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Colbert Spits Fiyah
December 16, 2009 12:20 PM   Subscribe

A few months back, Jay-Z released the single "Empire State of Mind"[YT] off of his latest album, The Blueprint 3[buy]. The songs features Jay-Z with a supporting chorus by Alicia Keys. Alicia Keys would then go on to release "Empire State Of Mind (Part II) Broken Down" for her new album The Element of Freedom[buy]. Last night Alicia Keys performed this song live on the Colbert Report with a rather surprising special guest[YT].
posted by cavalier (69 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Colbert is 1000% more of a hustla than Jay-Z could ever aspire to be.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:22 PM on December 16, 2009


A continuous puddle over this guy. *swoon*
posted by june made him a gemini at 12:27 PM on December 16, 2009


Thanks for IDing that song for me... I like it but didn't know who sang it.
posted by yiftach at 12:28 PM on December 16, 2009


i hate that song, i hear it constantly, even when I left new york on vacation, it was still everywhere. The broken down version is slightly better, but...

GOD DAMN STEPHEN COLBERT IS FULL OF TALENT.
posted by Jon_Evil at 12:37 PM on December 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I wasn't wild about the song, until one night I heard it when I was out dancing and the song KILLED and everyone was just having a wonderful time. Context can be everything.
posted by hermitosis at 12:45 PM on December 16, 2009


You know, hearing this song performed at Yankee Stadium when the Yankees were en route to beating my Phillies in the World Series really soured me on it. Until now. Thank you, Mr. Colbert.
posted by moviehawk at 12:48 PM on December 16, 2009


Funny man with fairly average vocal ability sings a comical duet with an accomplished singer on his show?

Clearly, Colbert is biting Garrison Keillor.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 12:48 PM on December 16, 2009 [6 favorites]


OK, I kinda really meant "thanks for IDing the amazing voice singing the chorus of that song, I really like it."

Having viewed the Jay-Z video, I'm surprised by how dark the song is in the middle. I'm not burned out on it since I don't hear it as often as Jon_Evil - I don't listen to music radio often, and when I do, it's not to stations that would play this tune - so I still like it.

Also:
GOD DAMN STEPHEN COLBERT IS FULL OF TALENT.

This.
posted by yiftach at 12:50 PM on December 16, 2009


Should you forgive someone for having lousy flow just because you'd expect him to have lousy flow?
posted by uncleozzy at 12:51 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


"where dreams are made of"
posted by cell divide at 12:52 PM on December 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Colbert's got dexterity in spades. Damn.

Sidenote: This is the first time I've heard this song. And this song has the same exact notes/chords and even the same vocal inflection as "The Scientist" by Coldplay. Just a different time signature. And even then they line up at points. Seriously.

Go to the part of the scientist where he sings "questions of science / science of progress" and then listen to the part of the chorus where she sings after Neeeeew York: "something something / there's nothing you can't do."

It's the same exact thing. I know this happens all the time, but artists hear a song, sublimate it and then regurgitate it in a different form. And sometimes you're just too damn close to your subconscious subject of aping.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 12:53 PM on December 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


Agreed that Stephen Colbert is great, but big credit to Alicia Keys, too. She looks really into it and is clearly having a lot of fun performing the duet.

I can imagine that many artists would giggle at the idea of the gag, but would not be willing to risk their own embarrasment if Stephen couldn't pull it off.
posted by AgentRocket at 1:14 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


This song was so awful I turned to my boyfriend and asked, "You good?" "Been good for awhile now" and I started to delete it from the tivo. Then I saw that there were almost 10 minutes left to the show and said, "Oh, should I not delete it?" and boyfriend said, "Nah, he just usually says Goodnight after the commercial break or whatever" "Yeah".

So on the one hand, thanks, I wouldn't have seen that. On the other hand, seriously, no thanks, that song fucking sucks. Fucking. Sucks.
posted by birdie birdington at 1:17 PM on December 16, 2009


I know this happens all the time...

To some more than others
posted by jpdoane at 1:19 PM on December 16, 2009


that song fucking sucks. Fucking. Sucks.

Someone hurry and write a catchy song about Portland so birdie will stop crying.
posted by hermitosis at 1:25 PM on December 16, 2009 [9 favorites]


Yeah, didn't love this song. Ranks right up there with U2's boring New York song, but not as cringe-worthy as Madonna's New York song. What is it about New York being hard to capture in a song? Too much? Too big? Too easy to fall into cliche?
posted by papercake at 1:26 PM on December 16, 2009


Funny man with fairly average vocal ability sings a comical duet with an accomplished singer on his show?

Clearly, Colbert is biting Garrison Keillor.


