A Peak in the 21st Century Popular Culture: A Literary Analysis of the Lyrics to the Song ‘Swalla’ by Jason Derulo (ft. Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign)

By Rali Chorbadzhiyska

*Do not be scared by the size of this article! Short analysis follows each stanza from the original text.

                Welcome to the 2017 unambiguous ambiguity of lyrics! Usually I would discuss the expectations set up by the title of a literary text but I prefer to refrain from speculation for once and leave the conclusions for after the analysis. 🙂

For this Dancehall banger, Jason Derulo teams up with Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign who unite powers to stretch the limits of Pop Culture acceptability and its feminist claims.

 

[Intro: Nicki M]

Drank

Young Money

This beginning reinvents the tradition of an epigraph by using the opportunity to praise the sponsor rather than the inspirer. ‘Young Money’ is the name of Lil Wayne’s label to which Nicki Minaj is signed, so it is only natural for her to thank the person who gives the money for the song. Moreover, in popular culture this type of a shout out that shows one takes pride in representing a label is a necessary sign of loyalty to the eponymous sponsor! Who might as well be the inspirer, let’s cut them some slack.

Love in a thousand different flavors

I wish that I could taste them all tonight

No, I ain’t got no dinner plans

So you could bring all your friends

I swear that to a-all y’all my type

In the very first line the speaker, in this case aligning personalities with the performer of the text/song Jason Derulo, identifies the main occupation of the song – ‘Love’. The first person perspective is evident from the usage of the personal pronoun ‘I’ and allows for a peak into the protagonist’s privacy! The speaker evokes ambiguous imagery that makes the reader wonder-  what are the flavors of Love? But at least the reader understands Jason celebrates abundance and difference because those ambiguous flavours are ‘a thousand’ and various!

The speaker denies having any ‘dinner plans’ which hints at the flaneur nature of his character.The reader can already imagine him strolling aimlessly and contemplating existence!

He readily invites the addressee of the lyrics and their friends over, an undeniably generous and selfless offer. Jason is a man of his word and swears he’d enjoy having everyone around. The unspecified ‘you’ is an inclusive address that makes any listener welcome, in addition to the fictional recipient from the song. In vernacular, the speaker promises that after all everyone (a-all y’all) is his type. A man with a big heart.

He then goes on to outline the menu for the evening:

All you girls in here, if you’re feeling thirsty

Come on take a sip, ‘cause you know what I’m servin’, ooh

Jason is being all polite and considerate with his guests. In case anyone is thirsty, they can ‘take a sip’, here his generosity is questionable (we were hoping for more than a sip) so let’s assume it was a figure of speech of an ambiguous content (but what are we sipping?).

I guess his parties are extremely secretive since he is ‘winking’ at the unknown addressee with the line ‘you know what I’m servin’’; the reader, however, remains unenlightened and to their best guesses.

Shimmy shimmy yay, shimmy yay, shimmy ya (drank)

Swalla-la-la (drank)

Freaky, freaky gyal

Repetition. That’s one thing about that chorus.

The first sentence recalls the 20th century body practice of the ‘Shimmy Dance’. It is characterised by rapid body movements and could potentially be suggestive, especially since it’s been linked to striptease and burlesque, according to the article on ‘streetswing’. So, this song must be about the bodily expressions of love.

Moving on, the chorus mentions the title of the song by reiterating its ending syllable ‘la’ repeating it twice; how playful! Yet still ambiguous since the reader cannot be entirely sure about the object of consumption. Anyway, it has something to do with love and dancing, no?

The addressee is finally revealed – ‘freaky gyal’! The patois pronunciation of the word ‘girl’ roots this masterpiece within the dancehall canon. Let the reader forget about the sales and the potential purpose of these artists who come from the islands but have exploited their heritage because anything sexual provokes and succeeds in Pop Culture.

Shimmy shimmy shimmy yay, shimmy yah

Bad girls gon’ swalla-la-la

Bust down on my wrist in this bitch

My pinky-ring bigger than his

Met her out in Beverly Hills, ay

Dolla got too many girls, ay

Met her out in Beverly Hills

All she wear is red bottom heels

When she back it up, put it on the Snap

When she droppin’ low, put it on the Gram

DJ poppin’, she gon’ swallow that

Champagne poppin’, she gon’ swallow that

Just when the reader might assume the repetition has been enough, Ty Dolla $ign kindly reminds of the refrain: ‘shimmy, shimmy’. He adds an epithet to define the addressee as belonging to the group of ‘bad’ girls. This introduces a complicated dilemma – is it good or bad to be ’bad’? According to Ty bad girls are going to ‘swalla-la-la’, which is, after all, what he and Jason would like to happen (given they express the urge from the title and the repetition in the chorus). Thus, ‘bad girls’ are, in fact, the ones to which the song aims to appeal and they are transformed into subjectively ‘good’ girls for submitting.

