A recent article by New York Times music critic Jon Pareles, “From Cee Lo Green to Pink, Speaking the Unspeakable,” had me shocked at how out of touch he must be. It was all about the F-word and his apparent dismay over how prevalent it is in recent music. I know the Times insists on staying firmly entrenched in its mid-19th century stylistic roots by calling people “Mr.” And “Ms.” in its articles — most of the time — Cee Lo was addressed as “Mr. Green” in the story, but Pink was just “Pink.” Hmmm.
Anyway, the fact that in 2011 a music critic is put off by a bunch of hit songs with “fuck” in the title just tells me he needs to get out of his office and take a walk around the block. Not a walk on the wild side, Mr. Pareles, but just a stroll through the world we live in. I guarantee he would hear quite a few “fucks,” a couple of “shits,” and a few other choice words from George Carlin’s top seven just on the way to the local deli.
Folks may lament how our spoken language has declined. I have been known to do so myself at times. I wasn’t thrilled the other day when a couple of young dudes were cursing loudly in the vicinity of my kid. But she’s heard the words before, even from me (I was driving, the jerk cut me off.) I could try and blame my occasionally colorful speech on my dad, who used to curse when he got angry, or an ex-boyfriend, who taught me some colorful phrases, or my years living in metropolitan areas, where spicing up the speech can help a girl cope with fear and danger in a tough town. Obscenity-peppered speech could be a result of all of those things. Or it could just be another evolution of the English language, which never stops growing and changing.
“Fuck” is no longer the ultimate curse word. It has become a versatile noun, verb, and adverb. “Fuck” is no longer the “F-bomb,” as Pareles quaintly refers to it. It’s just a word. Pareles suggests that rap music and The Sopranos may have contributed to this social decline. He holds pop music up as the last bastion of musical lyrical propriety. I’m not so sure about that, and he even admits that musicians have been sneaking in curse words forever (Prince, The Who).
Cee Lo is not using “fuck” in his lyrics as a gimmick. Has Pareles even seen the video for the song? Cee Lo has a wicked sense of humor. People aren’t downloading his song or turning it up on the radio because of that word. Maybe in spite of it. It’s hardly the first time Cee Lo has used the word in one of his songs, and it’s naive of Pareles to suggest so. Cee Lo’s “Fuck You” is so good that it is just as enjoyable in its radio “Forget You” version. Yes, the savvy listener has probably downloaded the original and is singing along with those lyrics. But maybe not. It’s a fucking good song, whatever version, one of the best out there. Cee Lo is just singing in the vernacular.