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 stand-up and a writer on The Late Late Show With James Corden, Ian Karmel is one of the nicest guys working in comedy today. The Portland native hasn’t gotten where he is just by being a sweetheart, though—Karmel’s jokes are sharp and occasionally cutting, even when he’s just poking a little fun at MTV’s Pimp My Ride. That’s all evident on 9.2 On Pitchfork, Karmel’s new comedy record out November 13 on Kill Rock Stars. On it, Karmel is wry and witty, calling out everything from Harry Styles to his own lax Judaism.
The hated: Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Suck My Kiss” (1991)
The A.V. Club: Why did you pick “Suck My Kiss”?
Ian Karmel: It’s the worst song in the world. It might be the worst song of all time. I hate it so much.
AVC: But why do you hate it?
IK: I never used to think about it, and then I got a video game last year—NBA 2k15—and it was on the soundtrack. And those video games, even the big ones have like 20 songs on the soundtrack at most, so you hear the same songs over and over again. At first I was passively hearing it all the time, and then I started to pay attention to the lyrics and everything about it, and it just made me angry. It made me viscerally angry.
There’s no reason that it should exist. He says “suck my kiss” in it but it’s not romantic and it’s not sexual either. It’s just kind of gross. It feels like the Guy Fieri of songs. It sounds the way the inside of a Hooters looks. It’s that kind of vibe. I’m not against the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I don’t think they’re lame white boy funk or whatever people say. I think they have some good songs. I’m a huge fan of Sublime, so I don’t consider myself an elitist with music whatsoever. There’s just something about that song that’s so unacceptable to me.
AVC: So you like other Red Hot Chili Peppers songs, but it’s just this one specifically where you’re like, “No, forget it.”
IK: This one specifically. I never think about them, though, which is weird. They’re probably one of the biggest bands ever at this point, and they’ve been around for what? Like 30 years? 25?
AVC: At least.
IK: They’ve been around for a long time. I guess Blood Sugar Sex Magik was in 1991, and I think everyone agrees that that’s kind of an important album, but I still never think about them. I wonder if they had any impact—like what is their evolution as a band? I kind of feel like they turned into rap-rock. They were that kind of vibe. Who are their descendents?
IK: Exactly. There are no cool, interesting bands, I think, who would trace themselves back to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They took up the torch from Stevie Wonder, at least in their minds. I think they really think that. So it went Stevie Wonder, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and then like you said, at best, maybe Incubus. Then at worst, every band that’s doing white boy reggae at a bar later tonight.
There’s something about “Suck My Kiss” that’s so violent. I feel like they’re proud of themselves that it kind of sounds like “suck my dick.” I think they’re like, “It sounds like that but it’s not. But that’s also what it means.” They kind of have that vibe to them.
AVC: You think it really means “suck my dick”? The internet is torn on this. Some people think it means to tongue-kiss.
IK: I don’t think it does. I think it definitely means suck my dick. I think that’s probably what the song was originally, and then they realized they needed another single so they changed it to “suck my kiss.” Or maybe that wasn’t the thinking behind it, but I definitely think they were being cheeky.
Even to tongue-kiss—that’s the thing about it. The tone of the song doesn’t fit with anything that they could possibly be talking about. If they’re talking about tongue-kissing, the way the song sounds, it’s like that terrible first time you tongue-kiss somebody who doesn’t know how to tongue-kiss, and you end up with them basically licking the back of your teeth. That’s what the song is like, sonically. If it is just a stand-on for “suck my dick,” it’s not any sort of pleasant kind of blow job. It’s that terrible revenge porn kind of “suck my dick” where it seems like nobody’s having a good time, and the guy’s just angry, and the woman feels terrible, and if you happen to unfortunately watch it you feel worse than the two of them put together. If it is a euphemism for “suck my dick” it’s that kind.
I hate it.
AVC: It seems like the band has eased up in its old age. I don’t know if 2015 Anthony Kiedis would yell “suck my dick” at you.
IK: Maybe he would. Back then he definitely would. I don’t know if he would now. They all seem like kinda cool guys, like Flea has just become like a sports dad and all he cares about is the Lakers and the Dodgers. That’s all he ever tweets about. Then he’ll give props to weird, obscure bass players no one’s ever heard of. And the drummer who looks like Will Ferrell went and had the drum-off with Will Ferrell.
They all seem like cool guys who are self-aware, which is weird. Maybe that song is supposed to be funny and maybe I just don’t get it. Maybe that’s what’s going on. Maybe they’re funny dudes. Maybe the Red Hot Chili Peppers are trolling all of us, and that’s why they still make songs where the lyrics sound like somebody’s scatting nonsense. Maybe they’re comedic geniuses. That’s the best-case scenario for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, that they’re in on the joke. But I don’t think so.