Johnny Carson did it in 1964.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:29 PM on December 16, 2009



Maybe it's because I don't have as discerning musical taste as the posters above, or maybe because at times I wish I lived in NY, but I actually enjoy this song.

Also, Colbert is the man!
posted by dealing away at 1:35 PM on December 16, 2009


As someone who recently moved away from New York, I've been enjoying this song when I hear it around. Also I happen to like Jay-Z and Alicia Keys in moderation.

But did anyone actually listen to what Colbert was saying? It's not so much that he can rap poorly, it's that he wrote a really funny rap about being white, rich and suburban to stick in the middle of a song that glorifies the "gritty" elements of the city. And Alicia Keys seems to have been in on the joke and really into it. Good for them.
posted by thebergfather at 1:36 PM on December 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Someone hurry and write a catchy song about Portland so birdie will stop crying.

Whoa, what? This isn't about the place the song is about (someone hurry and write a catchy song on guitar so birdie will stop crying! Everyone knows she hates pianos!). I love NYC and chose to live in Brooklyn a couple summers because I loved it there.

Uh, anyway.
posted by birdie birdington at 1:44 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is this a new thing? When did musical guests start on the show? It just doesn't seem to jibe with the Colbert Report, for some reason.

Either way, this should become SOP for talk shows with musical guests. The host should join the band and sing along, preferably using an uncommon or possibly clashing musical instrument. Bands that can incorporate the host seemlessly will soar in popularity. Also, hosts of talk shows will either have to have actual talent (I'm looking at you, Leno, Daly, SNL-boy), or stop featuring musical guests.

Yes, when I rule the world, it will be more interesting.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:52 PM on December 16, 2009


What is it about New York being hard to capture in a song? Too much? Too big? Too easy to fall into cliche?

No offence, papercake, but I think we've got a special case on our hands here.

Consider the opening verse:
Grew up in a town,
That is famous as a place of movie scenes
Noise is always loud
There are sirens all around
Now, we're more in stock image territory than clicheville here, and just never mind the awkward semi-literacy of "famous as a place of movie scenes." No, if you want to know just what kind of songsmithing you're in for, feast on that showstopper there: Noise is always loud. So, so true. It is always loud. Noise, I mean.

Now, you've got that tautology there, pushing you toward the chorus - but linger a moment, baby. You're a narrator, tell us what's happenin', hit us where we live . . .
And the streets are mean
If I could make it here
I could make it anywhere
That’s what they say
Seeing my face in lights
Or my name in marquees found down Broadway
That's right - don't just quote Sinatra - own it. Sell it. That's what they say. Could've heard it anywhere, what with all these mean streets to traverse. And it's all worth it, because if you can make it here, then you can see your face in presumably mirror-tinted lights and your name in marquees, and ain't nobody can tell you then that you're grasp of basic English usage is so tentative it's a wonder you could sign your own name to the recording contract.

But hey, don't let it get you down - build it up for us, baby . . .
Even if it ain’t all it seems
I got a pocketful of dreams
Baby, I’m from New York
Pocket full of dreams? Can't even fathom how that'd work. What a concept! What a city! That's . . . that's authorship!
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothing you can’t do
Now you’re in New York
Concrete jungle? Are you an English prof? Because you just juxtaposed my ass into another borough from my head right there, my dear. But I must confess I'm stuck on whether this is a series of episodes (first there's nothing I can't do, then I proceed to New York, where my options are more limited) or a sort of implied causation in some exotic Big Apple argot (hey-yo, yo-ay - now [that] you're in New York, nothin' you can't do).

Anyway, bring it on home . . .
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Hear it for New York, New York, New York
Now, I don't want to put analogies in your mouth, Alicia, but I've got to assume that you went and took that classic McInerney take on New York's overwhelmingness and sort of transposed it (Bright Lights, Big City ----> Big Lights!), thereby sort of thematically inverting the novel's core message, turning those lights from ironic portents of doom into something to inspire you. Or am I overthinking it? Are the street lamps simply physically larger in New York?

Also - may I be pedantic just for a moment? - also, the streets that make you feel brand new. Are those the same streets as the mean ones? Is it an odd numbers vs. even thing? Streets vs. avenues? Uptown/downtown? Just wondering . . .

I'd carry on into the second verse, but there are still some syntactical and syllogistic mindbenders I'd like to wrestle with first. (Such a melting pot on the corner selling rock - you mean in New York they sell crack cocaine from pots? Or that there's such a mix of races and traditions involved in the selling of the rock? The mind reels . . .)

