When informed of the title of Snoop Dogg’s latest single, “From Tha Chuuuch to Da Palace,” B2K’s J-Boog mused, “In a minute, nobody’s going to be speaking English anymore.”
If music’s growing leniency toward spelling is any indication, he could be on to something.
Scan the latest charts and you’ll notice dozens of misspelled words, including some of the year’s hottest singles — Nelly’s “Hot in Herre,” Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi,” Aaliyah’s “I Care 4 U,” 3LW’s “Neva Get Enuf,” LL Cool J’s “Luv U Better” and Nappy Roots’ “Po’ Folks,” to name a few.
And it’s not just pop and rap. Country star Shania Twain’s new single is “I’m Gonna Getcha Good!,” while R&B singer Daniel Bedingfield’s is “Gotta Get Thru This.”
So what prompted this unusual trend? Elementary school teachers everywhere will be happy to know it’s not a case of our entertainer role models forgetting their ABCs.
Artists say it’s about making songs their own.
“’Dirrty’s spelled D-i-r-r-t-y was a way for me to kind of personalize it,” Christina Aguilera explained of her sexy single, which she also considered spelling “Dirtee” and “Dirrdy.” “I felt like having two r’s, kind of like grrr, like when you say it you want to go, ’Dirrrty,’ ’cause that’s how it’s supposed to be. Gritty, like the video, [with] underground, illegal stuff going on.”
With thousands of new songs written every year, misspelling the titles has also become a way to stand out from the pack. According to an All Music Guide search, more than 30 artists have recorded a song called “Dirty.” Only one has recorded a “Dirrty.”
“I think what it does is it makes the song, or at least the title, inherent with the artist,” explained producer Jimmy Jam (Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey). “When you see ’Hot in Herre’ with two r’s, you know it’s Nelly. But you know there could be another song called ’Hot in Here.’ When you see it spelled his way, you know it’s Nelly.”
Actually, there are two “Hot in Here”s by other artists, according to AMG. And, in the age of the Internet, “you have to pay attention to how the songs are spelled,” Jimmy Jam pointed out. A recent Yahoo search for “Hot in Here” turned up 4,490,000 pages, while “Hot in Herre” turned up a more manageable 38,800 pages.
Misspellings are all the rage these days, but it’s been around in music for decades. Bands have long spelled their names incorrectly, even the biggest band of all time, the Beatles. Now there’s Korn, Musiq and Puddle of Mudd, to name a few.
As for song titles, though, the most influential misspeller was Prince, dating back to “Jack U Off” from his 1981 album, Controversy. Now all of his titles, liner notes and Web postings are written in his own shorthand spelling, as seen on 1999’s Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, which featured “Hot Wit U.”
“I’m still trying to figure out what Prince does,” said K-Ci of K-Ci & JoJo. “But I love it.”
Hip-hop artists were quick to disregard traditional spelling, particularly N.W.A, whose 1987 self-titled album featured “Tuffest Man Alive” and whose 1998 disc, Straight Outta Compton, has “F— Tha Police,” “If It Ain’t Ruff” and “I Ain’t Tha 1.”
Nowadays you’d be hard-pressed to find a rap album without “tha,” “ya,” “watcha,” “gotta” or “wanna” on it, and the trend doesn’t look to be going away anytime soon. (Interestingly, one of hip-hop’s most influential groups, Run-DMC, never misspelled, even avoiding the common “sucka” on 1984’s “Sucker MCs.”)
“It gives a song a great deal of identity,” explained K-Ci. “Like me, when I’m writing lyrics on a sheet of paper, if it’s ’I Love You,’ I don’t write it like that.”
Jimmy Jam, who said he doesn’t think he’s ever released a song that was misspelled, believes there’s room for both proper and improper English.
“[Janet Jackson’s] ’All for You’ was going to be the number 4 on the original track sheet, but before we put it out we asked which way and she said normal,” Jam recalled. “If it’s for a gimmicky song, then I think she feels it’s kind of cool, but if it’s straightforward, let’s do it normal. We don’t want people to trip out on it.”
’Cuz trippin’ out would B badd.