People throw the phrase “guilty pleasure” around all willy-nilly. “Lady Gaga is such a guilty pleasure!” “The Die Hard movies are my guilty pleasure!” These uses are misnomers. A real guilty pleasure is something that inspires shame. Something that reveals an actual character flaw. My actual guilty pleasures are jaywalking (I do it for the rush and because I am impatient) and eating as much pie as there is (that one’s just for the love of the game). When most people say “guilty pleasure,” they mean “Thing I Like Even Though I Pretend I Am Too Hip To Like It.” That’s an annoying, pretentious attitude.
In an effort to be less of a horrible person that I would hate to be around, I am making an attempt to stop referring to things I actually, shamelessly enjoy as “guilty pleasures.” But that involves taking inventory of all the lame, cheesy, unhip things that I love and coming out of the culture-closet to love them openly. I dub these artifacts “Guilt-Free Pleasures.” Herein, I will attempt to offer an earnest, snark-free defense of one of these pleasures. I will start with Christina Aguilera’s hit pop song “Ain’t No Other Man.”
A hipster-cred preserving defense of “Ain’t No Other Man” would have to start with the fact that it’s produced by DJ Premier, the legendary hip hop artist who masterminded classic jams by Nas, Jay-Z, Gang Starr, and countless others. He even made a Limp Bizkit song (“N2Gether Now”) halfway listenable (the half that Method Man raps). So obviously, any Primo-approved track deserves some sort of consideration. And that’s true. But in the interest of 100% candor, I loved the song before I had any idea who was behind it.
Right off the bat there’s the horns! THE HORNS! The kind of brass instrumentation that makes me rethink my decision to quit the trombone after 10th grade. Undeniable, infectious trumpet bursts punctuate each line. Not just perfect to dance to, but inconceivable to stand still to. Jager shots for your ears. I cannot say enough about the horns. I would listen to nearly any lyrics sung over those joyful blurts. I’d listen to Justin Bieber singing about his haircut. I’d listen to Scott Stapp from Creed croon (gasp!) actual Creed songs. I’d listen to Tom Waits yowl a hundred pages of Atlas Shrugged. Just give me those horns!
Fortunately, I don’t have to. Because Christina Aguilera has a pretty great voice. Yeah, I said it. She comes from the Mariah Carey school of singing the hell out of a note, but Aguilera has the restraint to sing just one note at a time. She doesn’t make each syllable an entire chromatic scale. A lesser set of pipes would get swallowed up by the exuberant trumpet yelps (have I mentioned I love the horns?), but Xtina (an unfortunate nickname I’m glad is in the past) comes right back with aplomb and bravado and moxie and other synonyms. In hip-hop terms, she murders the track.
So we’ve covered that it sounds good, which in a lot of instances is more than enough to make a song popular (sometimes it’s just based on abs or boobs). But the lyrics are also pretty charming. C-Ag (ugh, there is a reason no one has ever called her that) describes how she meets her perfect man, and how he makes her life better, and how she has to tell everyone she knows (including exes, which seems a little like rubbing it in) how happy she is. She goes on to describe his myriad admirable qualities: “You’ve got soul, you’ve got class/You’ve got style; you’re bad-ass.” Sounds like a pretty great dude.
In addition to making me want to dance, which is a monumental achievement, given that my dancing evokes responses including sympathetic head shakes and medical attention, it also makes me wish it had been written about me. It has a permanent location in the Pantheon Of Songs I Pretend Are About Me. Other institutions in this collection include “100% Dundee” by The Roots, “Wu Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F’ With” by the Wu Tang Clan, and “Down On The Corner” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. (Not to be confused with the Songs I Am Sure Are About Me When I Am Depressed, including “No One Else” by Weezer and “Self Esteem” by the Offspring.) Man, if someone wrote the song “Ain’t No Other Man” about me, I’d be all like: “Girl of dreams!”
Sure the song is sticky with the bubblegummy fingerprints of a former Mouseketeer. And it lacks the credibility provided by a guest verse from a famously thugged out rapper (such as Jay-Z on “Crazy In Love,” a sonic cousin to “Ain’t No Other Man” and another Guilt-Free Pleasure). But it sticks with you. You listen to it a million times in a row on repeat. What I mean is, I do that. And that’s okay.
My name is Josh, and I’m an Aguileraholic.