But bravo, Ms. Keys, in any case - that there is some awesome writing.
posted by gompa at 2:07 PM on December 16, 2009 [8 favorites]


This reminds me of the time Will Ferrell jumped in with Queens of the Stone Age on SNL (sorry, couldn't find the clip on YouTube)
posted by mannequito at 2:18 PM on December 16, 2009


My mother warned me never to deconstruct bad pop lyrics or my brain would get stuck like that.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:21 PM on December 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


Thanks for that, gompa.

I always found the chorus to be off-putting. These streets will make you feel brand new . . . or else what?
posted by ekroh at 2:23 PM on December 16, 2009


Hate all you want, but I think the couplet "Hail Mary to the city you're a virgin/And Jesus can't save you, life starts when the church ends" ain't half bad.
posted by blucevalo at 2:25 PM on December 16, 2009


Is this a new thing? When did musical guests start on the show?

It's only a very occasional thing. About a year ago, he had Rush on the show, and the gag was that they were still playing "Tom Sawyer" when he went to sleep at his desk. Hilariously, at the end of the show, Rush very gamely attempts to play "Tom Sawyer" on Rock Band.
posted by Skot at 2:26 PM on December 16, 2009


gompa, that's a sarcastic troll, right?

RIGHT?

Because seriously trying to deconstruct pop lyrics is bad enough, but seriously criticizing the usage of the English language in a pop song while including "you're grasp of basic English" in your critique would make my head implode from the irony.
posted by yiftach at 2:46 PM on December 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Because seriously trying to deconstruct pop lyrics is bad enough, but seriously criticizing the usage of the English language in a pop song while including "you're grasp of basic English" in your critique would make my head implode from the irony.

You caught me. I was both simultaneously utterly serious in my critique and yet also posting too quick to carry out a thorough proofread. I am a study where contrasts are made of.
posted by gompa at 2:48 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


...and ain't nobody can tell you then that you're grasp of basic English usage is so tentative it's a wonder you could sign your own name to the recording contract...

What was that rule again? If you criticize the language and grammar of something, you will invariably fall victim to the "no edit" policy of MeFi?
posted by flippant at 2:50 PM on December 16, 2009


Bah, too late.
posted by flippant at 2:51 PM on December 16, 2009


Is this a new thing? When did musical guests start on the show?

I guess I should post these photos from when Colbert had The Mountain Goats on the show. I was in rehearsal, and snapped these pics of Colbert jumping in with TMG. They also did it for the taping, after the main show was over (the duet part was taped, but not aired).
posted by statolith at 2:51 PM on December 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


The lyrics to a popular song are a long string of cliches? Poets and lyricists sometimes diverge from SWE in pursuit of rhythm and meter? Jump the fuck back.
posted by box at 2:52 PM on December 16, 2009


The lyrics to a popular song are a long string of cliches? Poets and lyricists sometimes diverge from SWE in pursuit of rhythm and meter? Jump the fuck back.

Well, my take is there's "ain't nothin' but a hound dog," and then there's "concrete jungle where dreams are made of," and there's an impossibly wide chasm in between separating pop art from self-parody. But hey, it seems like nothing inspires Mefites to po-faced overanalysis quite like a goofily overanalytical riff on a plug-dumb pop song in a thread about a Colbert Report clip, so what do I know? RIGHT?
posted by gompa at 2:59 PM on December 16, 2009


Well, first I must disclose: I'm from NYC. Jay-Z and Alicia Keys are both from NYC too. Their song really captures the essence of my hometown, for me. I, along with many New Yorkers, love this song. I assume that those of you who hate the song any strongly didn't grow up in NYC, or at least, in the same NYC that we did..
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 3:02 PM on December 16, 2009


Jeez, gompa, relax. Let's focus on the part where we both agree it's a dumb song.
posted by box at 3:18 PM on December 16, 2009


I would be Mr. keys for her.

I just watched that earlier today and colbert coming out and rapping was very unexpected. Of course he sang with Crosby,Stills and Nash when they were on about a year ago. I know Wilco was on and Movits. Were they on two nights in a row or did i imagine that?

tons of musical guest.
posted by djduckie at 3:21 PM on December 16, 2009


Hilariously, at the end of the show, Rush very gamely attempts to play "Tom Sawyer" on Rock Band.

"Hilariously" is right. The look on Neil Peart's face as he, the greatest living rock drummer, completely fucks up his own song in Rock Band is absolutely priceless. I think they got like a 35% score.

