(1) right said fred, "i'm too sexy" defeats (16) digital underground, "the humpty dance"141-133
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchfadness twitter poll. Polls closed @ 9am Arizona time on March 7.
paul hurh on "the humpty dance"
“To hump, once a fashionable word for copulation”
—F. Grose, Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1785.
“The Humpty Dance” is a song about outsized, clownish, unwarranted confidence. It’s the opposite of precision and practice, the opposite of slick and coordinated. It’s attempting a 360-degree airborne pirouette when you’re drunk and out-of-shape. It’s rolling through upper-crust Aspen in an 88 Olds with blown shocks and a steering wheel like the rudder of an eighteenth-century man-of-war. It’s a paean to “fuck it.”
At the center of this careening juggernaut of glorious misplaced ego is Humpty Hump himself, the outrageous assumed persona of Digital Underground front man, Shock G. Expressing that he’s “about to ruin the image and the style that you’re used to,” Hump dismisses the crisp bad boy image of the slick rap MC alluded to in the reference to MC Hammer. In mismatched suit, loud tie, ushanka hat, and that iconic fake nose, Hump is a cartoonish, foul-mouthed Poindexter. A rap Goofy, as it were, if Goofy were into Hennessy and simultaneous oral sex.
And then there’s that bass-line. Dooo-WAAAAA-oooo-WAH. It teeters. It’s like leaning back in a chair, feeling it start to slip, feeling your body go into free fall, yet when everything in your head says, “you’re falling!” then, miraculously, you’re not. Whoa, you think to yourself. That was close. But secretly inside you’re kind of proud, like you’ve managed to pull off some kind of gymnastic feat. So of course you tip back again. Dooo-WAAAA-oooo-WAH.
That edge-of-balance groove even underpins the loose gesticulations of the humpty dance itself, which takes its place enthroned in the same venerated wedding reception dance circles as the cabbage patch, the kid n’ play, the running man, the chicken wing. But what is the humpty dance exactly? YouTube to the rescue:
That all seems very straightforward. But things get more complicated when we consider the tone of Hump’s instructions:
First I limp to the side like my leg was broken
Shaking and twitching kinda like I was smoking
Crazy wack funky
People say ya look like M.C. Hammer on crack, Humpty
That's all right cause my body's in motion
It's supposed to look like a fit or a convulsion
Anyone can play this game
This is my dance, y'all, Humpty Hump's my name
No two people will do it the same
Ya got it down when ya appear to be in pain
Humping, funking, jumping
Jig around, shaking ya rump
And when a doo-doo chump punk points a finger like a stump
Tell him step off, I'm doing the Hump
The dance itself is a simple undulation with a jump. But Humpty describes it as a sort of agony: a broken leg, a crack addiction (in parachute pants, presumably), a uniquely personal pantomime of pain. And it ends with a prediction that you will be singled out, shamed by a “doo-doo chump punk.” The humpty dance may be an exaggerated hip thrust, but it is also a personal expression of one’s pain and a flouting of the social pressures that would condemn it.
Silly and fun the song may be, but it is lined with something deeper, something about the fear of seeming foolish in the anonymous gaze of a conformist, evaluative society. And that brings me to the painful, personal anecdote of that one time I made a fool out of myself in front of Digital Underground.
In 2005, I was living in Oakland and playing bass for a soul-funk band called Otis Goodnight. In April, Otis Goodnight opened for Digital Underground. It was and remains the biggest audience I’ve ever played for. It’s also the scene of the two most embarrassing mistakes I’ve ever made playing an instrument. I came in on the wrong beat at the opening of the show. What followed was like a 12-car pileup on a freeway, only less sonorous. And then, during my slap-pop bass solo, something went horribly awry. The lead MC was motioning for us to continue the solo (or at least that’s what I thought), and possessed by some inexplicable, Red-Bull-fueled hubris, I caught my bandmates’ eyes, telepathically communicating to them that, yes we were going to repeat 8 more bars because I had something special planned for this solo. They looked at me with what I thought was comprehension. I was on. I was at the front of the stage. I was going to slay. Or kill. Or whatever historically-appropriate idiom for melting everyone’s face off.
But of course one shouldn’t try to change the arrangement MID-song. The band continued playing the song as it WAS WRITTEN AND PRACTICED, while I leapt with both feet into something that DIDN’T WORK OUT. Afterwards, I felt awful, abject. I still cringe when I think back on it. It’s now one of my chronic memories, one of those that are unable to be consoled or fully forgotten, even and perhaps because nobody remembers them except for us.
