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: Rhea Butcher is equal parts dry and wry. In her new show, Take My Wife (read The A.V. Club’s review here), which is now available for streaming on Seeso, the comedian plays “Rhea Butcher,” a comedian who’s married to “Cameron Esposito,” who’s played by Butcher’s real-life wife, Cameron Esposito. Together, the two navigate their fledgling careers and occasionally lonely lives, making Take My Wife one of the more earnest and open looks at what it means to be a struggling stand-up.
Butcher will also release her debut stand-up record, Butcher, later this month on Kill Rock Stars. You can pre-order the album and also buy some sweet baseball-themed merch on the label’s website.
The A.V. Club: Why did you pick “Rude”?
Rhea Butcher: It was a very tough decision to pick this song. I was torn between this, “Blurred Lines,” and “My Sharona.” My lord, do I hate that song so much. But I picked this song because it’s actually super personal to me.
When this song was popular in 2014, I unfortunately was losing my grandmother. She was passing away. This song was on the radio all the time, and I had a rental car, and so the only thing I could listen to was the radio. So now, because of these jerks, when that song comes on, I think about losing my grandmother. It’s the weirdest song to have that with. It’s not like, “I Will Always Love You,” or something like that where you can be nostalgic for a moment and have memories and stuff. This is a weird ska song that I’m like, “Yeah, no, I’m going to leave this on,” because I remember this hard time, but I also hate this song completely.
I also think the lyrics are so sexist and ridiculous. Death of grandmother first, sexist lyrics second.
AVC: Why do you leave it on? Does it make you nostalgic or wistful for your grandma?
RB: I leave it on because I think of that time, and I can’t turn it off for that reason, because it feels rude to the memory of my grandmother to turn it off. So now it’s inextricably linked, and for the rest of my life I’ll have to listen to this terrible one-hit wonder forever.
AVC: That’s probably not what Magic! was thinking when it wrote this amazingly shitty reggae song about trying to get with some girl.
RB: They definitely weren’t thinking of my soon-to-be-passed-away grandmother. I didn’t realize they were Canadian. That makes it even worse. Sorry, Canada.
AVC: For a song that reminds you of your late grandma, it’s pretty upbeat.
RB: In some ways, I feel like I would leave it on because it was when I was back in my home town of Akron. No offense to Akron, but it doesn’t have a lot of radio stations. They were just playing the same four songs over and over again. I think because it’s so upbeat, that’s also why I would leave it on, because I would hopefully not cry while I was driving down Route 8 to get to where I was staying. That accidentally implanted it into my brain for the rest of my existence.
AVC: “Rude” is one of those songs that could be on several radio stations at once.
AVC: Do you think the song is more sexist than the average song?
RB: Well, I was talking about “My Sharona,” so no, it doesn’t hold a candle to that. The thing that bothers me—well, sexism always bothers me, let me just say that, number one—but, number two, it bothers me when almost every other part of the song has a good sentiment, like, “Hey, man, I’m a nice guy. You’re a dad. Let’s be friends with each other, there’s nothing wrong with that.” But then they’re saying, “I want to own your daughter,” basically. It’s like, what is this, the ’50s? It’s 2014. I can’t remember what the exact lyric is, but he’s basically saying, “Hey, give me your daughter.” He sounds very much like Beetlejuice, and it’s ridiculous.
AVC: It’s the nature of a song to be whittled down to the purest, simplest form of human interaction. It has to have a conflict. “We’re going to talk it out like men,” isn’t as dramatically compelling as “your daughter and I are running away.”
RB: It just seems like if you were a heterosexual man, and you met a woman that you want to spend the rest of your life with, and you have decided to talk that out with her dad—if he was like, “I don’t know about this,” your next step should not be, “We’re running away!” Perhaps you are the rude one, sir. Perhaps the rude one is you. Proving you respect someone’s daughter by saying that you want to own them is definitely not saying that you respect someone’s daughter.
AVC: The other thing is that “Rude” is totally made up. It’s not even a real story.
RB: That makes so much sense. I would just make up a story and regurgitate the social norms that I’ve been shown my entire life in movies and songs from prior to 1999, or whatever. Of course they would just regurgitate that thought process instead of being like, “Huh, maybe I should take this from my actual life.”
AVC: According to Wikipedia, which is not the best source for news, the lead singer—who goes by one name, Nasri—had been in an unhealthy relationship with a previous girlfriend. After they got in a fight, the band based the song off of how the pair was mutually rude to each other, and the song had sort of a dark vibe. That actually sounds kind of interesting.
RB: Absolutely. I would much rather hear about a couple having a hard time and deciding what to do as opposed to the Romeo and Juliet angle. I’ve heard that a million times. I’d rather hear people discuss what it’s like to be sad with each other.
AVC: Maybe they didn’t think they could make it work with their reggae sound.
RB: It wouldn’t be primed for Kidz Bop, because it was about an actual human interaction. People want to hear about human interaction that we think happens, as opposed to what really happens in life. That would be too hard.
AVC: Do you think songs perpetuate that kind of drama?
