With the end of the year approaching, the Hot One Hundo is featuring the #1 hits of 2017 in a weekly feature.
In his 2011 song “Gorgeous,” Kanye West rhetorically asks “what’s a black beatle anyways?” Little did Kanye know, “Black Beatles” wouldn’t only refer to “a fucking roche” or more literally, Billy Preston, it would also be the name of a #1 single by hip hop duo (and nominee for worst group name ever) Rae Sremmurd. After a run of six weeks at #1 during late 2016, “Black Beatles” returned to #1 for one final week at the top on January 14th, 2017.
“Black Beatles” is most famous for being the soundtrack to the “Mannequin Challenge,” a popular trend during late 2016 which featured people freezing in place while someone else filmed them in odd poses or situations. Everyone participated in the trend, from sport teams, to media figures, to high-profile politicians, and hell, even McCartney approved of the song by doing a Mannequin challenge himself. and the media had a field day highlighting the increasingly elaborate nature of the videos. It was a dumb trend then, and it remains a dumb trend now. The trend had its few weeks in the glow of popularity before the mainstream media and older generations drove it into the ground and made it uncool to the young whippersnappers in much of the same way that the Harlem Shake or Gangnam Style fell out of favor. Ultimately, the song’s popularity hinged on the social prevalence of the meme, alongside the lack of any other high profile songs taking its place at the top, which makes it difficult to separate the meme from the song.
What blows my mind is how fast trends move into and out of popularity. If you said to a friend today “hey let’s make a mannequin challenge video lol” the friend would think you were severely out of touch with current trends and would laugh in your face. Trends, and especially ones born on the world wide web, have become even more disposable than they used to be. Or, maybe I’m just getting old and don’t understand anymore.
Rae Srummurd comparing themselves to the best band of all time might be one of the most extravagant posturing moves of all time. The lyrics do make it so that being referred to as a Black Beatle is ultimately a complement to the sheer greatness of the band. They reference the fab four directly only a couple of times, but they’re easily the most memorable one-off lines of the track, saying that “bitch, me and Paul McCartney related” and “rockin John Lennon lenses like to see ‘em spread eagle.” But, behind the meme and references to the band, “Black Beatles” is. at its core, another trap/rap song about boozing it up, and making it rain and spending lots of money.
The song is in a genre which really isn’t in my forte of analysis – to the experts, it could be the greatest trap song of all time! – but, as a casual listener I’m not a fan. To me, it sounds like almost every other rap song I’ve heard – the sound effect and spoken word interjections at the end of every line, the lyrical posturing, the downbeat, synthetic instrumentation. It sounds like a pretty generic song that became a hit only because it rode the back of a internet trend, like Bag Raiders’ “Shooting Stars.” Years from now, all the kids who participated in the Mannequin Challenge will be like “oh that Black Beatles song! Can’t remember who sings it. I used to like this song, I guess. I remember making that video for the mannequin challenge with my friends so many years ago. Haven’t heard this song in forever. Sounds like 2016 to me.”