Tearing apart this song is rather like competing against a mute at a poetry jam; embarrassingly easy, and absolutely no satisfaction is derived from winning. That said, it hasn't stopped people from trying; this song has been held up by pedants and prescriptivists alike as symptomatic of the crumbling standards of grammar in today's pop culture. A couple of particularly pretentious asses even made a parody of the song excoriating it for its transgressions against the spoken word. This, however, is not my issue with the song.
If you haven't heard it, here's the gist of it: a presumably poor boi (Timbaland) is lamenting to his woman that he doesn't have the kind of financial largesse she might be accustomed to (Ain't got no car/flowers/Red American Express etc.), but he sure does have a lot of love in those pants. She replies with reassurance (Boy I like you just the way you are/You can touch my love it's free etc.), and more or less invites him to let his love out of those pants, despite the fact that he's poor. Predictably, given the powerful bassline, shortly after being released in May 2007 it rocketed to the "top of the charts" in the USA, Canada and the UK (among other places), and quickly became a club favourite.
Well, fine, right? A popular song that actually has a relatively redeeming message, praise be! The issue, though, is that here we have a real-life multimillionaire pleading poverty to a woman who would undoubtedly violently reject the first broke sop who took her at her word in real life. And let's take a quick look at some of the things that, in complaining he doesn't have, imply what he should have to woo a prospective girl: A car, a Visa, exotic trips, and a sailboat. Now, I'm not a hopeless, swooning idealist who believes that love and love alone will always make it; it often doesn't, and at least a little bit of money helps smooth things out. But the absolutely fucking shameless, underhanded, disingenuous way the song is presented pisses me right off, even more so when you consider the bucketloads of cash Timbaland made singing about the merits of broke love.
Which is not to say that Timbaland was the first artist to pay lip-service to a vision of love he did not share in the slightest. Take the Beatles' All You Need Is Love - a song which claims that you don't need to be an insanely talented person to find love, as played and sung by insanely talented people. Or Bon Jovi worrying about getting by on his girlfriend's truck stop tip money.
End of the Line?
Given the inherent moral ambiguity of people like Timbaland or the Beatles singing about plebian issues, it was only a matter of time before a band hit the mainstream which paid absolutely zero lip service to people below their socioeconomic station, and in fact reveled in their affluence: Vampire Weekend. Now, they are not pioneers in their field - bands like The Decemberists and Arcade Fire loaded the baseball into the pitching machine - but Vampire Weekend fucking cranked the ball out of the park, no doubt using a mahogany bat filled with the finest Portuguese cork around.
I'm not going to analyze their music in any depth here - dannye cranked that particular ball out of the park too - but listening to their first, self-named album, I found myself oscillating between fits of rage and moments of forgiveness and acceptance; rage for the shameless portrayal of their inaccessible lives (Walcott, Hyannisport is a ghetto/Don't you want to get out of Cape Cod tonight?), and acceptance for the knowledge that they are either the most, or least pretentious band in history because of it. They make no attempt to tell the story of anyone's lives but their own - I've no doubt they know exactly what the fuck an Oxford comma is - and I suppose I have to respect that a bit.
It strikes me as being part of a greater overall trend, that being the Normalization of Affluence, that is becoming more and more present today; rich, trendy, educated people being exactly who they are and telling the stories that pertain, and have importance to, only themselves. Read a short story by Amy Bloom and gag on the gnocchi and Saint-Amour beaujolais, or nod in approval at the 40,000+ plus bottles in the wine cellar of Bill Koch. But that is for another node.
Timbaland - last in a dying breed of musical demagoguery? We'll see...