You guys, seriously. I’m furious with Pitbull. His song “Back In Time,” from the totally unnecessary movie Men In Black III, is like a graduate course in crappy corporate pop. If children in the year 2065 look at you and say, “Oh wise one, tell us of your era’s shameless money whoring disguised as art” then you can just play “Back In Time” while pouring Red Bull on their precious little heads.
And to say “Back In Time” is Pitbull’s most corporate song is really saying something because all of his songs are blatant marketing tools. Do you think it’s an accident that “Give Me Everything” opens with a Kodak reference and that Pitbull is also a spokesman for Kodak cameras?
But at least “Give Me Everything” has an interesting melody and a memorable hook (thanks to Ne-Yo), and at least it has a clever dig at Lindsay Lohan in the second verse. “Back In Time” doesn’t even make that much effort. The lyrics just plug the movie from start to finish: The title directly references the time travel plot, and the verses keep insisting on Pitbull’s awesomeness by comparing him to characters from the film. And the melody may be groovy, but that’s because it’s directly lifted from the 1960s classic “Love Is Strange.” I mean… how hard was it for Pitbull to churn this thing out? The whole project probably required one trip through the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, half a viewing of Men In Black 3, and 20 minutes in the studio.
AND YET. Despite all this, I kind of like this song. The groove is a lazy rehash of an oldie, but damn, it’s still catchy after all these years. The lyrics are vapid, but they are easy to sing along to. When you’re walking to your car in the grocery store parking lot, there are worse things to holler out than, “We have to go back in tiiiiiime!”
That’s the awful genius of this kind of music. You can realize it sucks, even as you’re enjoying it… and in the end, the enjoyment wears you down. The pieces of the puzzle—the proven hook, the silly singalong words, the tie-in to a popular film property—are all cyncially chosen, but when you add them together, you get a song that feels instantly familiar, and therefore easily embraced. And sometimes, the party gets started faster when everyone understands the music right away.
To be fair, Pitbull didn’t invent this formula. Remember Will Smith‘s song from the first Men in Black? It’s called, creatively, “Men in Black,” and its backing track is lifted directly from the 80s hit “Forget Me Nots” by Patrice Rushen.
And “Men in Black” kicks ass. When I was in college, my freshman dorm staged a dance to it. And we ruled.
So I can’t really be furious at Pitbull for doing what so many have done before. I also refuse to call this song a “guilty pleasure,” because why should I feel guilty for being human? These songs are carefully crafted to tap my pleasure centers, and they work because my pleasure centers, like most people’s, involve familiarity and comfort.
But still… I can’t I’m happy about this mess. I may not hate it. I may even like it a little. But I still know it’s bad for me, bad for the culture, and probably bad for humanity.
Previously: 5 worst Will Smith movies (video)
Mark Blankenship tweets as @IAmBlankenship. He had a featured role in that “Men in Black” dance.