Ice Cold: André, Cee Lo, and the Bravado Epidemic

The first question, when listening to Cee Lo Green’s new album The Lady Killer, is a simple one: Is there anything on there that bests his viral pre-release single “Fuck You?” There isn’t, but that’s hardly a mark against the album; there’s no shame in being beaten by the best.

On to the second question, then: Does The Lady Killer put “Fuck You” into a more interesting context? Here the answer is a resounding–and to me, a disappointing–kinda.

It’s only disappointing because The Lady Killer is so close to being such an accomplishment, and I wanted very much for it to get there. I wanted the title of the album–and the intro, and the outro, and two intensely creepy, stylistically incongruous tracks, called “Bodies” and “Love Gun”–to mean something. I wanted Cee Lo’s casual conflation of male sexuality with violence, and romantic conquest with murder, to be a comment on masculinity as such.

But all of that would require a little vulnerability, which Cee Lo’s persona emphatically precludes. As a freestanding song and a viral video, “Fuck You” is the exception, since it places Cee Lo on the receiving end of romantic rejection. But in the song’s second, more traditional music video, the story gets a new ending: Having attained wealth, power, and omnipotence, Cee Lo returns to the woman who rejected him and rubs his infinite success in her face.

It gives the song a nice narrative arc, but it also makes Cee Lo less a sympathetic protagonist and more a dime-a-dozen hip-hop self-aggrandizer. The dude can’t get through a four-minute song about being rejected without celebrating how awesome–and wealthy; let’s not forget wealthy–he is.

The “fuck you” of the song can’t be mere emotional catharsis. It must also be a statement of material, clearly demonstrable superiority. There can only have been a time when Cee Lo was a humble Atari if, by the end of the song, he has transformed into a diamond-studded Xbox.

Cee Lo aspires to be cooler than cool. And there’s a term for that, coined by André 3000 on his half of OutKast’s 2003 double album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. What’s cooler than being cool? Ice cold.

Throughout The Love Below, “ice cold” stands for the aloof, untouchable, hyper-masculine posturing–the epidemic of bravado–that hip-hop requires of its luminaries. When André thinks he’s falling in love, he reminds himself: “Don’t fall for her, though. Don’t fall for her. Be cool. Ice cold.” In response, some male voice far from the microphone screams the line back to him: “Ice cold.”

“Alright now, fellas, now what’s cooler than being cool?” he asks a semi-imaginary crowd during “Hey Ya!” And they answer, with the same inflections as the psychomachia guy from earlier: “Ice cold!” This after André has spent two verses wondering whether his lover stays with him out of love, or just out of a fear of being alone:

My baby don’t mess around, because she loves me so, and yes, I know for sure. / But does she really wanna, but can’t stand to see me walk out the door? / Don’t try to fight the feeling, ’cause the thought alone is killing me right now.

If “nothing is forever,” he asks, then “what makes love the exception?” And after all this brooding, André declares, “Y’all don’t want to hear from me. You just want to dance.” And then comes the bit about improper treatment of Polaroids and all–and of course:

Don’t want to meet your daddy,
Just want you in my caddy.
Don’t want to meet your momma,
Just want to make you comma.

So by the time André says “I’m just being honest,” we have good reason not to believe him. In a very real and very important sense, The Love Below is about the impossibility of being truly honest when your audience just wants to dance.

But with that clearly stated caveat, André still wants (and deserves) to be the one to make you dance. He loves his mask. He just feels the need, now and then, to let it slip.

Cee Lo’s mask, on the other hand, now seems bolted to his sunglass-sporting visage. I can’t shake the feeling that, for all of the effortlessly soulful sting in Cee Lo’s voice, and for all of the old-school craft in his arrangements, The Lady Killer could have been so much more. It could have been the album that made André 3000’s danceable mask-slipping on The Love Below feel like a rarity in good company, rather than an out-and-out anomaly.

Cee Lo, take off your cool. I wanna know you.

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