There's a whole series of videos like that. Another great one is Scott Ian failing on an Anthrax song.
posted by DecemberBoy at 3:28 PM on December 16, 2009


I'm waiting for gompa to dissect the lyrics to Tutti Frutti by Little Richard next.
posted by ciderwoman at 4:27 PM on December 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


nothing inspires Mefites to po-faced overanalysis quite like

No, almost anything does that. mefi is, shall we say, an empire of po-faced overanalysis.
posted by blucevalo at 5:11 PM on December 16, 2009


But bravo, Ms. Keys, in any case - that there is some awesome writing.

Lyrics, man, are not supposed to be read. They're supposed to be HEARD, yo. When you write lyrics down and pick them apart like that, you miss the whole point of music. Seriously, -1,000,000,000,000 internets for you.
posted by 23skidoo at 5:28 PM on December 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think gompa's point - if I may be so bold - is that the song fails to make a connection with the audience because it's lyrically just a bunch of stitched-together clichés. There's nothing "New York-y" about it, except that it quotes everything famous that's ever been said about NYC.

I like pop music, and I know that "it's so trite" is frequently used as a snobby and uninformed criticism. But in the case of this song, it is literally true. There isn't a single lyric that isn't literally a cliché.

Except for the parts which make no goddamn sense, like "Noise is loud."

Now you take Shakira's latest song, "She-Wolf." It has that lyric, "I'm starting to feel just a little abused, like a coffee machine in an office." This also makes no goddamn sense, and yet I find it charming.

Maybe because - unlike the lyrics of the Jay-Z song at hand - it isn't something I picture Ralphie Wiggum saying.
posted by ErikaB at 5:59 PM on December 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ahhhhhhhh.....white people.
posted by ivanosky at 6:13 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Man, those lyrics are dreadful. They're like a parody of shitty top-40 songwriting, except it's supposed to be dead serious.

Lyrics, man, are not supposed to be read. They're supposed to be HEARD, yo.

Bullshit. They're not poetry, but that doesn't mean one can get away with writing lyrics as awful as these are. Anyway, these lyrics are just as dumb without the dissection. There's not some point that gompa is missing. She's singing some stupid shit.
posted by DecemberBoy at 6:25 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


That special guest wasn't surprising at all.
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 6:33 PM on December 16, 2009


If you'd like to know more about the lyrics.
posted by NoraCharles at 6:39 PM on December 16, 2009


You can dissect the lyrics all you like, this song is fantastic. It's got two amazing performers at the top of their game. It's anthemic, passionate, and, the last nail in the douchey over-analysis' coffin, fun to listen to.
posted by Locobot at 7:07 PM on December 16, 2009


I had never heard the song before last night's Colbert Report and frankly thought it was pretty crap on its own, but Colbert's performance was hilarious.

Alicia Keys is one of those artists that I kinda feel like I'm supposed to like but just can't.
posted by Target Practice at 7:29 PM on December 16, 2009


Alicia Keys is one of those artists that I kinda feel like I'm supposed to like but just can't.

Agreed. And I just don't get her version of this song (the performance isn't particularly good, but neither is the album cut).
posted by uncleozzy at 7:58 PM on December 16, 2009


I know this happens all the time, but artists hear a song, sublimate it and then regurgitate it in a different form.

Not to mention. (Because, hey, nobody else did.)
posted by dhartung at 8:19 PM on December 16, 2009


I can't believe no one's mentioned that it's about time Comedy Central ditched that shiteous web interface and put shit on YT so people outside America could watch.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 8:42 PM on December 16, 2009


What a sublime window into our times.

Pop music is the new folk music.
posted by minkll at 10:16 PM on December 16, 2009


Wow I'm speechless. Take that Bill O'Reilly
posted by Plug1 at 10:50 PM on December 16, 2009


There isn't a single lyric that isn't literally a cliché.

You're all seriously at risk of hurting yourselves with all the lame cultural critique and bean plate deconstruction here. The heart of the matter is that when the chorus begins with that repeated note building up to Alicia Keys soaring gorgeous Neeeeew Yoooooork. It's a profoundly beautiful movement. I get the freakin' chills. It sounds so good I want to cry.

Forget Jay-Z's crap lyrics, guy's an egomaniac "entrepreneur" Real Estate mogul wannabe, and I don't know jack about Alicia Keys, but wow, does she hit something amazing here.
posted by Skygazer at 11:11 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


And I do think, in spite of the terrible lyrics, this is one of those songs that's both important on a pop level and as a portent or perhaps closing theme of sorts to and era or perhaps the decade, don't know yet...although I sense the creaking wheeels of history. (Yes, I'm psychic like that.)
posted by Skygazer at 11:16 PM on December 16, 2009


In all seriousness, "Noise is always loud" is a tremendously sweet line, and I'm actually amazed people here are hating on it so much. The chorus is awesome, but they should get rid of that bridge, I think.
posted by Corduroy at 11:36 PM on December 16, 2009


One time I quit a band because their lyrics were so god-awful and the singer refused to let anyone else write what she'd be singing, Those inane lists of clichés running into each other came straight from her heart, and didn't need any changes at all. Now they have paying gigs at least once a week at decent-sized venues. Nobody listens to the lyrics.

