3OH!3 and me
If you want to see how dramatically times have changed, look no further than the overnight rise and gradual fall of 3OH!3. In the summer of 2008, a season dominated by Michael Phelps’s breakout at the Beijing Olympics and other timeless late 2000s pop songs like Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” and Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida,” Colorado duo Sean Foreman and Nathaniel Motte released their triple-platinum hit “DONTTRUSTME.”
With its glitchy synths, sun-soaked casual misogyny and iconically odd lyrics (“Tell your boyfriend / If he says he’s got beef / That I’m a vegetarian / And I ain’t fucking scared of him”), the song found massive chart-topping success. It was heard everywhere that year — playing on the radio, at bar mitzvah parties, at summer camp and on that Tap Tap Revenge game everyone was obsessed with. Their champagne-coated, frat-boy brand capitalized on the dirty lust that spurred the uncontrollable hormones of American adolescents, simulating an experience that was at turns angry, horny and silly. As evidenced by the song’s over-the-top music video, the two frontmen also played with and reinforced tropes of masculinity, sifting through a series of costumes that included cheetah-printed speedos, wrestling singlets, cavemen loin cloths and white button-down shirts with loosened black ties and sunglasses (which they wore indoors, of course).
3OH!3 was the perfect encapsulation of an era defined by popped collars, Warped Tour, “Jersey Shore” and questionable hairstyles. Listening to them was like eating birthday cake hungover for breakfast — sweetly spontaneous in the moment, but really disgusting in retrospect. Whether the douchebag personas Foreman and Motte embodied in “DONTTRUSTME” and the rest of their discography was real or performative, their short-lived legacy represented an important turning point in American pop music.
As obnoxious and politically incorrect as they were (and still are, 12 years since their debut), 3OH!3 resembled an intoxicating care-free, DGAF attitude that is rarely seen in today’s pop music landscape — although one could argue The Chainsmokers have taken their place. They contain a capsule of pre-2010s nostalgia that, when unearthed in 2019, reeks of male fragility and Axe Body Spray but also comes with the promise of unabashed joy and confetti cannons.
Revisiting their breakthrough record WANT, which features “DONTTRUSTME” and their beguiling Katy Perry collab “STARSTRUKK,” I found myself transported back to middle school, recalling images of glowstick necklaces, striped hats, colored braces, sweaty foreheads, iPod Touches and my lithe 4’11’’ body going a little too hard on the dance floor at a school formal. It was an equally amazing and terrible sensation to re-immerse myself in Foreman and Motte’s flashy fantasy world, where parties are never-ending, alcohol is flowing, cocaine is being insufflated and girls are sex objects, qualities that are horrible both in concept and reality.
For all their hilarious, cringe-worthy attempts at charming women while also being creepy and possessive toward them in their music, there’s something absurdly fascinating about the combination of Foreman and Motte’s predatory lyrics and their catchy, easily digestible sound. Other WANT tracks like “HOLLERTILYOUPASSOUT” find both 3OH!3 frontmen doing their best Lil Jon impressions, yelling with feverish aggression about their hometown of Boulder and bragging about a sexual transaction (the entire chorus is just the line: “Hey yeah, shake-shake your ass now”). The insidious, male-gazey “PHOTOFINNISH” — yes, they even misspelled “finish” — contains so, so many problematic lines that it makes Michael Bay look like a novice. 3OH!3’s more refined but amateurish follow-up to WANT, 2010’s Streets of Gold, also carries a few hedonistic, grimy bops like the Ke$ha-featuring “My First Kiss” and the appendage-centric “Touchin On My.”
And yet, I find myself gravitating toward their songs, not because I agree with their lyrical approach, but because of how easily they manage to sneak in their unseemly desires within their intriguing blend of emo, electro, rave and rap. Unlike most artists, who learn to evolve and grow with every record they make, 3OH!3 have pretty much stayed committed to their dude-bro sensibility since they arrived in the mainstream. It might not have benefitted Foreman and Motte in the long run — their most recent efforts, 2013’s OMENS and 2016’s NIGHT SPORTS sound like god-awful, overproduced parodies of their earlier work — but they possess a strangely unique ability in toeing the line between satire and sincerity, subverting the “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” element of fame and celebrity while simultaneously embracing it. In the end, 3OH!3’s songs are light, harmless and cheesy fun that, even in today’s socially conscious climate, shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
There’s a reason why most people have a guilty pleasure. Sometimes, we just need a quick and easy relief from the constraints of everyday life: a trashy song, a bad movie, a low-tier TV show that’s palpable enough to consume and keep our tiny attention spans entertained, if only for a few fleeting minutes. For me, that guilty pleasure is 3OH!3. Their music may not be the most intellectually or creatively stimulating, but they sure can make a hit that sticks like grits.