I worked in a bar between the ages of 18 and 21. I didn’t hate it, but I wouldn’t describe it as “good” either. Over half the employees went to my university and one of the interview questions was “which celebrity would you invite over for dinner”, so the vibe was ostensibly fun-casual. Until you didn’t upsell the requisite number of shots. Then it wasn’t very fun or casual. Anyway, as anyone who has ever suffered through a double shift of serving jugs of Woo Woo to sports science students will know: a part of your soul withers when you work in a bar. There is a very specific feeling of “FML” – a low-level dread that settles in the pit of your stomach before you walk through the door, and remains there for the next 14 hours until you can go home and wring the Sambuca out of your plimsolls.
Smack in the middle of my tenure at high street bar, a particular song was released. A song that, to this day, has the power to make me feel a sadness like no other. A song that bores deep into the core of my being, creates a hole, and fills it with gloom. That song is “I Gotta Feeling” by American musical group The Black Eyed Peas.
Released on the edge of summer in 2009, “I Gotta Feeling” is a Grammy-award winning pop song about having a good night. It spent 14 consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became the best-selling digital song of all time, at the time. It was the most successful song of the 21st century worldwide until 2014, when it was surpassed by Pharrell's “Happy”. It is also the most depressing song in the history of music. And, as if to prove that point, it played several times a night, every night, at the bar where I worked.
It’s supposed to be uplifting, isn’t it, “I Gotta Feeling”. In an interview with Marie Claire on the eve of its release, famed Black Eyed Pea will.i.am claimed the song was “dedicated to all the party people out there in the world that want to go out and party”. Indeed, “I Gotta Feeling” seemed to be met on precisely those terms. For years, it was wheeled out as the cross-demographic end of night climax to underline the point that whatever function you were at was fun. It dominated work dos, adverts, video games, the Olympic Games, third birthday parties, 73rd birthday parties and especially those astonishing choreographed wedding videos that people drop loads of money on for some reason. It was specifically designed to be the go-to jam for any uplifting occasion by virtue of avoiding any characteristics that might limit its reach. In doing so, it skirted around every possible human emotion and wound up in hell.
I hadn’t thought about it for years. But, like all sources of trauma, it reared its head when I least expected. And, this New Year’s Eve past, as an existentially deflated cashier in a Brighton branch of Sainsbury’s scanned through my beer, whiskey and hummus, there it was again. Its incessant stabbing rhythm puncturing the air, adamant that tonight’s gonna be a good night. It upset me so much I ceased bagging my items, opened the notes app on my phone, and typed: “i gotta feeling” by the black eyed peas is the most depressing song ever written." Before we go ahead, let's just take a look at some of the lyrics:
I gotta feeling that tonight's gonna be a good night
That tonight's gonna be a good night
That tonight's gonna be a good, good night A feeling that tonight's gonna be a good night
That tonight's gonna be a good night
That tonight's gonna be a good, good night A feeling, woohoo, that tonight's gonna be a good night
That tonight's gonna be a good night
That tonight's gonna be a good, good night
The Black Eyed Peas built an entire career off the back of crafting a very simple statement and hammering it into you until you’re fucking sick of it, much like the quadratic formula or ‘snitches get stitches’ – but none have been so brazenly miserably as this. They had the audacity to compose it in the key of G major, which, in Baroque music, is regarded as the “key of benediction” – connected to positive emotions such as contentment, gratitude and peace. Unlike Haydn’s Piano Trio No. 39, mind you, “I Gotta Feeling” lacks feeling. Rather, it is the absence of feeling. “I Gotta Feeling” locates feeling and obliterates it. “I Gotta Feeling” is a black hole in the cosmos of joy. In 1984 epic-fantasy film The Neverending Story – a tale about a fictional universe reliant on human imagination in which the villain is literally “nothing” – a murderous creature of darkness describes “The Nothing” as “the emptiness that’s left, it is like a despair, destroying this world.” It then goes on to say that “people who have no hopes are easy to control”, which is maybe pushing it a bit, but up until that point you could substitute “The Nothing” for “I Gotta Feeling” without much trouble.
Consider, for a moment, its influences. “I Gotta Feeling” rips off a beat from an extremely jarring late 90s dance song called “Take A Dive” by one Bryan Pringle, who was previously unheard of until he tried to sue The Black Eyed Peas for copyright infringement (unheard of, presumably, because his music was bad). The melody is proudly inspired by U2, who are unquestionably one of the most underwhelming rock bands ever to wear leather. And the “woohoo” line – arguably a celebratory high point as far as the lyrics are concerned – is sampled from “Every Breath You Take” by The Police which is, famously, a miserable bit of soft rock about an obsessive stalker masquerading as a love song. Reflecting on the band’s biggest hit, Police drummer Stewart Copeland said: “In my humble opinion, this is Sting's best song with the worst arrangement.” Sting himself said: “The tune itself is generic, an aggregate of hundreds of others, but the words are interesting.” So do bear that in mind while learning that the bit The Black Eyed Peas chose to pull out was “woohoo”.
Beyond its composition, though, the biggest problem with “I Gotta Feeling” is that its entire premise is flawed. “I Gotta Feeling” takes place before fun has been had. It is firmly pre-party. Repeatedly proclaiming what a good feeling you have about the night’s proceedings is a curse. Just like New Year’s Eve or a birthday or indeed any occasion where fun is prescribed as part of the agenda rather than something that blooms organically, “I Gotta Feeling” suffocates under the weight of its own insistence. No genuinely memorable night has begun with the statement “I know that we'll have a ball!” Not one time has the suggestion “Let's go way out, spaced out and losing all control!” led to anything other than turning up to a club prematurely and forcing down a series of shots before someone floats the idea of chips and you call it a night at 11:45pm. Never, in the history of partying, has this been anything other than an incantation for disappointment: “I gotta feeling that tonight's gonna be a good night. That tonight's gonna be a good night. That tonight's gonna be a good, good night.”
While I am willing to admit that it has been ruined for me primarily by association – after all, it’s impossible to truly embrace the concept of “party every day, p-p-p-party every day” when vodka has pruned your fingers and your entire body smells like the collected water at the bottom of a glasswasher – I do truly believe this song was created as a cue that tells people to give up and go home. If Superbad taught us anything it is that the formula for memory-making is serendipity. How many times has someone approached you on a night out to ask “are you having a good time?” and it not fully killed your party boner. The first rule of fun is to not draw attention to it. You must never look directly at fun, lest you become instantly aware of its presence and therefore sucked out of the moment – which is, according to Buddhism and various other wise philosophies, where true joy can occur. Perhaps I’m doing it wrong, I’ve certainly never been much of an entrepreneur, but my experience of good times has not been squaring up to the night and yelling “YOU. BE GOOD NOW.”
I know what you’re thinking – is “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” by Jamie xx not literally the same thing, Emma? And you loved that, didn’t you? Writing for acclaimed musical website Noisey in the year 2015, you said it had “so many vibes you could practically class it as a sex toy” – and you’d be right. But the thing you have to understand about that is: Popcaan is on it.
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