One of the rap songs up for a Grammy this year is about love. Another, lust. A third artist considers success and fame; yet another offers a heartfelt memorial to a musician's slain friend. And then there's a song about being on a boat.
"I'm on a Boat," a satirical number by Andy Samberg's comedy troupe Lonely Island, is somehow competing against the likes of Justin Timberlake, Rihanna and Jay-Z in the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration category for the 2010 Grammys. Originally a Saturday Night Live digital short, the song mocks some of the very artists that it will compete against this January. For that reason, the Recording Academy's announcement of the nominees on Dec. 2 seemed more like a game of "One of these things is not like the other." "We weren't expecting it at all," Samberg says of the selection. "The main reason for this is that we don't consider ourselves musicians."
Until recently, the Grammys wouldn't have either. The Recording Academy has always placed its funny nominees Weird Al Yankovic, Flight of the Conchords in the Best Comedy Album category. Samberg and writing partner Akiva Schaffer are the first comedians to compete with actual musicians. Their spoof of hip-hop grandstanding has been viewed nearly 38 million times on YouTube and appears on Lonely Island's comedy album Incredibad, along with other SNL digital shorts such as "Dick in a Box," "Like a Boss" and a rap song Natalie Portman performed when she hosted SNL back in 2006. Samberg says he has no idea why "I'm on a Boat" is considered legitimate music. "The Grammys didn't give us a reason," he says. "Although having T-Pain on there helps tremendously."
T-Pain makes so many guest appearances including on Jamie Foxx's alcoholic anthem "Blame It," for which he earned another Grammy nod this year that it's nearly impossible to turn on the radio without hearing his digitally altered vocals on someone else's song. In fact, his participation is what makes the "I'm on a Boat" satire so spot-on. Well, that and the fact that the video directly parodies actual rap videos, like Akon's yacht dance in "I'm So Paid."
"There's not any kind of magical formulation" to the Grammy nomination process, says Bill Freimuth, the Recording Academy's vice president of awards. Lonely Island's record company, Universal Republic, submitted the track, which was then approved by a screening committee. "They listened to it and said, 'Well, there's rapping and there's singing. Sure, why not?' " After that, the academy's 12,000 voting members gave "I'm on a Boat" the nomination. Freimuth agrees with Samberg about the T-Pain bump, saying the Auto-Tune master's participation "gave it that much more legitimacy" as a real song.
True, the lyrics "I'm on a boat, I'm on a boat/ Everybody look at me/ 'cause I'm sailing on a boat" are ridiculous. But they're not that far off from Foxx's "Fill another cup/ Feelin' on your butt." This year, those songs are some of the best the music industry has to offer.
(Warning: video contains foul language)