‘Bust down on my wrist in this bitch’ – I just give up on this one. However, Ty elaborates on the hand imagery by stating the dominance of his ‘pinky-ring’ which is bigger than the one of the assumed nemesis (‘his’, who is he?).

There is a shift in speaker perspective when he meets the girl in Beverly Hills. Ty refers to himself in third person: ‘Dolla got too many girls’. I suppose he is trying to flatter but also distance himself. After all, the image of a womanizer will not, logically, attract more women. No?

The lyrics shows a great engagement with modern day technologies and, generally, Capitalism. From the introductory epigraph ‘Young Money’ to the ‘red bottom heels’ reference to Christian Louboutin, ‘Snap’ for Snapchat and ‘Gram’ for Instagram. Taking into account the recognisability of these brands by the public, one could extend the claim to Popular culture in general; as in, it is all about making and spending money. Who isn’t?

Thankfully, at last, the reader is given a hint at what is about to be swallowed – the popping Champagne! Definitely. The confusion remains when it comes to the subject of celebration but since Jason proved himself a generous man, let’s not question his honest intentions for fun.

Bad gyal no swalla nuttin, word to the Dalai Lama

He knows I’m a fashion killa, word to John Galliano

He coppin’ (hyperlink to Urban Dic) that Valentino, ain’t no telling me ‘no’

I’m that bitch, and he know, he know

How y’all wifing these thots? You don’t get coins for that

I’m having another good year, we don’t get blimps for that

Pussy game still cold, we don’t get minks for that

When I’m poppin’ them bananas, we don’t link chimps for that

I gave these bitches 2 years, now your time’s up

Bless her heart, she throwing shots but every line sucks

I’m in that cherry red foreign with the brown guts

My shit slappin’ like dude did LeBron’s nuts

It is turn for Nicki Minaj, the female representative in this collaboration of geniuses, to speak her mind. Her first line redefines, once again, the nature of a ‘bad gyal’. According to Nicki, a bad girl doesn’t swallow anything (‘nuttin’’). The addressee becomes the antagonist because they refuse to obey; but at least it makes sense to be called ‘bad’. Since there is no detailed explanation of the dichotomy contained in a single epithet, I guess we’ll just have to accept the contradiction.

The shout out to the Dalai Lama, indeed, comes as a surprise given the lyrics’ party-related (and potentially profane?) nature. Nicki is so certain that the bad girls don’t ‘swalla’ anything that she is ready to sweat to the Dalai Lama. A woman of her word.

Nicki supplies material for the Capitalist canon of this song, adding names like John Galliano and Valentino.

She also expresses her disagreement with ‘how y’all wifing these thots’. According to Nicki, ‘y’all’ are trying to make exemplary wives out of ‘’experienced’’ girls. And she disapproves, saying that people ‘don’t get coins for that’, i.e. no congratulations.

The line on the ‘pussy game’ appears tricky because the addressee is unclear. What she might mean is that those who are not slick with the ladies, do not get minks for a cold pussy. But then, it’s a rap verse in a pop song – is it even supposed to make sense?

The recollection of bananas has a phallic connotation, but what the hell is generally going on in this line?!

Last but not least, the female rapper asserts dominance through the strength of her lines against her rivals like Remy Ma (with whom they’ve recently reignited an old beef) and also her nicer possessions. The imagery of  a ‘cherry red foreign with the brown guts’ evokes the mental image of an expensive red foreign car with brown leather interior, as also suggested by Rap Genius. Smooth, Nicki.

The rhyming of ‘guts’ with ‘nuts’ shows the author’s detailed attention to body parts. I am not sure what it brings to the text or subsequently means for the analysis of the text other than this was an available option for rhyming.

We are also sorry, LeBron.

 

 

So what are those, good or bad, girls mentioned in the lyrics urged to ‘swalla-la-la’? The unambiguous ambiguity of popular culture implies it might not be just champagne. If so, is this empowering for women? Or calling it ‘dancehall’ and linking it to the Caribbean tradition of sexuality (exploited in the entertainment industry for the purpose of shock) excuse the underlining content of the text?

There is one woman in this song and she takes the chance to rap about irrelevance – fashion, bananas, and LeBron. As fun as it is to listen to or get down to at the club, is it really a valuable piece of music? But then, why shouldn’t we be allowed to use Pop music to celebrate the death of the gag reflex?!

 

*Expect the video soon!

 

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