“In 1995, in Fall River, Massachusetts, Rich Cronin met Brian Gillis, who was also known as Brizz.”
And so, the story of the Lyte Funkie Ones begins.
Let’s be honest: does anybody give a fuck about LFO? Does anybody like LFO? Does anybody even tolerate LFO?
These are serious questions. I’m not trying to be mean. I swear!
I mean, let’s compare LFO to every other pop act I’ve reviewed thus far in this Digital Get Down adventure. Despite what you (or the public at large) might think about the likes of ‘N Sync or Hanson, the truth is that these acts enjoyed – at the very least – a brief flirtation with critical acceptance. Heck, even the Backstreet Boys had a critical “in” with “I Want It That Way,” which has popped up on more than a few “Best Pop Songs Ever” lists.
LFO do not have this. They do not have that one exceptional you-can’t-deny-that-THIS-is-a-classic hit single, that one member that became solo megastar, or even that one semi-hip producer they worked with in their early days that you never saw coming. LFO have never commanded even the tiniest iota of critical respect. And they never will.
Now you might find it strange that I would feel the need to qualify this in a blog solely dedicated to teen pop, but in LFO’s case I need to. Because no matter how many flim-flam pop acts I cover here, few will approach the immediate cultural marginalization that LFO experienced after boy bands became passe at the turn of the millennium. Offhand I can’t think of a single boy band that crashed-and-burned nearly as quickly or as despairingly. Do not let their sunny disposition fool you – the story of the Lyte Funkie Ones is a story marked by tragedy, depression and VH1 reality TV. LFO might be a joke, but they’re a cruel, awkwardly unfunny joke that you wouldn’t feel comfortable telling around your friends.
Why were LFO a joke, you ask. Because they were doofy as all hell? Because they were doofy as all hell.
Let’s face it – any boy band with hip-hop aspirations is pretty doofy by default (with very, VERY few exceptions). Especially if the dedicated Rapping Man in your band is one Rich Cronin, a wise-crackin’ pop-culture-riffing baby boy who’s uh-ah-uh-ya-donstop rapping style immediately exposed him as the Whitest Male in America in 1999. I can’t verify this but I’m pretty sure LFO were the one boy band that blanched the hardest at the “boy band” tag, and I am pretty sure it was because they viewed themselves as more of a legit hip-hop act. As if couplets like “shooby-doo-wop and Scooby snacks / I met a fly girl and I can’t relax” were signs of hip hop legitimacy.
You see what I mean about the story of LFO being a sad one?
Oh sure, I can’t deny that LFO were committed to the rap-happy aspects of their sound, at least moreso than most standard boy bands of the time. I can understand not wanting to be lumped in with the rest of the riff-raff. But ironically, the further away LFO got from run-of-the-mill boy band schmaltz, the worse they became. Look no further than debut single “Sex U Up (The Way You Like It),” featuring modern hip hop sensations 95 South:
(Note: volume is low in that video, you will have to turn it up All The Way. God help you if you do.)
God, just sit back and watch that thing. Watch all of it. Ignore the jarring VHS tape bloops and commit to this for me. You think LFO is a goofy joke now? Can you imagine if somehow “Sex U Up” had managed to fool America’s youth long enough in 1997 and become an actual hit single?? The backlash, oh goodness. “Summer Girls” would have been viewed as a cute, innocent follow-up by comparison. As bad as LFO got it, they should be thankful that “Sex U Up”‘s exposure was blissfully limited.
They got better, is what I’m trying to say. They did! Hearing “Sex U Up” for the first time was an enlightening experience for me, because it made me realize how much LFO improved in the couple of years leading up to their self-titled 1999 debut. Sure, you could argue that anything would be a massive improvement over one of the worst pop singles ever released.
And you would be right.
But LFO made some sweet savvy moves. They ditched goofy dad-like rapper Brian Gillis (yes, the aforementioned Brizz) and replaced him with sweet croony hunkbuddy Devin Lima, who essentially became the group’s lead vocalist. Whereas the Brizz was more attuned to dumbo whiteboy party rap, Lima had a husky croon and looked like a member of 98 Degrees. This, in turn, transformed LFO into more of a romance-pumping hunk band; LFO is chock full of lovemakin’ ballads. They became, essentially, a more sexually-explicit 98 Degrees with a goofy rapping guy who never shuts up. And this is the LFO we all know and love.
Listen, before we get to the nitty-gritty of this record I have to be honest. I have been remarkably mean to LFO in this intro, and I don’t want to be. I don’t! Because even if I don’t think LFO are a great band by any standard (do not expect the term “unfuckably great” to pop up below) I have nothing but the deepest empathy for these men. Deep, deep in my heart. I see them, and I see myself. I want to give each of them the heartiest of man-hugs and tell them they’ll have another shot at stardom someday. Good lord.
So let’s close the book on LFO: Shitty Nobody Pop Washups and crack open the First Edition of LFO: The Boys America Won, Lost, And Lost Again.
“Summer Girls” was a joke. No, I mean, really – from everything I’ve heard, it was an intentionally goofy joke track that Rich Cronin never expected to become an actual hit single. And I can’t really blame him, because “Summer Girls” doesn’t exactly scream “Monster Hit.” It’s not like it has a consume-all-life chorus hook like a Max Martin-penned BSB track, and it doesn’t really strive to sound like anything more than a goofy in-joke between friends (which it obviously was intended to be from the start).
