fashion? Why are the other guys looking and acting like the No Doubt rhythm section? Where are all these dumb pop songs coming from? And most importantly–who the fuck is that new white chick?
Fergie took a long time for me to get used to. Not because I was so devoted to the old-school Black Eyed Peas style–aside from the one song, I was pretty whatever–but just because I didn’t at all understand how she turned the Black Eyed Peas into the group behind “Hey Mama,” “Where is The Love” and “Let’s Get [It Started],” or why the public was so receptive to this new incarnation. If you wanted to call it a sell out, by strict definition you probably could–except that the rest of the Peas seemed to be having such a good time doing it, making their dumbass pop songs and showing up to awards shows in ridiculous outfits and doing surreally enthusiastic and incomprehnesive live perofrmances before the Super Bowl. I read an article once by one of my Stylus co-writers (and I don’t remember who it was, so if by any chance you’re reading this, pipe up) that suggested that the old-look Black Eyed Peas was just as much, if not more of a pose/trend-hop as their pop retooling, since back in the late-90s, conscientious, instrumental-based hip-hop might have really seemed like the wave of the future. That made sense, and made me think that maybe this wasn’t the BEPs selling out–it was just them liberating themselves from their adopted, and somewhat ill-fitting, veneer of cool.
Once it was clear that Fergie was going to be the focal point of Black Eyed Peas Mk. 2, however (and “My Humps” made damn sure of that, for better or worse), a solo break was more than inevitable. And as it turned out, Fergie solo was even goofier, poppier, and undilutedly stupider when turned out on her own (though of course, having BEPs mastermind (sic) will.i.am as executive producer on her album probably helped ensure the nuttiness). “London Bridge” was a pretty good primer, with its horrific yet entirely apropos “OH [SNAP!]” intro, mind-numbingly brash horn hook, and absolutely perplexing single-and-a-half innuenduous chorus. But “Fergalicious” was the main event–a song that told you absolutely everything you could or should ever want to know about Stacey Ferguson the solo artist. And it also proved one of the benchmark points of pop music–talent, craft and ambition may take you far in this business, but nothing puts you over the top quite like a willingness to look like a complete and total idiot.
In this respect, Fergie was positively fearless. That’s where I think people get mixed up a little bit with her, because they think the key to the appeal of songs like this and “London Bridge” is her trying to look like a slutty sex symbol. She is, sort of, but if you’ll notice, she kind of sucks at it. Not that she’s not attractive, because she certainly is, but despite what her next hit might’ve claimed, she’s not nearly glamorous enough for the whole seductress thing–she’s too ridiculous, hangs out with too many loser goofballs, makes too many bad puns. At best, her kind of hot is like a sloppy drunk, train wreck kind of hot, which may be all well and good for a karaoke bar on a Saturday night, but isn’t exactly the stuff that pop stars are traditionally made of. Which is why it’s probably for the best that a certain picture of her leaked on the internet, one which pretty much destroyed any remaining sex appeal that Ms. Ferguson may have had–in retrospect, it made things far less confusing.
Really, the appeal of Fergie is her her unwavering self-confidence, and her inability to self-edit. The great majority of lines in “Fergalicious” would make sense in absolutely zero non-Fergie songs that hit the top 40 this decade. For instance, take her boast of “I be up in my gym / just working on my fitness.” What other female in pop history has ever bragged about her workout regimen, let alone in such an awkward fashion? Or “They want my treasure / so they get their pleasure from my photo?” Ick, Fergie! (Especially if it’s, y’know, that photo). And then, of course, there’s the title itself, which would’ve made the song an instant veto on radio from anyone else out there right now (“Xtinalicious”? “Alicialicious”? “Gagalicious”? Fuck, I guess that last one might actually happen someday), but which Fergie certainly doesn’t shy away from, even defining the term several times in the song. Jeepers.
Then, of course, there’s the invaluable contributions of will.i.am, lurking in the back for most of the song and just miming the song’s spoken word samples, until it comes his time to shine on the bridge: “T…to the A…to the S T E Y girl you tastey!!” Of course, observant listeners will note that Will adds an extraneous letter to his spelled-out testimony of just how tastey Fergie Ferg really is–and not even in a cool, hip-hop-endorsed misspelling way of making an “s” into a “z” or a “f” into a “ph.” The logical explanation would be that it fit better sylabically than it would have had he not included the “e,” but really, it sounds kind of awkward anyway. Most likely, Will started out with that spelling on accident while helping to craft the song, and just got too used to the way it sounded to make any eleventh-hour changes to it. That, or he just legitimately didn’t notice–or noticed, but just legitimately didn’t care.
So I know what you’re thinking–this should all be adding up to a bad song, right? Well, if you don’t like “Fergalicious,” I doubt I could really blame you. But I love the whole retarded thing, just because its enthusiasm and passion for pop music–at its dumbest, basest, purest form–is so undeniable. For one thing, the song is a positive smorgasbord of pop references, with samples ranging from James Brown’s “Night Train” to Kraftwerk’s “It’s More Fun to Compute,” and lyrical nods from JJ Fad to Nelly Furtado. And the hooks are all so big obvious and wacky that you’re positively powerless to stop them–even if you could fight them off one at a time, there’s just so many of them that it’s completley overwhelming. It ends up a huge, overstuffed mess, but one whose intoxicating inanity is part of a hugely proud pop tradition, from John Fred and His Playboy Band’s “Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)” to Paul McCartney’s “Jet” to Men Without Hats’ “The Safety Dance” to the Spice Girls’ “Spice Up Your Life”–aggressively moronic, IQ-dropping, utterly nonsensical pop music that nevertheless became indispensible to their respective eras.
Personally, I don’t try to fight it anymore. There’s bigger tragedies in the world than a nutty, over-enthusiastic, sloppy drunk hott chick with poor bladder control making fun music for hyperactive idiots. “Joints & Jam” doesn’t sound nearly as good as it did in 1999 anyway.