The Musical Talmud: Morning After Dark (Timbaland, featuring ShoShy and Nellie Furtado)

Timbaland drives a stake through the heart of the vampire phenomenon.

I want to suck (your blood).

Welcome to the desert of the vampire.

Oh, you thought Twilight had driven a stake through vampire mythos – that with its sparkly, daywalking Christian Rock Emo vibe, it had finally cast asunder the resonance and insight of the vampire myths and left them in shards on the dry, dusty ground of a vast cultural wasteland.

Well, you haven’t seen Vampirum Ad Absurdam – the true return to dust of Romania-via-Ireland’s tortured legacy – until you’ve seen the video to the late-2009 Timbaland single, “Morning After Dark,” featuring French recording artist ShoShy and sometimes, depending on the version, that sultry creature of the night: Nellie Furtado. Observe:

Count Dracula
Lestat Di Lioncourt
Edward Cullen
Timbo “Crazy Eyes” McGee

Witness the final descent of vamp. And yet…

As any archaeologist can tell you, there is a lot of wisdom to be found in a ruin. Why has vampsloitation sunk so low? Why does it just not make any goddamned sense anymore? What are the key contradictions that have spoiled the saga of the bloodsucker?

What confusions and conflicts in our own society are reflected in this garbled attempt to serve so many masters at once?

All this, and a vampire who thinks “You’re dope enough yep,” and says “I’m like wow,” after the jump –

Apocryphal Preamble

The reason for the season.

There are actually two recorded versions of this song – the U.S. launch single with just SoShy and Timbaland, and the international/album/video version, which takes out a useless verse by Timbaland and replaces it with a much more interesting, if still relatively chaotic and confused, appearance by Nellie Furtado.

Perhaps the fact that Timbaland is 10 years older than SoShy, and that sexual tension between the two of them isn’t really believable, is why the original single doesn’t really work. Of course, the original single includes this very firmly vampiric preamble:

Hello Mr. Mosley, I’m glad you’re my maker
My Loyalty lies in your hands, you’re my breath taker
Your body, your kiss is in unknown demand
So take command, go Timbo

Yeah, thinking of this random French girl kissing Timbaland is kind of gross. Timbaland is a classy dude with a more reserved, mature sexuality that borders on a nostalgic boredom with it all, even when he’s being crass. Compared with somebody like Li’l Wayne he’s practically … adult. When Timbaland sings “Promiscuous” with the only six years younger than him Nellie Furtado, it’s reasonable that he’d discreetly take her back to his apartment, where he’d have a really nice, well put-together place, and they’d go have some nice merlot and light some candles and do their adult thing without anybody watching.

I really don’t believe for a second he’s exacting an “unknown demand” on this girl with his kiss – Timbaland tends to make his demands known, and they tend to be phrased as polite requests among consenting adults – again, if crass ones.

Which is reflected in the video, because the eyes will sometimes not allow what the ears will tolerate – SoShy and Timbaland are portrayed more as partners in crime and sidekicks than as lovers, and they appear to be protecting the protagonist rather than preying on her – except that they’re creatures of the niiiiiight and are scaaaaaary!!!

But we’ll get to all that. For now, note two things about this preamble, which doesn’t appear in the “canonical” version of the song:

1.It establishes right off the bat (get it?) that this song is about vampires.
2.It sets up a parallel between an older man having sex with a younger woman and a record producer introducing a new talent, because that’s what Timbaland is doing with SoShy for the American audience in this song.

So yeah, sex is parallel with death, which is parallel with contemporary pop music production, where autotune removes the vivacious and organic influence of the human animal’s natural noisemaking apparatus (i.e., voice).

See, Timbaland is SoShy’s “breath taker” because he’s the producer who records her voice and uses it in his songs. Also, he cuts the irregularities out of the track and homogonizes it, “taking” her “breath.”

Pretty clever, huh?

Oh, right, but this isn’t in the canonical song. Let’s go to the canonical song, which, for both the music and the video, is divided into several key sections that don’t have much connection with one another.

It creates monsters.