But never underestimate the power of novelty. “Summer Girls” became a hit because it is a genuine oddity, a joke that doesn’t really make sense even after you’ve heard it over and over again. Most will point to Rich Cronin’s off-the-cuff pop culture references first and foremost, and with good reason – they are strange, blunt, and make zero sense in context (“You’re the best girl that I ever did see / The great Larry Bird, Jersey 33”). Heck, calling them pop culture “references” is giving them too much credit; a more accurate descriptor would be “mentioning that something in pop culture happens to exist“. And then there’s the weird wannabe-tie-in to Abercrombie and Fitch, and that Chinese food line, and liking Kevin Bacon but hating Footloose, and that cribbed Beastie Boys line, and-
“There was a good man named Paul Revere”? Wait what, can we-
Okay. You know what I mean. It’s all so silly. But God help me, can you name a single boy band hit in 1999 with more personality than “Summer Girls”? Or any pop hit from that year? For better or for worse, all of Rich Cronin’s fakey b-boy idiosyncrasies are laid bare here, exposed to every pop-loving American. We are hearing a fully-formed character in the verses of “Summer Girls.” He might be an idiot, but God, he’s somebody!
Not to mention, “Summer Girls” really does feel like summer. To me, it does! It’s lazy, laid-back, and eerily charming in a way that almost isn’t worth explaining. It’s not a great song, but does it matter? At the end of the day, when I think of summertime, I think of “Summer Girls.” And that has to be worth something.
Please, do me – and the world – a favor: take any and all hatred you may have towards “Summer Girls” and direct it towards “Sex U Up (The Way You Like It)”. Put it to good use!!
Oh, and “Billy Shakespeare wrote a whole bunch of saw-nets”? Adorable.
Shut up! It is.
“GIRL ON TV” AND OTHER SINGLES TOO
Here’s where things change up a little. LFO‘s second single “Girl On TV” is way more in line with everything else you will find on the record: smooth boy band balladeering, hunkoid Devin Lima lead vocals, dumbo Rich Cronin filling in every nook of dead air with a stupid rhyme. Cronin actually comes off as more of a support player here, and it’s not shocking; “Summer Girls” was such a pure Cronin overload that he could have taken the rest of the record off and teenage girls still would have thought he was “the lead guy” in LFO. And indeed, outside of a few lead turns here-and-there, Cronin’s presence is strongly downplayed throughout most of LFO.
I could be wrong. What am I talking about. I mean, this is a record with “Can’t Have You,” a straight-up lazy Yvonne Ellman cover that adds nothing to the song outside of Cronin’s belabored rapping. Not to mention “West Side Story,” featuring Cronin gems like “Montague and Capulet / make yo daddy sweat / ‘cuz he wishes that we never met.” So sure, Rich’s moments are more sporadic than I expected, but they’re there. Oh are they there.
So I just squelched my entire point. Here are the only three notable things about “Girl On TV”:
-Jennifer Love Hewitt is in the music video, who Rich was dating at the time. Man, these guys used to be on toppa the world!!
-Cronin’s exhalation of “At the risk of soundin’ CHEESY…” before every chorus. Right up there with “New Kids On The Block had a buncha hits” as one of the strangest shoehorned self-effacing lines in boy band history.
-Not unlike Hanson’s “I Will Come To You,” it was actually another big hit, charting at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Which would effectively make LFO a two-hit wonder. The more you know!!
YES THERE IS AN ENTIRE FIFTY-ONE MINUTE RECORD OF LFO SONGS
I know I’ve mentioned this already, but if we’re excluding singles, then LFO is one ballad-heavy motherfucker. One mostly boring ballad-heavy motherfucker.
Maybe it’s worth noting here that, unlike most boy bands of the period, LFO seemed to have a certain degree of creative control with their music. You’ll see Cronin credited as co-writer more than once on these tracks – probably just for all of his dumb raps, but I digress. Notable outside songwriters pop up here and there (“All I Have To Give” writers Full Force contribute “All I Need To Know,” Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam lend their production to “Baby Be Mine”), but they’re few and far between.
But still. So many ballads. I can’t for the life of me recall what the likes of “Cross My Heart” or “Your Heart Is Safe With Me” sound like even after I’ve just heard them, but a few do stick out. Despite being painfully generic, nothing will stop me from loving “Think About You” just for the immortal Cronin couplet of “Hey girl, whatchu tryin’ to do? / I mean like, whatchu tryin’ to put my body through?” Or the brazen let’s-get-nude-together sex anthem “I Will Show You Mine,” apparently written by a 12-year-old Sean David Rose. Or “Forever,” a ballad claiming a girl’s love to be “sweeter than the sprinkles on the top on mama’s apple pie.”
Oh, and then there’s non-ballad “My Block,” the most hip-hop driven track here featuring Rich Cronin politely requesting all “player haters” to kindly “get off [his] nuts.” “Nuts” was censored on the version of this track I heard, so take that how you will.
I don’t love this music. I don’t.
But God, someone needs to. Someone needs to love this record.* Poor LFO needs a home. It’s like a dumb pug puppy that follows you home after school – you just want to pick it up, let it lick at your ears a little and then bring it inside so you can feed it leftover Pizza Hut wings. I am begging you to love LFO like a kid would beg his mom to keep a dumb pug puppy. Won’t you let me keep LFO, mommy? Pleeeease??
I mean this. Because the future is not bright for LFO after 1999, and we need something to feel good about. For the love of God.
*Someone who isn’t my sister.