Ithaca, New York. — Patches of snow cling to the muddy earth in the city’s picturesque nineteenth-century cemetery just. In the nearby gorge the creek builds momentum ever hour as the thaw gathers force.
Just beyond the graveyard, uphill towards the university, the fraternity brothers will soon emerge from their beer-soaked dens to bask in the spring sunshine and advertise themselves to the world in general and the nearby sororities in particular. The sound of boom box and the scent of grilling meat will waft over the tombs of city fathers and their wives (as the subterranean female residents of these twenty acres are almost always referred to on the family grave stones), many of their young children, escaped slaves, Civil War dead. “If music be the food of love, play on!” is how Shakespeare put it in the opening lines of Twelfth Night, though I doubt if even his theatrical imagination could have foreseen the rituals of American fraternities of the twenty-first century.
These college students often serve up current musical fare with the burgers, but there is also a strong classical impulse to their soundtracks: canonic works such as the Rolling Stones’ “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” can often be heard hammering the charcoaled air. Rock ’n roll is the music of the college barbecue, and long will it be so. But these sensory ambassadors of Spring impart another message: taste concerns not only the tongue and nose, but also the ear.
Before wheeling the grills and kegs out onto the patio and filling the 1,000 gallon tubs with cans of beer cooled with the remains last of the long winter’s ice and snow, many of these students will journey south next week for Spring Break. Shakespeare’s iambs apply there, too, from Fort Lauderdale to Mazatlan: short-long, short-long, short-long.
Since its appearance in 2010 on the debut album of Jason Derulo (né Desrouleaux), “Strobe Light” has remained a Spring Break favorite. Having ornamented his name with an umlaut—Derülo—back in 2010 for his breakout, the chanteur has since shed this particular Heavy Metal linguistic accessory. Derulo was always more diacritically adventurous than musically: for all the bright bodies of his videos and antic effects of his songs, his products and keening falsetto have a numbing sameness. But he does have his finger, or more likely his tongue, on the youth pulse of today with this frenzied mix of synth-sounds, neo-disco-hip-hop beats, and breathy, nasal crooning.
It’s no surprise that the venerable five-year-old “Strobe Light” holds its position on many Spring Break playlists since it begins with a well-aimed vernal salvo: “Lose Your F•••cking Mind!”—perfect music for a poolside dance party fueled by Sex on the Beach or other sweet cocktails like the “Redheaded Slut” comprised mainly of another diacritical classic, Jägermeister, along with peach schnapps and cranberry juice.
Derulo’s “Wiggle” released last year also investigates basic Spring Break themes: fun in the sun and in the sack. The opening of the video finds the relentlessly potent popstar asleep in a emperor-sized bed with a seven women cuddling around him: like Zeus and a brace of nymphs. We then cut to a pool party of epic drinking and dancing, intercut with shots of the bouncing “big” bottoms praised in the song. For this buffet of male fantasies Derulo is joined by Snoop Dogg, recently described as a “misogynist wretch” by a judge in Northern Ireland. As he vigilantly defends the borders of macho-dom, Mr. Dogg is also facing a lawsuit for a homophobic Instagram post. Dogg, you’ve come a long way from your devout musical beginnings as a boy soprano in Long Beach, California’s Golgatha Trinity Baptist Church choir!
Together Derulo and Dogg mix a cocktail filled with the essential spring break ingredients: hypermasculinity, homophobia, misogyny (3 Quarts Lemon Juice).
This quick dip into the boiling waters of the Spring Break charts demands a cocking of the ear in the direction of the biggest singing fish on the Florida beach: Luke Bryan. If you thought Derulo had found the lowest common denominator for sex and stupidity, give Bryan a look and listen. Bryan’s been a beachbusting phenomenon of the Spring Break scene in Florida since the success of his 2009 extended play release, Spring Break With All My Friends, which included such masterpieces as “Sorority Girl” and “Take My Drunk Ass Home.”
The sheen of wholesomeness on furlough for a few days and nights of Floridian libertinage coats many of these songs, as it does “Sorority Girl”:
“You got your sundress on for game day
Just to drink beer on an old tailgate
You were born and raised to be a southern belle
But in a place like this you like to raise a little hell
You got your year-round tan
You’re on the five year plan
You shake your little pom poms up in the stands.”
This is followed by encouragement for making the boyfriend back home jealous by means of Spring Break promiscuity and then praise for the various sorority brands from Kappa Delta to Phi Mu. Never has soft porn been softer: this is to music what Charmian is to toilet tissue.
We have now come to 2015 and the seventh consecutive Spring Break EP extravaganza from Bryan. He stopped numbering these things last year with Spring Break 6 … Like We Ain’t Ever which started out at number two on the Billboard Charts last March. The latest is called Spring Break … Checkin’ Out launched at Panama City Beach just two weeks ago. If you think “Checkin’ Out” sounds like a valedictory phrase announcing the end of the series, don’t get your hopes up. There’s too much money it.
Complacency has set in, however, as most of the tracks on the latest record are reheated from Spring Break 6, like “She Get Me High”:
She get me high
She get me low
She got the key to this old bronco
In her bare feet, or in her high heels
No Matter how she moving
It’s all the same thrill
It is surprising to me that, as presented in the video — and even more in the live beachfront concert footage—this fare can whip up the throngs of college students into a heightened state of hedonistic readiness, since with few minor changes in the lyrics and none at all in the music you’ve got the strains of Christian praise:
He get me high
He get me low
Drive me down the road to Jericho
In between Spring Break 1 and 7 we’ve had such gems as “Cold Beer Drinker” and “I’m Hungover.” For this Bryan is reigning Entertainer of the Year of the Country Music Association, joining the likes of past winners, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Loretta Lynn.
In all Bryan’s Spring Break hits the electric sheen of guitar and the sibiliant hush of percussion impart a laid back, sun-kissed haze to the sound, as over-managed as the bikini lines of all the babes ogled in the Bryan videos. Never has such sedate music been used to stoke a bacchanale. One scans the crowds of beachfront revelers and catches sight of only a single well-placed (or likely planted) black body among the sea of tanned, white skin. Derulo and Dogg are at another party.