Michael Franti has a long and storied history as a musician. First as a founding member of The Beatnigs, and then somewhat famously, as half of The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. Despite never selling many records, Franti and partner Rono Tse got tons of press in the alternative world, as well as some love on the hip-hop side and a few looks from mainstream pubs who considered themselves “counterculture” at the time (like Details). The work Franti did back then had a sharp political edge and even now, the artist is still very politically active and aware. For the past fifteen years or so, he has been the frontman for the band Spearhead, and has become a relatively large touring draw, although until very recently, he received next to no pop music airplay or mainstream attention.
He’s probably an awesome guy. His heart is certainly in the right place socially and politically. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that Franti & Spearhead’s one major hit, “Say Hey (I Love You)” is a piece of hot, flaming garbage. It’s indicative of an unfortunate truth in popular music; many times, talented artists have to dumb their music down in order to score a hit.
Do I have to get into why I dislike this song as much as I do (rhetorical question: the answer is obviously “yes” since I’m writing this column)? Look, positive energy is a great thing. Reggae (even pseudo-reggae) is usually pretty fun. However, this song takes a sharp left at “positive” and pulls into hokey’s parking spot, almost skidding into the “silly” lane. It’s overly simplistic lyrically, and sounds almost like a touring board commercial for some Caribbean country (dreamed up by some white dude in a suit somewhere on Madison Avenue.)
Improbably (or perhaps not improbably; these things happen all the time), “Say Hey (I Love You)” hit #18 on the Billboard 100, becoming Franti’s first Hot 100 hit. The song’s been used everywhere from “Weeds” to the Fifa World Cup 2010 video game to Oprah. I’d imagine it boosted Franti’s asking price for shows as well. Not bad for a song allegedly written in Woody Harrelson’s bathroom, which is presumably made exclusively of hemp. You can’t begrudge the man his (long-overdue) success, but I certainly wish he’d have spent a little more time in the john to come up with a better song.