The other day I was in the gym and I was suddenly pulled back sweating through time to 2001 by the music video for Blue Cantrell’s record “Hit ’em Up Style”. Back in 2001, I also heard this song regularly at a gym (the only place I encountered mainstream music for a while) and I remember this song being in almost constant rotation on MTV (you know, when the channel played music) and the Canadian rival, Much Music, or whatever it was.
Blu Cantrell taught us how to hit ’em up in 2001
I was never confused about the basic issue of the song–men who cheat are dogs and deserve some type of punishment–but I was never quite sure about the concluding message which I guess is something like, hey, men who cheat are dogs–but make sure you get into their bank account before you say farewell.
The song is, admittedly, catchy, but I think I kept staring at the screen because (1) Blu is cute and (2) I was always confused about whether the song amounted to some type of female-empowerment rally call or merely just a reinforcement of some of the same gendered stereotypes. In the first interpretation men cheat and women suffer but at least women get something out of it in the end. In the second, well, female ‘labor’ or value is still communicated in terms of material goods and men still do what they want they just pay for it (with material goods). Is the empowered Cantrell fan in any sense free or equal to the man? Who still has the power?
Of course, in my mind at the time, the song was in dialogue with the previous year’s heinous but catchy and inescapable hit, “It wasn’t Me” by Shaggy:
Shaggy, oh it was you. You created a new defense for cheaters in 2000.
In retrospect, Shaggy’s shrugging charm has no been rendered impossible by social media new technology. Honestly, I think that for Shaggy to be able to declare that it wasn’t him, he’d have to have a relationship that used no computers, email addresses or cell phones. And while I find Shaggy’s ‘aw shucks’ claim to not be a serial cheater somewhat repugnant (but less so than an entire population that made this song a hit), I do find the fact that we are now so much more the slaves to machines and software even more disturbing.
Now, I am not lamenting the loss of freedom to cheat, but the loss of freedom more generally. In my memory, the world was different when I heard these songs and even changed in between them. Shaggy’s song is the carefree insane optimism of the late 90s, when I was in college. It was a huge hit as I graduated. Blu Cantrell–rightly or not–reminds me of a reaction to the new pessimistic economy and the more vengeful world I knew after 9/11.
And both seem serenely naive now.