The Number Ones

January 7, 2012

The Number Ones: LMFAO’s “Sexy And I Know It”

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. Book Bonus Beat: The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal the History of Pop Music.

I truly have no idea what I was thinking. This isn’t me acting coy or playing dumb. I honestly have no idea. My best guess goes something like this: When you have a small child, you will do anything to keep that kid entertained, even if it’s a demonstrably bad idea that will affect your life and your child’s life in all sorts of adverse and eminently foreseeable ways. Anyway, I’m not asking for your understanding or your forgiveness. I’m simply telling you what happened. When my son was maybe six years old, I showed him LMFAO’s “Sexy And I Know It” video.

I knew he’d like the video, but this is no excuse. Of course he’d like the video. It’s a video where a bunch of freaky-looking dudes rip off their tearaway pants to reveal tiny Speedos and then bounce their dicks at the camera. The appeal is obvious. It’s dumb as fuck, and it’s funny. He didn’t just like it. He loved it. It was like he’d gone through a religious awakening, learning things that forever altered his perception of the world. For months afterwards, “Sexy And I Know It” was in constant car-stereo rotation. “Sexy And I Know It” parodies got heavy play, too. There is, for instance, an unauthorized Elmo parody of “Sexy And I Know It.” Did you know this? You know it now. I have heard “I’m Elmo And I Know It” at least 100 times.

So, anyway: My child learned how to bounce his dick around while pointing at it and laughing uproariously. He did a great deal of this. He would do this at five in the morning. He would do it while eating dinner. He’d probably do it now, again, if I reminded him of the existence of “Sexy And I Know It.” (He’s 11 now, and his sense of humor hasn’t really matured in any noticeable way.) “Sexy And I Know It” reached #1 six months before my son was born, and deep into his childhood, it still had the power to turn my house into a more ridiculous place. This is my fault. I can’t blame LMFAO for anything. If anything, it’s genuinely impressive that the group managed to extend their tiny window of fame with a song that unapologetically absurd.

My family’s experience with “Sexy And I Know It” clarifies something about LMFAO, at least for me. The group — the son and grandson of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy — came from the LA club scene, and they represented a streamlined mass-consumption take on the aesthetic now known as indie sleaze — the Nerf-commercial version of the CSS and Peaches and MSTKRFT singles that soundtracked a whole lot of hipster cocaine consumption in the previous decade. But LMFAO didn’t really make music for adult parties — not even for little-kid versions of adult parties, like frat functions or corporate raves. Instead, LMFAO made slightly transgressive comedy records for children. For a hot minute, they were extremely successful at that.

Look: I’m sure plenty of adults have partied to LMFAO songs. I’m sure this was the intent of the actual LMFAO members, if that matters. “Party Rock Anthem,” the duo’s first #1 hit, was a fully ubiquitous summer jam, which mean that it must’ve popped up in all sorts of situations, up to and including those godawful dancing-CGI-hamster Kia Soul commercials. But judging by my son’s reaction, nobody ever got more pure delight out of LMFAO’s music than the little kids who thought they were getting away with something by enjoying those songs.

LMFAO came along at the exact right moment, when the day-glo EDM wave took over the pop charts and swerved headlong into gleeful self-parody. The giant, chart-dominating dance-pop hits from the Black Eyed Peas and Kesha were at least a little bit funny, and that was mostly on purpose. But LMFAO took that style into the full-on self-aware comedy zone. “Sexy And I Know It,” their second and final chart-topper, is a whole lot closer to the Lonely Island than it is to “We Found Love,” even if the LMFAO track found itself competing with “We Found Love” for chart space. (When “Sexy And I Know It” reached #1, it briefly interrupted the long reign of “We Found Love.” This would probably also be a good place to point out that “We Found Love” writer/producer Calvin Harris was also partly responsible for “Reminds Me Of You,” a truly terrible deep cut from LMFAO’s Sorry For Party Rocking album.)

There’s a fascinating story behind the writing of “Sexy And I Know It.” I’m just kidding. There is absolutely no fascinating story behind the writing of “Sexy And I Know It.” It’s just: Redfoo decided that he wanted to talk about being sexy. Redfoo is not a dreamboat by most conventional standards, and there’s a kind of joking/not-joking quality to the track. It’s a song about being so confident in your own sexiness that you achieve actual sexiness. This can be a real thing, and it’s kind of inspiring when it happens. But it’s also funny to see someone in full strut-mode when most of the world would not grant them that confidence. It’s the stock ’80s-movie horny-nerd joke, rendered in extremely 2010 song form.

