Yesterday, prominent critic Ann Powers broke down why people hate the Black Eyed Peas so much, without necessarily defending their music. Much of what she wrote makes sense, but there is a point where it feels overthought academically. She writes:
In every hit and with virtually every move, the group celebrates the baser instincts of 21st-century humanity. Their party anthems put a happy face on alcoholic overindulgence, thoughtless consumerism, money hunger, sexual exhibitionism and promiscuity, and snapping on your friends.
Powers is a parent and a feminist (the latter of which is rare in the rock critic business, trust me), and I understand where she's coming from. But people don't hate the Black Eyed Peas for portraying nonstop partying with no dark side. The people who love the Black Eyed Peas, that is, those who made The E.N.D. a multihit 2009 summer blockbuster, don't think about this stuff. Only the people who hate them do.
Those haters include "real" hip-hop people, usually the kind who want us to think that Freddie Gibbs and Raekwon are very good. They don't care about the Black Eyed Peas' morals because they don't care about an ex-pimp or ex-crack cooker's morals. Rap people judge rap, unfortunately, on how convincing its lyrics are, not as storytelling but as proof. Because most of these haters watched the Black Eyed Peas change identities in public, they know that the group's get-crazy stuff is some kind of sellout, lie, or both.
Anyway, people hate the Peas not because of their lack of realism or accountability, but because their lyrics don't even pretend to carry heft or lead listeners toward anything but a big, unspecific party. We "know" they glorify drinking, but their lack of specificity (some would say substance) couldn't influence a dormmate to chug a shot.
Yes, the Peas have corny, nonsensical lyrics. But hating them on that basis betrays a misunderstanding of pop music's great history of corny, nonsensical lyrics. From Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" to Eiffel 65's "Blue (Da Ba Dee)," the people who make these songs hits simply do not care. They want to dance and be as silly as possible, sometimes nonsensically. (Haters might, however, have a point that the Black Eyed Peas' songs have no personality, or even that the members don't "own" their futuristic getups the way Kanye and Lady Gaga do.)
Anyway, people who think Fergie rapping about her boobs and butt is the worst thing ever don't actually outnumber people who liked the song at some point -- but they're the only ones who write essays about it.
So why like the Peas at all? That's like asking why like KC and the Sunshine Band, for whom the Peas are the modern-day equivalent. I like listening to "Meet Me Halfway," "Let's Get Retarded," and "Don't Phunk with My Heart," three big dumb hits by the same group over the course of six years that sound impressively different from each other. And for the record, "My Humps" made me laugh -- who knows if it was with or at them. I laughed at the shameless audacity of it, I think; I definitely remembered asking friends at the time if they'd heard this ridiculous song yet.
Thinking (or writing) very hard about "My Humps" is to be dumber than a song that knows its purpose could ever be. The song is objectifying, but singling it out for this is to be myopic about the pop/R&B/hip-hop genre crossroads the Peas occupy. Pop gets so much more demeaning than a woman celebrating her body parts in the fashion of a playground chant -- usually in songs where the sex object isn't exercising her own choice in the matter (or given a microphone to do so).
There's sexism -- and then there are annoying songs that we want to charge with crimes they didn't commit.