What did he say?

I’ve said before that I’m a bit of a music junkie. I used to love watching the countdowns each week on Video Hits and I usually have something new on my iPod; right now it’s Ben Lee’s new album Ripe and The White Stripes’ Icky Thump. I really got into music about the same time I got into writing and I’ll often write with something on in the background to help me get into the right mood.

Much as I love music, though, I found I had one of those “wait… what did he say?” moments a couple of weeks ago. It’s still bugging me now. I was listening to the radio and a song came on which I hadn’t heard before. It was Timbaland’s new single and at first listen it seemed catchy enough. But then I heard the title – The Way I Are. Ouch! I think I can hear my English teachers screaming from here.

I’ll be honest: bad grammar is a pet hate of mine. If you think The Way I Are sounds bad enough, there are worse lyrics; one that stands out is It don’t matter ’cause I’m the one that love you best, and just what the hell does Thug it out mean?

I’m not saying my grammar is perfect – I know sometimes it’s, like, so not hot. But there are a couple of reasons Timbaland’s song bugs me. First, it’s #2 on the ARIA charts this week and #1 for downloads; it’s selling well and not many people seem to be saying anything about it. Second, I listened to the entire song several times and didn’t hear The Way I Are line in it anywhere. I still don’t now; I had to go to one of the lyric sites and apparently it is in there – Can you handle me the way I are? My point is that the lyric kind of slips by in the song; I don’t think I’d notice it as much if the title was The Way You Are, which is used a lot more in the song.

But the thing which really gets me about the song is this completely unrealistic idea of dating. I don’t want to sound unromantic but I don’t know many people who broadcast that they’re broke to help score a date; first dates are about impressions and no-one said you have to be rich or a millionaire to be attractive, but what about having some dignity? Some class? I think that goes a long way and singing Baby if you strip, you can get a tip doesn’t strike me as classy. But worse, the majority of people buying this song are teenagers; it sets an example that illiteracy and unemployment are acceptable and not a barrier to finding your soulmate. It’s a lovely sentiment but it just doesn’t work in the real world; or perhaps you’re going to pay for dinner with your tips from stripping?

I don’t mean any disrespect if you like the song and I do understand why it’s popular; it’s definitely catchy and has a good beat and a good video; Keri Hilson is simply stunning. What I’ve been wondering then is whether all this comes under poetic licence and I’m just making a big deal over nothing? Artists take liberties with language all the time to heighten the effect of their work, to change a tense or make a lyric rhyme. What’s so different here? Well, to me the difference is that The Way I Are subverts language rather than uses it. There’s little artistic reason I can see for any of the errors; there’s no lyrical reason for I to be used instead of You, for instance. This isn’t Justin Timberlake with Lovestoned or Apple telling us to Think Different; it doesn’t utilise or invent language, it subverts it, and it just bugs the hell out of me.

Of course, it’s just a song; CJ, chill. Whether Timbaland says The Way I Are or not doesn’t really matter in the end. Except that I’m a writer, damn it, and language does matter to me! I think every time we accept abuses like this, we lose a little piece of what we have. But it’s #2 on the charts now and doing well and it just makes me wonder if the whole thing is really just a clever marketing ploy… cynical, I know, but maybe that’s just the way I are. πŸ˜‰

Edit: Changed Timberland to Timbaland. Thanks to Judy for pointing that out; now I just feel embarrassed! πŸ™‚

11 thoughts on “What did he say?

  1. and it’s Timbaland ;-P

    I haven’t heard the song, since i’m completely cut off from pop culture right now. I would probably like it despite the lyrics (i have liked his productions in the past with Missy, Justin, and Nelly Furtado). Maybe i’ll go look for it…

    CJ: You’re right, it is Timbaland… d’oh! Seriously, that is the last time I do a post at 3am… cursed insomnia! That’s right, it’s the insomnia’s fault, not mine, lol. πŸ˜‰

    I actually like a lot of the music Timbaland has produced as well; Nelly Furtado’s album was one of the best of last year, and JT’s SexyBack one of the best songs in a long time. Maybe I was expecting more from Timbaland with his own work and I was disappointed… which probably says more about me than the song! Ah well, I’ll just have to wait for his next song. πŸ˜›

  2. okay, i just watched the video on YouTube, and i was right, i like the song πŸ™‚

    Maybe i’m a little inured to the grammar mangling that goes on in popular music, hip-hop especially, because i spent so many years living in Atlanta (home of So So Def Records, Outkast, Da Brat, TLC, etc). I just don’t see the big deal at this point; the horse has already left the barn, so to speak.

    That said, i like the concept behind the song: we can love each other for who we are, not what we can buy. And i think it’s worth noting that it’s Keri Hilson who tells Timbaland that he can strip for a tip, not the other way around. I took this to mean she would give him a reward for a private show.

    All around good blog fodder πŸ˜‰

    CJ: I’m glad you liked it, Judy! It’s certainly catchy and I’ve watched the clip for Keri Hilson about ten times… she’s the saving grace of the song for me. πŸ˜€

    I guess my point about grammar is we’re all concerned about the quality of education we’re giving children and the gap that’s being created between rich and poor; I think poor grammar and illiteracy are an example of a much wider problem. Just because they’re in common usage doesn’t mean that makes it acceptable, especially for someone with the influence Timbaland has right now. But at the same time you could say it’s good that the other side is represented in the song, showing how other people live… so maybe it was intentional. Like you said, good blog fodder!