When Digital Underground took the stage, everyone forgot about Otis Goodnight and their YOLO, out-of-time, damn-the-torpedoes bass player. Shock G and the crew were instantly magnetic, the crowd was euphoric, and suddenly the room was an old-school rap video. But when the familiar groove started for “The Humpty Dance,” Shock G started gesturing. Something was wrong.
He didn’t have his trademark glasses and fake nose prop! How could he be Humpty Hump without them? Confusion reigned until a fan threw his own Humpty glasses to the stage. Humpty Hump properly attired, the show went on.
That was really the most memorable thing from the show—Hump forgot his nose—and for years it has been what I tell people when they ask me about what it was like opening for them. It’s not much of a story, but it’s enough to get me past the absurdly triggered anxiety about missing a few notes (badly, my stern conscience instructs me to say from his lectern at the back of my head, really very very badly) a decade ago. I don’t say anything about the rest because, really, it ain’t worth compounding irrational shame about one’s innocent mistakes with the shame of asking others to be interested in them. The irony of writing this is not lost upon me.
But today, listening to “The Humpty Dance” closely, I realize that I’ve missed the point. Hump forgetting his nose was also a mistake, but he didn’t care about any doo-doo chump punks. So what if my solo was funny sounding? So what if I’ve been ashamed of this for years? Shame is a large fake nose. It’s a prop that displayed proudly can paradoxically become the badge of confidence. Why hide it when I can own it? Perhaps in the future I’ll forget it entirely and have to borrow someone else’s.
At the heart of “The Humpty Dance” is an unfounded belief that everything is going to work out despite appearances. It’s really a song about empowerment and self-confidence and not worrying about what people think. It’s also about sex in a Burger King bathroom stall. Is it necessary to point out that these are not exclusive?
So why vote for “The Humpty Dance”? Because in an age of anxiety where almost everything has become a performance, in a world of reality TV singers hitting immaculate pitches, in a time where “tight” has replaced “cool” and “hot” as the hip term, “The Humpty Dance” reminds us of the glories of looseness. In a world beset by social anxieties about image and offense, of saying the right thing, dancing the right steps, getting things right, not embarrassing yourself, “The Humpty Dance” is your chance to do the Hump.
What is the Hump, then, philosophically speaking ? As Ahab says to Starbuck (remember, Moby-Dick has a “hump like a snowhill”), “thou requirest a little lower layer.” Some pop etymology: “Hump” is a quaint and juvenile term for sex, which was out-of-date even in 1785. Perhaps that’s because “to hump” has always been childish, something kids call sex before sex becomes SEX, you know? That roiling complex of power, reputation, vulnerability, pain, self-identity, ecstasy, politics, passion, scandals, endless pop songs and Viagra commercials, etc. etc. Before all that, it was just “humping,” a term for a peculiar adult behavior as understood through playground physics by those who had never had it.
But that’s not all that the Hump is. For Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. Hump day is Wednesday. Camels have humps like roller coasters. A hill is a hump, as is the curvature of a deteriorating spine. A hump is up and down.
To do the hump, then, is to ride the ups and downs. To revel in the failures, the successes, the ironies, the pain and the shame in the dizzying swing of the existential yo-yo of life. This isn’t some kind of evangelizing “everything works out, so everything happens for a reason” bromide or a “just be yourself” Meghan Trainor song. No, it’s something both more sublime and more perverse.
For remember, the humpty dance looks like a fit or a convulsion; it is done right when you appear to be in pain. And it seems aware of its cosmic meaninglessness, as when Humpty says “a word that don’t mean nothing, like looptid.” “Looptid,” a made-up rhyme, sends us nevertheless into geometric and senseless looping agon: the endless oscillations of the hump like a continual falling of a round anthropomorphic egg that always can never be put back together again. To do the hump is to play the cosmic brinkmanship game by making a show of not playing the social one. For it isn’t about being confident in yourself, but of faking the confidence enabled by an equally faked disguise of shame.
Yet rather than some overwrought postmodern hall of mirrors, Humpty makes it into a dance. It gives a genuine sound to foolishness, a sincerity in the appearance of pain. As Emily Dickinson might say, grooving her Andoverian assets to the loose billowing iambs of bass: “I like the look of Agony / because I know it’s true.” I wonder what she would have rhymed with “cupid.”
Paul Hurh is an English professor at the University of Arizona and writes reviews of horror movies at rockpaperhatchet.com.
fatimah asghar on "i'm too sexy"
The year Right Said Fred gifted us with the concept of being so sexy we were too good for our clothes. Too good for our parties, too good for our cars, too good for our loves. Sexiness as transcendence, sexiness as the vehicle to get us to our heavens, our hells, our places in between.
What a strange year, the Cold War warming at the bed of our toes, the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia all too sexy for each other, too sexy for the Soviet Union, carving and re-carving their maps. My mother, too sexy for her cancer, departing her body, leaving this world.
