Hello, and welcome to Radio Rants. And we’re starting with two, four, six, eight!
I think August has become the pop chart’s “fuck it” month. The whole Song of the Summer campaign is pretty much decided, kids gotta get back to school in a few weeks, and the “fun in the sun” thing is a lot less sexy in 95% humidity. It’s usually a slow promo season, so any new number ones tend to be whatever bubbled in the top five and still has a little gas in the tank once the Summit Hit exhausts all momentum in its ninth week or so. Hence our rude awakening last August.
This year’s winner of the “Who The Fuck Knows?” Late Summer Hit-Maker Contest is Jamaican singer
Omi OMI (oh God, ALL CAPS flashbacks). OMI’s been knocking around the Jamaican music scene for the last few years, making woo-y world-pop songs with idiosyncratic and stupendously cheery lyrics. Take “Baby Mama Drama”, for example: he’s done with baby mama drama…because they’re going to make it official! “Baby Mama Drama” might be his most on the nose song, but all of his music I’ve found has that same boys-like-girls romanticism and single-minded devotion.
Which is to say that, immediately, “Cheerleader” doesn’t stand too far out from the rest of his work. I say “the rest of” and not “previous” because the original 2012 version was a one-off release with singles before it and singles after it. This version of “Cheerleader” is maybe a little brassier and midtempo than his normal fare (not to mention a bit tighter, possibly due to famous producer Clifton Dillon), and maybe hews a little closer to reggae that world pop in the dubby guitar, limber bassline, and saxophone flourishes throughout. OMI’s vocals throughout are bright and endearing, especially on the warbling chorus when he sings “I think that I found myself a cheerleader” and “She is always right there when I need her”. It’s a breezy and enjoyable if not brainy song that has Song of the Summer written all over it.
But that’s not the version that actually blew up this summer.
OMI might have found himself a cheerleader, but he doesn’t have anyone getting down to this. Sick. Beeeeeeat! like the Felix Jaehn remix does. About a year after the original’s release, a record executive for Sony dance music subsidiary Ultra Music heard the song, and signed OMI while looking for someone to remix it. “Cheerleader” went to a pair of DJs, and Jaehn’s remix was released in May 2014 (which is decades ago in pop music time), when it started gaining traction in Europe before being pushed in the states. The original had done well regionally (Dubai, Hawaii, Miami) and been a hit in Jamaica, but the remix took it somewhere else entirely. Just remember: it takes a German producer to unlock the dance rhythms and feel good vibes in a Caribbean track. Who knew?
The remix speeds up the vocal and guts the instrumentation of the original for a world house beat complete with piano, conga loops, soft pad drums, and entirely too much trumpet. The treatment on the vocals works okay enough on the chorus, but OMI’s verses trip on their own melody sped up like this, and it’s kind of chirpy. Honestly, “Too chirpy” could apply to the whole remix: it’s a little too perky for its own good. It trades the easygoing swing of the original for the peppy, empty calorie bounce of festivals and clubs. Maybe it’s because I don’t know a lot about EDM, but the ThisSickBeat version doesn’t do anything for me. It feels disjointed, like something’s missing. Sure, there wasn’t much to “Cheerleader” in the first place, but trying to appreciate the remix is like trying to divine the nuanced flavor in a Lim-A-Rita.
So, let’s look at some of those lyrics, shall we?
“When I need motivation/My one solution is my queen/Cuz she stays strong…She is always in my corner” It’s cool to refer to her as your queen and all, but seems like you’re leaning on her kind of hard here, no?
“All those other girls are tempting/But I’m empty when you’re gone” Cuz they got nothin’ on youuuuuu, baby. N-n-n-nothin’ on you, baby.
“And they say/’Do you need me? Do you think I’m pretty?/Do you feel like cheating?’/I’m like ‘No, not really'” I just love that avowed monogamist OMI turns down infidelity with the same casual denial you use when someone suggests going to that bar you don’t like.
“Oh, I think that I found myself a cheerleader/She is always right there when I need her” But like, why? The support in this relationship seems to trend pretty hard in one direction. Annie Clark ain’t gonna take that shit.
“She walks like a model/She grants my wishes/Like a genie in a bottle” She doesn’t exist. No way.
“Mama loves you, too/She thinks I made the right selection/Now all that’s left to do/Is just for me to pop the question” See that? Boy meets girl, girl has no interests/wants/desires/needs outside supporting her boy, boy shrugs off other girls who keep throwing themselves at him, girl sticks around because reasons, and he pops the question. And they said the Supreme Court killed marriage.
Not to beat a point into the ground, but you get what I’m saying here, right? I know haranguing a pop song about its dumb gender politics in a world but two years removed from “Blurred Lines” is small time, but it’s hard to ignore the way “Cheerleader” beats you over the head its wonky take. I’m more favorable to the original; the remix keeps me sitting in the bleachers.