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Graphic Cee Lo song soars on iTunes, Facebook, Twitter

Cee Lo Green wrote an infectious tune that has gone viral, yet can’t be played on mainstream radio or in polite company.

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Cee Lo Green wrote an infectious tune that has gone viral, yet can’t be played on mainstream radio or in polite company.

The song of the year is NSFW.

And if you know what those letters mean, you're no doubt one of millions of tittering, Twittering people who have heard this poppy piece of profanity online, where it has become a reminder of how social media has changed everything.

The minivan-ready version of the song is called Forget You, and it's getting some play on pop radio. But the original (and far more satisfying) version, which has a much nastier title, has become a sensation. The video was cued up more than a million times in its first three days on YouTube, 4 million in only a couple of weeks of release.

The raunchily titled tune is a grooving, Motown-juiced sign of a time when what is truly hip is shared primarily among "friends" on the Internet.

Okay, let's just get this out of the way. My apologies to my mother and other sensitive souls.

The most buzzed-about tune in America is called F--- You.

The singer is Cee Lo Green, a 35-year-old Atlanta native (real name: Thomas DeCarlo Callaway). His day job is frontman for Gnarls Barkley, the duo that gave us the ubiquitous 2006 hit Crazy.

At first glance, the motives behind the new song are puzzling. Green wrote the tune of his life — a royalty cash cow that could be played at wedding receptions ad nauseam — and then gave it a lyric that renders it unplayable in polite company and not safe for work (psst: NSFW).

But therein lies the modern twist and Cee Lo's mad genius. The song turned out to be a whopper because the primary avenues of communication and pop culture revelation have changed. Pop culture currency these days isn't FM radio, it's Facebook status. Maybe he knew that, maybe he didn't. Whatever the case — bingo.

"Fifteen years ago, no way does this happen," says Drew Curtis, founder and CEO of fark.com, a popular aggregate of news stories and features. Curtis remembers being in high school and trading tapes of bawdy bands like 2 Live Crew. Today, he'd go to bit.ly and link it up.

"Without a doubt, the mainstream has changed," Curtis says. "That needle has been moving for quite some time. I think this is the new baseline. (Social media) is the new arbiter of cool."

Myriad songs have had that four-letter doozy in the title. But N.W.A.'s F--- tha Police or Skid Row's Get the F--- Out were niche tracks never intended for mass enjoyment. Cee Lo's tune is finding everyone: kids who revel in the naughtiness, parents who love the clever wordplay: "I'm sorry, I can't afford a Ferrari / But that don't mean I can't get you there. / I guess he's an Xbox and I'm more Atari / But the way you play your game ain't fair."

"Hits always find a way," says Tommy Chuck, program director at WFLZ-FM 93.3, which has played Forget You — the tame version — "more than any other station in America." But Chuck agrees that the song's reach has been greatly boosted by social networking. "With Twitter and Facebook and all the viral ways people share music now, things can just happen so quick."

Facebook and Twitter offer a controlled intimacy, a feel of underground revolt, a bazaar of ideas. You can't shout an f-bomb at work, but you sure can message one.

The bawdy version of the song was sitting at No. 12 on the iTunes singles chart on Friday and moving up fast. It's ideal for the intensely personal iPod: No one can hear it but you.

WFLZ's Chuck figures the song isn't even close to reaching full saturation point. Three new edits — including one where the f-word is bleeped out, another where the chorus is "eff you" — have just been shipped.

Of course, the new mainstream can also be fickle and ephemeral. When I raved about the song on Facebook this week, a "friend" said, "Dude, are you the music critic or what? This is like a WHOLE WEEK old."

Yeah, I had a couple of words for him.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life column runs every Sunday in Floridian.

on the Web

Listen at your
own risk

To hear a sampling of Cee Lo's song, go to tampabay.com/blogs/poplife. Be warned: There are expletives aplenty.

Graphic Cee Lo song soars on iTunes, Facebook, Twitter 09/03/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 3, 2010 8:18pm]
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