In HateSong, we ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world.
The hater: An actor, comedian, writer, director, producer, and podcaster, Paul Scheer is a bit of a Renaissance man. (And we don’t mean the 1994 Danny DeVito/Penny Marshall movie of the same name, though that would be a good film for Scheer’s podcast, How Did This Get Made?) In addition to his role as Andre Nowzick on The League, which returns for its final season September 9, Scheer has two other projects on the immediate horizon: Crash Test, his new comedy special for Vimeo, and The Hotwives Of Las Vegas for Hulu, both of which premiere August 18.
The hated: Will Smith, “Wild Wild West” (1999)
The A.V. Club: Why did you pick “Wild Wild West” as your least-favorite song?
Paul Scheer: It’s ridiculous. I’ve listened to it now, like, 15 times since we decided to do this, and I feel like the only way to kind of break down this discussion is in two parts: One is the actual song, and the other is the actual video.
I don’t know if you saw the video. It’s on Dailymotion, not on YouTube. And the video is seven minutes—oh, no—six minutes and 53 seconds. It has long interludes of scenes that are not in the movie and were shot specifically for the video. That explains a lot; they’re basically rewriting the movie, because the movie is so terrible. The movie, first of all, is one of the worst. Will Smith rarely makes bad movies, but Wild Wild West is one of the worst. And they shot all this extra footage with him. Stevie Wonder’s in it—of course, he’s in the song. But Salma Hayek and Kenneth Branagh are all in this video. Kevin Kline’s in there as well.
AVC: It’s not a good movie.
PS: No, not a good movie at all. Spiders.
AVC: Do you want to talk about the song first, or the video?
PS: Let’s talk about the song.
Okay. Here is my opinion. I am a Will Smith fan. I’m not going to apologize for that. I like it. “Big Willie Style,” “Miami,” “Parents Just Don’t Understand”—I’m in. “Nightmare On My Street”—I’ll even go back that far. But, if you’re going to pick a Will Smith song, you cannot pick this one. This, to me, is almost like the death of my childhood because it goes from the fun Will Smith to the trying-to-be-cool Will Smith, which is followed up by the nod-your-head Men In Black song which is a little bit more aggressive and less fun. I want to hear “Summertime”—this is the perfect moment where Fresh Prince goes to Will Smith.
AVC: “Wild Wild West” is certainly not cool in any way.
PS: No, it’s not fun. It has one of those Bobby Brown “explain a song” things going on. That’s actually my favorite thing ever from Ghostbusters II—where it’s like, [Sings.] “Try to battle my boys / That’s not legal”—where they explain the plot. I love all that. But this is a shitty song and a shitty musical tie-in. I would have preferred to have a Will Smith song that explains the plot of Focus over one that explains the plot of this movie.
So you’ve got that going on, the transition from the Fresh Prince to Will Smith. Also, it’s lazy. I mean, the song literally starts out with “wicka wicka.” That’s like if my grandma is trying to imitate what a rap star says: “Wicka wicka. I’m a rapping granny and I’m here to say….” I don’t like it.
And if you take out—I did this last night and I can’t say how much it translates—but if you take out “wild” and “west” and any sort of “wicka,” there’s pretty much no song. They say “wild wild West” a million times. I printed out the lyrics and took out “wild wild West” and “wicka” and it’s embarrassing to see what the song is deboned.
So you’ve got cool Will Smith, you’ve got bad rapping Will Smith, and you’ve got this bastardization of a Stevie Wonder song in there. I mean, the greatest accomplishment that this song had was it introduced the world to Sisqo. And I don’t think that’s a good thing.
AVC: Will Smith essentially broke up Dru Hill.
PS: Yeah, exactly.
It makes me bummed out, this song. It really, really does. Because, also, anything that’s catchy about it is Dru Hill and Stevie Wonder. Will Smith is just sort of saying, “I’ll take these things that are already good, and I’ll just kind of loosely throw the plot of my historic character, Jim West, on top of this thing.” It has no flavor of a Western at all. It doesn’t even pick up the flair of the film. Even “Men In Black” feels a little in tone. This doesn’t feel in tone at all. I don’t know what a Western rap would be, but it’s definitely not this.
