Your Cheatin’ Heart: Infidelity on the Radio

As a card-carrying member of The League of Hipster Bloggers and a well known bon vivant, I pride myself on having a varied and well-rounded sense of taste where the arts are concerned, especially when it comes to music. If you pulled up my iTunes account and hit shuffle, you’d be likely to hear everything from 16th century chamber music to Tupac – and pretty much everything in between. One genre that I find difficult to stomach, however, is what most people refer to as Soft Rock – which is exceptionally unfortunate given my profession. Like most white-collar office workers, I’ve been forced to listen the aforementioned all day, every day, for the past seven years.

Most of the time, this lyrical banality is fairly easy to put out of your mind. Have I heard the song “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You” by James Taylor more times in the last year than I’ve heard all of the songs on my Perfect Playlist combined? Yes. Does this bother me? No – or at least, it didn’t until I thought about it just now.

There is one song that always makes me grit my teeth in existential despair, however. That song is “Escape” by Rupert Holmes – more commonly known as “The Piña Colada” song. Almost every day they play this little gem on the radio, with such tenacious regularity that I can’t help but wonder if perhaps one of the DJs secretly wants to cheat on his wife.

Now if by some miracle The Fates have spared you from hearing this song, let me break it down for you: A man trapped in stale marriage lets his eyes wander to the Personals section of his local newspaper (hey, it was the seventies) and sees something that catches his eye: a Woman Seeking Man looking for a gent who drinks Piña Coladas, hates yoga, and enjoys “making love at midnight.” (This woman is obviously not super-picky. Aside from the Pineapple & Coconut fetish, she’s probably described a large swath of the American male population.) Intrigued – and apparently not overly burdened with scruples, this fine specimen takes out his own personal ad in said newspaper (again, the seventies) and suggests that the woman meet him at a local bar so they can plan their escape. BUT WAIT! THERE’S A TWIST! When he arrives at the bar, the man discovers – to his chagrin and bemusement – that he has arranged a tryst with his own wife – who apparently never let on that she was jonesing for some rum-fueled lovemaking. They have a laugh about it and sit down to rekindle their relationship – presumably with the aid of the aforementioned rum and coconut beverage.

You know what this is? The recipe for divorce.

Say what? In addition to being slightly sickening for most right-thinking, monogamously-minded individuals, this scenario is also highly improbable. If one discovers that they are, in fact, cheating on their spouse… with their spouse, I think it’s safe to assume that most sane individuals would be mildly nonplussed at the very least, not bemused. Every time I hear this song, I die inside a little.

Infidelity as a social phenomena no doubt dates back almost as far as the concept of monogamy itself. It’s almost as ancient as subject matter for songwriters, particularly in country music and R&B. Some singers are the victims: Patsy Cline made her bones singing about loss and rejection, Hank Williams bemoaned his ex-wife’s “Cheatin’ Heart“, RB Graves told his secretary to “Take a Letter, Maria,” and Dolly Parton very civilly pleaded with Jolene not to take her man “just because you can.” (Which seems like a reasonable request, to me. It also seems like a pretty shitty thing to steal someone’s spouse just for kicks, but whatever.) Others are the villains: Rihanna lamented that she was “Unfaithful” and Amy Winehouse pointed out to her man that “You Know I’m No Good,” while men like Usher often “confess” to infidelity and sometimes a whole host of other things that should never be let out of the closet (R Kelly, I’m looking at you, bro). A select few even do both: in “Creep“, the lovely ladies of TLC decide to take revenge on their two-timing man by stepping out on him, but because they’re classy broads, they “keep it on the down low.

What sets all of these songs apart from “Escape”, however, is that while most musicians repudiate cheating as, ya know, a bad thing – our boy Rupert is moreorless promoting it. While there are occasional songs that have trod a similar path – for example, Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” doesn’t actually condone cheating, but it definitely suggests some sketchy ways to get out of a relationship – songs extolling the merits of cheating have historically been few and far between. While no one believed Shaggy when he said “It Wasn’t Me” and Naughty By Nature’s “O.P.P.” definitely promotes a non-monogamous lifestyle, nobody’s exactly calling those two role models. Hell, one of them even has “Naughty” in his name – what did you expect?

