The Number Ones

March 24, 2007

The Number Ones: Fergie’s “Glamorous” (Feat. Ludacris)

Stayed at #1:

2 Weeks

In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.

The nostalgia cycle can be utterly baffling, especially when that wheel spins around to things that came into existence when you were already a functioning adult, things that mean nothing to you. Case in point: “Glamorous,” the second chart-topping hit from the solo Black Eyed Pea Stacy Ann “Fergie” Ferguson. I was a professional music critic when “Glamorous” came out, and I don’t recall giving that song much of my mental energy at the time. But “Glamorous” evidently left an impression on someone, since the song has basically gone to #1 twice now.

A year ago, some of us might’ve considered “Glamorous” to be a pleasantly forgettable piece of George W. Bush-era cultural flotsam. I might’ve thought about “Glamorous” the same way that I now think about something like “This Is Why I’m Hot,” the song that “Glamorous” knocked out of the #1 spot. But then someone came along and sampled the shit out of “Glamorous,” and the song with the sample went all the way to #1.

I don’t usually like to spoil future columns, but in this case, what the hell. Jack Harlow was a little kid in Kentucky when “Glamorous” went to #1, and he apparently loved that song. A decade and a half later, Harlow was looking for a surefire hit, something that would push him all the way into the upper tier of rap hitmakers. Harlow’s executive producer Angel Diaz told Complex, “We had discussed early in the process about just finding something obvious that’ll connect with people instantly.” That discussion led them to “Glamorous,” and that song proved just obvious enough to do what Harlow needed.

Eventually, this column will cover the Jack Harlow song that coasted on nostalgic “Glamorous” recognition to #1. In that Complex story, Jack Harlow’s co-producer Rogét Chahayed comes right out and attributes the success of Harlow’s hit to “Glamorous”: “The real star of that song is the sample.” This column has covered a whole lot of songs that are built on obvious samples. Fergie herself had a lot of success with songs like that. But when “Glamorous” bubbled back up to become culturally visible again, it caught me off guard. Maybe “Glamorous” meant more to the world than I realized.

The thing about that is: I’m not even sure “Glamorous” mattered that much to the people who made it. The “Glamorous” beat almost became something else. In 2005, Polow Da Don, the Atlanta producer who made “London Bridge” with Fergie, was still an up-and-coming beatmaker without too many credits to his name. At the time, the former Number Ones artist Gwen Stefani was getting ready to release her album track “Luxurious” as a single. Polow put together a “Luxurious” remix and submitted it to Interscope, Stefani’s label. Stefani turned the remix down, and Polow’s “Luxurious” remix never officially came out. Instead, it leaked online. Stereogum posted about this whole story back when people were figuring out why Fergie’s hit had the same beat as that leaked “Luxurious” remix.

On the original version of Gwen Stefani’s “Luxurious,” the track’s two producers, Nellee Hooper and Stefani’s No Doubt bandmate Tony Kanal, sampled the Isley Brothers’ silky 1983 track “Between The Sheets,” the same track that had already been famously sampled on Biggie Smalls’ 1994 classic “Big Poppa.” (“Big Poppa” peaked at #6. It’s a 9.) When “Luxurious” came out as a single, the official remix kept the same beat as the original, and it added a verse from Houston rapper Slim Thug, who’s already been in this column for guesting on Beyoncé’s “Check On It.” “Luxurious” wasn’t a huge hit for Stefani; it peaked at #21. Maybe she should’ve used that Polow remix instead.

Gwen Stefani sings “Luxurious” as a love song, but she also takes audible delight in all the fancy things that come along with being a pop star: First-class flights, limousines, champagne kisses. Stefani and Fergie were both signed to Interscope. Both had pursued solo careers partly on the urging of label boss Jimmy Iovine. “London Bridge” Fergie’s first #1 hit, sounded at least a little bit like Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl,” so maybe it’s not too surprising that “Glamorous,” Fergie’s second #1 hit, used the beat from Polow Da Don’s rejected “Luxurious” remix. In any case, I’m not especially mad about Fergie ripping off a Gwen Stefani song. I like “Glamorous” more than I like “Luxurious.”

