In October of 1970 Elton John released a single from his self-titled second album for the song “Take Me to the Pilot.” That particular song didn’t gain much traction but the B-side, a track titled "Your Song" became a favorite of radio disc jockeys, reaching number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 and went a long way toward making the artist a star. The song was praised by everybody from music critics to John Lennon, who called it “the first new thing that’s happened since (The Beatles) happened,” and has since been covered by artists as varied as Al Jarreau, (Ewan McGregor in the film Moulin Rouge) and British rapper The Streets. The song itself is a fairly innocent and simplistic declaration of love that is so universal in its message that it can be easily extrapolated to non-romantic love, situating itself prominently in a long tradition of songs in praise of others such as Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings" and Fatboy Slim’s "Praise You." For those, few as they may be, unfamiliar with the song, the chorus is as follows:
And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind
I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while your in the world.
All personal taste and ideas about mainstream pop aside, It’s pretty difficult to imagine anyone not appreciating and relating to, at least on some level, the song’s sentiment.
Fast forward forty-three years to October of 2013 and we find R&B artist Aloe Blacc, most well known for the track "I Need a Dollar" which was the theme song for the short lived HBO series How To Make It In America, releasing a track titled "The Man" that appropriates much of "Your Song" and turns it on its head. The chorus of "The Man" is as follows:
Girl you can tell everybody
Yeah you can tell everybody
Go ahead and tell everybody
I’m the man I’m the man I’m the man
Yes I am Yes I am Yes I am
I’m the man I’m the man I’m the man
The verses of Aloe Blacc's track are mostly inconsequential and veer from self help style mantras to mundane rhyming braggadocio, but it's clear that he has taken a song designed as a tribute to the impact of a loved one on a given life and twisted it into a self-congratulatory egofest. This would be egregious enough even if the song languished in obscurity on Blacc's Wake Me Up EP, but unfortunately it’s currently being crammed down the throat of anyone who turns on a television during a sporting event. Beats by Dre, the headphones-as-fashion-accessories company that recently split with manufacturer Monster over their reluctance to use ever cheaper components in the Beats units, are featuring the song in an ad starring famously cantankerous NBA star Kevin Garnett. That Beats headphones are inferior, not only to units from specialty headphone makers such as Grado, but also to most studio monitor quality headphones available at lower price points may seem irrelevant to how to they choose to promote their product, it fits a little too comfortably with the tone deaf egotism of the new ad.
The commercial, titled Hear what you want to hear, begins with a clip of controversial ESPN personality Skip Bayless espousing his opinion that KG is too old to be an effective player and continues with the athlete enduring the slings and arrows of outrageous basketball fans, even going as far as to take the cheap and dubious route of including a racist epithet to generate sympathy for the player. The thing is, the new noise-cancelling Beats headphones allow Garnett to drown all of this out with a smile as he listens to Aloe Blacc repeat “I’m the man” until he reaches the court. This would be far less offensive, and possibly even inspirational, if Garnett hadn’t long been known as the NBA’s most egregious asshole. We’re not talking about an athlete who did everything the right way in the face of harsh criticism while building a hall of fame resume, but rather somebody who once called one opponent (Charlie Villenueva) a cancer patient and wished another (Tim Duncan) “Happy Mother’s Day, Motherfucker!” Duncan’s mother died of breast cancer the day before his fourteenth birthday. The list of these kinds of anecdotes goes on and on, including everything from multiple incidences of rudely refusing autographs to ball boys to making crude oral sex references about an opponent’s wife. Whatever his attributes as a basketball player, there is very little that is likable or sympathetic about Kevin Garnett.
So, in an effort to sell their shitty headphones that double as high priced fashion accessory, Beats by Dre is us telling of one of two things. Either they’re saying that you that you can become "The Man" like KG by buying their headphones and moving through life without any regard for the thoughts, feelings and concerns of anyone else (including the disappointed fans of Garnett's new 5-12 team) or that you're one of those irrelevant nobodies destined to be drowned out by Aloe Blacc; in which case you should remedy the situation by purchasing this product and becoming an asshole yourself. Proclaiming yourself "The Man" in an effort to insulate yourself from, often legitimate, criticism is a whole world (and far more than forty-three years) away from telling another individual how wonderful your own life is made simply by their existence.