Fifth Harmony gave Kid Ink two verses in “Worth It.” Instead of writing two verses, however, he wrote a few words and repeated them a couple times for one verse, then just repeated exactly the same thing for the other. This waste of an opportunity annoyed me so much — contrast what Kendrick Lamar does with the verses on Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” — I had to look up the song.
I discovered (via Wikipedia, that repository of all knowledge) that I’m not the only one to think its saxophone hook was clearly inspired by Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty” (even though Colin Tilley, who directed the video, evidently thinks that the instrument is a trumpet). Or, rather, Ori Kaplan and “Stargate” — who composed the music for “Worth It” — were clearly inspired by the saxophone hook from Balkan Beat Box’s “Hermetico” (which Ricky Reed used as the center of the “beat” he created for “Talk Dirty”).
The reason Ori Kaplan was inspired for “Worth It” by Balkan Beat Box’s saxophone riff, furthermore, is that Ori Kaplan is in Balkan Beat Box and is the one who played the “Hermetico”/”Talk Dirty” riff in the first place. If Fifth Harmony is ripping anyone off, in other words, it’s just Ori Kaplan ripping off himself. Between “Talk Dirty” and “Worth It,” furthermore, the appeal of saxophones playing Middle Eastern-style melodies was also demonstrated by Flo Rida’s (get it?) “G.D.F.R.” which was produced by a bunch of people who aren’t Ori Kaplan.
The trio of “Talk Dirty,” “G.D.F.R.,” and “Worth It” got me thinking about the recent rise of saxophones, which I would trace back at least to Alexandra Stan’s “Mr. Saxobeat” and Dev’s “In the Dark” (a remix of which featured the aforementioned Flo Rida) in 2011. The saxophone revival then went on to include Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” — which Le1f understandably claims ripped off his “Wut” — in 2012, and then the trio of “Talk Dirty” (2013/14), “G.D.F.R” (2014), and “Worth It” (2015).
Now, I normally hate saxophones outside Jazz, but — with the exception of “Mr. Saxobeat” — I actually like the saxophone riffs in all the songs above. So, we’re going to philosophize about the saxophone revival songs (cf. the Rolling Stone interview with Ori Kaplan) of the 2010s today and in upcoming T40Phil posts.
Let’s start with the lyrically-uncomfortable (and NSFW) “Talk Dirty,” which made it to #3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
This is a perfect “philosophy of language” song. If there’s one thing philosophers agree about, it’s that language is “conventional.” The signs we use to talk to each other — like I am doing now — do not have the property of meaning-what-they-mean “all by themselves.” If words meant what they mean all by themselves (if the property of meaning-something belonged to words just like the properties of color and shape belong to cars) we wouldn’t have to learn other languages. We could just hear the sounds or look at the words and “see” what they meant (just like you can see what color a car is just by looking at it).
But instead of having meanings in-and-of-themselves, words have to be given meanings by people. And if we are going to use words to communicate with each other, we have to agree with each other about what they mean. We have to use them in basically the same way as the people we’re trying to communicate with.
The question is: how do we ever come to an agreement about how to use a particular word without already being able to communicate with each other? If I want to explain to you what I mean by a word, after all, don’t I have to use other words that you already understand?
The most obvious solution to this problem is to say, “Well, there must be some signs that are ‘natural’. There must be some signs that automatically point to what they mean. There must be some things that ‘direct your attention to some particular other thing’ without your first having to be told what they mean.”
And the most obvious case of such a “natural sign” would be pointing with your index finger. If you want to explain what a word means, you say it and simultaneously point at what it means. You say, for example, “kitty cat,” and point at the cat.
But as we all know, pointing doesn’t work for dogs. In philosophical terms, a pointed finger does not have “intentionality” for a dog. A finger is just something to look at and wonder if it’s food.
Even for dogs, however, there seem to be natural signs. They don’t seem to have to be told to pee on things, for example. Nor do they have to be told to go around sniffing for pee signals. (Cf. Nirvana.)
And I think faces work as natural signs for dogs too. You may not be able to direct a dog’s attention to something by pointing at it, but you can by looking at it. Dogs understand the intentionality of the face and eyes (they understand that faces have a “direction”) even if they don’t understand the intentionality of the index finger.
What’s this got to do with Jason Derulo? Well, take the lyrics, “Been around the world, don’t speak the language / But your booty don’t need explainin’.” Not only does the booty not lie, it evidently also is able to communicate without the need to first have its signals defined. It is a natural sign.
Perhaps this is fortunate. If humans needed a complex language in order to understand when and how to reproduce, you might wonder how they ever managed to keep the species going. After all, wouldn’t it take a long time to work out a complex language? And wouldn’t they all be dead long before they had come to an agreement on — for example — whether to put adjectives before or after nouns?
Even if our ancestors’ conversations weren’t long — as Mr. Derulo says his aren’t with the women he meets “around the world” — they were able to communicate enough to reproduce. And issues like this have led many philosophers to theorize about how biological and linguistic evolution might be related.
I have argued that our experience of signs is based on our experience of parts and wholes. Specifically, I claim that an animal needs the ability to experience one thing as a part of another — even when that thing isn’t actually a part of the other thing — in order to encounter the thing as a word. But that’s something to talk about another time.
Next time on Top 40 Philosophy, we’ll take on Flo Rida’s “G.D.F.R.” I have no idea what I’m going to say, but hopefully it’ll be comprehensible.