RB: I think so. If you have a real experience of being in a fight or being in a bad place with an actual partner who is your equal, and you choose to instead write a fictitious thing that is super retro in a way that’s kind of gross, then yeah, it definitely perpetuates it, because you’re just digging into something that’s already been done.
AVC: Yet this song was so popular.
RB: Yet the song was so popular. It has that summer vibe to it, because of the reggae aspect, and we in the United States haven’t had a ska hit since…
AVC: It’s been six or seven years.
RB: Every now and then, that up-strum on the guitar comes back, and you’re like, “There it is again; forgot about that.”
I feel like part of my hate for this song hinges on the fact that when I was in high school, unfortunately I went through a few-years-way-too-long ska phase. I’m embarrassed to say I was way, way too into ska for way, way too long, because hey, these are people, too, so I don’t want to be too down on the bands, because they’re bands, and they’re great bands, but I am a little embarrassed that I was in a ska phase in high school, listening to Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake and Mighty Mighty Bosstones. I went just a little too long there. But then I transitioned into just Operation Ivy and Common Rider, which then closed the loop and brought me back to Fugazi, and then I got on the right track, so everything’s okay.
AVC: That was how you had to get into that then. Ska was the gateway.
RB: Skankin’ Pickle, Less Than Jake, that was my gateway drug to Operation Ivy. And Operation Ivy is the gateway to everything.
AVC: There was a period in the late ’90s when Reel Big Fish was really working that “Sell Out” single.
RB: They just played it at the DNC. They played Reel Big Fish multiple times as this interstitial walk-up song. And they played “Sell Out,” which had to be a joke.
I remember being so bummed because it got that popular. I was like, “This is my music, and it speaks to me.”
AVC: Was it the positivity? Or the horns?
RB: [Laughs.] Yes, the horns. I really don’t know what it was about it, looking back on it now.
Less Than Jake, specifically, they’re similar lyrics-wise and tone-wise to another band that I got super into in high school, which is Modest Mouse. Both talk about the loneliness in the American landscape and feeling like an outsider in suburbia and run-down urban places. That’s definitely what spoke to me. I felt like they were literally speaking to me, like, “Yeah, it sucks being out here, hanging out at a gas station at midnight.” Because I literally would do that when I was in high school.
Also, there was a ska clear-coat that was on it that I just related to all other bands, like I liked Voodoo Glow Skulls, but that wasn’t really my thing. I was more into anger.
AVC: Were you skateboarding then?
RB: I was. That was also part of it. It fit the whole lifestyle.
Realistically speaking—and I’ve been thinking about this lately, thinking about trashing my ska phase—at the same time, I can’t really fully be like, “Ugh, what a terrible type of music,” when a main tenet of that era of ska music in the ’90s was “Hey, let’s end racism!” Just straight up, start to finish, let’s stop racism. I can’t really be too down on a music genre where that’s a thing that they put on T-shirts and album covers and in song lyrics and on pins and stickers. It was a big part of the movement, and whether it got anything done or not, it’s pretty amazing that these bands were all like, “We agree. Let’s talk about that.”
AVC: Do you think that messaging was a reaction to the skinhead movement in punk?
RB: Yeah, I think so. I’m not a musical historian in any way, but ska came out of calypso and reggae, which is music of black Jamaican people, and so I think a little bit of it was saying, “Hey, we know we’re a bunch of white people.” Also a lot of the bands were multiracial, so I think it was a lot of things. It was a response to skinheads at the time, and it was also saying, “This is how we feel about the music, so let’s feel about people the same way we feel about music. We can share, and we can end something. We’re not just taking a type of music and not talking about racism.” I think that’s a powerful thing, too.
AVC: Do you want to hear something staggering? “Rude” has almost a billion views on YouTube.
RB: Are you kidding me? Oh, my god.
AVC: It is the site’s 29th most watched video.
RB: That’s a lot of views. Is that the most popular music video?
AVC: No, the number one video on YouTube is “Gangnam Style,” then “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa, “Uptown Funk,” “Blank Space,” “Sorry” by Justin Bieber, and so on.
AVC: The video is also super boring if you haven’t watched it.
RB: Aren’t they just in a garage or something?
AVC: Yeah, and there’s a dad, and they’re lip-syncing the lyrics of the song back and forth.
RB: You know what? You make a great point. It is a boring song. It’s boring. They’re using a type of music that, whatever you think about it—I was eating somewhere recently and “Spiderwebs” came on, and I was like, “Man, this is a really good song.” I hadn’t heard it in a long time, and I wasn’t prepared for it. I didn’t pick it and go, “That’s going to be a nice flash from the past” or whatever. It came on, and it’s got an interesting arrangement, how it starts out super slow, and it’s an interesting ska song.
That’s part of why I hate this song so much, because it’s basically somebody taking a keyboard and hitting “calypso” and singing, “I want to marry your daughter, stop being so rude about it.”
It’s just a really boring song. I don’t understand why it was so popular. Maybe it was because so many grandmothers were dying across the country, and everybody was listening to it.