AVC: I watched the MTV performance this morning and the only thing Western about that is that he rides a horse and wears a sort of cowboy outfit.
PS: I watched that, too, and I have opinions on that as well.
AVC: Maybe it’s okay that it’s anachronistic, because the actual movie is as well.
PS: You made a movie about the Old West and spider robots.
You know, what I love about the MTV Movie Awards is no one knows yet if something is a piece of shit. Because that awards show I guarantee was a month before the release, and it’s like, “Will Smith’s going to do a brand new song! You loved ‘Men In Black,’ so here’s ‘Wild Wild West’!” So you’re excited for it because you don’t know the movie sucks yet. That’s the benefit of all the MTV Movie Awards—everyone’s out shilling, like, “Here’s the cast of Fantastic Four!” And it’s like, “Yeah!” You don’t know yet. We’re too naïve. It’s like seeing Christmas presents under the tree and then unwrapping them and finding out they’re all socks.
So when Will Smith comes out there and he’s doing that dance, which is like this herky-jerky line dance, it looks like he’s doing some kind of exercise, hopping from one foot to the other, and it’s a little bit slower when he does it, too. He’s rapping pretty fast on the track, but it’s hard for him to keep up—and again, I am a Will Smith fan. I was rooting for him from the crowd, like, “Let’s get this going!” But no. What is the takeaway? Is it a dance? No. I just listened to the Men In Black song this morning, like, “Am I over-bashing?” No. That’s a better song. And even “[Black Suits Comin’] Nod Ya Head” is a better song because at least it’s telling me to do something.
AVC: There were some good tracks on Willennium.
PS: It’s not my favorite Will Smith album, but it’s got some solid tracks on it. Willennium in general was basically taking the concept of taking Y2K and turning it into W2K. What will happen to Will Smith in 2000? Will he break down? Will he become stronger?
He’s telling me to “do the wild wild West.” That’s not a thing. Fat Joe can tell me to lean back, I get it, Men In Black II told me to nod my head, I get it. “Do the wild wild West” is a very abstract concept I don’t understand. If I’m on a dance floor, what should I necessarily be doing? Should I be shooting people like Kenneth Branagh? Should I be attacking spiders? I don’t know.
So the video is ridic. And there’s another version of the song that kind of breaks down—there’s a bunch of different versions of this. There’s some weird shit going on here. It feels like people thought they had a hit. “You got this, Will. We’ll give you a title and you’ll make a song.” I don’t think he was passionate about it. It actually won a Razzie for being the Worst [Original] Song that year.
AVC: Maybe it was a bad time for Will Smith. Maybe he was in a place where he had to take on too much. Like, “You have to lead this dance. You taught us to get jiggy with it. You gotta make us dance somehow. You have to be a good actor who’s in projects we like, and, because you can rap, you should still be rapping. You should be this multi-threat.” It just feels so forced because he’s not focusing on any one thing.
PS: You’re totally right. It’s basically saying, “You do this.” Not like you’re inspired to do this. Independence Day was a huge hit and he did a rap in that. But I feel like it’s, “Let’s recreate what Men In Black did.” Men In Black in the Old West. Even from a conceptual point of view, everything is ripping off what it was before. Men In Black: two people, one more straight, one more loose, trying to fight aliens with futuristic tools. This one is: two cowboys in the Old West, one more tight, one more loose, trying to fight robots with futuristic weapons. It’s like the same thing. We did Men In Black, now we have to do the wild wild West.
If Kevin Kline had rapped on this, it may have improved.
AVC: You might like that more now.
PS: I would love that. After Ricki And The Flash, I want to see him singing.
That’s the other thing too: You get tricked with these rap songs sometimes. They sample a track that’s really good—like that Stevie Wonder track is great—and when you hear it, it’s like, “Yeah!” And then you’re like, “Wait, wait, wait. What are they saying?” I have the lyrics right here, hold on. I’ll give you an example of some of them.
Here’s one line I like. He actually references the Ghostbusters. He goes, “Who’s here to save the day? Not the G.B.s,” which must be the Ghostbusters. “Who you gonna call? Not the G.B.s.” I don’t like calling out the Ghostbusters.