Section 1 – The art director has a smoke machine

Seriously, I totally got a smoke machine. It’s wild. It’s like, filling this whole place up with smoke, man. It’s totally got that Twilight thing going on.

Also note that, at the very beginning of the video – in the first 20 frames or so – there is an Italian flag hanging on a building to the right, instantly establishing that we are following what looks like an American exchange student in the exotic land of Italy. There are also vegetables and Vespa scooters sitting around in conspicuous places and a second Italian flag just to make it really clear we’re in Italy. So that’s established. Somebody thought that was important, and somebody had to go to the loading dock to go pick up the frickin’ Vespa scooter so it could sit on a soundstage for six hours to be in five seconds of this stupid video. This another reason why I never underestimate the amount of thought and effort that goes into disposable entertainment. Somebody had to spend a whole day doing everything.

Well, while in Italy, our protagonist is always looking concerned because exotic European men are going to bite her neck / have sex with her against her will except she really wants to at least make out with an exotic European man or else why would she go to a trashy dance club by herself in the first place / etc.

It’s all kind of a nightmare for feminism, but whatever. When it comes to nightmares and things this song does wrong, the feminists can get in line with everyone else. There’s enough blame to go around.

So, let’s look at the lyrics of the first section of the song:

Go Timbo!

I’ll be the same when it all goes up
I’ll be the same when it all goes down
Not the first one, open it up
I’ll be the last one closin it out
Don’t know if I’ll give you a shot yet
Lil’ momma I’m peepin your style
Do I think you’re dope enough? Yup!
One way of findin it out
The way you came at me, boo
Don’t care, not afraid I’m like “Wow!”
Really want it all head to toe
Question – is she gon’ let it out?
Anyway the hour glass go
I don’t worry anyhow
Why don’t we see where it go?
Let’s figure it out

This verse establishes two things:

1.Timbaland likes to arrive at clubs in the evening and stay until they close. Fair enough. This is a pretty common thing. “Hey, let’s go to a club at 7 pm, order some $10 drinks at an empty bar, and go to bed before 10:30! Woo hoo!”

2.There’s a short or young woman who really likes Timbaland and has approached him at the club. He doesn’t really like her that much, but he likes her enough to keep talking to her, and is considering whether he’s going to engage in physical intimacy of some sort with her or not.

This in turn leads me to two thoughts.

1.This is a lot of windup. The song isn’t really about anything right now. In fact, there’s so much windup that I’m beginning to doubt the song is about anything at all. It’s as if these are the words Timbaland has to say, and he says them at this point out of force of habit, the artistic impulse more or less absent.

Throughout the video, he’ll seem distracted and be playing out the beats with his fingertips as he produces the song in his head – this is an act of “assembly” for him – getting all the pieces in the right place to make a hit, hopefully. He doesn’t take it very seriously – thus the crazy eyes.

I will  say that the crazy eyes are probably the thing that pushes this video over the top into overthinking territory. They speak volumes to me about Timbaland’s concept of himself as an artist and a performer – that he is not taking himself too seriously at all, and that he is following an impulse not dissimilar to that of The Living Theatre, the seminal American alternative theatrical performance group – that he’s destroying his art form at the same time as he is creating it, and he’s kind of mocking his audience’s relationship with other rappers, who take themselves so seriously and whom the audience tends to take so seriously.

2.This verse might imply something about vampires when put in context (say, with the preamble, or in the video, which establishes it much more quickly), but as of right now, just from the beat and lyrics, there’s no reason to believe this song is about vampires at all. This will change, awkwardly.

At this point in the song, Timbaland reveals unambiguously in the video that he is an Edward/Angelus-like protective vampire, doing the little Vampire scoot to stop the wall-walking, Metalocalypse reject from biting on the American Exchange student.

What a bat and a cat might look like.

Transition – Chorus

When the cats come out the bats come out to play, yeah
(In the morning after)
The dawn is here, be gone be on your way, yeah
(In the morning after)
When the cats come out the bats come out to play, yeah
(In the morning after)
The dawn is here, be gone be on your way, yeah
(In the morning after)

Owww (oooohhh) owww, c’mon SoShy!