Rick Rubin produced that song! It had talented people involved. I think people like it. I was looking it up in preparation for this, and it’s one of the group’s most commonly performed live songs, which means the people want to hear “Suck My Kiss.”
AVC: I don’t know what to say to that.
IK: It’s discouraging.
AVC: If I were at the Red Hot Chili Peppers show, I think I’d just want to hear “Under The Bridge.”
IK: Yeah. If they did three songs, you’d want to hear “Under The Bridge” and then maybe their cover of “Love Rollercoaster” and then close it out with “Under The Bridge” again. Just do it twice with a middle song, with something interesting in between.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m too young. Because when Californication came out, which was maybe their most successful album—well, I don’t know, but at least their second most successful—but it was kind of like dad music, you know what I mean? It was slower, and it was music that could be listened to in an Audi. It was that kind of music.
AVC: It was like Coldplay. It’s supposed to give you feelings and you’re supposed to listen to it while you look at scenery wistfully.
IK: Exactly. It was for driving down a lightly tree’d road. If your stereo went up to 50 you’d keep it always at 28 on that album. And my dad had it.
Sometimes I think about this with other bands, too, but definitely with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, those are bands my parents listened to so I never had a chance to get into them on my own. I wonder if I would experience them differently if they didn’t register so immediately. I could never listen to Steely Dan, for example, because my dad—every road trip we would ever go on, he would listen to nothing but Steely Dan. Every time we would drive up to the mountains to go skiing—I was just a kid so it feels like a 10-hour drive even if it’s only two or three hours—but that’s all we would listen to. So now all these very hip people are like, “Oh, you’ve got to check out Steely Dan,” and I try to, but it just feels like listening to the fucking Raffi because I grew up listening to it.
That happens with Black Sabbath, too, because my older brother who’s about nine years older than me loved it, listened to it, and took me to a Black Sabbath concert. So, again, when I listen to it, it feels like kids’ music. I know that’s not how you’re supposed to experience that music. I’m rambling and going way off topic, but you know when you see parents with young kids and the kid’s walking around with like a Ramones T-shirt or a Strokes T-shirt or whatever? Every time I see that I’m like, “What the fuck are you doing to that kid?” That kid does not want to listen to the Ramones or The Strokes or whatever cool band you’re trying to force down its throat. Let the kid listen to the Wiggles or whatever it is they want to listen to, and then let them get into quote-unquote “cool music” later on, on their own terms, like you’re supposed to. I worry about what those kids are going to grow up to be like. When they rebel are they just going to become Tea Party Republicans?
AVC: That’s a good point. Our parents weren’t playing us hip records, and we still found them.
IK: That never happened! I know they listened to cool stuff, because I’ll listen to it now and I’ll be like, “Oh, I love this song.” Like the Talking Heads and stuff like that. But I wasn’t walking around in a Talking Heads onesie with extra big shoulder pads. That wasn’t happening when I was a kid. They let me be a kid for the most part, and I’m thankful for it, because you know the kids you went to school with whose parents wouldn’t let them watch any TV or their parents were super hippies and stuff, a lot of those kids—do you try to take it farther, or just try to make the best of it that you can? I don’t know. Maybe it’s living in Portland and seeing so much of the hip parents that it makes me extra sensitive to it. But I think it is going to be interesting to see what those kids turn out like.
AVC: There’s a Patton Oswalt bit about that. Just basically the idea that strict parents breed cool kids and parents that are too cool just become squares.
IK: I don’t know if I’ve heard it. He’s right, though. It’s good to have cool, supportive parents, but also you need to disassociate with them at some point. You have to launch the escape vessel from the mothership. There has to be something you want to get away from, right?
AVC: Hopefully. Fingers crossed.
IK: For me it probably took until freshman year of college until I started doing that. This is a whole other point entirely than what we were even talking about, but you know that point in your life when you actively trying to listen to things that are cool because you know they’re cool, and not because maybe you like them? Like you’ll try to get into Lou Reed or backpack hip-hop or whatever? Jazz is a really good example. Not because you love it or because it like instantly turns you on but because you’re like, “I recognize that this is cool, and people I think are cool and maybe want to have sex with think it’s cool, so I should give it a try.” If you were raised around that music already, would you even think it was cool? Would that fuck up that process? Because I think that’s an important process. You have to front for a while on that shit. You have to be full of shit for a little while. Then maybe you actually start to like that music, but there’s definitely a period where the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. I wonder if being a cool kid kind of fucks that up.
I don’t know how that connects to “Suck My Kiss” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers—I don’t think anyone thinks that music is cool—but maybe I wouldn’t hate that song so much if I wasn’t being driven to football practice by my dad listening to Californication. Maybe I’d have a different relationship with that band.