My World Of Flops is Nathan Rabin’s survey of books, television shows, musical releases, or other forms of entertainment that were financial flops, critical failures, or lack a substantial cult following.
When I first learned about Kreayshawn’s obnoxiously infectious novelty anthem “Gucci Gucci,” my response was that of a creaky old person: “Oh, that’s not for me.” I didn’t actually listen to Kreayshawn’s music before making that determination. I just looked at her name; her multi-colored, multi-textured hair; her many tattoos and sneering poses, and I instantly decided that this was something young people might enjoy—and I have not counted myself among their number in a very long time.
“Not for me” is a pretty common response to pop culture once you reach a certain age. The first time my dad heard Run-D.M.C., he consciously or unconsciously made that determination, and it held true for the sum of hip-hop as far as he was concerned. Being 8 years old, I had the opposite reaction, because hip-hop was, and is, supposed to appeal to kids with open minds and boundless curiosity. Run-D.M.C. kicked off a long love affair with hip-hop for me, but a mere few decades after becoming enraptured by the genre, I increasingly find myself thinking, “Oh, that’s not for me” about a huge swath of hip-hop.
When you’re young, with the exception of outliers like The Golden Girls, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and the song craft of Bruce Hornsby, pretty much all pop culture is pitched to you. There’s a reason youth culture is best enjoyed by the young, and why the old dude at the club and the horny old man are figures of pity, mockery, and derision. The pop-culture landscape is a lot like the world of Logan’s Run: After you pass 30, you might as well be dead as far as entertainment is concerned. Once you age out of a desirable demographic, music labels, movie studios, and television executives begin to see you less as a coveted market than as the worst kind of human garbage.
I was in my mid-30s when “Gucci Gucci” set off all of my “Oh, that’s not for me” buzzers. Yet my complete lack of interest in Kreayshawn’s music somehow did not keep me from becoming deeply fascinated by nearly every other facet of her life, perhaps because I sensed that, with Kreayshawn, music was both at the center of everything and something of an afterthought.
So I followed Kreayshawn on Twitter, read articles about her (including the ones alleging the lyrics to “Gucci Gucci” were ghost-written by a dude), and kept abreast of the ups and downs of her personal and professional life: from bombing hugely with her major-label debut, to getting sober after getting pregnant, to being a mother, and trying to rebuild her career in the long shadow of her album’s high-profile failure. I got so weirdly invested in the world of Kreayshawn, an exceedingly minor cultural figure, that I also became perversely fascinated by other minor figures in her orbit who matter even less, like her White Girl Mob affiliates V-Nasty and Lil Debbie (whose Wikipedia page admonishes readers not to confuse her with the similarly named snack-cake proprietors) and collaborator Chippy Nonstop.
My strong, intuitive sense that Kreayshawn just wasn’t for me was helped by the culture-wide consensus that her breakthrough hit was, objectively speaking, the absolute worst. Kreayshawn became famous and infamous at the same time. She seemed to pick up five times as many haters as fans. That ratio would be disastrous, except that so many people despised her, there was still a good number that enjoyed her music as well.
Kreayshawn’s popularity was not built to last. In the 14-month span between the viral popularity of “Gucci Gucci” and the release of her debut album, 2012’s Somethin’ ’Bout Kreay, the rapper went from being the hot new thing with a brash style to an instant has-been desperately trying to replicate the curious alchemy that produced her viral hit (and failing miserably).
In hindsight, it’s a little odd that a Kreayshawn album exists at all. She’s a consummate YouTube phenomenon, and there is a huge gulf between the level of commitment required to press a button and watch a music video for free and the level required to spend actual money on an artist’s album. There were lots of folks willing to press a button to watch “Gucci Gucci” on YouTube—and almost none willing to actually buy her album. Somethin’ ’Bout Kreay flopped so historically that an LA Weekly article felt the need to point out that “Kreayshawn’s New Album Is Not, In Fact, The Worst-Selling Album Ever,” despite online claims that it was. In fact, that honor belonged to a previous My World Of Flops entry: Jesse & The 8th Street Kidz sold a mere 2,600 copies its first week out, limboing underneath the 3,900 copies Kreayshawn sold her first week. How badly did Kreayshawn flop? Fucking Kevin Federline outsold her in his first week. The LA Weekly article points out that physical copies of Somethin’ ’Bout Kreay were only sold at Hot Topic, which sounds like a nasty joke Kreayshawn’s label played at her expense, but actually happened.
It’s hard to know where to begin when dissecting the album’s failure. It does not help that the album perversely had a title riffing on a 14-year-old comedy whose title had already been strip-mined in countless magazine article and headlines crowing that there’s “Something About [insert coquettish actress’ name here].”
Then there’s the album’s cover, a vaguely Manga-like cartoon representation of Kreayshawn being squeezed by a blue, one-eyed tentacle monster while smaller, phallic one-eyed creatures look on lustfully. It is a situation that, quite frankly, seems to bore Kreayshawn deeply, judging from the glazed, disinterested look in her eyes.
Then again, everything seems to bore Kreayshawn, including herself and her album, which feels like it was made under duress. It’s as if Kreayshawn accidentally lucked into recording a hit song one stoned, forgotten night and then found herself in the unenviable position of having to augment that hit with an album’s worth of filler. It doesn’t help that many of the song titles look like the product of Kreayshawn’s cat running over her keyboard seconds before the song names were locked down conclusively, leading to gibberish like “Ch00k Ch00k Tare,” “Left Ey3,” “K234YSONIXZ,” and “Luv Haus.”
