Man, when I talk about “mainstream American pop culture and hip-hop [circling] towards each other, until they’re dancing to some of the same steps. Both of their moves have something to do with racial attitudes, whether it’s white Americans assimilating hip-hop style, slang, and norms, or hip-hop recognizing that rebranding and restyling could be a shrewd marketing move,” Jay Sean’s* video for “Do You Remember” is pretty much exactly what I’m talking about:
The visual signaling seems kind of obvious to me: the hanging out on the stoop, the tricked-out trikes, the muscle car, the aggressive sunglasses, the block party. But it’s much more gracefully and naturally done than, say, the video for Christina Aguilera’s “Can’t Hold Us Down,” which I thought was a fairly clumsy attempt to recreate a street scene: kids jumping on mattresses and playing in hydrants! Sassy and beleaguered women of color! Men of color who are uniformly sexist and creepy! Christina signaling her downness by wearing lots and lots of nameplate! (Although there’s something poignant in Lil Kim’s verse about men stealing her ideas.):
My go-too song and music video for this argument is usually Keri Hilson’s “Knock You Down,” though one thing I think is fascinating about that video is the way it sets Kanye up as a hipster artist, and Ne-Yo as a business-like rival for Keri’s attentions. The critical showdown takes place in an art gallery, for goodness sake! If that’s not hip-hop bourgieing itself up, I don’t know what it is (even though I adore the song and video):
But visually “Do You Remember’s” much more “urban” and it also has a dancehall verse by Sean Paul, and distracting (both sonically and visually) but probably marketable post-Usher-doing-”Yeah!” hypemanning by Lil Jon. But the core of the song itself is pure candy: smooth sung vocals, super-sweet sentiments that seem almost at odds with how ripped Jay looks–lovermen tend to play the muscles down a bit. Jay’s been described as a one-man boyband, and I think that’s essentially correct. In other words, he combines a style I think a lot of us are embarrassed to have ever liked (though I’d never go back on the summer I spent teaching small children to sing and forcing them to dance every time “I Want It That Way” came on the radio. Now that was the life.) with elements we’ve come to think we’ve got to like, namely hip-hop and urban style. It’s irresistible. Not good for that, maybe, but it’s hard to focus on that in the moment.
*Can you tell I’m a little obsessed? I’m shocked my neighbors haven’t filed a noise complaint. Either that, or they’re dancing to the sound of these neat little pop ditties filtering through our shared walls.