Somehow, “Sexy And I Know It” has six credited songwriters. Most of the people involved in writing “Sexy And I Know It” have basically no non-LMFAO credits, so it’s not like they sent the track around to the world’s greatest beatmakers. It’s more likely that Redfoo just handed songwriting credits out to whoever was sitting in the room when he put the track together. Or maybe it really took this whole braintrust to come up with the phrase “I got passion in my pants and I ain’t afraid to show it.” In any case, SkyBlu, the non-Redfoo member of LMFAO, has a songwriting credit even though he doesn’t rap on the track at all. GoonRock, the producer who got featured-guest credit on “Party Rock Anthem,” is listed as another songwriter. But “Sexy And I Know It” is, for all intents and purposes, a Redfoo solo song.

“Sexy And I Know It” is the kind of song that demands the silliest possible context. You could presumably play “Party Rock Anthem” at a party that needed to be rocked, and people might not assume that you were joking. That’s not the case with “Sexy And I Know It.” It’s all pure cartoon-world shit. Redfoo can’t really rap, but he can do the wild-and-crazy-guy thing, and that’s all he needs to do here: “Animal-print pants out of control,” “no shirt, no shoes, and I still get service,” “wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle yeah.” (The “wiggle wiggle wiggle” bit is probably the best part of the song, since it’s where Redfoo sounds like he’s having the most fun.) Redfoo also says he’s got the glow like Bruce Leeroy — a clear allusion to The Last Dragon, the 1985 daytime-cable classic that his father produced. Redfoo is nowhere near the first rapper to reference The Last Dragon, but the guy wasn’t exactly trying to hide his nepo-baby status.

“Sexy And I Know It” also gets a lot of mileage from its beat, a rubbery rave-pop thing that easily could’ve come from a 2005 Ed Banger compilation. Redfoo and his co-producers put together a simplistic electro-house stomp with laser-gun synth-riff that pairs nicely with rhythmic gasping and with the big ramp-up to the drop on the chorus. The song is repetitive as hell and dumber than a puppy trying to untangle a leash, but there’s a real appeal to its heedless, good-natured sleaze.

It’s nearly impossible to judge “Sexy And I Know It” as a pure song, since the track and its video are indivisible. The “Sexy And I Know It” video — the one I stupidly showed my kid — might as well be a horny live-action Bugs Bunny cartoon. Redfoo and his friends, one of whom is the box-head dancing robot from the “Party Rock Anthem” clip, strut through Venice Beach, doing extremely goofy choreographed steps and assuming that they’re the center of collective attention. They earn that attention by relieving themselves of their tearaway pants and bouncing their dicks in time when the first chorus hits.

SkyBlu and his friends are all macho-bodybuilder types, and they don’t like all these skinny dick-bouncers invading their territory. So they all go to a bar together, and SkyBlu retaliates by ripping away his own pants to reveal his own studded bikini briefs. (SkyBlu might not get to do any rapping on the song, but he does skateboard down a bar countertop while humping the air, which is arguably more impressive.) Soon, all the guys in the bar are ripping pants off. Various trash-culture luminaries — MTV VJ Simon Rex, porn stars Ron Jeremy and Alexis Texas, UFC champ Alistair Overeem, That ’70s Show guy Wilmer Valderrama — make appearances, and plenty of them rip their pants off, too. One dancer rips his pants off mid-handstand. In the video’s greatest moment, Redfoo rips away his tiny Speedo to reveal an even tinier Speedo. It’s that kind of video.

In most cases, a massive, gleefully annoying hit like “Party Rock Anthem” would doom a group like LMFAO to one-hit wonder status. Overseas, LMFAO followed “Party Rock Anthem” with a very bad single called “Champagne Showers,” which absolutely would’ve damned them to obscurity in America. Over here, though, they were smart enough to follow the success of “Party Rock Anthem” with an even more gleefully annoying hit.

When “Sexy And I Know It” finally elbowed its way past “We Found Love” to claim the #1 spot on the Hot 100, the song’s success was mostly driven by iTunes downloads rather than radio play. At the time, my colleague Chris Molanphy theorized that this was a case of kids buying the song with the iTunes gift cards that they got as Christmas presents, which makes total sense. Before too long, “We Found Love” retook its place at #1, but LMFAO had already ascended to the peak of pop-culture visibility.