Kreayshawn is frankly too goddamned hip to act like she cares about much of anything at all, although from her persona, it’s difficult to determine whether she is in fact deeply hip or unforgivably tacky. I’m not sure there’s much of a meaningful distinction to be made between the two in this case. But that exquisitely cultivated aloofness finds its purest expression in Kreayshawn’s voice, a flat, bored, nasal monotone that at its best calls to mind early Beastie Boys by way of Northern State and at worst is the hip-hop equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. Kreayshawn doesn’t just sound white in a Valley Girl, gag-me-with-a-spoon kind of way: Her voice suggests an exaggerated burlesque of whiteness, like the cartoon voice black comedians sometimes affect when imitating hopeless white people.
On “Gucci Gucci” and the rest of the album, Kreayshawn cultivates the persona of a bisexual, sexually voracious stoner, loopy on MDMA, Adderall, and syrup. She’s a hipster Pied Piper who acts like the bad girl in a 1980s teen sex comedy, tempting a Forever 21 employee into stealing their stepfather’s credit card and then joining her doing circles in a parking lot while screaming “La La La.”
“Go Hard (La, La, La)” isn’t the only track with a throwback ’80s and ’90s feel, as the album offers trainwreck-compelling collision of the old and new, the tried and true, and tomorrow’s weird vibes. “K234YSONIXZ” updates J.J Fad’s “Supersonic,” while “The Ruler” is a tribute to Slick Rick with lyrics that obsess about gold in a manner not seen in pop music since Insane Clown Posse decided to celebrate going gold by forming the Golden Goldies, a supergroup that only rapped about gold.
On “Left Ey3,” Kreayshawn tastelessly references Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and Amy Winehouse over an ominous electronic beat while desperately shouting “Rest in peace!” about both dead icons, which simultaneously doubles down on the lyrics’ offensiveness and undercuts them ever so slightly. In the same song, she also goes directly from establishing her Bay Area hip-hop bona fides by bragging, “Shooting dice in the streets taught me how to play the odds” to fretting, “I find it odd that your Twitter page is private.” (Imagine M.O.P. shouting those lyrics.) Kreayshawn may have broken through as a social-media superstar getting crazy spins on the contemporary pop radio that is YouTube, but whether she’s rapping about The Golden Girls, Thelma And Louise, or Ricki Lake, she seems to have the tape collection and cultural frame of reference of a middle-aged music critic.
Though infinitely more fun than its reputation would suggest, Somethin’ ’Bout Kreay suffers from a number of tracks that feel like limp commercial concessions. Kreayshawn never sounds less honest or convincing than when she’s trying to be sincere. Accordingly, the super-processed, over-produced electronic ballad “BFF (Bestfriend)” feels like the product of the same song factory that produced Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” right down to the awkwardly Auto-Tuned vocals. Auto-Tune is supposed to be a cheat, like audio training wheels that allow people who cannot sing to at least pass themselves off as crooners, but on “BFF” Kreayshawn just sounds like a half-assed android hipster who can’t sing. The album begins and ends limply, first with “Blasé Blasé,” which nakedly attempts to recreate the magic of “Gucci Gucci,” right down to its stuttering title, and lastly with “Luv Haus,” another weird, over-processed attempt at singing.
But for the most part, Somethin’ ’Bout Kreay is a thoroughly fun, dumb pop album that’s short on substance and deep thoughts but long on catchy hooks, snotty attitude, and personality. Like Cam’ron, it’s tough to tell whether Kreyshawn’s music is intentionally stupid in a way that’s nonsensical and insulting or if it’s avant-garde and surreally silly on a transcendent level. At its best, Somethin’ ’Bout Kreay suggests a Spring Breakers-like fever dream of youth culture at its most drugged-out, sexually omnivorous, and materialistic, a fizzy, instantly dated pop concoction that exaggerates the sneering, snotty conventions of hip-hop to dizzying effect.
From the perspective of 2015, Kreayshawn’s entire major-label career feels like an odd joke (with her first-week sales as the grim punchline), but it’s not clear whether the target of the joke is Kreayshawn, her fans, or the world at large. To her credit, Kreayshawn has seemingly taken the resounding failure of Somethin’ ’Bout Kreay in stride. When someone on Twitter asked what happened to her career, Kreayshawn completely justified my interest in her with when she delightfully replied, “I flopped n now I’m broke.” And she means broke: According to Kreayshawn, she’s over $200 grand in debt, which, given the brutal realities of the record industry—where artists are punished disproportionately for failing—is all too believable.
Despite my strong knee-jerk intuition that Kreayshawn was not for me, but rather the young people at whom all of pop culture is feverishly aimed, I ended up quite liking Somethin’ ’Bout Kreay, albeit in a guilty-pleasure way. Perhaps to Kreayshawn’s commercial detriment, it turns out her music and shtick and album are for people like me, whose conception of hip-hop is more Slick Rick than Tyler, The Creator. I responded to the goofy-to-the point-of-nonsensical humor, the unabashed pop shamelessness, and familiar hip-hop tropes (weed, money, women, power, status) approached from a novel angle, though that probably says more about my own emotionally stunted brain than it does about the music. Kreayshawn’s songs were not built to last but to be enjoyed in the moment, and when the brief but spectacular cultural moment of “Gucci Gucci” passed, its creator’s neon daydream of a career ended with it.
Failure, Fiasco, or Secret Success: Secret Success