Pop Song Review: Jeremih feat. YG – “Don’t Tell ‘Em”

Is there a Boxing Day-style post-holiday day for Halloween? If so, happy that! Anyway, today’s pop song review is “Don’t Tell ‘Em” by Jeremih featuring YG. Yes, Jeremih, as in the same bloke that gave us “Birthday Sex” a few years back. It’s actually pretty impressive how these one-hit wonders disappear for ages and then re-emerge without warning. I feel like there should be a forecast service set up for this sort of thing so I know when to drive out into the country.

NOTE: I had a hard time finding an official video for this song – I’m not even sure one exists – so it’s a fan-made video.

First impressions: Was that it? Ha, no, I kid, I… seriously, though, was that it?

The music: “Don’t Tell ‘Em” is a slick R&B jam set to a lush staccato beat dropping like beads of water to your ears. You know, like Chinese water torture.

Apart from some fizzing, whooshy synths in the background, some handclaps and a change of vocals there’s little to distinguish any sort of structure or movement here: the synth line doesn’t change so the verses, bridge and chorus just blend into each other like white towels on a clothing line. The only thing approaching a rise comes when the vocals start to get tangled up at the very end, which is hardly a good thing. It also borrows an idea from Snap’s “Rhythm is a Dancer”, but not enough to be worthwhile.

Here’s the part where I lay bare a pretty daft and huge prejudice: there’s only really one modern-ish R&B/hip hop song I have time for right now and that’s Blackstreet’s “No Diggity.” Clichéd choice, yes, but there we are. It’s also sort-of become my yardstick for modern R&B in general: a song doesn’t have to be as good as “No Diggity” because, frankly, that’s a weight category not one of these putzes even belongs in, but it should at least take pointers from what makes “No Diggity” work so well – its slick groove, smooth vocal delivery, infectious melody, crisp, danceable beat and laidback-yet-sexual atmosphere. Little marionette puppets playing along to the song are also a plus.

The groove of “Don’t Tell ‘Em” works like “No Diggity”, but Jeremih’s disinterested delivery and the gloopy synths don’t. Still, one out of three ain’t… oh wait, I guess it is pretty bad. No puppets, either, so no extra credit there. So yeah, no, the music to “Don’t Tell ‘Em” doesn’t really work. I mean, am I supposed to actually go off and have sex to this? I also can’t tell if the repeated “don’t tell ’em” bit sits on the wrong side of catchy or the right side of annoying, or somehow both like a musical “Yo Mamma” joke.

Before we continue with the lyrics, though, please take a moment to once again enjoy “No Diggity.” Thank me later.

The lyrics: “Don’t tell ’em, don’t tell ’em / you ain’t even, don’t tell ’em, don’t tell ’em / you ain’t even, you ain’t even gotta tell ’em, don’t tell ’em, don’t tell ’em / you ain’t even, don’t tell ’em, don’t tell ’em / you ain’t even, you ain’t even gotta tell ’em / don’t tell ’em, don’t tell ’em.” So just to clarify, you don’t want me to tell them? Right, got it. Sorry, who are they again?

Here’s the gist of it all: Jeremih and his sexy girl (which, given that the song is written in the second person, is you, so if you’re not a straight woman I’m not sure what you’re going to get out of it) like to have sex in all sorts of secret, nasty ways, but they don’t want anybody knowing about it. Hence “you ain’t even gotta tell ’em”, Jeremih apparently assuming that you would have been obliged to do so otherwise.

It also makes the assumption that other people would want to hear about all your weird sex stuff, which… okay, we live in a Western society that is possibly more liberal and open-minded when it comes to sex than it ever has been. As long as you’re all consenting adults of legal age, you can get up to whatever you want with however many people you want behind closed doors, and that’s cool with me. But here’s the thing: I’m also allowed to be totally uninterested in your sex antics if I want to be, so this whole “don’t tell ’em” schtick really only beckons the question, “yes, but who’s listening?” And who is? Well, there’s perverts. There’ll always be perverts.

“Rhythm is a dancer, I need a companion / Girl I guess that must be you.” Well that’s nice, if a little condescending: “yeah, I guess you’ll do. Come over here or whatever.”

“Body like the summer, fucking like no other / Don’t you tell ’em what we do.” Well that’s… okay, so you dropped the dance metaphor pretty quickly there, but that’s fine. It’s just… you could have at least carried it through the rest of the chorus. We all know what you’re up to here, you don’t have to spell it out for us. It’d also help with the “not telling everyone what you’re both up to” idea if you weren’t so keen to tell everyone what you’re both up to, y’know?

“You got gifts, bring em down the south pole.” North, surely? Either that’s a stripping reference or he’s actually in Antarctica right now waiting for his strange to come bring him some presents. Frankly the latter would make for a far more interesting song.

What I did notice is that the song seems to get sleazier and less respectful with each successive verse: we go from the classically seductive “grabbing the rhythm of your hips” in the first verse, to the baffling “just keep that ass rewindin'” in the second, to the downright dismissive “it’s that Twitter pussy I met on the Internet” in the third. The entire third verse is pretty depraved, actually: think any of the earlier chapters from The Dirt, only with less clever writing and ant-snorting.

I have to ask, though, exactly when did pop music get so overtly gross? Like, when did songwriters just abandon any attempt at metaphor, simile, irony or double entendre? There’s basically no attempt at anything in the way of intelligent lyricism here – the closest he gets is talking about getting his Twitter, ahem, “pussy / on my late-night thirsty, ‘cause it was late-night and I was thirsty”, which is somehow him trying too hard and yet not trying hard enough. He outright says “she wanna suck my dick and I’m cool with it” at one point, so when he says “don’t tell ’em” he’s obviously not talking about the old adage “show don’t tell”. Even Whitesnake have subtler lines when it comes to sex, and their name is Whitesnake.

Also, “I’m cool with it”? Are blowjobs something that bother Jeremih on most occasions, but he’s feeling generous today? He’s really not happy with this woman of his, is he? No wonder he doesn’t want her to tell anybody about them.

Also also, yes, somebody says “mustard on the beat” there at the beginning. No, I don’t know why either. I guess it must be an R&B thing. That lot and their sandwiches – what’re you gonna do, amiright?

EDIT: Turns out “mustard”, aka DJ Mustard, is the producer for the song, and “mustard on the beat” is his call sign of sorts. I didn’t know that before and, frankly, I don’t feel much better off now that I do.

Verdict: 2 out of 5. It’s pretty mediocre modern R&B, to be honest. If you like this kind of music and aren’t too fussy you’ll probably find some merit in it, but it’s no “No Diggity.” Which… would that then make it diggity?

Today’s double-up is “In the Closet” by Michael Jackson.

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