The idiot savants of pop, LMFAO were schooled in hitmaking by their "Papa Berry," founder of Motown.
LMFAO are silly, and they know it. They're also smart and resourceful. In the past year, the Los Angeles electro-pop duo has catapulted from dance-club up-and-comers to colorful stars who boast two No. 1 smashes, a Super Bowl halftime performance with Madonna and an arena headline tour that comes to Target Center on Friday.
Not bad for a pair of slackers. While their global smashes "Sexy and I Know It" and "Party Rock Anthem" sound flagrantly stupid, their success isn't dumb luck. That became clear during 40 minutes on the phone with Redfoo and SkyBlu -- America's biggest party-animal duo since "Wayne's World."
Let's start with their pedigree: Redfoo, born Stefan Gordy 36 years ago, is the son of Motown founder Berry Gordy, one of the most successful executives in the history of the recording industry. SkyBlu, born Skyler Gordy 26 years ago, is Gordy's grandson and Redfoo's nephew.
Growing up, they got music-biz lessons directly from the man they call "Papa Berry" and from his autobiography, "To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown." The now-successful scions explained a few crucial pointers in language as simple and direct as their lyrics.
"Direction is more important than speed," Redfoo said in a recent teleconference with several journalists. "You can go fast in the wrong direction."
"Two plus two is four," SkyBlu picked up. "Logic is boss. If something don't make sense, no matter who's throwing down the orders, you know you shouldn't do it."
Redfoo recited Gordy's basic three-step philosophy: "Create, make and sell. And it's really important to know which phase that you're in. You're in creation; you're writing the songs. Once you get all the songs, then you make [record] them. Then you manufacture them. You have to get the CDs pressed up or you have to get it into iTunes or whatever your distribution channels are. And then you sell them.
"Another thing is: Organize before you advertise. Understand what you're promoting."
Aiming low, feeling high
Sounds elementary, doesn't it? Redfoo and SkyBlu are masters of the lowest common denominator. Like Black Eyed Peas, LMFAO takes simple, chant-like phrases that resonate around the world ("everybody have a good time" is the slogan in "Party Rock Anthem") and wed them to minimal but irresistible dance beats.
The music is influenced heavily by Chicago house and Detroit electro, proven dance-club styles. There are also elements of Miami bass, Atlanta crunk and New Orleans bounce.
True students of the game, Redfoo and SkyBlu scrutinize the work of other hitmakers and often pick their brains.
"In the beginning, me and Foo were just listening to music and figuring things out," SkyBlu said. "Now we know [producers] David Guetta and Afrojack, so through conversation and all that, it stimulates maybe a new sound or a new concept of 'this is how they do that.' Then we take it and do it in our own way."
Inspiration can come from anywhere, Redfoo said.
"The shuffle [an LMFAO dance move] kinda originates from the Charleston [dance] and the big-band jazz and swing jazz. That hadn't been used in popular music for a while. The you-point-your-finger-in-the-air type thing, that was in the Roaring '20s. We like it. So we put that in our music."
Cartoonish but contagious, their lyrics read like Patron-fueled pickup lines:
"I got a passion in my pants/ And I ain't afraid to show it, show it, show it, show it."
Or: "I've got a plan, what's your cell?/ We playing naked Twister back in my hotel."
If you think LMFAO walks the fine line between stupid and clever, remember it's all in the name of fun.
"I used to do stand-up comedy," said Redfoo, who, like SkyBlu, was a class clown growing up. "The thing we did with LMFAO, we wanted to be ourselves or exaggerations of ourselves. We're funny people. We might satire here or there, a couple of lines, but it's not like a joke band. Not like Spinal Tap.
"It got mixed up in the beginning 'cause people thought that we were making fun of maybe hip-hop or electro. No. This is what we do. We don't follow a model like traditional songwriting. Some people say: 'So when are you gonna start making some serious music?' We say: 'I'm dead serious. This is how we communicate -- with a little bit of funny.'"
That should be clear enough from Redfoo's voluminous Afro and oversized lens-free glasses. There's a story behind those frames:
Foo was wearing dark glasses in a Miami club, getting his groove on, when SkyBlu came up to him on the dance floor and told him: "Man, you freakin' two fat bleepies and one of them looks like a dude."
The sunglasses made everything look fuzzy, "so I popped out my lenses," Redfoo said. "Then I could see everything in the club but still had my cool accessory on my face. A girl came up to me and said, 'I like your glasses.' And she was hot. And I said, 'I ain't never taking these off.'"
The humor even extends to the duo's moniker.
Any texter worth her smartphone knows that LMFAO stands for "laugh my bleeping bleep off." But Redfoo and SkyBlu say it's short for "loving my friends and others." Yeah, fans laugh their butts off when they hear that one.
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