So, this my best guess as to what this chorus is about:

When women (cats) go out on the town, men (bats) chase them around.

Except that bats don’t chase cats. Bats are small rodents. Cats would eat bats given the opportunity – the cat is the predator in this situation.

Oh, except that the bats are really vampires, because this song is suddenly about archetypical animals with connections to the occult, and the intonation of Timbaland’s voice strongly implies he is being a little bit Vincent Pricey.

But why are the vampires going after cats? Have they gone all Gordon Shumway on us?

So, okay, the bats are vampires, but the cats are women. Except that the vampires are also guys. So the guys are chasing the women. The guys get two layers of metaphorical representation, but the women only get one. This puts women roughly on the same level of reality as unicorns and gryphons. This might make sense in a hip-hop (or really any pop music) worldview, where women are often portrayed as exotic kept beasts who battle the heroes and stand vigil in treacherous or sacred places, like basement parties or the hoods of cars.

Except none of that is going on, because actually this is all over already, and everybody has to go home. This song isn’t about the cats or the bats going out on the town, it’s about what happens the morning after men and women have one-night stands.

Except in the last verse, Timbaland was just getting started. Have we really skipped all the good stuff?

Phase 1. “Hmm, she’s attractive, and she likes me, I guess I’ll talk to her.”
Phase 2. ???????????????
Phase 3. “Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out!”

Odd and unsatisfying, and not really how vampires behave.

Oh, except it’s dawn, and the vampires have to leave because the sun is coming up.

Except this is a call and response between a man and a woman, and Timbaland is the one telling us that the dawn is here and you have to go on your way, which implies that it is the cats, or women, who are nocturnal, and the men, who are vampires, need to get up and make breakfast.

Timbaland actually says both things which are temporally inconsistent – that this is a song about going out at night, and that this is a song about going home in the morning. And the woman identifies a third time this happening – the morning after, presumably after the vampire/catwoman has left your house.

But this does make sense because Timbaland was by far the less enthusiastic of the people in the nightclub seduction in the first verse – so maybe the woman was the predator, and the man was the willing victim, and now he’s sending her home.

Cats are usually representative of females for a variety of reasons (again, some crass), but “cats” can also mean men, and “bats” can also mean women.

So, it’s a bunch of jazz musicians having sex with a bunch of old ladies. Got it!

This would also explain why they get up at dawn. If there’s one thing jazz musicians and old ladies have in common, it’s going to Denny’s.

The morning after dark.

No mas! No mas!

See, here’s the problem with the vampire story: It’s been subverted and reversed so many times during the Hollywood era – especially since Ann Rice – that the subversions become cyclical. Is a vampire a good guy? A bad guy? A threat? A reluctant, antiheroic protector? In the post-Buffy era, who, the human or the vampire, the man or the woman, is the predator, and who is the prey? And the post-Darla era, in which women aspire to vampirehood and vampires are chic and current, is the vampire even really a threatening allegory of male sexuality and old-world mischief anymore?

Well, no. A vampire is window-dressing. It can frame any story you want, as long as, on some level, the story is about sex. Which is pretty easy, because almost all stories are about sex – of course, not to the exclusion of being about other things, but that’s why you have Xander.

Why, then, is it such an oft-relied upon symbol, if it has been so blurred in its consensus meaning?

I think this speaks to a larger anxiety and confusion around gender roles and international politics. As nice as social change can be, and as positive as the shifts have been that have led to the erosion of the vampire myth (the decriminalization of female sexuality, the net ebb in xenophobia in a globalized world, the fading Anglo-Irish-American memory of centuries upon centuries of Continental European atrocity and bloodshed, the modernization and opening of Eastern Europe, to name a few), seismic social change comes with pain. People adrift become alienated, angry, easily manipulated, confused, and, overall, nervous.

So, the “vampire” in this song, and in the cheaper social resonances of the symbol, is little more than a red flag that something is forbidden or wrong, but we don’t really know what. People are enthusiastic that there are things that go bump in the night, but they don’t know what they are, and they don’t know whether they want to join in.

And this sense of being lost with a set of fake teeth is reflected in the chorus of this song, which doesn’t make any sense.