“Glamorous” and “Luxurious” aren’t the same song. They’re just close to being the same song. (I like imagining Polow Da Don looking up the word “luxurious” in a thesaurus.) “Luxurious” is about being rich and in love, while “Glamorous” is about being rich but staying true to yourself. Both songs revel in the same material goods, and both of them happen to mention first-class flights, limousines, and champagne kisses. It’s easy to imagine Jimmy Iovine, annoyed at Gwen Stefani’s rejection of the Polow remix, telling Polow and Fergie to turn that remix into a whole new song.

Unlike Gwen Stefani’s original version of “Luxurious,” “Glamorous” isn’t built on a sample. “Glamorous” does, however, take one of its hooks from an older record. In 1991, the early Atlanta rapper Raheem The Dream released a track called “If You Ain’t Got No Money.” Over a sample of Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock,” Raheem chants, “If you ain’t got no money, take yo’ broke ass home.” I don’t know if that was something that people were chanting in clubs before Raheem put it on a record, but “Glamorous” definitely makes liberal use of that line. (Polow used that same chant on his rejected “Luxurious” remix.)

On “Glamorous,” that Raheem chant contrasts with the track’s smoothness. Polow Da Don’s beat is lush and genuinely gorgeous. The song’s skeleton is a relentless, pulsing drum-machine boom that calls back to Miami bass, but Polow layers all kinds of ear candy over those drums. Strings sigh softly. Guitars twinkle. Keyboards hum. It’s all terribly pretty, and it sounds expensive — a pretty crucial thing when the song is all about enjoying expensive things. The whole purpose of “Glamorous” is to show that Fergie is still a real-ass person even amidst all this finery, so that “take yo’ broke ass home” chant evokes the time when she was striving to reach that glamor.

“Glamorous” walks the same line that a lot of rap songs walk. (Fergie isn’t exactly a rapper, but “Glamorous” is basically a rap song.) Fergie depicts herself as being overwhelmingly successful, but she also claims that she’s still the same person. It’s the message that powered Jennifer Lopez’s #3 hit “Jenny From The Block” a few years earlier. (That one is a 7.) But Fergie never came from the block; she was a suburban kid who became a child actor. On “Glamorous,” all of Fergie’s allusions to her old life are pretty vague. After the show, after the Grammys, Fergie likes to go cool out with the family, reminiscing on the days when she had a Mustang. (I think of a Mustang as a pretty nice car.) Fergie still goes to Taco Bell drive-thru, raw as hell. I hope that the Taco Bell food she’s eating isn’t raw as hell. Cooked Taco Bell food is a dicey-enough proposition. I would absolutely not trust Taco Bell sushi.

Fergie really did have to struggle to find fame, but “Glamorous” isn’t about that. It’s just a song about being successful without letting success change you. It’s a fantasy, and if Fergie suddenly started barking about kicking her crystal meth addiction, the fantastical bubble might’ve popped. Instead, Fergie spends most of the track purring about flyin’ first class up in the sky, poppin’ champagne, living the life. I used to hate the voice that Fergie used when singing about being “floss-ay floss-ay,” but then Lana Del Rey made a whole career out of that kind of vocal fry, and now I like it.

“Glamorous” seems to take place in some moneyed dream-space, and its Ludacris guest verse just reinforces that impression. Luda, who’d taken his own single “Money Maker” to #1 a few months earlier, remains one of the all-time great guest-verse rappers, and his “Glamorous” appearance gives the song a serious energy boost. Luda mostly just talks about the same stuff as Fergie: “I gotta keep enough lettuce to support your shoe fetish/ Lifestyles so rich and famous Robin Leach’ll get jealous.” But someone keeps messing with Luda’s voice, stretching and distorting certain syllables: “You deserve nothin’ but all of them finer thi-iii-iiings.” It makes the song that much more weird and playful. (Fergie, Ludacris, and Polow share songwriting credit with Fergie’s Black Eyed Peas bandmate, who arranged the track, and regular Polow collaborator Elvis Williams, otherwise known as Blac Elvis, who plays keyboards.)

