Jesse Jarnow

“candy shop” – 50 cent featuring olivia

week of March 19, 2005
#1 this week, #1 last week, 7 weeks on chart

So, there’s all this backstory to 50 Cent and — while I guess I’ve read it through a few times — I don’t instinctively connect it to “Candy Shop.” No matter how much I listen to it, the music that tends to penetrate the Top 10 often sounds positively exotic to my ears. Or at least it does so in this context, sitting at my desk late at night. Hearing pop in public makes perfect sense to me. “How obvious!” I’ll think if I hear one of these tunes coming out of the speakers of a passing car, its sonics blending with the natural audio environment of Brooklyn or Manhattan, circa 2005. But here, in my private space, amidst poctcards and Polaroids tacked to the walls, it feels very foreign.

A history of drugs and violence notwithstanding, the voice that sings “Candy Shop” sounds — to me — either bored or real baked. Either way, I don’t believe it when he intones “so seductive” during the song’s lead-in. (But, then again, I already admitted that I’m basically a tourist, so I’m willing to concede that maybe it’s a part of some local mating ritual.) But, to me, 50 sounds apathetic about the whole process of seduction — possibly even disdainful, if one allows the ominous orchestral loop to be some kind of mirror of the singer’s emotional state. I heard somebody say that this song was tailor-made to be played in strip joints, and I think that about nails it. That is not sex as a treat; this is sex as an inevitability, a reality as desperate and weirded out as other parts of the human psyche.

What makes the song unique — and creepy — is its lack of humor (well underscored by the mechanical deep thump/finger snap groove). It’s not that the lyrics aren’t funny. Because they could be. Sex as candy ain’t exactly a new conceit, but it’s a reliable one. “I’m trying to explain, baby, the best way I can / I melt in your mouth, girl, not in your hand,” 50 sings, and then laughs. It’s a satisfied laugh, not a shared one. The punchline serves nobody but the teller. It’s amazing how much the backing track defines this. It could be remixed into something way happier, but it would likely lose all of its peculiar sexuality.

Pop music is often so positively dumb that surrendering to it becomes a compact between two people dancing with each other, both willing to overlook (or just not care about) how silly it is, such that they might get it on. “Candy Shop” inspires a similar effect, except — instead of its mindlessness — our potential couple must jointly forget about the song’s pimples-and-all pathos. Together. Isn’t that sweet?