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|Written by Dante Kleinberg|
|Thursday, 11 June 2009 19:00|
Bananas. They're sweetly delicious, naturally yellow, high in potassium, and cousins to the equally awesome (if not quite as versatile) plantains. Truly, they're among the upper echelon of fruits. Yet we don't have quite the same reverence for them as we do the apple or even the grape. That's because bananas have a dark side. They're phallic, and thus may be eaten seductively or employed in other even less wholesome ways. Their peels are slippery and can lead to all sorts of madcap situations. Perhaps that's why bananas have become synonymous with insanity?
In 2005, when society was coming apart at the seams and madness cried out on every street corner, it took the United States' own unofficial poet laureate Gwen Stefani to hammer the point home in her opus "Hollaback Girl," giving voice to what the world was feeling. "This shit is bananas," she proclaimed, "B-A-N-A-N-A-S."
That's all well and good, and makes perfect sense; in fact, I'm pretty sure she won the Nobel Peace Prize for that piece of literary genius. Only one question remains: why spell out the word "bananas"? If you're trying to hold up a mirror to the world and make everyone understand how bananas "this shit" has become, why also erect a barrier to understanding by shattering "bananas" into its component letters - momentarily paralyzing your audience as they attempt to reform the word in their heads?
I sent Stefani a thought telegram but received no response, so I was forced to turn to her brothers and sisters in the music community, who also chose to "spell it out" for their listeners, in hopes that I might find a common bond between them.
There are two common situations in which one might need to spell out a word. The first is when you're around children (particularly children who are terrible spellers) and you don't want them to understand what you're saying. Tammy Wynette discussed this in her song "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" back in 1968. She sang, "I love you both and it will be pure H-E-double-L for me / Oh, I wish that we could stop this D-I-V-O-R-C-E." But given that Gwen mentions "bananas" immediately before she begins to spell it, we can assume preserving young innocence wasn't her intention.
The second situation happens when you want to reaffirm, in the douchiest way possible, something the other person isn't getting (e.g. "What part of 'I forgot' don't you understand? Forgot! F-O-R-G-O-T!"). This debate tactic is akin to restating your argument in imitation sign language. It's used famously by Aretha Franklin in the song "Respect" back in 1965. "R-E-S-P-E-C-T / Find out what it means to me." Though by what method you'll "find out" is not explicitly stated, we can presume it starts with disrespecting her, and ends with you getting slapped upside your head. We may be onto something here . . . It certainly seems possible that Stefani simply wanted to reiterate her premise in a notably douchey way, but let's test a few more hypotheses just to be sure.
For a song to be rhythmically appealing, it must first create patterns, and then adhere to them. Many a touching song lyric has been derailed by the need to add an extra syllable somewhere to keep the rhythm going. Sometimes it's easier just to go, "na na na na na" or "cumma cumma down dooby-do down down" then to actually think of something fresh to say. Can spelling out words be simple musical filler? It appears so, at least if you ask the Bay City Rollers, who famously sang, "S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y . . . Night!" in 1976 for no discernible reason. Could that have been Van Morrison's intention when he sang "Gloria; G-L-O-R-I-A" with his band Them in 1964? Was he just marking time? And what of "Fergalicious" by Black Eyed Peas frontwoman Fergie? In that song, will.i.am describes his friend Fergie as being "T to the A to the S-T-E-Y /Girl, you're tasty." Did he add the extra E to "tasty" for rhythmic reasons or did he really not know how the word is spelled? We may never be sure.
It's undeniable that spelling can be difficult. Spell-check software has shown that the average human being is incapable of making it through a single sentence without screwing up at least onse. Could Gwen's intention be to educate us? Now we're getting somewhere. Produce, in general, is notoriously difficult to spell. Recall that former Vice-President of the United States Dan Quayle thought "potato" was spelled P-O-T-A-T-O-E. With Gwen by our side, we'll never make that mistake with "bananas."
Whether it's to protect little children, restate her premise like a douche, meaninglessly fill time, or educate the world in proper spelling, we can be certain only of this: whatever you might have heard, Gwen Renée Stefani is nobody's hollaback girl.
Err . . . whatever that means.