Jam (Turn It Up)
Bare with me here: do you remember that episode of Angry Beavers where Norbert gets the worst beaver disease of all: Stinky Toe? In trying to cure his brother’s disease, Dagget discovers the only cure is to rub the affected digit with trash —that stink cancels outs stink.
This makes me think of Kim Kardashian —or more specifically, it makes me think of Kim’s ill-fated 2010 single “Jam (Turn it Up).” The four minutes and 35 seconds of “Jam (Turn it Up)” have no redeeming qualities. Everything is terrible, from the lyrics to the production to Kim’s nasal monotone. But somehow, these layers on layers of missteps combine into a masterpiece of a disaster.
“Jam (Turn is Up)” is the Stinky Toe of pop music history —a song so truly horrible that it cancels itself out and becomes something immaculate.
Kim is famous for “doing nothing.” Whether you buy that line or not, it’s kind of her gig. Today, Kim isn’t just the most-followed person on Twitter. She’s sitting next to Anna Wintour at Fashion Week. She’s one half of a Hollywood power couple. We can debate all day about whether or not she’s A-List, but no matter what, you know her name.
But to understand “Jam (Turn it Up),” we have to harken back to a simpler time, a time of cheap, silky dresses and chunky, unnecessary belts. It’s 2010 and Keeping Up With the Kardashians has been on the air for three years. Kim and Kourtney Take New York is filming. Snapchat doesn’t exist. Kim and Kanye are hanging out, but they are not yet an item; Kanye does not have a fashion line.
The Kardashian clan as a whole is still figuring out exactly how they are going to dominate the globe. If the Kardashian brand is an egg yolk, it’s over-easy — soft and malleable, fragile even, not yet hardened by years in the frying pan of modern fame.
Kim says “Jam (Turn it Up)” came about because she was hanging out with a lot of musicians, kicking it in their production studios, and she thought, “Why not?” There’s a whole episode of Kim and Kourtney Take New York where she deliberates on creating the song — will she, won’t she, will she — she will!
I don’t really buy this. I imagine the whole Kardashian juggernaut — managers, momager — in a conference room debating who Kim should become. What if, instead of being famous for nothing, Kim was famous for something. She spins a wheel of job prospects — actress, lifestyle guru, author. The arrow lands on Pop Star, and everyone shrugs and says, “Why not?”
Pop writing has a certain formula--a degree of repetition, a call-to-action (“hands in the air”). “Jam (Turn it Up)” checks a lot of these boxes. But if you buy the ingredients for a tuna casserole and leave them in your trunk for two weeks, your dinner guests won’t be too happy. Having the right ingredients doesn’t matter if those ingredients are rotten.
The song’s plot is simple. Kim is at the club. They are playing her jam.
“They playin’ my jam,” she says again and again. She says it 23 times.
But that’s nothing compared to her demands of the DJ. “Turn it up, turn it up, DJ,” she requests over and over, occasionally interspersing with “Turn me up, yah.” She says this 48 times.
Can you imagine if you were at the club with someone and they asked the DJ to turn it up 48 times? In under four minutes? You’d call an Uber.
The lyrics of “Jam (Turn it Up)” reads like a mad lib where holes have been filled with random gibberish. It’s hard to pull the best ones, because the more you listen, the more you discover new depths to its awfulness. In the beginning, when Kim arrives at the club and goes “straight to the front of the line,” she tells us, “All I see is angels in my eyes.” (Is this all a metaphor for heaven? Something to think about.)
Kim doesn’t really sing. It’s more of an auto-tuned monologue which somehow, miraculously, still sounds out of tune.
“Feelin’ good, feelin’ great, just got paid,” she drawls, which I relate to, because I also love getting paid.
But my favorite line comes near the end, when Kim reaches the peak party:
Got my hands up / celebrate like it’s my birthday.
Five more shots of tequila / I’m thirsty.
At my next birthday, we will only drink shots of tequila, and we will only listen to this song. It’s going to be unbearable.
And yet, I listen to “Jam (Turn it Up)” on repeat in my cubicle, mindlessly bobbing my head to Kim’s promise that we’re gonna party then party some more. Why does it elicit a genuine joy somewhere deep in my soul when Kim sings, “Boys spendin’ money / girls lookin’ good”?
It’s the same reason people love bad movies — the thrill of seeing exactly which ways a piece of media can go wrong. And “Jam (Turn it Up)” is a labyrinth of mistakes so complicated you could spend years exploring its twists and dead ends. Every time I listen to “Jam (Turn it Up),” I’m shocked at how bad it is. And in that shock lies happiness. I lean back in my cubicle chair as Kim tells me again and again to “turn it/me up,” and I feel baffled — baffled that they wrote these lyrics, recorded that voice, set that beat, listened to it, and then — instead of locking it in the darkest Kardashian vault — released it.
There’s something almost endearing in that. The song is so earnest. Kim is doing her best, and her best is terrible, and I will listen to this song until I die.
In 2016, Kim has polished her brand to a diamond sheen. Every move seems calculated perfectly to build up herself and her family. “Jam (Turn it Up)” will never happen again, and Kim has even given interviews saying she regrets recording it. (My heart!) We are lucky to be alive during this convergence of bad decisions. And I promise that every time this song comes up, I will pause, I will look to the heavens, I will see angels in my eyes, and I will whisper, “They playin’ my jam.”