Why Is Flo Rida at the Top of the Charts?

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Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 20 2012 12:50 PM

Top of the Pops: Flo Rida “Whistle”

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Flo Rida performs on NBC's 'Today' last month

Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images

The whistle in Flo Rida’s chart-topper “Whistle” is a literal whistle. It’s also a figurative whistle—which is to say, it’s a penis. Strangely, the actual whistle-whistle—the whistled eleven-note refrain, the song’s big hook—is cruder than the oral sex innuendos. (“Can you blow my whistle baby, whistle baby / Let me know / Girl, I'm gonna show you how to do it / And we start real slow / You just put your lips together / And you come real close” etc. etc.) Whistling has been big business in recent pop; in last year’s Slate Music Club, Carl Wilson predicted “It’ll be a while yet before pop’s pucker tuckers out.” But Carl didn’t count on that lumbering literalist, Flo Rida. When this man takes a trend into his python embrace, he is liable to squeeze the air out of it, kill it dead. “Whistle” is whistling’s apotheosis and, at least for the foreseeable future, its swan song.

It’s catchy, too, which is not quite a virtue when it comes to a song this insipid. “Whistle” will test the faith of the most zealous poptimist. There is some pleasure to be taken in the song’s airy bounce. The long sleeve tie-dye that Flo Rida wears in the video exerts a horrible fascination. Otherwise, it’s a long three-minutes-and-fifty-four-seconds.

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Flo Rida is a puzzle. He’s a huge hitmaker with no discernable charisma. As a technical matter, his rapping is serviceable. His rhymes, of course, are the pits. (He’s a guy from Florida who calls himself Flo Rida.) The lyrics aren’t just bad, they’re baffling. As best I can make out, these are some lines from the second verse of “Whistle”:

Show me soprano, ’cause girl you can handle
Baby we start something, you come up in part clothes
Girl I’m losing wind, my Bugatti the same road
Show me your perfect pitch, you got it, my banjo

I’m not sure that I want to contemplate what Flo Rida’s banjo is, or how it relates to his whistle.

Flo Rida is not a pop star in the traditional sense. He’s a club-music guy who has crossed over. He’s utilitarian: a delivery system for big bludgeoning danceable hooks. To Flo Rida’s credit, he doesn’t hog the spotlight. On his latest album, Wild Ones—as on his other big hits—he often cedes center-stage to his duet partners. If we’re lucky, he’ll show the same deference and make room next week at the top of the charts.

Jody Rosen is a Slate contributor.

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