I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I heard “Classic.” I was on a plane going from New York to Los Angeles when this little earworm first came to my attention on the American Airlines radio station, and it’s been following me ever since. I turn on the radio, I hear “Classic”; I put Spotify on shuffle, I hear “Classic”; I turn on the TV, I hear “Classic”; I open Vine, I hear “Classic”; I close my eyes, I hear “Classic”. I tried to think about what it was about the song that made it so interesting and familiar to me, and then it hit me.I first heard “Classic” when Hot Chelle Rae performed it back in 2011, and it was called “Tonight, Tonight”.
There’s no denying the similarities between the two songs, which were both glued to the Billboard Hot 100 for a long time. Both follow the same incredibly simple piano melody that any pianist can play with their eyes closed; both had a squeaky-voiced vocalist center-stage that sounds like he belongs more on the cast of Glee or on the FreeCreditReport.com band than on the radio; both have lyrics that sound that they were written by a high school PTA board; and both are so generic that I bet my mom is going to start humming it while she watches Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
But MKTO differs from Hot Chelle Rae in a few big ways. While “Tonight, Tonight” was definitely a product of the times, MKTO sees themselves as musical hipsters, and try to show this by evoking legends like Michael Jackson, Prince and Marvin Gaye (remember them, guys?) . I’ll be honest, I absolutely adore those three guys and I’ll always have a place in my heart for the ’80s, so you’d imagine I’d be thrilled to hear their names on the radio and not on my iPod. Weirdly enough, though, I was more confused than happy. I remember saying to myself on the plane, “Did… did that just happen?” and I still do every time I hear “Classic”.
MKTO obviously takes itself way too seriously to think that they would ever be compared to the all-time greats they name-drop in their first—and likely only—hit. These aren’t just artists quoting their favorite bands, these are dorks who moonwalk and grab their crotch in front of the bathroom mirror. I can only imagine tweens listening to “Classic” and having to look up half the bands they hear on Wikipedia, or yelling from their bedroom: “Dad, who’s Marvin Gaye?” Or maybe they won’t have to, because the song is so disposable that it’ll be gone in a few months.
The lyrics themselves seem pretty cute to the naked ear. “Oh, girl you shining / Like a 5th Avenue diamond” is absolutely adorable, and “I’m-a pick you up in a Cadillac / Like a gentleman bringing glamor back” makes me want to pinch MKTO’s cheek. But then, everything goes downhill extremely fast with one simple line: “I could walk you down the aisle”. Then, it became clear to me why they were name-dropping so many ’80s artists: The song is essentially from the point-of-view of a pedophile trying to seduce his underage daughter. Let’s hope they don’t “get it on like Marvin Gaye”…
But, incest aside , it’s hard to feel threatened by “Classic”. Their lyrics are way too cute for their hipster-ism to be believable and it’s obvious they have no idea who the people they’re name-dropping are, other than the fact that they exist. In that respect, they kind of remind me of Jason DeRulo’s “Talk Dirty”, where he names different exotic locations without actually saying anything about what he did or what he learned there (did he even leave the airport?). Just like DeRulo sees the world as just an American Airlines list of travel destinations, MKTO clearly sees music as a series of album covers, and nothing else. It’s unimpressive, it’s generic; “Classic” is an unfinished sloppy mess.
And yet, I still ask myself why I can’t get it out of my head. Well, the truth is, I have a soft spot for the ’80s and, if I can find it in my heart to forgive songs far worse than “Classic”, it stands to reason that MKTO should get off my list as well. But, the song fails in the same way as most ’80s-inspired or 80s-sample songs out there do: they take an interesting concept and do absolutely nothing with it. And, just like “The Time (Dirty Bit)”, “Good Feeling” and “Gold Digger”, MKTO’s one-hit wonder is sure to leave them in the world of musical obscurity. Final score: 3/10