Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Shortcomings of "Trading Places"

As ANDY and I flipped through the local radio stations on the way to the grocery store the other night, we came across an USHER single that, despite its having been around for two years, neither of us had ever heard before. The name of the song is "TRADING PLACES" and it sees the R&B star serenading his lover with a proposal to perform a temporary role reversal in their relationship. Since initially hearing the song, I have listened to it repeatedly and watched its video accompaniment, in attempt to better understand what sounds like his attempt to usurp R. KELLY's position as the king of the R&B EROTIC ROLE-PLAYERS.

While looking for more information about the song, I came across an interview from September 2008 that speaks with my boy about his then-new single. When asked about it, Usher stated that "It's gonna be hot. The story is, like, wishful thinking for all men to have a woman who takes control and compliments us the way we compliment them...We wanted to do something very forward-thinking." Let us examine this statement in regards to the song's first verse:
I know what you're used to
We're gonna do something different tonight

Now we're gonna do this thing a little different tonight

You gonna come over and pick me up in your ride

You gonna knock, then you gonna wait

Ooh, you gonna take me on a date
You're gonna open my door and I'ma reach over and open yours

Usher sings these words not as suggestions, but as demands. Without regards for anything his lover may want to do, he prescribes exactly how this trading of places will occur. Despite his attempts to hand the control to the woman, Usher really maintains the upper-hand in his fantasy; he, in fact, forces her to do his every bidding.

The progressiveness of the song becomes even more questionable when one considers the gender roles he summons as what he will do for her. He proclaims that he will wake her up with breakfast in bed, walk the dog, and iron her shirt--tasks for which she will be responsible after the fantasy ends. Usher is apparently responsible for buying her things, taking out the trash, ordering Chinese food, and whispering in her ear how bad he wants to "do her." How forward-thinking can a song be when it emphasizes the ephemerality of the role-reversal and only highlights the shortcomings of their heteronormative relationship?

The most shocking part of the song is the refrain in which Usher sings "I'm always on top, tonight I'm on the bottom." This may be presumptuous, but I never expected a cat like Usher, him being a major SEX-SYMBOL, to partake only in missionary coitus.

The music video for the song only furthers all of the above points as it features a lingerie-clad woman who is putty in Usher's hands. She pseudo-actively pursues him, but is only present to make him more desirable. The beginning of the video even sees Usher watching her as she swims around in a fish tank (pictured), serving as his pet who is available when he wants to see something pretty, but unable to escape the confines of her role. The two even reenact the famous scene from BLOW UP in which the photographer straddles his subjects, pinning her down and making her into an object. Guess who plays the photographer?

While I suppose one has to admire Usher's attempt to make a progressive hit R&B single, his execution leaves a lot to be desired. He reinforces just about every idea that the song seems aimed at combating. I can totally see why this single never even cracked into the Top 40 on the BILLBOARD HOT 100. All this being said, I still think "U Don't Have to Call" is a great song.


Kid Trails said...

wow that was hilarious AND insightful

Sam Spina said...

i noticed he references a part 2 at the end of the song, does he mean that literally, like there's going to be a "we're taking our places back" song or does he just mean the next night he's going to 'do her' like he always does? You seem to be an expert on the subject so maybe you know if this song has a sequel

Brandon said...

Yeah, I don't know what Part 2 he's talking about. I've looked for it, but have found no results yet. I do know that in the unedited version of the song he says "We gonna switch this thing back/I'm gonna put it on your ass." I guess that means sodomy is up next, but his wording is too cryptic to be sure.