A few weeks after they landed their second #1 hit, LMFAO performed little bits and pieces of both “Party Rock Anthem” and “Sexy And I Know It” during Madonna’s Super Bowl Halftime Show. They wore animal-print Roman-centurion armor. Madonna sat on Redfoo’s shoulders and then did the shuffling dance from the “Party Rock Anthem” video. A few seconds later, M.I.A. flipped off the cameras, kicking off a protracted legal battle with the NFL and causing everyone to forget all about LMFAO’s appearance. (M.I.A.’s highest-charting single as lead artist, 2008’s “Paper Planes,” peaked at #4. It’s a 10. As a guest, M.I.A. will eventually appear in this column.)

LMFAO followed “Sexy And I Know It” with their single “Sorry For Party Rocking” — funny song title, extremely forgettable song. “Sorry For Party Rocking” did not recapture the magic of the previous two LMFAO singles. Instead, the song peaked at #49 in March 2012, and LMFAO haven’t been back on the Hot 100 since. Their Sorry For Party Rocking album never got past gold, but the “Sexy And I Know It” single went platinum eight times over, and its video just hit the billion-view mark last month. Maybe people are still showing that clip to their children.

LMFAO didn’t have the kind of sad, slow fall-off that we’ve seen so many times in this column. Instead, in the fall of 2012, the group announced that they were going on hiatus, and they’ve been effectively finished ever since. This makes sense to me. Pop stardom is work, and both members of LMFAO were rich kids who didn’t need to work. Both pursued halfhearted solo careers, neither of which amounted to much. SkyBlu released a couple of free-download mixtapes and inexplicably changed his name to 8ky 6lu. In a 2016 Facebook post, he accused his uncle Redfoo of running out and taking the LMFAO name and royalties after he, 8ky, suffered a back injury while performing. I have no idea what 8ky’s doing now.

Redfoo released a bunch of his own solo singles, and none of them came anywhere near the Hot 100. Redfoo did, however, serve for a few seasons as a judge on the Australian version of The X-Factor, and he landed a few solo hits in Australia. Over there, his 2013 solo single “Let’s Get Ridiculous” went all the way to #1. You’re welcome, Australia.

For a while, Redfoo was in a relationship with the Belarusian tennis star Victoria Azarenka, so you’d see tabloid pictures of him, in his white plastic glasses and his animal-print pants out of control, cheering at Wimbledon or wherever. Redfoo also got himself a songwriting credit on Kendrick Lamar’s great 2015 track “King Kunta,” since that song quotes “We Want The Funk,” a 1994 track that Redfoo produced for the LA rapper Ahmad. (“King Kunta” peaked at #58. Kendrick Lamar will eventually appear in this column.) These days, Redfoo is big into veganism, so it’s a good thing his animal-print pants weren’t made from real animals. Earlier this year, he released a solo single called “Long Live Party Rock.” You probably didn’t hear about it.

Party rock, in the LMFAO sense, was not supposed to live long, and it did not. LMFAO went out on top, at the exact moment that the public would’ve gotten sick of them anyway. Their entire style exists as trapped-in-amber evidence of a thin, daffy brand of circa-2010 dance-rap cheese. We don’t need to worry about their lasting impact on society, since they have none — except, that is, in their legacy of little kids bouncing their dicks and laughing about it.

GRADE: 6/10

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BONUS BEATS: One of Jimmy Fallon’s enduring bits is his eerily accurate impression of former Number Ones artist Neil Young. On a 2012 episode of Late Night, Fallon and Bruce Springsteen got together to play an acoustic “Sexy And I Know It” cover as Neil Young and younger Bruce Springsteen. For whatever reason, that cover only exists on YouTube in audio form these days. Here it is:

(Bruce Springsteen’s highest-charting single, 1984’s “Dancing In The Dark,” peaked at #2. It’s an 8. Jimmy Fallon’s only Hot 100 hit, the 2014 collaboration “Ew!,” peaked at #26, and it might as well be an LMFAO song.)

BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s “Sexy And I Know It” soundtracking a montage of monsters riding a scooter in the 2012 motion picture Hotel Transylvania:

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: In the single greatest moment of the 2016 HBO miniseries The Young Pope, director Paolo Sorrentio uses “Sexy And I Know It” to score a scene of Jude Law getting all decked out in his papal finery. Here it is:

THE 10S: Jay-Z and Kanye West’s hard-balling boom-bleep anthem “N***as In Paris” peaked at #5 behind “Sexy And I Know It.” Doctors say it’s the illest because it’s suffering from realness. It’s a 10.

The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The History Of Pop Music is out now on paperback via Hachette Books. Wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle, yeah, and buy the book here.

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