LMFAO’s delirious satire of manliness.
Photograph by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.
Did you catch LMFAO at Halftime? Sure, they performed with Madonna. But we're talking about before that, when LMFAO appeared in a Bud Light commercial, in which they were booked to play at a bar named Halftime on Super Bowl Sunday. In December, Jonah Weiner wrote that the duo are "dance-floor jesters who doff their dignity, like breakaway pants, not merely for our amusement but for our betterment: They encourage us to shed some dignity ourselves in the name of uninhibited fun." The article is reprinted below.
The trailer for 2005’s Potheads: The Movie promotes a no-budget stoner comedy about four kids who, after running afoul of some fearsome drug dealer, must steal “25 pounds of medical marijuana”—or else. On the available evidence, Potheads is not only poorly titled and poorly premised, but also poorly acted, poorly written, poorly edited, poorly lit, and poorly miked. Toward the trailer’s end there is an unexpected appearance, however, of actual comic talent. A twentysomething guy with a large afro and baggy sweat shorts appears on screen, attempting to intimidate an antagonist via dance moves. Credited on the film’s IMDb page as Stefan Gordy, he breaks into a spastic jig, drops to all fours, and skitters across the concrete on his hands and knees: “The Doggy! The Doggy!” he says, calling out his move in an idiot singsong descended from Adam Sandler. He raises a knee off the ground: “Pee-pee on you!” As a bit of inane physical comedy, the Doggy is a burst of inspired silliness amid the trailer’s excruciating ineptitude. If that guy with the afro played his cards right, he could be a star.
Turns out he is. Under the handle Redfoo, Stefan Gordy has left cinema behind to become one-half of the Los Angeles pop-rap duo LMFAO; the other half is his 25-year-old nephew, Skyler “Sky Blu” Gordy. LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” spent six weeks atop the pop charts this summer, and their latest single, “Sexy and I Know It,” has risen to No. 2. The duo (its name is the IM shorthand for Laughing My Fucking Ass Off) place simple raps about dancing, drinking, and sex atop frenetic dance beats, answering the question of what it might sound like if “Fight For Your Right”-era Beastie Boys teamed up with “The Time”-era will.i.am. That you never would have dreamt of asking this question proves little beyond the fact that you are not a music executive.
“Party Rock Anthem” is a smash, but “Sexy and I Know It” is, in a rout, the duo’s best song. The lyrics are about strutting one’s stuff: coming as you are, feeling desirable, and performing that desirability with liberated, goofball gusto. “When I walk in the spot, this is what I see/ Everybody stops and they staring at me,” Redfoo raps. “I got a passion in my pants and I ain’t afraid to show it/ I'm sexy and I know it.” Like the Potheads trailer, the “Sexy and I Know It” video features some impressive Redfoo physical comedy that elevates the whole enterprise. With his crotch framed in an extreme close-up, he tears away leopard-print boardshorts to reveal leopard-print Speedos beneath. His package front-and-center, he humps at the air, his penis flopping around like a fish in the bottom of a boat. This move turns out to have a name—the Wiggle—and listeners are encouraged, later in the song, to perform it themselves. “Wiggle-wiggle-wiggle-wiggle-wiggle—yeah!” Redfoo chants. Women are not explicitly discouraged from wiggling, but it’s clear they’re not the target demographic: In the video’s climactic wiggle-off, 10 men face each other and throw their penises in each other’s directions. There’s something delightful about the whole junk-drunk spectacle. It’s not like guys needed an anthem of penile uplift, of course—dicks are funny, but they are hardly underdogs—but not since The Full Monty has a gang of ostensible heterosexuals whirled schlongs with such winning camaraderie and heart-melting glee.
Like the Black Eyed Peas, LMFAO are dance-floor jesters who doff their dignity, like breakaway pants, not merely for our amusement but for our betterment: They encourage us to shed some dignity ourselves in the name of uninhibited fun. LMFAO are shameless-bordering-on-artless when it comes to their urge to make merry, and this can be irksome. Flashing a giant APPLAUSE sign is different from making an audience laugh. When I hear LMFAO sing, “Everybody just have a good time,” on “Party Rock Anthem,” their voices melding into a high, saccharine harmony, I just have a bad time. But blunt-edged cheer has its place, even if it’s a place you’d rather avoid: A search for “Party Rock Wedding Dance” on YouTube yields 7,890 results; among those who have shuffled in their nuptials with choreographed dance routines to LFMAO’s biggest hit are Zac and Christina, Jilyne and Sean, Blong and Erica, Jen and Brian, and Craig and Marsha. None of these happy people are especially good dancers, and that’s the point: They got over it.
