Just look at these idiots
I will not oversell this with breathless Upworthy-esque superlatives. It might not be the funniest or the most brilliant thing you’re going to see online all day. But it is damned witty and amusing, and absolutely worth spending ten minutes with, should you happen to have a spare ten minutes to kill. Award-winning essayist and short story writer Steve Almond - known for Candyfreak, Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life and God Bless America - in a speech given at Tin House Magazine’s 10th anniversary celebration in 2009, delivered a terrific takedown of that depressingly durable, dangerously soporific, and shamefully not entirely unenjoyable early ‘80s hit, “Africa,” by the indisputably crappy band/punchline Toto.
Though it’s maybe shooting fish in a barrel, this needed to be done. Toto were a canned band of six session musicians, previously footnote-worthy for their work on several best-selling light pop and vaguely fusiony rock albums, who united so as to grope for stardom in their own collective right. They were responsible for some of the most unlistenable radio dreck of their late ‘70s/early ‘80s heyday, but “Africa,” from their ha-ha-we-won-all-the-Grammys blockbuster 1982 album IV, is the massive and enduring überhit that’ll get played at all of their funerals. And it’s not hard to see why, as really, it’s an undeniably pretty song with a very well-crafted emotional arc. And it’s kinda soothing. And it grooves along well enough in the background, so you sorta don’t mind it, and then oh right on, here comes that big soaring chorus and JESUS BALLS CHRIST it’s so obviously a douchey black hole into which all that is not mightily vile gets sucked and yet this creepy, pandering, empirically wretched smooth-jazz/pop dross has been a mainstay for over 30 years and how how HOW THE FUCK DID YOU DO THAT, TOTO, YOU AWFUL, AWFUL MEN? I am persuaded that a horrible bargain was struck with the same pop Satan that handed “Orinoco Flow” to Enya.
Almond’s fine belittlement of the accursed thing begins with a funny line-by-line parsing of the lyrics - which make very nearly no sense. He goes on to quote at length from a truly stupid interview with Toto’s lyricist, revealing that the man, though gifted at extracting money from the pop charts, was kind of an embarrassingly clueless fuckstick. Almond concludes with some brutal truths about the narcissism of white, Western privilege that I would love to blockquote here, but to do so would be to rob the man of his well-earned money shot. I’ll let him do the rest of the talking.
Hat tip to Paul Scot August for bringing this little gem to my attention.