December 13, 2010


Tonight, Tonight, Tonight

"There are three things you have to say to women to get them into bed," writer Lisa Carver recalled her father telling her. "They light up the room; they're different from other women; and you've never felt like this before."

"Here's the situation," Enrique Iglesias explains in the chorus of "Tonight." "Nobody's ever made me feel the way that you do." He's getting ready to drop the bomb that's the song's reason for being — or, rather, either an F-bomb or a damply euphemistic L-squib, depending on which version of "Tonight" you're hearing.

Before he gets there, though, he's got a couple of additional rhetorical contortions to go through, and like a lot of seductions, they have less to do with actual desire than with reinforcing the seducer's image. Even the guest rap is very much part of the formula here — and naturally the rapper who turns up halfway through the song is Ludacris, in the tradition of his guest verses on one-word-of-pillow-talk-titled hits like "Yeah!" and "Oh" and "Baby." "You know my motivation/Given my reputation," Enrique Auto-Croons. That's an old trick: mentioning in passing that everybody knows the actual point you're trying to make.

But establishing a reputation is the whole purpose of "Tonight": a way to make Enrique's likeable, nearly guy-next-door (by pop-star standards) persona a little bit rougher and more textured, like Michael Jackson's let-the-music-drop-out-so-everyone-hears-it "stop f---in' with me" in the middle of "Scream." It's not totally convincing, especially given how detached Iglesias' performance is from most of the song's words. When he sings "you're so damn pretty," it comes out sounding as if "dampriddy" is some kind of value-neutral descriptor. (Sadly, "you're different from other women" wouldn't have fit "Tonight"'s meter.)

And Iglesias really is kind of a softie, even here. It's pretty slick of him to frame a seduction as an explanation — not a statement of desire, or even a boast of what's in store like, say, Spinal Tap's "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight," but a statement of fact, in what might be called the anticipatory present tense. The Achilles' heel of "Tonight" is that its clean version substitutes "I'm loving you" for the payoff line — and, even in the dirty version, Enrique throws in a "loving" right at the end of the song. Dude! you can imagine the lyric's object objecting--I thought this was a booty call! No L-words! You're okay to get home, right?

The real giveaway line is the lead-in to the hook: "please excuse me, I don't mean to be rude." Enrique does mean to be rude, of course, and the sad thing is that he doesn't quite manage to be, in a year where Cee-Lo's "F**k You" has already gotten a Grammy nomination and managed to be significantly more musically shocking. It wouldn't have hurt him to take a cue from a much less polite artist who's much more apologetic about articulating his desires. "Excuse me, baby," Prince sang on "Alphabet St." a few decades ago. "I don't mean 2 be rude." (Prince is careful always to articulate "to" as a number.) He stutters, he softens his position with "I guess... if U don't mind," and finally he gets around to stating his request: "I would like 2... watch." This in a song that mostly seems to be about oral sex—which means it raises the intriguing question of what else is going on.

Most of all, Iglesias' particular joke isn't shocking because it's been told before: The Notorious B.I.G. beat it to the punch by 13 years with "#!*@ You Tonight." (That's the actual title, by the way, and #!*@ what you heard.) The glory of that track was that it was the first to cut through the euphemistic Barry White-isms and catalogues of luxury goods that had become the lingua franca of slow jams, in favor of "eight-tracks and six-packs while I hit that." B.I.G. even enlisted slow-jam master R. Kelly to sing a hook that punts "big spendin'/And all that sweet winin' and dinin'" to the curb.

Like "Tonight," it's a song built around a jump-cut — all about what Kells, or maybe Biggie, is doing as he announces it. The difference is that it's more convincingly about real sex, and funny to boot. "Like a wind-face Rolex, you just shine," Biggie declares. That's one way of saying someone lights up a room.