Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Aparna Nancherla hates the creepy vibes of “Sweat (A La La Long)”

(Photo: Shaughn & John)

In HateSong, we ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world.

The hater: A comedian who blends dry absurdism with a little bit of social awkwardness, Aparna Nancherla just released her debut stand-up LP, Just Putting It Out There, on Tig Notaro’s new label, Bentzen Ball Records. Though she was a correspondent for Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell, Nancherla isn’t so much a political comedian as she is one who’s interested in all aspects of life.

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Nancherla is currently on the road in support of Just Putting It Out There, and her tour dates can be found on her website.

The hated: Inner Circle, “Sweat (A La La Long)” (1992)

The A.V. Club: Why is this the song you picked? It’s one of those tracks that you might not know the name of, but you’ll know the music.

Aparna Nancherla: First of all, I always forget that this song exists. I feel like I first heard it maybe in middle school or high school? It’s kind of catchy. I feel like they play it at parties. But then, if you actually listen to the words, it’s fairly disturbing, because it just feels like the guy is creeping on this woman, and then is just weird and aggressive in his pursuit. It’s the whole “push it, more if you cry out” part. I think that’s the part where I think, “I don’t know if that sits well with me.”

AVC: Actually listening to pop lyrics can really sour you on a song.

AN: Right. And I feel like with some songs, it’s like everyone is dancing. No one is really paying attention.

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I don’t think it’s a song where people are necessarily always singing along, but I feel like if you do, you’re like, “Ugh, this is kind of weird,” at least if you actually say the lyrics to yourself.

It sounds like a confession.

AVC: The average person might just know the chorus to this song, or maybe the line about “big brown eyes.”

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AN: Yeah, which, interestingly enough, I looked up the lyrics online, and it’s supposedly “big brown eye,” singular, which somehow adds another level of weirdness for me. “Big brown eye?”

AVC: The song was pretty popular in Europe. It seems like they would have been more into a world-music-centric dance sound, especially in the early ’90s.

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AN: This definitely has an island feel to it. You don’t want to be a party pooper, but then it’s like, “I don’t know.”

In the beginning, too, he’s like, “I’ve been watching you a long time.” That is also like, “Okay. That’s not a good way to open with someone.”

AVC: Most songs like this, you don’t realize the story until you really think about it. I’m sure if you asked Inner Circle, though, they’d say “No, that’s not how we meant it.”

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AN: Of course.

AVC: Did you know that Inner Circle has been around since the ’60s? They also did the “Bad Boys” song for Cops in 1987.

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AN: Really? I didn’t know that.

AVC: Well, there have been a million members in the group over time, so it’s only sort of impressive.

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AN: Oh! They’re kind of like Wu-Tang.

AVC: Or like a doo-wop band, like The Temptations, where they just cycle through guys.

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AN: Oh, they keep changing out people. That’s kind of ironic, since their name is Inner Circle.

AVC: So, it is just the lyrics in the song that bother you, or is there more to it than that?

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AN: I think it’s mainly the lyrics. Nothing about the melody offends me, or the rhythm. I’m okay with the use of repetition of the chorus. It’s mainly lyrical. It’s one of those songs where it’s supposed to be fun and contribute to a celebratory atmosphere, but then it feels like a crisis of conscience.

AVC: Do you remember when you figured out the song was creepy?

AN: I think the first time I heard it, I was like, “This is a great song!” And then in subsequent listens, I was like, “But the lyrics are kind of weird. They feel a little aggro to me.” But you’re right: Now that you mention it, I feel like there’s a whole genre of songs in that vibe where it’s like, “Is this song okay with its message?” “Blurred Lines” had a similar outcry around it. I can see people saying, “You’re just trying to read into it,” but it’s pretty clearly stating itself.

AVC: When you’re a dude writing a song about a club or a dance hall, or trying to creep up on some girl, there’s always some line about, “I’m coming up on you. I’m going to grind up on you.” That’s a thing that happens, but it’s also very creepy.

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AN: It’s not like he’s going to get her attention by making some subtle point on international politics. It has to be physical and aggressive in the sense that he sees her, and then he makes his move. And I think you’re right: It’s a club song, but the lyrics make me think of the bedroom, and then it’s a little more like, “What are you saying?”

AVC: A song about looking at someone and then not talking to them and just leaving the bar is not quite as interesting.

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AN: It’s never, “I watched you, and then I left.”

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