She even printed out lyrics sheets for us in which every verse was in a different font. When I quit, I set those sheets on fire.
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:47 PM on December 16, 2009


There's a rare, genuine moment when Keys smiles at Colbert just after he comes on. I say rare, as I've seen quite a few showbiz smiles over the years in the flesh. And 99% of the time they are mere facial muscles doing what's been practised a million times. Cold dead eyes. Fame, for all its supposed perks, can suck the happiness out of a person. But right there, that was a genuine happy moment. Great stuff. And I'm the biggest misanthrope in town.
posted by bokeh at 3:03 AM on December 17, 2009


"a rather surprising special guest?" Really?

Colbert sings all the time. Most recently, when Elvis Costello was on the show losing his voice, he let Stephen do the singing. Here's a few more.
posted by mmoncur at 3:50 AM on December 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Skygazer, I'm sorry, but I can't be bothered to care about any music performance, even if it is sung brilliantly, if I can't stand the song being performed.

I have a feeling you'd be singing a different tune (pun intended) if Alicia Keys had performed a technically flawless cover of "My Humps".
posted by Target Practice at 5:44 AM on December 17, 2009


It's been taken down from YouTube, so here's a link to the episode on Hulu, at least for the next 30 days.
posted by moviehawk at 8:04 AM on December 17, 2009


Everyone throw your hands up! He was spitting some hot suburban fire.
posted by reenum at 8:37 AM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have a feeling you'd be singing a different tune (pun intended) if Alicia Keys had performed a technically flawless cover of "My Humps".
posted by Target Practice at 8:44 AM on December 17 [+] [!
]

Yes, it's true. But "my humps," should never inspire the performance and musical drama and beauty of the words "New York," especially for those of us who live here and have lived here for a long time.

and here I'm going to do a little beanplating of my own (I'll take my lumps too for it as I'm basically doing what I teased others for here), but I think this is the first song since 911 where NYC has finally shaken off the specter of 911 and proven the durability of its myth as a place of dreams, a city built on dreams, more powerful than what happened on that day. If not completely over that, than at least assimilating it and transcending it. But Jay-Z can still suck it. The song is in the genuine excellence of Alicia Keys and with what she does here. Period.
posted by Skygazer at 1:03 PM on December 17, 2009


I think of "noise" as a quality of sound, not a volume, personally. There can be soft noise and loud noise.

Oh, and I like the song.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:08 PM on December 17, 2009


gompa: ... may I be pedantic just for a moment?

You finally ask that near the end of your post??

:)
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:17 PM on December 17, 2009


Colbert sings all the time. Most recently, when Elvis Costello was on the show losing his voice, he let Stephen do the singing.

Yeah, that was really good. I can't see this at work now, though I saw the original. Colbert has a bit of an overly sincere folk-singer style, but he's not bad.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:44 PM on December 17, 2009


Yes, it's true. But "my humps," should never inspire the performance and musical drama and beauty of the words "New York," especially for those of us who live here and have lived here for a long time.

Well, first I must disclose: I'm from NYC. Jay-Z and Alicia Keys are both from NYC too. Their song really captures the essence of my hometown, for me. I, along with many New Yorkers, love this song. I assume that those of you who hate the song any strongly didn't grow up in NYC, or at least, in the same NYC that we did..


Really? People who don't dig this narcissistic wankfest of a song are just not New York enough to understand it? What a load of shit. Center of the Universe Syndrome is by far the worst thing about living in the city, and eating up these clichés is a classic symptom.
posted by nasreddin at 11:13 PM on December 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Nasreddin, New York City is as much an idea (and an ideal) as it is a place and a grand experiment and all that. There's a lot of mythical stuff it embodies and some of it's crap, but some of it is based on universal hopes.

And I agree with you, Jay-Z (and Keys to some extent) are annoyingly and grotesquely narcissistic, but that still doesn't change the fact that the song brings people together on the dance floor in a communal way, and I think that's pretty good.
posted by Skygazer at 8:05 PM on December 19, 2009


Umm, it's "full of cliches" because it's quoting from (and alluding to) every other song about New York.

And it's the lyrics of those songs that are the cliches people are complaining about.

(As an aside, "Empire State of Mind" is popular in my family because it has a GREAT mondegreen.)
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 8:07 PM on December 21, 2009


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