The Black Eyed Peas Are Good
When I bring up The Black Eyed Peas, people almost always say one of two things:
1) The Black Eyed Peas are bad.
2) Didn't Fergie pee herself on stage once?
The answer to one of those questions is yes. The answer to the other is no, no, one thousand times no. Over the years, you may have decided the Black Eyed Peas are bad. This is incorrect. The Black Eyed Peas are good.
I've had this opinion for years, and I'm reminded whenever "Boom Boom Pow" comes on the radio. (What a jam.) I never had proof. But a few weeks ago, I borrowed my sister's car to visit my grandma. Kara had the 2009 Black Eyed Peas album The E.N.D. stashed in the CD holder. I popped it in the CD player, and now I have a lot to say.
The E.N.D. stands for The Energy Never Dies, and it is themed around a dystopian future where no one ever pays for music. (So basically 2017.) A robotic baritone voice weaves through the album, lamenting the death of record stores and the rise of illegal downloads. This voice will be your guide.
[Ed. Note: The monologue has been removed from the Spotify version of the album. SUSPICIOUS. To hear The E.N.D. in full, I recommend borrowing my sister’s Hyundai. The album lasts the exact length of the drive from my apartment to my grandma’s apartment.]
The Black Eyed Peas consist of Will.i.am and Fergie, who you know, and appl.de.ap and Taboo., who you probably don't. They are basically a band that plays on a spaceship in Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century. They look and sound like what the year 2000 imagined music would be.
You know at least 13 minutes of the album, because you’ve definitely heard the singles. "Boom Boom Pow," "I Gotta Feeling," and "Imma Be" all topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart, meaning The Peas held the number one spot for 28 cumulative weeks. You can disagree with the charts. But you secretly know every word, even the line in "Boom Boom Pow" where Will.i.am sings "beat so big I'm steppin’ on leprechauns, shittin’ on y'all with the boom boom."
Singing along with the Black Eyed Peas is fun as hell because you’re mostly yelling random words. This is appl.de.ap and Taboo’s responsibility: bobbing in the background, yelling back up exclamations, urging you to move it, move it.
Here are all the background exclamations from “I Gotta Feeling”:
Let’s live it up
Let’s spend it up
Like oh my god
Move it, move it
Paint the town
Let’s shut it down
Can a secret message be discerned by pulling these words out of context? Nope! The Black Eyed Peas stand for nothing deeper. (But let's pause and applaud the casual use of “L'chaim” in a Top 40 hit.)
The album captures a 12 year old’s idea of adulthood: a world where drinking to excess, partying all night, and jumping on the sofa have no repercussions. The E.N.D. offers no introspection, metaphors, or lessons learned. The Black Eyes Peas say what they mean, and they mean to have a good, good night.
But the place where The Peas really shine? The B-sides. I had never heard these songs before, and they blew my tiny little mind. “Ring-a-ling” is a song about phone sex that triumphantly rhymes “ring-a-ling” with “ding-a-ling.”
This. Song. Is. Bonkers. The only explanation? Will.i.am fed the basic ideas of phone sex to a pop-writing robot, and some algorithm spewed out lyrics like this:
I highly recommend reading the lyrics in full. I also recommend printing them out and reading them at a poetry slam. If I staged a dramatic reading of Black Eyed Peas lyrics, would you come?
I listened to the album from start to finish, sometimes laughing in mirth, sometimes pressing my hand over my mouth in blissful disbelief. Then I got to my grandma’s and had a sensible lunchtime salad before running to Jewel Osco to buy her dish soap. This is not an afternoon autotuned by the Black Eyed Peas, but by then I knew the truth: Partying is a state of mind.
The Peas worship at the altar of holy fucked-up-edness: that immaculate place where the world blurs in friendly colors and your limbs buzz. This is not a perpetual state, but a destination to pursue again and again. And yes, maybe that’s alcoholism, but in this fantasy world ruled by Will.i.am and Dutchess Fergie, there’s no such thing as alcohol poisoning or substance abuse or pissing yourself on stage in front of a humongous crowd.
Towards the end of the album, The Peas do try to get real. “Now Generation” is a hot take on the millennial mindset done entirely in wannabe Dr. Suess rhymes. This song sure gives you a lot to think about--namely, that The Peas have spent maybe 20 minutes online in the course of their collective lives.
The narrator of this song wants everything NOW. The Peas do their best to show, and not just tell, that this narrator is kind of a brat. The core message of this song contradicts the themes of instant gratification celebrated through the rest of the album, but we’re going to let it slide because “Now Generation” gives us wonderful word vomit like:
Wow, I have no idea what any of that means. Who is Brother Boat? When I googled it (my go-to response as a member of the Now Generation) the top result was a link to Home Brothers Boats in Folsom, California: “We have a great selection of pre-owned boats available now!” Is this secondhand boat store somehow connected to the pop supergroup that has sold 58 million singles worldwide? Inconclusive.
I could wax poetic on the sweet naivete of the album’s lyrics. I could pull in more half-assed Wikipedia research about how successful The Peas have been. I could get psuedo-intellectual and dust off my best criticism jargon.
But you know what? I’m going to let them close it out. Here is The Black Eyed Peas’ wish for themselves, for you, for me, for everyone from a song called (of course) "Party All the Time":
The switch from first person plural to first person singular reveals the truth: We are the Peas, and the Peas are us, and we are all united. Now let’s go out and smash it like oh my god.