How Does Flo Rida's "Club Can't Handle Me" Make Going Out Sound Like the Saddest Thing Ever?
We've worked out three theories as to why this 2010 banger still turns grown men into weeping messes.
This article was originally published on THUMP UK.
For a second, just a second, think about Flo Rida. What does Flo Rida mean to you? Where does Flo Rida sit inside you? How often, if at all, does Flo Rida pop into your head? Why are you sat there now squinting slightly, as if conjuring Flo Rida as an idea, as an image, is more difficult than you could ever have imagined? Fingers tapping against temples, an aborted half-hum hangs limply in the air. He's vanishing. He's going. He's gone.
The reason I'm writing about Flo Rida now is because I, too, had forgotten Flo Rida. Sure, the name was wired deep inside a cortex somewhere or other, and yes, if I sat down and thought really, really hard, like an under-prepared pupil faced with a maths question he doesn't fully understand, like a guilty boyfriend preparing an alibi in the back of an Uber on a Tuesday night, I could tell you something about Flo Rida, even if that something was lacking in any substantial substance. And it was because I forgot about Flo Rida last year that I forgot to commemorate a very special moment. Six years ago last week, Flo Rida gave the world a gift. A gift that I wanted to remember on the fifth anniversary of having received it. A gift that my leaking, faulty, irrevocably damaged memory, had discarded. That gift was the saddest record about going out ever made.
Ever since I heard "Club Can't Handle Me" for the first time—and how I wish that first time, that first taste, that first touch, was as readily accessible as other notable firsts, how I wish I could state with confidence that the first time I heard "Club Can't Handle Me" by Flo Rida was in a garden centre in Kent, or in a cafe in Bridlington—I've lived with a faint, almost imperceptible, cloud of sadness hanging over me. My life is shrouded in the low level misery of a million other mildly miserable lives, and I blame Flo Rida.
I should state here that "Club Can't Handle Me" is a masterpiece. It's a genuine 10/10 record that I could quite happily listen to on repeat for hours on end. In fact, I reckon that under the right circumstances—a major brain injury, or an unexpected divorce perhaps—I'd happily slide Spotify a quid for a day pass and spend a perfect day with Flo Rida, drinking sangria and feeding animals in the zoo. But fuck me, for a masterpiece, it's a massive bummer.
There are three principle reasons as to why "Club Can't Handle Me" is a song that painfully and accurately encapsulates that bittersweet sadness that keeps us riddling our bodies and souls with anything we can ingest weekend after weekend, alternating our prayers between long for transcendence and the plain sweet release of death.
The first is that Flo Rida doesn't even understand just how sad the song is. Without coming on like a first year English Lit student who's skim-read the first paragraph of The Death of the Author, one of the joys of art is that the artist's own understanding of the work they've created means pretty much less than nothing. Roy Chubby Brown might see his work as satire, but he's wrong.
In this case, Flo Rida seems to think that he's recorded the kind of club ready banger that makes anyone—from the lords on high in the VIP with their Nebuchadnezzars of cherry VK, to us serfs on the dancefloor gamely trying to keep down a Slippery Nipple and a quarter pounder—feel ten times their natural size. He, I think, thinks that this record coming on in the club is the moment that the club becomes more than life. Of the video, Flo himself says this, "If you've ever dreamed about having the biggest party of your life, "Club Can't Handle Me" definitely represents that. Lotta energy. Lot of diamonds, ice sculptures. Just showing that boss vibe."
And it is that fundamental gap between intention and reception that makes "Club Can't Handle Me" so maudlin—Flo Rida only takes us further and further away from where he wants us to go with him. And we're left, spent and alone, skint and confused, scrambling for change and wear, in the back of a taxi, wondering how it all went so wrong. Again.
Next up is a theory I've developed that sort of contradicts the first point but doesn't really. That theory is that the whole song is actually an exploration of a totally fabricated mental state in which Flo Rida retreats when times are hard, when things are difficult, when the tough get going. Think about that repeated refrain, "The club can't even handle me right now." This is a song of defiance and self-reliance. Perhaps Flo Rida, at some point in his life, felt like one of life's social inadequates. Maybe he spent his weekends sort of bobbing about in clubs wishing he was actually tucked up in bed with a Hardy Boys book and a mug of Bovril, and he felt like an outsider, like a man of time. And maybe that all got too much for him, so he created this inner world where he was the God, the sculpted creation that men wanted to be and women wanted to be with. So he writes this fantasy, and he enacts it, and the fantasy becomes, for the briefest of moments, indistinguishable from reality. Demarcation is an impossibility and for that briefest of moments, Flo Rida is truly free.
And then he's not. Because this isn't his life. Not his actual life, anyway. You can only hide under the blanket of illusion and delusion for so long before it slowly starts to suffocate you. "Can't handle this player," he says, "life of the club, arrogant like yeah!" We don't believe you.
The third and final reason as to why "Club Can't Handle Me" is a back of the Uber tearjerker without reproach is the simplest of the lot: it's six years old now. Which means that I was just about 20 when it came out which in turn means that I'm definitely older than 20 now and thinking about being 20 feels as abstract to me as thinking about being 10. Time has weathered me, left me eroded and depleted, a changed person.
Even then, back when my hairline was a little less Steve McDonald and my waistline was a little less Stephen Beer, "Club Can't Handle Me" left me emotionally bereft. It was a record I'd hear in clubs I wasn't ever sure that I liked or not, and a record I'd play before going to those clubs because it reminded me of those clubs. And those clubs, now my youth's been sucked out of me, have a sentimental pull, a kind of saccharine-gravitational belt that I can't extricate myself from without doing serious, and permanent, damage.
These are the really important clubs. The clubs that actually shape us. The ones that directly influence us in ways we don't think about there and then, lost in the foam, or the popcorn, or the UV paint. I'm not sure if they're the kind of clubs Flo Rida visits, but some part of him will always live on within them.
And it breaks my heart.