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