My grandmother is a simple woman. Born and raised in northwest Ohio, she’s never exactly been on the cutting edge of coolness. Married young and earning a modest living as a grade school teacher before transitioning to a full-time mother and homemaker, she’s always been more content to curl up with a good book or her daytime soaps than keep up with the ebb and flow of pop culture throughout the decades.
Over the years, her gaps in zeitgeist familiarity and periodic ditzy moments proved an endless wellspring of entertainment for me, my brother, and our cousins. Her brain farts always skewed towards the ditzy as opposed to the Alzheimery, so we never felt like monsters for laughing at/with her. For instance, on one occasion, while telling a story, she pantomimed a gun and, for whatever reason, gave it the accompanying sound effect of “BOING!” Almost any other onomatopoeia would have done in that instance, but the turning gears in my grandmother’s head spit out the sound a cartoon spring makes.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I took some time to catch up with Grandma and see what pop culture of the past year made it through the asteroid belt of Mitch Albom novels into her orbit.
Peaking at Number 1 on Billboard’s “Hot 100,” and still sitting comfortably in the top 10 a few weeks later, "The Hills" by singer/angst-filled condom The Weeknd is a certifiable smash hit and part of the pop culture landscape. Naturally, Grandma was entirely unfamiliar with the single.
What would a woman born in 1929 make of a song teeming with modern slang and by an artist whose signature "XO" is a nod to his recreational usage of ecstasy and oxycodone? I sat her down for a full listen through of the song before having her give a line-by-line breakdown of the lyrics. Here’s what she made of it:
Your man on the road, he doin' promo
You said, "Keep our business on the low-low”
What does that mean?
“I don’t know. Hmm. Well, I think he hopes to not get too serious.”
I'm just tryna get you out the friend zone
“I’m just trying to get you out the front?”
No, The Friend Zone.
“They’re gonna have a party.”
Cause you look even better than the photos
“Well, he must think she looks pretty good.”
I can't find your house, send me the info
Drivin' through the gated residential
“I don’t know. Is he looking for her?”
Found out I was comin', sent your friends home
“Well, he wants to have a bigger party?
Hey! You’re all laughing at me!”
Keep on tryna hide it but your friends know
“Hmmm. Is she pregnant?”
I only call you when it's half past five
The only time that I'll be by your side
“Oh. For supper.”
I only love it when you touch me, not feel me
When I'm f*cked up, that's the real me
“When he’s f*cked up, that’s the real me. Hmm. Well, he must like being f*cked.”
I'mma let you know and keep it simple
Tryna keep it up don't seem so simple
“Making love doesn’t seem so simple.”
I just f*cked two b*tches 'fore I saw you
And you gon' have to do it at my tempo
“He’s used goods.”
Always tryna send me off to rehab
Drugs started feelin' like it's decaf
“Drugs started making him feel peaceful.”
I'm just tryna live life for the moment
And all these motherf*ckers want a relapse
“Oh. Welllll, that’s a phrase that blacks tend to use a lot. And the relapse is how they’re gonna go back to taking drugs.”
(Note: My grandmother doesn't have a hateful bone in her body. This is just one of those things where an old person doesn't realize that's not an ok thing to say. That said, I cringed hearing it as much as you cringed reading it.)
Hills have eyes, the hills have eyes
“If you’re in the country around hills, someone’s bound to be lookin’ atcha.”
Who are you to judge, who are you to judge?
Hide your lies, girl, hide your lies
Only you to trust, only you
“Well, you shouldn’t lie if you want someone to trust you.”
Wise words, Grandma. Wise words.