That playfulness is key. If “Glamorous” was just Fergie bragging about being rich, the song would be insufferable. Instead, “Glamorous” is Fergie and Ludacris having fun with those signifiers of wealth. It’s a total pastiche of an actual rap song, but it’s light and propulsive and silly. Fergie spells out the word “glamorous” for us, and she sing-raps the whole track in a sort of drag-show parody of a Hollywood grand dame.

In the video, we see Fergie going from backyard party to private flight, and she’s still got her friends with her. In the backyard party, those friends include a couple of Black Eyed Peas, Cypress Hill’s B-Real, and Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air‘s Alfonso Ribeiro, who does a tough-guy variation on his Carlton dance. We also get a quick appearance from Six Feet Under‘s Freddy Rodriguez as the flight attendant who makes sexy eyes at Fergie while pouring champagne.

A couple of weeks after “Glamorous” reached #1, Freddy Rodriguez and Fergie both starred in Planet Terror, the Robert Rodriguez half of the retro-exploitation double feature Grindhouse. Fergie isn’t in Planet Terror for long before she gets brutally zombie-murdered. Quentin Tarantino, the other Grindhouse director, played one of the zombies, and he apparently bit Fergie while filming that scene. She later said that the bite wasn’t actually abusive and that she and Tarantino were just having fun. Still, gross. Not glamorous at all.

Dave Meyers directed the “Glamorous” video, and it came out around the same time as his remake of The Hitcher, which was thoroughly pointless but also pretty fun — sort of like Grindhouse. Meyers never really made it as a feature filmmaker, but he remains one of the all-time music-video greats. In the “Glamorous” clip, Meyers makes Fergie look glamorous, so mission accomplished. When Ludacris shows up, he and Fergie are dressed up as ’30s gangsters, and they’re in an armed standoff with police. After the Bonnie And Clyde shootout, though, someone calls cut, and we see Fergie and Luda on a movie set — presumably the only way you could get guns into a rap video on MTV in that era. The whole idea is pretty obvious: Fergie is just performing. In the other scenes, she’s just performing the role of a rich pop star or a round-the-way girl. The artifice is the point.

By the time “Glamorous” reached #1, Polow Da Don had been newly minted as a star producer. Over the next few years, Polow helped make a whole lot of hits, and he also rapped on one of them. Around the same time that “Glamorous” hit #1, the Alabama rapper Rich Boy, a Polow protege, got to #6 with the Polow production “Throw Some D’s.” (It’s a 9.) Polow has a verse on that song, and he’s got the most memorable line: “Every freak should have a picture of my dick on they wall.” My feeling is that freaks should only have pictures of Polow’s dick on their walls if they want pictures of Polow’s dick on their walls, but I respect the ambition. We’ll see more of Polow’s production work in this column.

When “Glamorous” reached #1, Fergie’s solo debut The Dutchess was already platinum. Fergie had taken “London Bridge” to #1, and she’d gotten to #2 with her follow-up single “Fergalicious.” (That one is an 8.) Fergie’s first three singles were all smashes, and she wasn’t done yet. We’ll see Fergie in this column again, both as a solo artist and as a Black Eyed Pea.

GRADE: 6/10

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BONUS BEATS: I never use future #1 hits in this section, so you won’t find Jack Harlow here. Instead, let’s go with one of the moments that Polow Da Don reused that “take yo’ broke ass home” chant. In 2008, Polow co-produced “Single,” one of the reunion singles from New Kids On The Block, a group that’s been in this column a few times. (One of the co-producers of “Single” was Ne-Yo, who also appears on the song and who has been in this column before.) A slightly different version of that chant appears on the “Single” intro. Here’s the “Single” video:

The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The History Of Pop Music, is out now via Hachette Books. I don’t care; I’m still real, no matter how many books I sell. Still, if you want to buy the book, you can do that here.

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