You could practically hear music bloggers imploding in elation earlier this week, when America’s favorite Jersey-reppin’, Springsteen-lovin’ punk band posted a cover of Swedish DJ duo Icona Pop’s inescapable hit “I Love It.” Titus Andronicus titled their version “I Don’t Care,” because “I Love It” is apparently a “stupid” name and “‘I Don’t Care’ is a much better, more punk, more Ramones/RIchard Hell/Sex Pistols-esque title.” And if that weren’t enough of a radical critique, they stretched out the song’s running time to over eight minutes, trashing most of the words in favor of repeating the chorus (“I don’t care / I love it”) ad nauseam and inserting such bratty-punk lyrics as “Fighting with the cops / I love it / Burning down the church / I love it.”
Say what you will about Titus’ petulant frontman, Patrick Stickles, but he’s intelligent enough that we can assume those textbook teenage-rebellion endorsements are tongue-in-cheek, or at the very least self-aware. Yet even with this in mind, they seem meant as a sarcastic critique of “I Love It” — a way of exposing Icona Pop’s anthem as unworthy of its nihilist chorus, as not at all punk. In fact, Titus’ entire decision to release a cover of the song reads as a way of dramatizing the distance between their knowledge of (and participation in) radical tropes and the frivolity of the single itself.
I mention this not to add to the piles of writing on Stickles’ self-righteousness, but to point out what a long, strange trip “I Love It” has taken in the past 14 months to become the kind of mainstream pop hit that inspires snotty punk covers. As Chris Molanphy points out in a recent NPR piece titled “The Slow Hit Movement,” on the trend of singles entering the pop charts months after their release, it came out in time to be last year‘s song of the summer. And it was, for people who happen to live in Brooklyn and/or read Pitchfork. Those who don’t, Molanphy observes, first encountered it when characters who fit into the very center of that Venn diagram danced to “I Love It” on Girls earlier this year. (That is, if it hadn’t already caught their ears when it was soundtracking the somewhat differently intoxicated lifestyle of Snooki & JWoww — although if there’s anything abundantly clear about MTV’s audience in 2013, it’s that they’re not interested in music.)
But if it’s TV shows that drove Icona Pop’s mainstream awareness and pop-chart success, it’s TV commercials that made them ubiquitous. What do Diet Dr. Pepper, Shoedazzle, The Heat, and Smirnoff Ice have in common? “I Love It” has appeared in a high-visibility ad for each of these (along with a few other) products in the past few months, making it inconceivable that anyone who watches more than an hour of television a week remains unfamiliar with the track. Considering that the Girls audience tops out at 4.6 million and less than half that many viewers watched the first season of Snooki & JWoww, it’s likely that most people who know the song heard it on a commercial first.
And that helps to explain how it acquired the meaning Titus Andronicus seem to be attributing to it. Now that the song is so thoroughly associated with a seemingly endless number of products available for purchase, the nihilism of “I Love It” has taken on a sort of selfish, consumerist undertone. When Stickles sings, “Fighting with the cops / I love it,” it seems less of a reaction to “I don’t care / I love it” than to “Buying shoes / I love it” and “Drinking sickeningly sweet, unnaturally white-hued malt-liquor confections / I love it.”
Unfortunately, the ads’ combined effect isn’t limited to forging an unconscious connection between “I Love It” and buying shit. The commercials also share a target demographic: women in general, and the subset of young women who might sign up for an online shoe subscription service or guzzle an adult beverage with gal pals in particular. (This may seem inevitable because Icona Pop’s members are women, but the song’s first, pre-release ad appearance was in a Samsung Galaxy spot so male-oriented it’s set in a basketball locker room.) The association with female consumerism brings its own decades’ worth of cultural baggage. Suddenly, “I Love It” is the anthem for some impulse-buying Sex and the City type’s touchingly vanilla flirtation with naughtiness, in the form of an addiction to stilettos or diet soda, a night spent knocking back Smirnoff Ice or taking in the buddy-cop antics of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy with the girls. It’s enough to make Lena Dunham’s use of the song look downright radical.
What’s sad about this is that, in its unedited form, “I Love It” is radical for a pop song. Like Titus, most of the commercials focus solely on the “I don’t care / I love it” chorus, pressing “play” well after the industrial-style screwdriver of an opening, an appealing dose of brutality thrown in by the track’s author, weird-pop wundergirl Charli XCX. And not a single ad includes the lyric that makes it as great a bratty teen punk anthem as anything the Ramones ever came up with: “You’re from the ’70s / But I’m a ’90s bitch.”
Even for those of us who were blasting it on repeat long before it was the theme song for every other pseudo-indulgent lady-product, the meaning of “I Love It” has been permanently altered by its new context. I’m well aware that it’s a cliché to trash a band you loved before they were famous for selling out — and, for the most part, I got that set of petty gripes out of my system years ago. But now that it’s impossible to hear “I Love It” without thinking about women and shopping, the song’s evolution has become an exceptional example in which the distinctive personality of a relatively unknown act is overshadowed by the mass-market brands with which it’s associated. Icona Pop’s quest to monetize their first big hit has stuck the duo with an irritating identity that might be impossible to shake.