Fresh Prince of Darkness
Illustration by Matt BorsOnce upon a time, Will Smith was the teenaged Fresh Prince who charmed America with his comic raps about how Parents Just Don't Understand. Then he went off and became a huge movie star, with a mansion, a movie-star wife and so much cash his servants probably curb the family Pekingese with $50 bills. Smith's latest hit single, "Switch," initially sounds like the ramblings of the kind of arrogant, out-of-touch celebrity you'd imagine Smith has become. But when you really listen, you realize the song is actually a devastating satire in which Smith merely pretends to be an asshole, much like Eminem mocks his own reputation as a homophobic closet case by constantly joking about how much he secretly wants to play with another man's balls.
The song begins as Smith steps onstage before fans who—we will later learn—have been waiting for some time. He's drunk and jittery, rusty from not performing for so long; "Come on, man," he defensively announces, "this is what I do." To stall while he finds his bearings, he does a mic check.
Smith's fans had almost given up on him—they were thinking about leaving—but now they see he has arrived. ("Nah, he over here.") They're restlessly waiting for Smith to perform the "Switch," which is apparently a new dance he's invented.
Smith has at last begun the Switch, and his fans start dancing. But it's not long before he becomes distracted:
Smith abruptly abandons the Switch in order to single out a young woman in the crowd. He criticizes her scanty clothing. One can imagine the poor girl's mortification, being harangued like this by her childhood hero, the Fresh Prince. The phrase "vibe to vibe" is a particularly effective satirical device, making Smith sound like one of those dads in old sitcoms who try to be "groovy" by initiating "rap sessions" with their kids.
The club DJ's backing track distracts Smith from his diatribe against insufficiently clad young women, and he turns to address the crowd, warning them against the evils of illegal file sharing. Smith is starting to sound like a Bill Cosby routine, ranting about these girls today with the short skirts and the kids on the computers downloading the hippety-hop.
It sounds as if Smith's finally decided to loosen up and have some fun. He's noticed a spicy little number dancing with her gal pals.
Brilliant! Smith leers at some of his young female fans dancing together and then sarcastically disdains the thought of them in a big pile of lesbian girlflesh. He is etching an acid portrait of "Will Smith" as a complete and utter tool.
These lines are deliberately nonsensical (what is it that Smith wants to tell a "chick" to stop doing?), taking us deeper into Smith's boozy haze.
Smith's poor fans learn that the much-vaunted Switch is really just a 21st-century Hokey Pokey. Suckers!
Smith has now staggered off the stage to hassle somebody face to face (perhaps the girl dancing with her friends).
You can picture Smith leaning over the poor girl, breathing his whiskey breath all over her as he tries this clumsy pickup line.
He tries to impress the young lady by pathetically boasting about his early years of bitter struggle. "Amateur spitting"? Smith sounds like he's about to pass out in the club right now.
Smith compares his raps to heroin. Indeed, there are some of us who've never made it through "Boom! Shake the Room" without passing out in a pool of our own puke.
"Hey, little girl. Don't look all sad. Dance for your Fresh Prince."
The wretched girl won't dance for Smith, and he gets very Ike Turner on her:
"Damn, I just wanted to see you shake that ass. Get over yourself, bitch." "Switch-a-roo" is another cleverly anachronistic word choice, reinforcing the parodic image of Smith as an old sleaze on the prowl.
This Fresh Prince is fresh, but he's no prince! He tells the girl to round up her friends (including the fat one and the one with the big ass), and he'll wait for them to return so they may dance for his pleasure.
The girls, perhaps awed by Smith's fame and terrible charisma, do indeed dance for him. It is a humiliating ordeal they will remember on their deathbeds. As the song fades out, we're left stunned by Smith's darkly hilarious comic vision—unless, of course, Smith really is an arrogant, out-of-touch celebrity.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.