(8) chumbawamba, "tubthumping"
(1) right said fred, "i'm too sexy"

Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchfadness twitter poll. Polls closed @ 9am Arizona time on Saturday, March 11.

Which song is the best?
(1) Right Said Fred, "I'm Too Sexy"
(8) Chumbawamba, "Tubthumping"


The first time I heard “Tubthumping” on the radio, I thought: Cool! Drunken British soccer hooligans have a catchy new party anthem! I pictured lots of shaved-headed guys in greasy working-class pubs sloshing pints as they raised them in the air to the triumphant chorus: “I get knocked down, I get back up again. Nothing’s going to keep me down!” Yeah, go Chelsea! Or Liverpool, or other semi-obscure British town that would eventually vote to leave Europe!
     The song, which felt like one of those anthems meant to be shouted hoarsely after your team has scored, or you have crushed a beer can against your head just for the hell of it, seemed a natural for the U.S., too. After all, we have sports teams we’re insane about, we almost certainly lead the world in smashing beer cans against our heads, and, more than any other country, we specialize in a kind of boastful defiance against the deeply buried insecurity that we’re not quite as great as we think. USA! USA! Nothing’s going to keep us down!
     I had hopes “Tubthumping” might supplant “We Will Rock You" by Queen as the song Americans stomped in rhythm to on football bleachers across America. “We Will Rock You” is a truly great song, but it’s 40 years old. [1] After all, if we’re really going to make America great again, shouldn’t we start by stealing a newer British song as our mindless party/sports anthem?
     Alas, that never happened, for several reasons. First, “Tubthumping” came out in 1997, before we had been informed we needed to make America great again. Second, the beat is a little too fast to stomp your feet to and, unfortunately, you have to be able to sing, at least a bit, to pull off the chorus. But the most significant reason the song never quite made it into the pantheon, and that Chumbawamba, the band that released it, were one-hit wonders in the United States, is that it was never the song we—or at least I—thought it was.
     Let’s start with the band. Chumbawamba sounds like: A. The name of a Star Wars character (probably a Wookie); B. A cute little Australian mammal distantly related to the koala bear; or C. Something a British soccer hooligan mumbles just before he falls off his stool. But what it actually was, was an anarchist-punk collective band that was a lot more interesting than any of those things.
     Chumbawamba (the name remains purposefully obscure. The band gave multiple explanations of how they came up with it, and freely confessed that all of them were lies) burned with a kind of anti-capitalist, anti-power-structure, leftist working-class ire that is largely unknown in the U.S., where working-class ire most often takes a Fox News inspired rightward turn. The band had a caustic sense of humor, but they were the real-deal when it came to their politics. They reportedly turned down $1.5 million from Nike to license “Tubthumping” for an ad campaign during a World Cup. They did accept $100,000 from General Motors for use of the song “Pass It along,” but gave the money to the activist group CorpWatch and the Independent Media Center, which used it for an environmentally-based campaign against GM.
     TubThumper, the album that included “Tubthumping” is considered their most user-friendly, mainstream work, even a bit of a sell-out among the take-no-prisoners part of their fan base, but it includes songs that address the Liverpool dock worker’s strike, homelessness and consumerism, all from a leftist, anarchist viewpoint that could easily tip over into tiresome demagoguery if they weren’t redeemed by their tunefulness and Chumbawamba’s always present sense of irreverence. They seem to be having fun, even when raising a middle finger toward everything from Tony Blair to the status obsessed British middle class (perhaps the same thing, I admit). Still, these lads and lasses were serious enough about their politics that they even did an album with Noam Chomsky for God’s sake, which, since it means surrendering any chance anyone will actually listen to your album, has to count as taking a genuine stand for your principles. [2]
     They had another minor hit in the U.K. and released quite a few albums that evidently did all right. But “Tubthumping” was really Chumbawamba’s fifteen minutes of fame. When they finally gave up the ghost in 2012, they went out with one of the more charming farewell notes in pop/rock history: “That's it then, it's the end. With neither a whimper, a bang or a reunion. Thirty years of ideas and melodies, endless meetings and European tours, press releases, sing-along choruses and Dada sound poetry, finally at an end . . . Thirty years of being snotty, eclectic, funny, contrary and just plain weird. What a privilege, and what a good time we've had." [3] 
     Listened to in the context of the band’s expressed ideology and other work, “Tubthumping” becomes something more and less than it seems. The upbeat chorus, which could be taken as a simple chant of working class defiance, is balanced against a second gentler refrain, in which female band member Lou Watts sings about “pissing the night away.” The melancholy tone of the line, sung in a sweet pure soprano, undercuts the song’s bravado, as if to acknowledge that the rest could be just an empty boast. Yes, we talk about taking a stand, but at the end of the day, we’re just as likely to end up getting pissed in a pub as we are to actually do anything. There’s a kind of quiet understanding and acceptance of human nature in that single line that puts “Tubthumping” up there with “Born in the USA” as one of the more misinterpreted rock anthems of all time. [4] It also explains why Chumbawamba never followed it up with something in the same vein. They were always more complicated than their one big hit appears on the surface.
     I have no idea how “Tubthumping” was viewed in England, but in America it faced an uphill struggle to ever connect in a larger socio-political sense. Is it possible for an upbeat-sounding, tub-thumping song actually named “Tubthumping” to carry a political message in the ruthlessly commoditized market of American pop? Can most any pop song manage that feat without being almost instantly subverted by its own success in the marketplace? Yes, Beyoncé pulls off the balancing act, selling millions of records while releasing songs that combine the personal and political in a way (partly through their video presentation) that conveys an ideological message, which resonates with a large audience. Numerous Rap and Hip-hop artists have also managed the feat. But Beyoncé simply defies all the rules, and Rap and Hip-hop have protest written into their very American DNA. If they have crossed over into commercial success, they still carry those roots with them and will until America is a very different country.
     But most American pop goes pop! and is gone. If it has even a bit more substance or staying power, it’s quickly remade as just one more gear in the great consumerist machine. We live in a capitalist system that took the Beatles song “All You Need Is Love,” originally written for a special worldwide BBC broadcast to celebrate the unity of all humankind, and turned it into an advertisement for disposable diapers: “All You Need is Luvs.” [5]
     Even if “Tubthumping” had come with Cliff Notes explaining the band’s politics and the history of British working class struggle, along with an addendum on the context of the melancholy secondary refrain, I’m not sure it would have made any difference. There’s something self-aware about this pop anthem that seems more distinctly British than American. We may be pissing the night – and the day – away in America, but we’re too busy shouting loudly at everyone around us that it isn’t the case, or if it is, it’s the fault of urban elites, immigrants, or someone else, to acknowledge our own self-defeating instincts. There has never been much room for a secondary, introspective refrain in America, and there is even less today.
     On the album, “Tubthumping” begins with a brief snippet of dialogue from a British movie, Brassed Off, which dealt with the closing of coal mines in England through the lens of a company band at one mine. The line is spoken by the band director, who has been obsessed with the band above all else until near the end. He says, “I thought that music mattered. But does it? Bollocks! Not compared to how people matter.” I can’t remember ever hearing that snippet on American radio, but I wish I had. But then again, “Tubthumping” aside, Chumbawamba was never really our kind of band.

