10 Years, 100 Songs: #25. “She Even Caught Me on Camera!..”
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 24, 2009
In the 00s, there were two #1 hits sung by men primarly on the subject of cheating on their girlfriends. One was Usher’s “Confessions, Pt. 2,” a guilt-wracked but surprisingly self-righteous confession from Mr. Raymond to his special lady about knocking up the girl he was stepping out with. It was dramatic, it had an unbearably tense guitar hook, and it featured a video with at least one scene of a mirror shattering into thousands of pieces. The other was Shaggy and Ricardo ‘RikRok’ Ducent’s “It Wasn’t Me,” a shamed recounting from the latter of his woman walking in on him and mistress mid-coitus, to the former, who advises him to deny, deny, deny. It was catchy, it had a nice breezy guitar hook, and it featured a video where both men plotted Ducent’s high-tech escape from what appears to be a cadre of vengeful ninja ex-girlfriends. The lesson here, as always in pop music: When acting like an asshole, revel in it unapologetically, rather than fake contrition for your misdeeds.
Shaggy’s return to the pop landscape in the Naughty Oughties was an unexpected, but far from unwelcome surprise. Those of us who were around for the booming 90s remembered him bset from his contribution to the 90s reggae revival, the loverman classic “Boombastic,” ensured immortality with its use in a weirdly claymated Levi’s ad. But here he was back again, now something of an elder statesmen of the genre, willing to dispense his wisdom to the next generation–such as Ricardo ‘RikRok’ Ducent, a younger English singer with Jamaican roots and an airy, lovably innocent-sounding voice. With the reggae comeback of the previous decade long since eroded, and the dancehall revival still a couple years away, Shaggy would need a single with dynamite crossover potential–and the assistance of the more anglicized Ducent–to have any chance of re-entering the charts.
“It Wasn’t Me” was that single, and then some. It had a bounce to it that no other single this decade could quite match–just an irrepressible sweet-naturedness that made you smile the second you heard the first notes of that accoustic opening riff. I’ve heard the song cited as being instrumental in the eventual dancehall craze of the early-mid 00s, but while it may have had an indirect importance, and Shaggy’s vocals are undeniably Jamaican the song’s actually much closer in nature to a J. Lo and Ja Rule single than it is to anything by Beenie or Elephant Man. It’s just a big, sunny pop song, with an irresistibly stupid lyrical conceit and an impressively tuneful chorus.
The song leads off with a spoken-word dialogue to set up the story: Ducent’s girlfriend caught him fucking some chick in his house, and he doesn’t know what to do about the situation. Not exactly high theater, but then again, neither is Shaggy’s solution to the problem: “Juz say it wasn’t you!” And really, that’s the entire song’s content in a nutshell–the verses are mostly just Shaggy elaborating on his plan of action, often incomprehensibly (“Make sure she knows it’s not you and lead her on the right prefix / Whenever you should see her make a gigolo flex”), while the chorus is mostly just Ducent going into excruciating detail of just how badly the evidence stacks against him (“But she caught me on the counter! / Saw me kissing on the sofa!”) Some words of warning are given by Shaggy (“You better watch your back before she turn into a killer”) and some sentiments of remorse are expressed by Ducent (“You may think that you’re a player but you’re completley lost”), but the song is ultimately little more than this kind of winking, We’re No Angels paling around between the two.
The key to the song’s success, I believe, is this: It’s the greatest karaoke song of the decade. Not that one has to be an empty orchestra regular to enjoy it, but I believe the joy to be had in the song is inextricably tied to how much fun it is to sing along to. You have your choice of highly-juxtaposing styles to be had, whether it be Shaggy’s quickfire delivery and impenetrably thick accent and patois, or Ducent’s laid back stylings and sweet, almost teenage-sounding lilt. Shaggy’s vocal line stays to the same note pattern, and despite its general indecipherability, is actually much easier to fake through than trying to attempt Ducent jumping up and down the octave. But both are an absolute blast to try to imitate, and highly recommended for anyone attempting to pay tribute to the decade in drunken-singalong format. (Works even better as a duo routine!)
Just as important to the song’s success, of course, is how fucking ridiculous the whole thing is. It’s not just that Shaggy’s advice to Ducent on how to handle this most delicate of situations is to claim ignorance, despite the basically lead-solid case to the contrary. It’s not just that neither Shaggy or Ducent seem to care about the consequences of the situation beyond the fact that RikRok was caught in the act, lacking any moral grasp over the fact that cheating on your girlfriend is, y’know, bad. It’s not just that Shaggy tries to convince Ducent that his girlfriend will get distracted from the truth and eventually forget it entirely when she goes to “noontime mass.” It’s that apparently the response of Ducent’s girlfriend–she who is supposedly appalled by this whole mess–is to pull out a camera and tape her beau’s infidelity, as if possessing the foresight to know that one day the incident would show up in a pop song, and she would need the hard video proof to seal her case. (Although, the fact that Ducent’s girl “stayed until it was over,” combined with the taping, leads me to an alternate conspiracy theory–maybe she was a little bit into it? Perhaps Ducent should have talked this problem out with the young lady, rather than immediately reaching for Shaggy’s assistance). Is this all a bad thing? Of course not–dumb songs are the lifeblood of pop music, and the unblinking confidence of the idiocy on display here could win over the most hardened smart dude.
Shaggy’s reversed commercial fortunes lasted for one more song, the similarly popular “Angel,” which featured a RikRok-like R&B vocal performance from the golden-throated Rayvon, and got a big leg up from pop history in the form of the guitar line from Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” and the chorus hook from Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning.” The well dried after that, and Shaggy never really cashed in on the dancehall boom the way he probably could have–perhaps he had strayed too far from the course. Hip-hop and pop music changed quickly after that, and between the edgier, sparser beats of The Neptunes, the grimy assault of Lil’ Jon, and the souped-up soul of Kanye and Just Blaze, the lithe bubblegum of Shaggy’s second moment in the sun became almost instantly antiquated. Today it seems a blissfully naive and perfectly simple moment in pop history, not sure how it got to the forefront, but thoroughly overjoyed to be there. Every decade could use a dozen more of its kind.