In recent days, though, infidelity seems to be making real inroads into mainstream music. While steppin’ out can still ruin your political career, it’s all the rage on iTunes. Here are three of my favorite examples:

1. Nicki Minaj – “Va Va Voom Voom”
In all fairness, no one has ever held up Nicki Minaj as a paragon of virtue. From the minute she appeared on the scene in 2009’s “BedRock,” it was pretty obvious that Ms. Minaj’s sense of decorum was about as dubious as her knowledge of anatomy. In this, her first mainstream track, she started off by musing that the time seemed ripe to “put this pussy on your sideburns.” Clearly, either Nicki has a rather skewed understanding of how cunnilingus works, or she’s into some weird shit.

Nicki takes it to the next level in this year’s “Va Va Voom Voom.” In it, she muses that she wants to invite a recently spotted hottie to “come inside my playpen” (a distasteful metaphor if ever I heard one), and goes on to reiterate that although “I know he got a wife at home / But I need, just one night alone.” When the object of her attentions hesitates, Miss M gives him “one last option” to cheat. Generous to the last, that one.

2. Ke$ha – “Die Young”
Ke$ha is one of the few celebrities who can rival Nicki Minaj’s ranking on The Decorum Scale, and her most recent single “Die Young” definitely doesn’t do much to change her rating. In the song, she laments “what a shame that you came here with someone” before suggesting that they “make the most of the night like we’re gonna die young.

As a Catholic, I realise that my sense of eschatology might be different from some peoples’, but religion aside, if I knew that my time on this planet was drawing to a close, I don’t think I’d want to spend of my few remaining moments “stripping down to dirty socks” or doing any of the things that Ke$ha suggests. Most people, when touched by the cold grip of mortality, prefer to spend their last days cherishing their loved ones, not cheating on them.

Then again, coming from a woman whose idea of a pickup line is saying “Show me where your dick’s at,” and referring to her lady bits as her “glovebox” maybe we shouldn’t expect any great deal of sentimentality.

3. Carly Rae Jepsen – “This Kiss”
Ok, so maybe people don’t take their moral cues from Nicki and Ke$ha, but surely we can expect more from Canada’s favorite bubble-gum singer, Carly Rae Jepsen, right? WRONG.

In her latest single, “This Kiss,” CRJ admits that she’s been going out every night, trying to capture the attention of boy she’s interested in. Sounds innocent enough, until she lets it slip that they both have significant others: “And she’s a real nice girl, and you know I’ve got a boy / details, we both forgot to mention.” Oh no, Carly Rae! Say it ain’t so!

Carly Rae’s rather squeaky clean image and the fact that she acknowledges that she’s enticing a boy to cheat on a girl who clearly doesn’t deserve it actually make this song a little more cringe-worthy than the first two. We’re not quite in Piña Colada territory, but we’re damn close. I will, however, give CRJ some minor style points for being the first person in modern history to successfully rhyme the words “sentimental” and “detrimental” in a pop song.

Honorable Mention: Cher Lloyd – “Want U Back”
Technically, Cher Lloyd doesn’t actually talk about cheating in “Want U Back“, but she does manage to paint a picture that’s sufficiently problematic to warrant inclusion on this list. In her break-out single, the British singer notes that her previous boyfriend “didn’t have much game,” so she decides to “upgrade” and kicks the hapless fellow to the curb. So far, so good.

Here’s where reality starts to break down, however. Thusly dumped by the hot girl, our intrepid hero does what most gameless people do – they settle. He starts going with a less attractive girl who wears ugly jeans – and suddenly Cher is filled with unspeakable jealously. Despite the fact that she was the one doing the dumping, she rages that “I don’t give a shh, no one else can have you” and delivers the titular declaration that she does, in fact, “Want you back.

Now, I realise that in reality people do this all the time, and that this was pretty much the entire plot of “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” but what makes this song puzzling is that at no point does Cher indicate that there’s any real advantage to dating this guy. In fact, she spends most of the song deriding what a rube he is, despite the fact that she allegedly wants him back. If I were the dude in question, I’d find this irrational at best and terribly insulting at worst. Morever, I’m not sure who this song is supposed to appeal to – what teenager wants to identify with a girl who maliciously dates beneath her station?

At any rate, it’s clear that Infidelity is becoming more and more socially acceptable in modern society. And no doubt some like-minded individual thirty years from now will be holo-blogging (or whatever they’ll do in the future) about how he hates hearing “Va Va Voom Voom” on the Oldies Station. I don’t know what any of this means for society, but I intend to keep downing these Piña Coladas until it all makes sense.

Stay sharp, Portland.

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