All that junk
The cultural moment of ‘My Humps’
For the Black Eyed Peas, it’s been a short six years since Bridging the Gap, the album on which the group prophetically proclaimed: “I’ma tell the world / why hip-hop is haunted. / Money is a drug / and MCs is on it.” The century has turned, as has the commercial fortune of the Peas, and now they are headlining something called the Honda Civic Tour. If money is a drug, surely the Peas started dabbling at some point, because they are officially way past the experimental phase.
But we can’t blame the band, as much as we may want to think the addition of Fergie and the genre shift from “conscious” to “club” were Machiavellian moves rather than artistic expression. When it comes to the nadir of the Peas’ aesthetic existence, the eye-gougingly awful single “My Humps,” remember: We asked for it.
Even though everything about “My Humps” screams watered-down corp-pop B.S., it is a hit single of the most populist kind. Buried at track five on Monkey Business, the song wriggled its way up the food chain in clubs, on mix tapes and through file-sharing networks. Finally, the zeitgeist had to not only let it in, but also celebrate it on radio, MTV, the Internet, ring tones (sales of which have eclipsed 2 million) and commercials.
Nobody at Interscope Records thought we’d hear the song. It’s not mentioned in the band’s official bio. We the people invited “My Humps” into our homes because it made us bob our heads. Before we knew what we’d gotten ourselves into, it announced it would be staying—indefinitely.
In the fine tradition of Kelis’ “Milkshake” and Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl,” “My Humps” is catchy not in spite of being persistently grating and annoying, but because of it. Fergie, who we were told joined the band in order “to be their singer,” doesn’t bother to sing the hook to “My Humps.” (Incredibly, crunkster Lil Jon makes the song better in a remix; on his version, the song is actually sung.) Yes, “My Humps” has a hook, but the thing is atonal. How do you “sing” along to the warbling “my hump / my hump / my hump my hump my hump”? Damned if I know, but we all are. This is the postmillennial single: a song with little singing; few instruments; and one relentless, spare beat. And we are loving it.
The song doesn’t embody all that’s wrong with pop music, for there have always been plenty of bad songs, but it does bluntly represent a cultural moment of sex-as-commodity. Early on, Internet videos circulated that claimed to be the song’s official clip and were actually just porn files renamed “My Humps.” It’s not such a stretch; if today’s porn is sex stripped of human feeling, today’s pop is love songs about humps, lumps and, um, “milky milky cocoa puffs.” Forget metaphor and innuendo. We got your T&A right here.
And frankly, it’s not the Peas’ problem. They make fun beats and dance songs; we live in a world that conflates sex with hamburgers and mindless sex acts with sexiness (as in Paris Hilton’s Carl’s Jr. commercial and sex tape, respectively).
The most interesting part of “My Humps” doesn’t appear on the single, but on the album version, which features a painfully longer sequence of questions regarding the use of the eponymous humps. (One can almost see the scene in a darkened basement: “For the last time, Ms. Ferguson, what exactly is it you plan to do with all that junk inside that trunk?”) After the interrogation, a jazzy piano shows up, and Will.i.am sings the words “so real” 17 times.
It’s not that Mr. I.am wants us to believe that after all those Honda Civics he’s sold he still possesses a shred of the truthful “realness” the Peas could have once rightly claimed. He’s telling the truth in a different way. “My Humps”—and all the cultural baggage that comes with it—is so real. The Honda Civic Tour and Verizon ring tones are so real. Porn clips, fashion accessories and unsexy sex are so real.
Then again, he could be saying “surreal.” I can’t tell anymore.