Leading by Non-Example: The Lonely Island

In two great videos/songs, The Lonely Island drills a point into your head, in the hopes that you’ll realize how stupid it is and therefore be shamed into never doing it again.

In “Semicolon,” the message is clear: they insistently punctuate a series of catchy punchlines/rhymes with the wrong mark. English aficionados were pulling their hair out over this one (and some early YouTube comments made it clear that they didn’t even managed to make it to the ending/reveal), but the real twist is in the way they may have actually laid down some Conjunction Junction-level facts on listeners. They might not know the difference between a colon and a semicolon, but they’re unlikely to incorrectly use a semicolon this way. Unless they’re ironic Brooklyn hipsters, but that’s an entirely different issue.

They’re also making a clever argument in “Go Kindergarten,” one that was too easily overshadowed by their original video for the song (“Dance Rehearsal”), which dropped in so many hash tags and references/direct links to Robin Thicke’s excellent “Blurred Lines,” that the actual message was hard to hear. Not so with their new video, in which Paul Rudd’s an Everyman who feels uncomfortable in a club, trapped by his own self-awareness, whereas his best friend Sean Combs (he of the many Puff-related aliases) is all too ready to lose himself in the music. As with many Lonely Island videos (especially “Like a Boss”), the stakes quickly escalate from the absurd to the violent, as Robyn sings about chopping off your middle fingers and stepping on champagne glass with your bare feet. In that sort of context, it’s easy to realize that we shouldn’t just cold-cock our best friend and that women can’t actually whip their dicks out, and yet when you think about all the dangerous and exploitative things that a lot of club music actually promotes, it’s clear that they’re once again attempting to lead their audiences by making them ashamed of the very fact that they’re so easily led. (It helps that the song is exceptionally catchy; I can imagine what would’ve happened if The Lonely Island had remixed “Accidental Racist.”)

The Wack Album is filled with other gems, like “YOLO” grimly subverting the meaning of “You Only Live Once” into “You Oughtta Look Out,” as it catalogs the many ways you could casually die–simultaneously mocking those who are too extreme on either end, be they daredevils or agoraphobics. “Spring Break Anthem” is straight-up subliminal messaging (without any of the subtlety), but that’s the point. Unlike other artists who read and appropriate the political climate to boost sales of songs that have nothing to do with that topic,  their entire song becomes a clash between mindless frat-boy humor and restrained, elegant support for gay marriage. It’s funny, but also serious, and I dare you to get the lyric “Pounding pussy/Marry a man” untangled.

The only problem is that when The Lonely Island stops obviously mocking/twisting rap conventions and lazily falls prey to them: it’s here that their beats grow juvenile and repetitive in a hurry, mainly because there’s nothing beyond the surface jokes of the dated 2 Guyz material (“We Need Love”) nor the genial back-slapping that goes on in “Meet the Crew” and “The Compliments.” Say what you will about Justin Timberlake, but at least he’s elevating the performance of “3-Way (The Golden Rule)” (OK, Lady Gaga isn’t bad either), something that can’t be said for the winking cameos from Hugh Jackman and Kristin Wiig in “You’ve Got the Look.” (“Jack Sparrow,” with an exceptionally game Michael Bolton, this is not.) And while it’s easy to get all meta at the end in excusing the aimless fart jokes of “Perfect Saturday,” it would be a far better thing for us, our ears, and the Internet, if the Lonely Island could continue to lead by better non-examples like “Diaper Money,” which at least tries to address the actual concerns of a self-proclaimed “grown-ass man,” than “I F****d My Aunt.”

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