Time Out New York
The Hot Seat
Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” crooner spills about “Fuck You.”
There’s no pleasure quite like yelling a profanity at the top of your lungs, and Cee Lo Green knows it. His hit “Fuck You” is rising on seven of Billboard’s charts, and the song’s text-only video—not even the “real” version—has gotten more than 7 million YouTube hits. The self-described “rude boy” made his name with Goodie Mob before touring the world and wearing an assortment of ridiculous wigs as one half of Gnarls Barkley. Though he canceled a recent New York City show, he promises to return: “I am going to set New York on fire,” he whispered to us when we called the hip-hop star on tour in Europe. Green gave us the lowdown on his potty mouth and the ultimate kiss-off anthem to gold diggers.
How does it feel to be the man of the moment?
Am I really? [Laughs] I guess I am having a moment, though. But I’m sure someone else is too, wherever they’re standing at.
Working on the song, when did you know you had a hit on your hands?
Well, in all honesty, with a song entitled “Fuck You,” you would be more certain about where it wouldn’t work than where it would. So no, it took us about a year to be completely sure. It goes back and forth, like, “Well, I love this record,” but then tomorrow it’s like, “Eh, let’s try a cowbell.”
You cowrote “Fuck You” with Bruno Mars.
This particular day, I was walking into the session and I could hear the framework of the hook. And in the years I had been making this record, I had gone through a bit of distress—being that I had recorded over 70 songs and nothing seemed to be sticking. All great music, but [not] that quantum leap of a single. So I was all up for saying “fuck you,” because I was perturbed with the time it was taking.
I love how you sing the chorus like it’s true, like you really mean it.
Well, how could it be true, Sophie? I’m rich! [Laughs uproariously] Yeah. I’m joking. I was rich, now I’m just fortunate after taxes. So no, no, no, it’s not the whole truth. It’s a tale of trial and error—solely for entertainment.
You didn’t write it with one particular lady in mind?
No. No one would dare [do that]! But then again, I think we’re all able to separate ourselves from the story and apply the statement of “fuck you” to anything that has become a nuisance at one time or another. That’s where it holds true. Even as adults, it’s hard. It’s hard out there. I think we all need a good excuse, a golden excuse, to say “fuck you” out loud every once in a while.
Are parents going to get mad about the profanity?
The song is definitely tongue-in-cheek. You would have to be a total prude to take this song too seriously.
Are you wary of it being tagged as a novelty single?
Well, I know that term has a negative stigma attached to it. It’s no different than going to a novelty shop, though—meaning, a place where you can only get this in particular. So it becomes a collectible in its own right. I believe this moment in time will endure to a point where it can be considered a pop-cultural reference, an antique, if you will. At the very heart of it, it’s just good, clean fun.
The album is called The Lady Killer…
I mean, there’s different takes on the term lady-killer. First of all, I am a ladies’ man, obviously. But also, it’s a sophisticated way of saying I’m a lover and a fighter. Also, the same way that you can call a storm “she” or a ship “she,” you could also call our industry “she” as well. Our business is something you have to be kind and courteous and consistent with. You have to court it. So therefore, the game is the lady. The lady is the game, but my aim is on the game. Do you feel me?
Yes, I do feel you. Is the rest of the album as good as the song?
I think it is. Of course, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, and “Fuck You” has been quite a flare in the air.
You’ll be playing it at all your shows forever. Does that bother you?
[Laughs] I could see myself doing a cool Vegas version when I’m about 65. “Fuck you very much! Fuck you, ladies and gentlemen!”