I’m too sexy for my love/ too sexy for my love/ loves going to leave me
Did the sexiness come from worry, then? The creeping fear of being alone. Like when you’re driving and the road meets the sky, and how you think you’re never going to reach it. But surely, it comes, an ending too soon. The car ride comes to a close and you have to get out of the car. Like how the song stops playing and you begin your life without it. It’s the leaving; it’s the being left. It’s the worry that you enjoyed it because you knew it was going to leave. Because you knew it was going to end, and then you’d be left, alone, with just your own sexiness to comfort you.
On Sexiness Then:
As a one and a half year old when the song came out, I’m not sure what authority I really have to write about sexiness. I can’t remember when I first heard the song, only that once I realized what ‘sexy’ meant, around middle school, I’d lock my door, turn up the song and shimmy my little body as I unbuttoned my clothes. Unlike my mother, the song stayed past 1991, it followed me into 2000 and 2001. What was I really ‘too sexy’ for then: I still played with my barbies, but I pretended I didn’t when the other kids asked. I’d see the other girls with their push up bras & periods. That had to be what sexy was—to make mountains of your skin and have them not kill you, to stain the chairs you sat on, to leave your name in blood.
Sexiness as Transition:
I’m too sexy for my shirt
& there it goes, what little of it there was
I’m too sexy for my hat
bumped off the bald, naked head
I’m too sexy for this song
& there it is: the sadness in the guitar players eyes
the goodbye to the melody, goodbye to the friends
with the deep Vs plunging to the crotch.
I’m too sexy for this body
& he leaves it & becomes something more, something so sexy
we can’t even name, something so sexy we don’t know where
to look to find him.
On Sexiness Now:
I make a list of what I am too sexy for, and what I am not too sexy for. There is no joke here. Too sexy: I can only wink with one eye and it takes up most of my face muscles to do it. Not too sexy: I sometimes like having sex with a shirt on because I get cold easily and I worry about how expensive my heat bill will be if I kept my apartment at a temperature that was better for my bones. Too sexy: I have lower back pain & I get excited when I get socks as presents. Not too sexy: I use two different kinds of medicated eye drops everyday because I’m 27 but I have the eyes of a 72 year old. Too sexy: I deliberately buy granny panties because I like a little sag in the butt. Not too sexy: I only wax my upper lip when I have to teach, because high school kids can be mean. Too sexy: some days I think I look like my mother, and I like to stay outside on those days, so everyone can see me. Not too sexy: most days I feel like I’m chasing a shadow of her, a ghost long gone. I don’t remember her voice, or anything about her. If I saw her on the street, I might not know.
I Don’t Know Why
The interviewer says it’s a song that never seems to go away. One of the brothers mouths, over and over again: I don’t know why/ I don’t know why/ I don’t know why.
It was the first time we ever worked on a computer idontknowwhy I didn’t even know you could write songs on computer idontknowwhy I had no idea.
What does it mean to live in the shadow of a sexiness of your own making? Can you rise out of it? Would you want to?
One Hit Wonder:
We say ‘One Hit Wonder’ like it’s a bad thing. But timelessness is a myth born of arrogance. What can really last in the world when we’re ruining the earth? To make a thing that lives forever is a kind of violence. Our bodies die & become flowers other humans pick or trample, the stars we look up to are already long dead before they stain our eyes. I want to write a poem that will be remembered I say but can’t remember the names of my grandfather or grandmother. Their bodies are gone, made into something else, and I’ve forgotten the details that prove they existed. But does it stand the test of time we ask in an Earth that has been around for 4.5 billion years. Humanity is microscopic. Insignificant. And yet, it feels like all we want to do is outlive ourselves, outlast our own bodies. What greater gift can a song give us but feeling alive in the moment that it plays? What greater gift than feeling sexy for a moment, shimmying our bodies out our clothes?
Fatimah Asghar is a nationally touring poet, performer, educator, and writer. Her work has appeared in Poetry, Gulf Coast, BuzzFeed Reader, The Margins, The Offing, Academy of American Poets, and many others. Her work has been featured on news outlets like PBS, NBC, Teen Vogue, Huffington Post, and others. In 2011, she created Bosnia and Herzegovina's first Spoken Word Poetry group, REFLEKS, while on a Fulbright studying theater in post-genocidal countries. She is a member of the Dark Noise collective and a Kundiman Fellow. Her chapbook After was released on Yes Yes Books in 2015. She is the writer of Brown Girls, a web series that highlights a friendship between women of color. Currently, she is an MFA candidate at the Helen Zell Writers' Program at the University of Michigan.