Tuesday, August 4, 2009
#149. 'So what's that supposed to be about baby?'
The problem with making a list that's based on personal favorites is that I'll occasionally look at it and think it looks a bit...incomplete I guess. A lot of the songs that pretty much defined the 00s for a few months at a time don't do enough for me to put them in the vicinity of the list, but without them it doesn't seem to be a full list. Of course in some cases it's justifiable: even though Fergie pretty much had a stranglehold on the top 5 from 2003-2008, either as part of Black Eyed Peas or on her own, that doesn't mean that she made any of the best singles of the decade (though truth be told I was considering "Clumsy" for a bit) or that she should be mentioned just to give the list a sense of fullness. I'll have a bit less luck defending a few other omissions depending on your corner of pop culture, but sometimes it comes down to this being my list, not an attempt sum up the decade in 150 singles.
That said though, I couldn't get away with leaving Sean Paul out of this. All through my last year of high school, where you could try to get away from pop music but it would never fully take, he was a constant presence. "Get Busy" and "Like Glue" were second only to "Ignition (Remix)" as far as party-starter anthems go, "Gimme the Light" was the go to song for a certain subset of my more weed-inclined classmates and Dutty Rock was one of the biggest selling albums in Canada that year. Basically, I couldn't have escaped him if I wanted to (and oh did I want to) for one of the more important years of my life, so looking at the list in some of its early stages and not seeing his name there just felt wrong.
The major problem with Sean Paul is that, much as he defined 2002-2003 for pop music, dude was really fucking annoying. Pick any of his songs and I'm fine with it for a minute or so, but after the second chorus I want to shut him up right quick. Something about his accent combined with his vocal style and the incessant repetition that most of his songs are based on just grates at my last nerve and makes it hard for me to accept his place in the scheme of 2000's pop. But setting my personal dislike for his own material aside, if there was ever a guy better suited to the right side of the f/ symbol than the left it was him. I can never take a whole song of his but a guest verse is just the right serving size, although in retrospect he had very little luck in that arena. Sure his presence added to songs but if the songs themselves were gash there wasn't much he could do to save them. Pair him up with a good song though, and that's where the real Sean Paul money is, and "Breathe" really is the only time I can think of that occurring.
"Breathe" is one of the most interesting non-hits of the decade, both in the 'how the fuck was this not huge?' department and in the 'how single edits can help/hurt' department. See, the original version never featured Paul in any way. Take the version anyone knows and excise his parts completely and you've got the album version. Now that's a pretty good song in its own right, but it also presents a couple of problems as far as it being the lead single from a one-hit wonder's sophomore album. The biggest one would be that the part that's ostensibly the chorus ( the 'All we do is MAKE UP! Then BREAK UUUUUUUP' part) couldn't sound less like a chorus if it tried. It sounds like it's building up to a chorus but doesn't quite get there, which is like blue-balls for pop music fans. It's a good album track, but as single it needed a bit more if it was gonna break Blu out of one-hit wonderdom. And that's where someone got the idea to bring Sean Paul in to provide the chorus that the song was sorely lacking. The combination of the song now actually having a chorus and the fact that said chorus was provided by the boy wonder of pop music at the time probably looked like surefire hit material at the time, yet of all the Sean Paul related tracks that came about in 2002-2003 it was this that was the biggest duffer in the US. That #70 peak looks pretty out of place in the company of the 5 top 20 singles that surrounded it, though the fact that it was Paul's only UK #1 (for four weeks!) is a good enough consolation prize, I guess.
The other thing that Paul's chorus does, and if you weren't aware of the original version you'd never know it, is that it totally flips the song's meaning around. As a Blu solo song it's a simple plea for a break from all the drama and bullshit attendant to a relationship. This aspect is still there in the single version, but after all that Paul comes in and basically goes 'Aw, honey...you're just being irrational right now. Let's sleep on it for a bit before we do anything rash.' The fact that for all his questionable attributes Paul was a charismatic motherfucker makes Blu's standpoint seem a bit less rational to boot, so it really becomes a song wherein a woman over reacts to what's going on in her relationship. In other words, Blu Cantrell essentially made "Hit 'Em Up Style" part two with Sean Paul at the height of his magical Sean Paul powers of hit single making and still couldn't get away from the one-hit wonder label. It's a strange fucking world we live in.