[image via Flickr]
It’s often said that it is a hundred times easier to write negatively about music than write positively. For years, ‘slam pieces’ on artists, records and singles have pervaded music journalism, with countless pieces on ‘Why Justin Bieber is X’ or ‘Why One Direction are Y’ being churned out by everyone from plucky GCSE students to fusty Comment Is Free columnists. And it’s turgid. Nobody wants to read a piece on the microaggressions found within Blank Space by Taylor Swift. Nobody wants to hear modern culture pronounced dead on arrival every time The X Factor comes back on. Sometimes, the bug just needs to crawl out of your arse.
It is for this reason that my attention has turned to Pitbull. For years, the bald-headed Cuban has been the doyen of the up-against-it culture columnist, with his nonsensical lyrics, extravagant lifestyle and general ubiquity long serving as ideal ammo for limp-wristed derision. Critics always turn to Pitbull as a synecdoche of a society in turmoil. “How can this pass for music?”, they cry. “How does this get recognition when bands like Arcade Fire get overlooked?” And their questions go unanswered, chanted into the clickbait void to an audience of jaded twentynothings in passive agreement. Well, for the second question, the answer is ‘Arcade Fire are shit’, but that’s beside the point.
It’s easy to hate Pitbull. He is the anthem to every grotty club you’ve ever been to. He is the pounding pulse of every mucky night in Peterborough, every happy hour in Kavos, every MTV reality show. It’s so easy to mock his ruthless commitment to silver suits and massive self-aggrandizement, but turn the other cheek: let Pitbull into your life.
Pitbull the man is wonderfully quixotic. Born in Miami to Cuban expatriates, by 3 he could recite verbatim the works of Jose Marti – the revolutionary poet and so-called ‘Apostle of Cuban Independence’. And yet, the young Pitbull – or as he was known, Armando Perez – suffered an unhappy childhood fraught with family difficulties, drug dealing and relocation. Indeed, Pitbull left school at 16, eschewing completing his studies in favour of immersing himself in the Miami rap scene. He would later celebrate the completion of his studies with glee, as seen in his wonderful college graduation tweet:
He signs off his triumphant picture with ‘dale’ – a Latino phrase roughly translating as “Go for it!” which Pitbull has sought to popularise. As gauche as it may seem, Pitbull seems to promote ‘dale’ as a phrase with a genuine desire to motivate his fans. Indeed, for some Pitbull diehards, ‘#Dale’ has become a way of life, with fans being quoted as saying that ‘Dale’ – to them – means “Just keep working hard and don't look back”. Trite, I know, but if that’s what they derive from Pitbull then he must be doing something right.
It’s all well and good talking about how nice Pitbull seems, but that counts for nothing musically. Dave Grohl is apparently ‘the nicest man in rock music’ as any awful pop-punk bore will one day tell you, and still, the Foo Fighters endure in mediocrity. So let’s get to the brass tacks: Pitbull’s great. Don’t tell me you’re so cynical that you can’t kick off when Fireball comes on. Don’t say you’re the person stood at the back while the whole club chants obnoxiously to Hotel Room Service. Why be reserved? Pitbull’s life is a one-man carnival; twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, all across the world – as he always reminds us – and his music is an invitation to that carnival. Ignore the lyrics, abandon the musicality and nuance, and enjoy yourself. If you haven’t had a night where you’ve earnestly enjoyed Don’t Stop The Party, you probably haven’t had very much fun in your life.
Pitbull doesn’t pretend to be an auteur. For all his proclamations of being Mr Worldwide, you won’t find him on Pitchfork any time soon, other than for one of their risibly written jokey album reviews. You won’t find Pitbull indulging himself like Kanye, torturing himself like Drake or curating himself like Lady Gaga, but he isn’t trying to be an alternative. He isn’t trying to redefine music, or to hold a mirror to society, or to lead the zeitgeist: Pitbull wants you to join the party. So why not?