Cee-Lo Green and the Art of Kinetic Typography

Let’s face it: the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name “Cee-Lo Green” is probably the ridiculously brilliant golden ensemble he wore to the 2017 Grammy Awards. The second thing, though, is probably the lyrics to his 2010 masterpiece of a song, “Fuck You.” This catchy little ditty may not seem very relevant to the study of Electronic Literature at first, but I happened to stumble upon an article on “I Heart E-Poetry” that explained that it actually has everything to do with it. 

Let’s start with the definition of Kinetic Typography. In the article aforementioned, Leonardo Flores writes that it is used in digital poetry, film, and music videos to emphasize the text and cause the language to flow in a certain way by the pacing of the words as they appear on screen and simultaneously push other words off screen. If this sounds familiar, you may have noticed this method of text delivery in Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industry’s poems like “Dak0ta” and “Bust D0wn the D00rs.” The way the text moves, grows, and shrinks on the screen as the reader is experiencing the poem (or in the case of “Fuck You,” song) provides tone, emphasis, and pace. 

Back to our friend Cee-Lo. The first video he released for “Fuck You” was a text only, Kinetic Typography video. The words move and jive on the screen with the sound of his voice, they push each other around, and ultimately, they turn the song into much more than a Top 40 hit. Cee-Lo’s decision to create a text-only music video brings a new meaning to the text itself, and it’s fascinating to watch. It’s almost as though the text has come alive to tell the story. 

In addition to the use of Kinetic Typography, the “Fuck You” video uses different background colors to portray the emotion of the lyrics. For example, every screen that says any variation of “fuck you” is red.

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A screenshot of Cee-Lo Green’s video.

Additionally, the hook and chorus of the song are all presented on blue backgrounds, and the verses are presented on varying shades of green.

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The word “fool” is being pushed off the screen by the next lyrics.

I find it interesting that methods of digital poetry delivery are used in pop culture so readily. Before I was exposed to other works that use Kinetic Typography, I didn’t realize its impact on the reader/watcher. Now, as a student of Electronic Literature, I did things like turn down the volume to simply read the lyrics of the song as they appear, or pause the frames at interesting moments to study the way the words related to each other spatially. Playing around with the video really made it seem more like a digital poem and less like a pop song. I guess the beauty of it is, though, that it can exist as both in the same universe. The link to the video is provided below, so play around with it and see what new details can be discovered!

http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAV0XrbEwNc

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