Monday, December 22, 2008
"Long Lap Dance"
T-Pain- "Long Lap Dance"
I've analyzed the reluctant genius of Teddy Pain before in this space. In about five years, he's had eleven number ones (you know, about half of what the Beatles accomplished) and has created earworms that have infiltrated culture high and low while obliterating anything in between. Even his detractors can't deny his impact and influence at this point.
There are two kinds of popular artists these days: the ones who dedicate years and years to a project to perfect material and the ones who throw out anything they can think of, hoping some of it sticks. T-Pain is in the second camp, and his latest record Thr33 Ringz suffers from it just as much as it benefits from it. (There are certainly two or three hit singles on here--White people will be quoting the shit out of "Superstar Lady" in three months, for example. But this is also an over-long album buoyed by the weak concept that the man born Faheem Najm is the ringleader of a circus. [Is the circus metaphor the 2008 version of "half the album is me, half the album is my alter-ego"?]) On one hand, Teddy Penderassdown trusts his pop mastermind instincts enough to go with the first thing that pops into his head. On the other hand, that's how you get lines about mansions in "Wiscansin." Basically, the album is brilliant when it's not busy sucking.
Still, what was hurting music B.T-P. was things being too clever for their own good. What he brings to the game is the courage to be a buffoon. Presenting your unadulterated musings to millions of people is an underrated skill that has auto-tuned him to the top. He knows that the best pop songs come from simplicity and are killed by over-analysis.
So allow me to over-analyze. The most critic-stroking track on Thr33 Ringz is "Long Lap Dance." Our boy has been enamored of strippers before, but this is by far his most masterful treatment of the subject. From line to line, the speaker of the song--clearly Pain--narrates a night at a gentlemen's establishment. There is a recurring problem though: every time a private dance gets "so hot and so heavy," the song (in the strip club) stops and the illusion of familiarity created between Teddy and the stripper is shattered. He's basically singing about The Gaze if you want to get Lacanian/postcolonial.
So how does T-Pain--outside and inside the club--resolve this conflict? He (outside of the club) reaches into his bag of influence--I'm sure he's very popular with small-of-the-back-tatted girls named Amber--and creates a longer version of the lap dance song specifically for the purposes of giving T-Pain (in the club) more time with this young lady: "I need a two-for-one or something/Otherwise I need my own/Lap dance song/I only been in here for two hours/And all my dollar bills is gone (from a lap dance song)/I want more than a minute wit you..." He's both places at once. This is consubstantiation with a hard-on.
The beautiful thing about T-Pain is that he can be everything to everyone, and here he means that quite literally. He's the superstar fashioning the soundtrack to our lives, but he's also the fella running out of dollar bills. Because he denies defining it himself, we don't know where the self-reference begins or ends. If that's the first thing that popped into his head, then he's definitely a genius. The song's tone is simultaneously humble and boastful because he's just like us, except for when he--with the power of his songwriting--creates a solution to his problem. What T-Pain is describing is the artistic drive: finding a way to communicate your experience and use your own talents to better the world around you. And it began as a paean to a hussy.
Love it or hate it, "Long Lap Dance" is the most meta song in recent memory. Put a top hat on Jonathan Safran Foer, and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference.