Day One hundred and forty-two: "Whatever You Like" from Internet Leaks
Timeliness has always been important to Al. That was particularly true of "Whatever You Like", a parody of T.I’s number one smash of the same name that Al parodied while T.I’s original was still riding high on the pop charts. But the song was timely in other ways as well. As the opening line acknowledges, the song’s cheapskate aesthetic is rooted in the widespread economic uncertainty of the Great Recession of 2007 and 2008.
The music industry was changing dramatically when “Whatever You Like” was released as a digital single in 2008 and the perpetually tech-savvy Al was changing with it. He had to. In the Darwinian world of pop music, you either evolve or die, and Al is nothing if not a canny survivor of an always mercurial recording industry that seemed to be in a state of free fall as listeners increasingly eschewed buying overpriced, bloated CDs in favor of either downloading songs illegally or buying songs cheap on iTunes.
“Whatever You Like”, the only song in Al’s oeuvre to have the same name as the hit it’s spoofing, was released digitally on October 8th, 2008, just a few months after the original’s release on July 29th the same year. As with “Trapped in the Drive-Thru”, it’s a very caucasian take on R&B that replaces the outsized sex, melodrama and craziness of its inspiration with something mundane, banal and very, very white.
In this case, Al transforms T.I’s glossy, fizzy tribute to conspicuous consumption into a cheapskate anthem. Where T.I played the big shot treating the lady of his dreams to a never-ending shopping spree where nothing is too expensive, Al substitutes one of his trademark lousy Lothsarios, only this time instead of being insane, murderous or suicidal, he’s merely excessively, perversely thrifty.
Consciously or not, the song’s tribute to balling on a micro-budget is full of echoes of Al’s earlier songs, from an early reference to treating his lady to Cold Duck and tater tots (which famously promised to blow the mind of the subject of “Addicted to Spuds”) to various fast food restaurants (echoes of both UHF and “Trapped in the Drive-Thru”), to the tight-fisted crooner’s offer to share his stack of tokens with the undoubtedly underwhelmed object of his desire, a la “Another One Rides the Bus.”
Yes, It’s all about the Washingtons as Al slyly subverts Hip Hop and R&B’s glossy materialism with a decidedly downscale offer to share a life devoted primarily to pinching pennies. As with the luxury name-dropping rap songs it’s lovingly spoofing, it’s all about the details so instead of bragging about Bentleys and Rolexes and popping Cristal, the incongruously cocky tightwad crooning the song substitutes staples of life near the bottom of the socio-economic ladder: Ramen (the official sustenance of broke college kids!), government cheese, homemade haircuts , Minute Rice, White Castle and Goodwill.
There’s something pleasingly egalitarian about Al’s take on “Whatever You Like.” It's safe to assume that a whole lot more people can relate to a world of CostCo, Wal-Mart and depressing mid-level management positions than the fantasy of wealth and power in T.I’s original.
Splurging, or rather “Splurging”, since Al’s version has little in common with how the phrase is generally understood, has seldom been quite so pathetic, or cut-rate, or deeply amusing as it is here.
Timeliness, alas, proved to be a mixed blessing for Al where “Whatever You Like” was concerned. The parody struck at the ideal time, when the airwaves were still saturated with T.I’s honeyed Southern drawl and moneyed promises. The song’s inspiration was nearly a year old, however, when it became the first track on Internet Leaks, a collection of five digital singles released in 2009 that, despite its brevity, was nominated for a Best Comedy Grammy alongside Spinal Tap, Patton Oswalt, Kathy Griffin, George Lopez, and Stephen Colbert, who ended up winning.
By the time “Whatever You Like” was included on Al’s 2011 album Alpocalypse it was several years old and referenced an economic crisis that had already passed. In hindsight, it seems likely that the album did not do as well as Al’s other albums because, like Al’s self-titled 1983 debut, it was a collection of previously released songs a few years old and a batch of new tracks.
By the time Alpocalypse was released, Al’s fans were all too familiar with “Whatever You Like” as well as the four other songs included on the Internet Leaks EP: “Craig’slist”, “Skipper Dan”, “CNR” and “Ringtone.”
That makes a little more sense, and is less paranoid and insane, and narcissistic, than my previous conviction that Alpocalypse underperformed creatively because I infected Al with my dreaded “Failure Virus” when he hired me to write his coffee table book, that the loser juice I excrete through my pores sabotaged the biggest winner in the world of comedy music. That’s just crazy! And probably not even true.
But, you know, it might be.
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