    I had a quick listen again and Timbaland and Keri Hilson both sing the chorus; Hilson sings the line about stripping, and Timbaland sings something like it later in the chorus. Sorry if that was confusing, but I didn’t mean that Timbaland sings that particular line, more the impression the song creates. And it is a nice sentiment; I’d love to believe it. Maybe I just haven’t found the right lady yet. πŸ˜›

  3. technically, it is poetic license. realistically, the target listeners aren’t aware of that, so to an extent bad grammar can be spread this way.

    i find songs today subtly reveal very unrealistic ideologies, and though i try to just enjoy the song as it is, i can’t help but feel that my thoughts and views of the world are subconciously formed. imagine the influence it has then on people who aren’t even considering this.

    perfect example – will.i.am’s i got it from my mama. it’s such an awful song and terribly demeaning to women. and yet my girlfriends say it’s catchy. 😐

    CJ: Hm, maybe it does fall under poetic licence. I’m still not sure, though. How do you define poetic licence, Sulz? I’ve always thought it was where an artist uses a distortion of fact or grammar for artistic effect; Shakespeare using “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” without the “and”, for example. I see little of that in The Way I Are, but that might just be my perception. πŸ˜‰

    I’m with you about the ideologies, though. It seems like everything has a message, and that’s fine, but a lot of the time I don’t think their audience goes in with an open mind. And then there’s a song like John Mayer’s Waiting On The World To Change, which could almost define our generation. But I’m biased, I love that song. πŸ˜›

  4. haha, i ran off track with my mini-rant about songs today. so yeah, if ideologies of the society can be spread through songs, what more bad grammar!

    CJ: No worries, I run off track all the time with my rants! And you’re right; ideologies spread through messages and people catching on to a certain idea, and it’s the same with grammar – the more you hear someone speak a certain way, the more it filters into your consciousness. But there’s a whole industry surrounding it now, so I guess that’s just the way it is – or are. πŸ˜‰

  5. i consider it poetic licence because songs of today are like the poems of yesterday. they’re art in itself, trashy as some can be!

    CJ: Thanks Sulz. Good point – maybe it’s unfair to discriminate between songs, because songs are just as much an art form. I’m not sure I’d compare this to Bob Dylan, but really it’s just a matter of taste. I wonder what we’ll be listening to in another 20 years? Not sure, but it’ll be interesting! πŸ™‚

  6. I concur with CJ except I’d go further and say that anyone who listens to his music should really be taken out in a boat and sunk… it’s seems the kindest thing really

    CJ: Well, I’m not sure I’d go quite that far; it’s a catchy song, so I can see why people like it. And I liked All Good Things and Say It Right (with Nelly Furtado), and he’s working with Chris Martin from Coldplay… I’m curious to see what comes from that.

    Now if we’re talking about Britney Spears, I’d agree about the boat! πŸ˜›

    Maybe we need some kind of Bad Grammar Award, like The Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Just to keep people honest. πŸ˜‰

  7. I hate to seem like a spammer, but after reading your blog I thought you might enjoy a song entitled “Bad Grammar” set to the tune of “The Way I Are”, which can be found at http://www.myspace.com/jamesatwar . Let me know if you enjoyed it!

    CJ: Oh, I don’t mind at all. This is brilliant! “Just throw out all those grammatical elements/There ain’t no need to say it right” – ROFLMAO! I just wish I’d thought of it! πŸ˜‰

    Thanks for the laugh, James. This is the funniest thing I’ve heard in ages. πŸ™‚

  8. I find it weird that timbaland sings this when he..

    CJ: Sorry? I’m not sure what you mean, but hey, I find everything about the song weird. πŸ˜‰

  9. hahah… I’ve actually been hearing this song for a while but I never really listened to it until I recently downloaded it (illegally).

    And I just wrote a post about it that shares many of your sentiments almost verbatim. Just because of this fact, I think I’m going to add you to my blogroll.

    CJ: The song’s been everywhere but it’s catchy, so I don’t think a lot of people have actually heard the lyric. It’s fine if people like it, but I still think it represents a larger problem of language being subverted… but maybe I’m just old-fashioned. πŸ˜‰

    Thanks for letting me know about your post. I’ll pop across later and check it out.

  10. Well, I myself am not a stickler, especially of purposely twisted grammar. I’m not some fan of the song but I’m also not getting peeved because someone decided to name the song The Way I Are instead of the The Way I Am. What matters to me if I comprehended something or not. That’s the main purpose of language IMO. Communication. Long as communication is achieved, check.

    I don’t mind you either, as long as you don’t penalise the world with your hate of “bad” grammar. As long as you don’t attack people when they purposely or accidentally violate the rules you live your life by (because it isn’t nice to get at people just for having a different set of rules or lacking one). You could always, you know, correct someone though. (in cases of accidents). That shouldn’t count as attacking

  11. I also dont understand people who claim to dislike “today’s songs”, and any generalisation of them, like containing unrealistic ideologies. There are way too many different things out there, and if uou dislike most of today’s songs, an entire genre(s) you’re way too picky IMO. Amazingly actually. IMO songs can be about just around anything in life… So also arguments on what today’s songs are about, silly too.

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