T-Pain and Morrissey are two artists who haven’t aged well. Morrissey wrote some of the most gorgeous pop songs of his generation, but his sad-boy legacy has been colored of late by his self-obsession and bigotry. T-Pain recorded some of the biggest pop songs of the 21st century, but –despite his enormous influence– has more or less been reduced to a future ‘I Love The 2000s’ punchline. This makes them all the more ready for a reinvention at the hands of one another – in this case, in a remake of The Smith’s 1987 Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before set to L.A. production duo Classixx’s electro track Whatever I Want starring T-Pain.
By Ben Tuthill
The 30-year-anniversary of an introspective British classic is a funny place to find a thirty-year-old Atlanta club singer. Not so long ago, T-Pain was the face and sound of everything new in popular music. Just as sonic styles started shifting irreparably into the past, T-Pain was manifesting our worst nightmares of the future. Robot voice, space-age sunglasses, highly corporate sound – never would you have been able to guess that he’d end up in a tribute for a bunch of retro-happy Mancunians.
T-Pain of course isn’t just a corporate machine – he’s a real person with private interests, and in the past few years he’s started opening up about his sadness, disappointments, and depression. So it’s less implausible to see him stepping into the world of Strangeways, Here We Come than you’d expect. T-Pain looks entirely at home in horn-rimmed glasses and a Barracuda jacket. He maybe looks more at home there than he does in a top hat and wrap-around sunglasses. The whole thing looks less affected than it does quotidian.
Maybe the most interesting thing about Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before is how little it dates itself. Morrissey and co. look as pretty now as they did in 1987. Stonewashed jeans and sneakers are one of the most reliable combos in Brooklyn. Bicycles are still a cool mode of transportation. There’s no awkwardness in translating their world into contemporary Los Angeles. It’s almost disarmingly fitting.
It’s nice to see L.A. cast in the gloomy retro fade of post-punk English weather. Movies (and music videos) are too quick to film the city in warm tones and bright accents. It does a disservice to the particularly miserable white light that dominates Southern California’s visual palate. Los Angeles, contrary to what mainstream media would like to tell you, is a great place to indulge your depressive tendencies – you just have to adjust your camera and stay away from the light at sunset. It’s warm, but it’s not always that warm – it’s sunny, but sunshine through a thick layer of smog is about as cheery as fly-stained fluorescent light.
It’s nice to see T-Pain’s alienating vocals in that setting too. Removed from the house-hop club ecstasy of his glory years, his robotic voice sounds more like Abel Tesfaye’s than it does like Usher’s. It’s really not all that different than Morrissey’s – pretty, chilly, a little too straight to come across as entirely natural. If he’d come along just a few year’s later he’d have fit in great with the post-808s and Heartbreak sad-boy crowd. Whatever I Want maybe shows that it isn’t too late. I can totally see him going ahead with a quietly M.O.R. alt-R&B career.
If he sounds as natural as he looks here, that future sounds a lot more pleasant than one that tries to keep up pace with the clubs. After a certain point, keeping up with trends gets to be too much – to move forward you’ve just got to cycle back to the parts of the past that you didn’t manage to get to the first time around. Bringing a new aesthetic to a familiar sound isn’t exactly innovative art, but it adds fresh perspectives and builds on old ones. An experience I thought was over gets forced out of one set of styles and into another. A sunny day in L.A. can be like Sunday. A house-hop song can make me feel the same way as Cemetery Gates. This is all basic level millennial deconstruction, but I can’t help but celebrate the diversity of tributes that we’re now capable of having. T-Pain is this month’s Morrissey. That was unimaginable ten years ago. That’s some kind of progress.