Cee Lo Green Shows Off New Sound on 'The Lady Killer'
If Cee Lo Green were a comic book superhero, the music video for "Fuck You" would be his origin story. In the clip, a suit-clad Green winces as his past failures with women flash before his eyes: An adolescent Cee Lo gets ditched for a little boy with a shinier toy car, while a college-aged version has ketchup-covered French fries spilled on his plaid suit.
"These are the humble beginnings of a lady killer," the 35-year-old singer says. "Bruce Wayne's parents were killed and Peter Parker was bit by a radioactive spider. I just got my heart broken one too many times."
"The Lady Killer," the ultra-cool persona that emerges from the romantic wreckage in the video, is the latest alter ego in a career of many distinct characters and sounds. Green's soul-drenched new album, "The Lady Killer," is a far cry from the Southern hip-hop of Goodie Mob that launched Green's career in the mid-'90s, or the off-kilter pop of Gnarls Barkley that topped the charts in 2006.
While Green's first two solo efforts failed to garner much mainstream attention, "The Lady Killer" matches his rafter-reaching voice with big-band instrumentation and a new label -- the recently rebooted Elektra Records -- that knows how to market it. "Before we signed him, he had already demonstrated the direction of the album as this wild, futuristic soul sound," says Elektra president Mike Caren. Co-president John Janick adds, "There was nothing else like [his sound], and it spans over all different types of audiences."
Although first single "Fuck You" is Green's ode to having "not won them all," the song's infectious Motown vibe and clever viral campaign won over audiences more quickly than Elektra anticipated. With over 300,000 U.S. downloads and its promotional "lyric" video earning over 6.6 million YouTube views since August, the song's popularity helped accomplish the rare feat of pushing up the release date of Green's new full-length from Dec. 7 to Nov. 9.
"It's pleasantly surprising," says Green, who previously enjoyed out-of-nowhere commercial success with Gnarls Barkley's first single, "Crazy." "But I'm poised for it, and I'm dressed for the occasion."
"The Lady Killer" arrives six years after Green's sophomore solo effort, "Cee Lo Green… Is the Soul Machine," and follows two discs by Gnarls Barkley, his collaboration with producer Danger Mouse. The duo's 2006 debut, "St. Elsewhere," moved 1.4 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. thanks in part to "Crazy" hitting No. 2 on the Hot 100, although 2008's "The Odd Couple" failed to produce a hit single and has sold 250,000 U.S. copies.
While the singer (real name: Thomas DeCarlo Callaway) believes "The Odd Couple" was a stronger full-length than its predecessor, "There were quite a few people who argued that 'Odd Couple' came too soon after 'St. Elsewhere,' and maybe they had a point," he says. "At the time, 'Crazy' was such a big thing that it was kind of hard to live it down."
As Green continued polishing "The Lady Killer" with producers like Salaam Remi, Fraser T. Smith and Jack Splash earlier this year, Elektra previewed his soul crossover by releasing the brass-heavy single "Georgia" as a seven-inch last May and a new mixtape, "Stray Bullets," in June. "We can do so many things with them because their roster is so small," says Morton of Elektra, which also offers its quality-over-quantity approach to artists like Bruno Mars and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
DON'T 'FORGET' RADIO
Although "Killer" tracks like "Wildflower," "Old Fashioned" and "Cry Baby" all feature snappy hooks courtesy of Green's high-pitched warble, Janick says that "Fuck You" was always the choice for the first single. Amid the 16 f-words and The Smeezingtons' crisp production lies a scornful kiss-off to a materialistic girl - a concept that Green says wouldn't work if he taken himself too seriously.
"The silver lining is the sense of humor," Green says. "It's thinking out loud… there's some truth to it, but it's not the whole truth. Ultimately the song is about acceptance and being able to smile in the face of that adversity."
When he first heard the song sung to him a few months ago, Janick immediately began figuring out how to best deploy the track online and on radio. A YouTube clip featuring bold-faced lyrics bouncing along to the song earned nearly 3 million views in its first week last August, and a clean version, "Forget You," was rushed to radio days later.
Once the song's official video premiered on Sept. 1 and both versions of the song hit iTunes soon after, "Fuck You" and its censored counterpart began growing across multiple radio formats. The song has appeared on Billboard's Mainstream Top 40, Rock Songs and R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts since debuting on the Hot 100 in the last week of August. In addition, "Forget You" currently tops the U.K. singles chart with 100,000 copies sold in a week's time, according to the Official Charts Co.
"It's hard to predict that something like that's going to happen," Janick says. "Obviously it's a reactive song and we thought that it would be a great viral campaign, but it just spread like wildfire."
Janick says that the album's release date was pushed forward for several reasons, but that the first single "moving really quickly" played a large factor in the decision. Green has no problem with bumping up his promotional run: "I haven't seen an album need to be pushed up in a long time," he says, "so yeah, I'm cool with that."
As the release date for "The Lady Killer" approaches, a large chunk of the album's promotion will revolve around showcasing "Fuck You" on different formats. The song's edited version will appear in an episode of "CSI," and a video for 50 Cent's remix of the song will soon be released. T-shirts that read "Cee Lo Says 'Fuck You!'" are also on sale along with the single on Green's website, with more merchandise in the works.
Elektra also wants to energize "Fuck You" fans about the overall sound of the album by previewing other tracks before the release. While a second single has yet to be announced, Green will follow the "lyric" clip of "Fuck You" with another viral video that will "tie into another song on the record, possibly using multiple songs," Janick says. Fans could also check out Green's cover of Band of Horses' "No One's Gonna Love You" after the Seattle rock group released the song, along with their cover of Green's "Georgia," as a split 7-inch on their website.
Green will likely kick off a proper tour at the top of 2011, but promotional TV performances will give fans a glimpse of the throwback feel of his live show. With a classy pink suit and an all-female backing band, the singer's Oct. 5 performance of "Forget You" and "Old Fashioned" on "Later With Jools Holland" was a subtler affair than his Gnarls Barkley shows, in which he dressed up as an airline attendant, scientist and "Wizard of Oz" character.
While Green says that he feels "really positive" about his latest character and "The Lady Killer" as a whole, the singer notes that he's already conceptualizing a reunion with Goodie Mob, the rap quartet that he hasn't recorded with since 1999. Even before "The Lady Killer" is released, Green is preparing to move on to another persona - a creative model that's perfectly fine with his new label.
"I'm sure the follow-up to this record will sound completely different," Caren says. "I love it. I'd get bored if every artist made the same album over and over and didn't try new things. It's exciting to be on a ride with an artist who's continuously trying to do the unexpected."