[1] If you doubt the persistence of “We Will Rock You,” here’s what is these days considered an unimpeachable source, a random page I found on the internet: http://www.complex.com/sports/2013/10/greatest-stadium-anthems-all-time/.

[2] No, I haven’t listened to it either, but the tracks on side one are all Chomsky and the first three have these titles: “Destroying American Industrial Unionism,” “Corporations: Unaccountable Private Tyrannies,” and “The Business Press Explains.” These do not seem like danceable tracks, although number six, “Tyranny is Pure Freedom,” does sound like it has possibilities as a heavy metal tune if turned over to Megadeth.

[3] That is only the start and finish of a longer goodbye note that manages to make the case for the band’s philosophy and approach without sounding either pretentious or somber. You can find it here: http://www.chumba.com/

[4] My once-upon-a-time punk younger brother refused to listen to Springsteen for decades because he mistakenly connected “Born in the USA” with Reagan-era celebrations of American military might and strutting stupidity. Now entering his 50s, he has come to a belated re-appraisal and appreciation. Pretty much the same thing happened to me with Jane Austen.

[5] Yes, this really happened. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X79emCApQX4.)

Reed Karaim is a writer and journalist living in Tucson. He is the author most recently, of the novel, The Winter in Anna, published by W. W. Norton & Co.

fatimah asghar on "i'm too sexy"


The year Right Said Fred gifted us with the concept of being so sexy we were too good for our clothes. Too good for our parties, too good for our cars, too good for our loves. Sexiness as transcendence, sexiness as the vehicle to get us to our heavens, our hells, our places in between. 
     What a strange year, the Cold War warming at the bed of our toes, the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia all too sexy for each other, too sexy for the Soviet Union, carving and re-carving their maps. My mother, too sexy for her cancer, departing her body, leaving this world.  