Once we get past his description of himself, it’s just, “If you have a riff with people wanna bust / Break out before you get bum-rushed at the wild wild West. / When I roll into the wild wild West / When I stroll into the wild wild West. / When I bounce I go into the wild wild West. / We going straight to the wild wild West / We going straight to the wild wild West.” I don’t know what’s happening.
And, by the way, the song is not appropriate to his character. His character is not this aggressive. Some of the lines in this song are like, “Behind my back, all the riffin’ you did / Front and center now, where your lip at, kid? / Who dat is? / A mean brotha, bad for your health.” You can’t be gangster singing about your PG movie about the wild wild West. I mean, this is not New Jack City. You can’t sing a hardcore song about how you’re going to bust somebody up because they’re ripping on you in the saloon.
AVC: You’re not smashing bottles in your red-pink suit from the Movie Awards.
PS: In the video, he’s wearing a black cowboy outfit, and then he tosses his hat, which is something that he doesn’t do in the movie, and then it comes back and turns into a white cowboy suit. And then he does a big dance, and Stevie Wonder is there playing the piano.
It’s too full of bravado. It’s like, “I’m the slickest / I’m the quickest.” If you just put a different context to it, this is a threatening song for the time. This is Will Smith trying to get a little bit more aggressive with his audience.
AVC: I don’t know if anyone believes Will Smith is aggressive.
PS: No one wants to hear that. I think Will Smith is a great actor and a great rapper, but no one wants to see that angle reversed on Will Smith. We want to hear about summertime, about how parents aren’t understanding. At the most, in “Miami,” we’re like, “Whoa, he’s living a little bit of an insane lifestyle.” We don’t want to hear him getting aggressive. There’s a reason why he turned down Django. He can’t do that kind of thing. He’s a nicer guy.
AVC: Thinking about it now, this came out in 1999, which was the last gasp of record label excess. This video probably cost a bunch of money.
PS: Yeah, “When you see the video, your mind will be blown.” I watched it last night, and I watched the “Men In Black” video last night. First of all, it looks amazing. It does look legitimately amazing. They brought back the cast—Salma Hayek plays a very large part in it—they’re kind of in bed just talking, and then she gets up. They’re nervous that the mad man, Loveless, is going to come back even though they killed him in the movie. And then she gets kidnapped by him, and Will Smith has to go find her. So there are three or four sections of the video that are action sequences; it’s not like Michael Jackson’s “Moonwalker” video where he’s dance-fighting. It’s like, “No, no, no, that’s the dancing part.” He’s trying to save his girlfriend, but he breaks out into a lot of dancing, and it’s like, “Save your girl.” There’s full-on action. There’s sets, and things are dropping, and machine gun fire, and glass breaking. This is on like six different sets and you know this was shot way after the movie was done. So they had to bring everybody back, redesign all these sets, and then make a seven-minute video. In what world is MTV airing a seven-minute video? In 1999, I bet they would air it three or four times a day.
It’s like the Gone With The Wind of music videos. There are literally intermissions in the song.
Michael Jackson made those amazing videos when you’re talking about the time of excess, those event videos. I remember making sure I was home to watch the “Black Or White” video or the one with Macaulay Culkin, whatever it was. It was like, “8 o’clock tonight. Michael Jackson premieres his new video. Everyone gather round the TV to watch the video.” And you’re right; this was the end of that era. The money was there and I feel like they were just trying to get a hit.
Even the first “Men In Black” video—they shoot footage, Tommy Lee Jones was in it, it’s different—in the second one, he was dancing with an alien. But this is an intense video that pulls out all the stops. I mean, look, Alfonso Ribeiro is in the [“Wild Wild West”] video. And I believe Enrique Iglesias is in the video, too, as a prince or something like that. Sisqo’s in it, Dru Hill’s in it, Stevie Wonder’s in it. And now that I think about it, I don’t know if Kenneth Branagh actually appeared in it or if just his voice appeared in it, because he’s in shadows a lot.
AVC: You’ve done an episode of How Did This Get Made? about Wild Wild West. Do you know if it was a success or not? Did it make its money back?