The Gordy boys are related to Motown founder Berry Gordy, who is Stefan’s father and Skyler’s grandfather. As befits a duo with Motown in its blood, LMFAO are wholehearted showbizzers, packing every square inch of the LMFAO brand with entertainment value. (You can even watch Redfoo on Mad Money animatedly sharing investment strategies.) They wear fluorescent animal prints and big plastic glasses with no lenses. They dance jubilantly in almost all their videos and at their concerts. Their videos and lyrics have recurring slogans, memes, and cast members: One character, called the Shuffle Bot, is a guy wearing a cardboard robot head; another, who goes only by the sobriquet Q, looks uncannily like Ronnie from The Jersey Shore. The videos involve fantastical, relatively elaborate setups: In “Party Rock Anthem” LMFAO must survive a dancing-zombie apocalypse (by dancing); in “Champagne Showers” they are trapped in a nightclub full of female vampires (so they dance); in “Yes,” a 10-minute clip that features a star turn from Jamie Foxx, they play professional curlers (who dance, with their brooms, across the ice). Both Gordy boys are great at mugging for the camera, Redfoo especially. He has strong comic timing and a mischievous, Bugs Bunny-ish mien that helps make a move like the Wiggle feel lightheartedly prankish rather than gross.
LMFAO are party rappers. They aren’t good at crafting rhymes so much as slinging together clichés and delivering them so vigorously that it doesn’t matter: They brag about being “up in the party,” looking “fresh to death” and getting it “on and poppin’ ” while “the bass is knocking.” Their individual personalities are largely indistinct, but in “Yes,” Redfoo plays the cad to Sky Blu’s softie. Picturing the good life, Redfoo imagines a team of women bathing him and declaring, “Your royal penis is clean”; in Sky Blu’s dream-world, “Grandma’s cooking breakfast, she makes pancakes the best/ I check my MySpace and I got a lot of friend requests.” (Aim high!) Their music puts a ProTools sheen on the blooping, whirring, squelching sounds of 1980s electro, disco, and videogames, with contemporary touches thrown in, like tremoring dubstep bass lines and copious Auto-Tune.
Spiritually, LMFAO nod not only to the bratty hedonism of the early Beastie Boys but also the smartass raunch of the Bloodhound Gang and, more recently, the hip-hop send-ups of the Lonely Island. In the “Champagne Showers” video, Redfoo and Sky Blu do a lurid bottle-popping pantomime: Holding imaginary bottles at crotch level, they jerk them back and forth a couple times before sending the invisible contents spraying with a comically graceful arc of the hand. You can picture Andy Samberg kicking himself for not having thought of it first.
For all their talk of lady-killing, LMFAO cultivate a certain circle-jerk-at-the-treehouse ambience, which the “Champagne Showers” dance almost literalizes. It’s also on display in the video for “La La La,” where Redfoo and Sky Blu, hanging around the house together in their underwear, use a computer to create the perfect babe, Weird Science-style; in the “Shots” video, where they splash vodka into each other’s open mouths and are mock-fellated while standing side-by-side; in the “Yes” video, where Redfoo caps off a locker-room pep talk about “swallowing” adversity with a “no homo” amen that makes the whole thing 0 percent less gay. And it’s in the Wiggle, of course—a pleasure best enjoyed while in possession of a penis and in close proximity to other penises. This all relates to a tension, at LMFAO’s core, between its two main influences: hip-hop’s bros-before-hoes braggadocio on the one hand and club music’s inclusive utopianism on the other. One ostensible complaint against LMFAO, along these lines, is that they annex space on the dance floor for boors to crowd together and raucously celebrate their dicks. But “Sexy and I Know It” isn’t a straight-up tribute to manliness so much as a delirious satire of it, in the neighborhood of its clear antecedent, Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy”: “Girl look at that body—ahhh!—I work out,” Redfoo, whose physique suggests several lapsed gym memberships, preens. The Wiggle goes to such farcical, homoerotic extremes that it can’t help but function as parodic. Wiggle in bad faith and the joke’s on you.
Jonah Weiner is Slate's pop critic.