Friday, August 31, 2007

"You crazier than a fish wit' titties": A New Spin on Summer Jams


The Chocolate Wars
On the bewildering summertime dominance of Tay Zonday and R. Kelly
by Andy Beta
August 28th, 2007 12:39 PM

The New York Times sounded bummed last month when it crowned Rihanna's "Umbrella" as Song of the Summer, perhaps crestfallen that there was no real contender to the throne. Sure, the strains of Umbrella-ella-ella-ay-ay-ay saturating the radio waves neatly coincided with a season of freak flooding in both London and New York City (and Minnesota and Denmark and . . .), but a lithe Bahamian announcing that "It's raining more than evah" doesn't quite do away with the summertime blues.

Yet earlier this month, no less a pop-culture expert than Jimmy Kimmel announced his own song of the summer: "Chocolate Rain," by a 25-year-old Minneapolis grad student by the name of Tay Zonday (real name: Adam Behnar). Uploaded to YouTube in late April, the clip has since gotten well over seven million plays. And just what makes "Chocolate Rain" tick—or, more accurately, stick? Could it be the incessantly repetitive piano line pounding into your ears like a dentist's drill? Is it Zonday's awkward veering-away from the mic "to breathe in"? Or is it instead the bold eschewing of verse- chorus-verse for the constant drubbing of a fudgy metaphor?

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If a closeted grad student with an iPod chock-full of his own demos and little else can become a viral-video celebrity, surely an actual pop star like R. Kelly can be one too, especially if you can make out his face in the video this time around. Cramming all the plot twists of a soap-opera season into three minutes, 2005's "Trapped in the Closet" became a pop-culture touchstone in the early days of YouTube, spawning infinite parodies, from Weird Al's "Trapped in the Drive-Thru" to South Park's Tom Cruise episode to Rocky Horror–esque sing-along screenings to blogs with explanatory diagrams to the Voice's own drawing of Chewbacca tapping Pluto's ass doggy-style to illustrate Kelly's extraterrestrial slow jam, "Sex Planet." (In my opinion, that should've gotten more attention—Ed.)

In the estimation of New York magazine, countless IFC Center devotees, and trainspotters crowded around open Macbooks around the country, "the cultural event of the season" has arrived with Kelly's second installment of his soap opera/film noir/serial non sequitur/r&b WTF: Trapped in the Closet, Chapters 13-22. And regardless of how many sets of bespectacled eyes happen upon it, the series remains as inscrutable and enervating as, say, "Chocolate Rain." Laugh at the man or with him, but the joke is on us: Kelly is both funnier than his imitators and way ahead of his audience.

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