PS: I think it was a failure, but one of those failures that also had a good opening because everyone goes, “Oh, this will definitely be good.” It definitely was a flop, I know that, because it was not well liked at all. I know it won a lot of Razzies.
Actually, Wild Wild West the show is a really cool idea. It’s basically James Bond in the Old West. Great idea. But this guy who was the producer of the movie is obsessed with spiders in real life, so he forced this crazy spider subplot onto this movie, where it probably would have been way better if it was Kevin Kline and Will Smith just being James Bond cowboys. But no. The end of the movie is basically a giant mechanical spider and Will Smith is fighting a robot. There’s a dude with a metal face in this movie and metal balls, and it’s a hilarious moment when Will Smith kicks him in his metal balls. Like, “Ow!”
Every problem with the movie is on display in the music video. You know it’s a bad music video when they have to re-shoot scenes from the movie. It’s like, “You know what? Let’s not rely on the footage from the actual movie to sell this. Let’s shoot our own and hopefully that will be better.” And I would actually argue that the movie in the video is better than the movie on the screen.
AVC: Maybe they can convince people enough with the video that they’ll then go out and see the movie.
PS: I feel like that has happened. It’s not out of the realm of possibility. There are other movies where they pulled that off. “Ooh, I’m excited!”
One of the things we talked about on How Did This Get Made? with Evan Goldbergwas the LL Cool J song for Deep Blue Sea which has that line “my hat is like a shark fin.” And he does a little bit of plot-rapping in it, too. Plot-singing is my favorite thing. I can’t get over plot-singing. It’s my favorite thing when they have to explain the whole plot and also make it a popular song. That’s an itch I like to scratch a lot—plot-singing.
But “Wild Wild West” doesn’t pay it off for me because I feel like he’s tougher in this song. I almost feel like he saw the movie and he didn’t like it. He said, “Okay, I’m going to write a song that represents a version of the movie that I would like to make.”
AVC: “The movie I thought I signed up for.”
PS: Yeah, “The movie I thought I signed up for. That’s why I’m going to re-shoot it with the actors I want in it and present my character in a whole different light.”
AVC: “And maybe you’ll think that’s who I am when you go to see the movie. And then you’ll be disappointed.”
PS: Exactly, yeah. “Hopefully we can trick you.”
That’s really what music videos were back in the day. You had the movie tie-in where you would show, like, crazy clips. The craziest movie is Reindeer Games, where they have a real beautiful love song that we know now—I can’t remember it right off the top of my head. [Etta James’ “At Last.” —ed.] But there’s like this beautiful love song, I think in Reindeer Games, and in the music video it’s all these really violent shots of buses blowing up and all this crazy stuff. Armageddon had that, too, with the Aerosmith song. It’s not a romance, but they’re still trying to sell the movie, too. So it’s that weird thing in the middle, you know? “I hope you like the movie, even though the song is not contextually in the right area!”
AVC: “Take your girl!”
PS: Yeah. [Laughs.]
What I’m proposing is this: Will Smith needs to make a return to this to right his wrong on “Wild Wild West.” I think the next movie he does—oh, maybe Suicide Squad—Suicide Squad is a great movie for a rap.
He can explain, “Arkham Asylum / Gettin’ violent / With Harley Quinn” and whoever else is in that stupid movie.
AVC: There’s a lot of backstory that people need to know.
I’m throwing down the gauntlet to Will Smith and asking him, “Redeem yourself with a Suicide Squad rap that sets up the backstory of your character and all the other villains and the plot.” Wouldn’t people love if Will Smith released one more rap song for a movie? That would be great.
Dr. Dre just released Compton. You could come back out of retirement for this, Will. I think it would be good. And there should be a rap in a superhero movie. No rap for Ant-Man, no rap for The Avengers. And these are movies that are calling for it! We need it! You have the power to get this done!
We need to get Will Smith out of retirement and get this Suicide Squad song going.
AVC: You could start one of those Change.org petitions.
PS: We’ve got to get this passed before Obama gets out of the White House. Because, if this goes across Obama’s desk, he’s very cool. He gets it. He knows what America needs, and we need a Will Smith movie plot rap song. So I feel like this is our only chance. We only have a couple more months to get this where it needs to be. This is a lot of pressure. A lot of pressure for all of us.