Written by Phillip Mottaz
Dedicated to those songs that I can't stop playing, humming, or thinking about; the 4+ minutes you fall head-over-heels in love with. Past instances have included The Stooges' "No Fun," Tom Petty's "Listen To Her Heart" and Monster Magnet's "Negasonic Teenage Warhead."
The burden of wearing glasses is that people assume you are smart, even when you might not be. I'm not claiming people wearing glasses can't be smart, but I'm tired of getting burdened with more intelligence than I carry. Maybe it's my own issue and my confidence needs a boost. But right now, I'm not feeling smart at all. I've allowed my world to be dominated -- completely and uninterrupted -- by the most annoying song to which I've ever clapped along. What started out as a half joke transformed into 100% adoration and has now landed somewhere between "Unstoppable Dancing" and "How long is this song?" A smart person could have figured this sooner. A smart person would have put it together upon the first listen, shook off the "Crazy In Love" residue and moved on with his life. Glasses notwithstanding, I am not this smart person.
Maybe I allowed this to happen through my self-enforced ban of my favorite groups, all in an effort to diversify my listening field and therefore make this column more enjoyable. Maybe I'm just stupid. Either way, as I wallow in the delightful horribleness of "Single Ladies," I often wonder if I'm listening to the least irritating song in the world, or the best annoying song? Or both? The answer is: It's barely a song at all, but what's annoying is its inescapable talons. In the span of three-and-a-quarter minutes, there are two and a half fits of what could be categorized as "musical." Those are the beeps under the verses, the music bed under the "Put a ring on it" chorus, and the end of the bridge. But minimal musicianship doesn't automatically make a song annoying or irritating or bad in anyway. Not to a casual listener, anyway. To someone who keeps playing it over and over and over again, the minimal musicianship turns the mind into a baked potato. I'm starving for more, but whenever I go looking for something to play, I quickly find myself right back in her arms. I even downloaded the iTunes Genius application, in an attempt to gradually ween myself off this tune with other like songs, but I get an error message telling me "Genius is unavailable for the song 'Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It).'" Even an iTunes "Genius" is no match for this song's irritating grip, so what hope do I have? I'm no genius. I just have his glasses.
Best as I can tell, the reason for the parenthetical in the title is because the chorus of "all the single ladies" sucks. It's an awkward phrase to say, let alone sing. It sits weird in your mouth and it clanks like a tin can. On the other hand, "If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it" chimes like a silver bell. It's so good, that since my first listen of the song weeks ago, it infiltrated my everyday speech. Someone could comment on how they like the jambalaya, or how great they think the Steelers' chances are in the Superbowl, or how everyone was right about how easy it is to sell furniture on Craigslist, and it takes every ounce of will power I have to keep from responding "If you like it, then you shoulda put a ring on it." On the occasion that my will power does not hold firm, I keep going into the "Oh-oh-oh..." portion of the song... sometimes confined within my mind, sometimes much less so.
I normally believe we should not have "guilty pleasures." When people shy away from telling me they loved Def Leppard when they were in high school, I try to pull them from the shadows. Let your Def flag fly, man. I love Kid Rock, and I'm an adult! You can't help what you love and what your tastes are and -- not to get too esoteric -- if we hold personal taste as something you can be guilty of having, then we as a nation will never heal the prejudice tearing our country apart. Thank you.
However, my belief system may have met its match with "Single Ladies". Not just for all the irritating features we've discussed earlier, but for the unmistakable and supposedly unrelatable facts at the center of the song. I am neither single nor a lady, so should I feel weird putting my hands up (up!)? A good victory of the song over my daily life comes when I play it on my walk, and I can't stop walking to the beat and doing meek fist pumps. But as I tool around my neighborhood jamming out to Beyoncé's retort to her ex, I cannot help but question my sanity along with my masculinity. This coming from an adult man who watched Clueless in the theater, can quote Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion and has seen every episode of Gilmore Girls. I'm no stranger to liking the lady stuff, but this might be too much to admit.
In a panic, I try to get analytical. And since I can't get too deep into the music of the song itself (outside of that ending bridge, that kind of reminds me of that Elvis song "Little Less Conversation," but only because I half hope that song is going to appear, as though it was in disguise for two minutes as "Single Ladies"), I have to think about the video, the singer herself and all the world around them. I like Beyoncé, but does this song qualify her an official hag? Put yourself in the shoes of the other two members of Destiny's Child. Beyoncé broke up the group to have a solo career, and no one can argue she made a "bad" career decision, but you're probably not thrilled about it. Then this video comes along, and she's flanked the entire time by two attractive back-up dancers, creating another trio... just like Destiny's Child! It's like Jimmy Page building another four-part blues-based rock band, gave them all weird mystical symbols for names and called themselves Metal Balloon.
On the plus side, Rowland and Williams have to be happy that the title of "Stop Playing That Damn Catchy Song!" has finally been stripped from "Bootylicious", yet kept in the family, so to speak. There are unmistakably great portions of this song, and that must be how it has become such a big hit and has rooted in my consciousness. Like time to nostalgia, my memory has done an expert job of editing out the less awesome portions of this song, leaving me with cued excitement to hear the song. I love the idea of it, yet every time I hear it, it ultimately lets me down. Listen to that final chorus, with the best phrase, the keyboards underneath and the multiple vocals building to something that's never achieved. Not in reality, anyway. It's achieved in my imagination. I tie it to the success of "Crazy in Love" and assume "Single Ladies" is just as great. Like re-watching "Attack of the Clones," I keep hoping to catch something I missed that will finally live up to my expectations. "Single Ladies" may the first song I can whistle better than the song itself.
Inevitable Video Note: I had many clips to choose from, but I decided to include the side-by-side comparison of the official video and a little girl doing the dance in her living room. The horse-whip part is the best.