I’m too sexy for my love/ too sexy for my love/ loves going to leave me

Did the sexiness come from worry, then? The creeping fear of being alone. Like when you’re driving and the road meets the sky, and how you think you’re never going to reach it. But surely, it comes, an ending too soon. The car ride comes to a close and you have to get out of the car. Like how the song stops playing and you begin your life without it. It’s the leaving; it’s the being left. It’s the worry that you enjoyed it because you knew it was going to leave. Because you knew it was going to end, and then you’d be left, alone, with just your own sexiness to comfort you.


On Sexiness Then:

As a one and a half year old when the song came out, I’m not sure what authority I really have to write about sexiness. I can’t remember when I first heard the song, only that once I realized what ‘sexy’ meant, around middle school, I’d lock my door, turn up the song and shimmy my little body as I unbuttoned my clothes. Unlike my mother, the song stayed past 1991, it followed me into 2000 and 2001. What was I really ‘too sexy’ for then: I still played with my barbies, but I pretended I didn’t when the other kids asked. I’d see the other girls with their push up bras & periods. That had to be what sexy was—to make mountains of your skin and have them not kill you, to stain the chairs you sat on, to leave your name in blood.  


Sexiness as Transition:


I’m too sexy for my shirt

& there it goes, what little of it there was

I’m too sexy for my hat

bumped off the bald, naked head

I’m too sexy for this song

& there it is: the sadness in the guitar players eyes
the goodbye to the melody, goodbye to the friends
with the deep Vs plunging to the crotch.

I’m too sexy for this body

& he leaves it & becomes something more, something so sexy
we can’t even name, something so sexy we don’t know where
to look to find him.


On Sexiness Now:

I make a list of what I am too sexy for, and what I am not too sexy for. There is no joke here. Too sexy: I can only wink with one eye and it takes up most of my face muscles to do it. Not too sexy: I sometimes like having sex with a shirt on because I get cold easily and I worry about how expensive my heat bill will be if I kept my apartment at a temperature that was better for my bones. Too sexy: I have lower back pain & I get excited when I get socks as presents. Not too sexy: I use two different kinds of medicated eye drops everyday because I’m 27 but I have the eyes of a 72 year old.  Too sexy: I deliberately buy granny panties because I like a little sag in the butt. Not too sexy: I only wax my upper lip when I have to teach, because high school kids can be mean. Too sexy: some days I think I look like my mother, and I like to stay outside on those days, so everyone can see me. Not too sexy: most days I feel like I’m chasing a shadow of her, a ghost long gone. I don’t remember her voice, or anything about her. If I saw her on the street, I might not know.


I Don’t Know Why

The interviewer says it’s a song that never seems to go away. One of the brothers mouths, over and over again: I don’t know why/ I don’t know why/ I don’t know why.

It was the first time we ever worked on a computer idontknowwhy I didn’t even know you could write songs on computer idontknowwhy I had no idea.  

What does it mean to live in the shadow of a sexiness of your own making?  Can you rise out of it? Would you want to?


One Hit Wonder:

We say ‘One Hit Wonder’ like it’s a bad thing. But timelessness is a myth born of arrogance. What can really last in the world when we’re ruining the earth? To make a thing that lives forever is a kind of violence. Our bodies die & become flowers other humans pick or trample, the stars we look up to are already long dead before they stain our eyes. I want to write a poem that will be remembered I say but can’t remember the names of my grandfather or grandmother. Their bodies are gone, made into something else, and I’ve forgotten the details that prove they existed. But does it stand the test of time we ask in an Earth that has been around for 4.5 billion years. Humanity is microscopic. Insignificant. And yet, it feels like all we want to do is outlive ourselves, outlast our own bodies. What greater gift can a song give us but feeling alive in the moment that it plays? What greater gift than feeling sexy for a moment, shimmying our bodies out our clothes?

Fatimah Asghar is a nationally touring poet, performer, educator, and writer. Her work has appeared in Poetry, Gulf Coast, BuzzFeed Reader, The Margins, The Offing, Academy of American Poets, and many others. Her work has been featured on news outlets like PBS, NBC, Teen Vogue, Huffington Post, and others. In 2011, she created Bosnia and Herzegovina's first Spoken Word Poetry group, REFLEKS, while on a Fulbright studying theater in post-genocidal countries. She is a member of the Dark Noise collective and a Kundiman Fellow. Her chapbook After was released on Yes Yes Books in 2015. She is the writer of Brown Girls, a web series that highlights a friendship between women of color. Currently, she is an MFA candidate at the Helen Zell Writers' Program at the University of Michigan.

Want to get email updates on all things March Fadness during February and March? Join the email list: