Why You Gotta Be So?

by wombatony

Why I gotta be so?

I often get in love-hate relationships with elements of pop culture. Usually it’s a TV Show I keep watching only to justify the amount of time I’ve put into it. The last two seasons of “How I Met Your Mother” fit into that category. In the middle of almost every episode, I would ask myself, “Why the hell am I watching this?” And the usual answer was “Remember how funny that one episode in the first season was?”

This summer’s love-hate entry is a song. So the good news is that it should be much more ephemeral, lasting only four minutes at a time and already waning from its peak rotation. But this love-hate is different than most, in that I truly can’t decide if it is an excellent or horrible song. Yet when it’s done, I’m filled with that same “end of the chip bag” sense of introspection.

You were singing that at the top of your lungs, weren’t you? Yeah, how does that make you feel? Boy, you’re going to regret that one in the morning.

It’s just so catchy. The music is great. Just the right instrumentation, rhythm, movement. A peppy little reggae beat that I can twirl my three month old baby to. And isn’t that why we listen to music? Because of the music? So what could be wrong with it?

The lyrics. The lyrics are horrible. And dammit, it’s the lyrics that I have to sing along to whenever it pops up on the radio.

The song is “Rude,” by Magic, and although it started the summer obscure, it listed as the number one iTunes download a few weeks ago, so it now exists in the zeitgeist. If you know the song, you might even be humming it right now. Hell, if you’re anything like me, you knew which song I was talking about four paragraphs ago. I was referencing it while teaching the other day, and all I had to say was “What’s that catchy tune with the really stupid lyrics?” and two or three students offered up “Rude” before I could even describe it further.

The radio station I first heard the song on encourages people to text them if they like or dislike a song. Of course, this seems to be encouraging people to text while driving. I, ahem, have of course, cough, never texted my opinion on a song while driving. I mean, that would be illegal. And please believe me when I say none of this happened anywhere near a moving vehicle of any kind. Honestly, officers, no need to check my phone records.

The first time I heard the song, I was grabbed by the perky, upbeat rhythm and went for my phone. I had already thumbed in the word “like” when the crystal clear singing got to chorus. If one can have a spit take whilst not only not drinking but also driving (er, standing completely still nowhere near a car), I might have done just that. The lyrics, and the entirety of the song, are stupid.

I’m the first person to say that in most songs, the lyrics don’t matter. I can’t understand the lyrics for most of the songs on the radio in a given day. I’ve even karaoked a few songs only to say “Oh, that’s what he says there?” when the lyrics pop up. “Rude” is a song that might have benefitted from a bit more Eddie Vedder style mumbling.

Even when the lyrics are decipherable, they don’t need to make a lot of sense. I watched Alternative Nation at midnight through most of college, and I was fine with a song about a chick who puts Vaseline on her toast. There’s a Crash Test Dummies song that merely describes three people who had little quirks. No point to the song, whatsoever. Perhaps the point of the song was going to be explained in the chorus, but they just decided to sing “mmm mmm mmm mmm” instead. Then again, I’m pretty sure the lead singer of Crash Test Dummies can sing the Brown Note, so we best handle him with kid gloves to protect our bowels.

So I’m fine with silly, pointless songs. I’m fine with fun lyrics without a lot of depth. I’m fine with not even knowing what the guy is singing about. So what’s the matter with “Rude?”

For those of you who haven’t heard the song, the entire thing is about a guy asking his girlfriend’s father for permission to marry her. Yes, in the year 2014, an entire song is devoted to an action that was already insulting and obsolete fifty years ago.

In the first place, asking a girlfriend’s father for “permission” to marry his daughter is insulting to your future bride. It’s the 21st century and you’re implying she can’t make this decision for herself. After the father gives you permission, will the discussion turn to the dowry? Because I’m pretty sure that’s where the whole asking for permission came from. While you’re at it, go ahead and have the father sign the marriage license, because obviously your new wife can’t be trusted to sign legally binding contracts or anything.

But even more than the insulting nature, in the 21st century, the question is pointless. I think this makes it even more frustrating to have this song sung so earnestly. Honestly, what’s the father going to say? No? Chances are you’re already living with his daughter, and even if you aren’t, you’ve at least got some carnal knowledge, right? So Dad says no and you say “Gosh, Pops, you want me to keep getting the milk for free? Awesome. And just for you, I’ll throw in an extra ‘Who’s Your Daddy?’ or two when I’m shtuping her tonight.”

I do understand the desire to alert your future in-laws. You’re setting the stage for your future with your wife, and that includes her family. I found a nice way to do this was to let them know, but not ask their permission. The night before I proposed, I told my father-in-law “I’m going to ask your daughter to marry me tomorrow. I hope I have your blessing.” I was not asking permission, but I also wanted them to be prepped in case their first response was going to be “You’re marrying that loser?” they had fifteen hours to get it out of their system.

But the father in the song said no. I imagine he saw the litany of poems and songs this kid had written for his daughter and, understandably, felt he had no future writing drivel like that. The guy should have asked permission with the background music playing. Then the father probably would’ve said yes, because, I can’t stress enough, it’s fun and catchy music. Although if the father said yes because of the music, then the song would never be written, and I believe that’s how the space-time continuum begins to collapse.

The singer then goes on to sum up why asking a father’s permission is a pointless exercise that barely deserves a mention, much less a song. He’s going to marry her anyway. So you really weren’t asking permission, were you? Any Catholic can tell you the wonderful difference between asking for permission and asking for forgiveness. Again, my father-in-law comes into play here. He asked my grandfather-in-law permission and was told no. So what did he do? Hint: he’s my father-in-law and my wife wasn’t born out of wedlock. So even 40 years ago, it was understood that asking permission wasn’t really asking permission. Yet here we are listening to some Canadian croon on about a non-issue.

“What the hell is he singing about?” I said out loud, phone frozen in my hand, when the chorus hit. “Is this whole song about… Why, this isn’t a new song at all. It is clearly from 1955.”

I quickly thumbed a “dis” onto the front of the “like” text I had already written. I was just about to hit send when the “marry her anyway” part hit. At this point, the music goes from a 4/4 beat to a 6/8 beat. It’s subtle, a change that most people without music backgrounds might just consider a tempo change or not even notice. And it’s quick, maybe only six measures then back to 4/4, but the effect is to take a straight-forward reggae song and fuse it with something else. I still can’t tell what. Is it reggae-rockabilly? Can that even exist? So I sat there, transfixed again by the music with the phone in my hand, unable to push send on either a “like” or “dislike.”

Which is really where I still am today. I never turn the station when the song comes on. Most of the time I sing along. I’m singing lyrics I can’t stand about a subject I find insulting. But dammit, what else can I do?

Of course, listening to it as much as I have, I now know the lyrics quite well. The more I’ve gotten to know them, my initial hatred has only grown. I know I’m picking nits here, but there are two major errors that I’ve found with the song. Both are semantics, and both would barely warrant a mention if not for the catchy tune that makes me listen to the horrible lyrics.

The first problem deals with grammar. Or not even grammar, but how to write dialogue. The lead-in to the first chorus states the father’s response: “You say I’ll never get your blessing for the rest of my life. Tough luck, my friend, but the answer is no.” Okay, is it just me or does that line start out as an indirect quote, then finish as a direct quote?

“Hey, dude,” comes the retort, “you don’t understand poetry. Every word needs to count. We have to worry about rhythm and rhyme. It’s taken you 2000 words to write about a three minute song.” Touche. I can’t imagine writing poetry. Way too verbose. And I understand that poetry, and by extension songs, don’t have to follow strict language rules. But poetry or prose, you’ve got to be consistent with who is speaking. Indirect dialogue is fine, but keep it indirect the whole time.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of rhyming? No and know are homophones, I don’t think that counts as a rhyme.

The second language problem I have is the very name of the song. They could’ve gone with “Marry Her Anyway,” which is the catchy 6/8 part and captures the point of the song better. But instead they went with “Rude.” The singer’s response to the father’s denial is “Why you gotta be so rude?” This is the second worst rejoinder in history, topped only by his next line, “Don’t you know I’m human, too?” (Insulting the father’s observational skills isn’t going to win him back to your side.)

But rude? I don’t know that I would classify a man not thinking someone is good enough for his daughter as being “rude.” To be rude, one needs to be deliberately hurtful. If you ask someone out on a date and they say no, that is not rude. If they say “not if you were the last human on Earth,” that’s where the rudeness comes in.

In the song, the father was even nice enough to say “Tough luck, my friend.” That has to be one of the more polite denials I’ve heard. Maybe he just felt you had insulted his daughter by asking someone other than her to make this important decision. I don’t know if this is Alanis Morissette “Ironic” level of mis-definition, but it’s up there. SO Canadians don’t know how to define words in song titles. Is that rude? Stereotypical, maybe.  While we’re at it, Bryan Adams was only nine years old in the Summer of ’69, so Canadaian singers are bad at both math and English. Probably more hyperbole than rude, but getting closer. I’m not saying the test for rude and the test for libel should be the same, but they’re in the vein.

Canadian singers suck? That would be rude, so I wouldn’t say it. Plus if I said that, the lead singer of the Crash Test Dummies would vacate my bowels.

By the way, you asked the father for permission and then ignored his answer. Sounds like he had a justified reason for his answer.

He didn’t even bring up the fact that you tried to rhyme no and know.

See what I did there? That was intentionally hurtful.

I know, I know. Why I gotta be so…?

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