You’ve arrived at Warped Tour 2008. The heat is searing, relieved only by a mirage oasis of energy drinks and human sweat. The once-punk-forward touring festival has now become the go-to summer camp for every MySpace buzz band: Cobra Starship, The Devil Wears Prada, Mayday Parade, Bring Me the Horizon. You wander to the Hurley.com stage, past a field of the skinniest jeans imaginable, hair volumized to glam metal heights, and young fans stacked with candy rave bracelets. A fast-rising duo takes the stage and fills their 25 minute set with obnoxious electropop-emo-rap songs. A lot of the music is repellant, but their final song catches everyone’s attention: “Black dress/ With the tights underneath…” goes the first line, reinforced by a screaming audience of mostly young girls.
The song is “Don’t Trust Me” by 3OH!3 — pronounced “three-OH!-three” — a brash-but-silly pop-rock track that became the Colorado duo’s breakout hit. Nearly a year after its release, “Don’t Trust Me” would complete its slow journey towards the top, garnering significant pop radio play and serving as a crucial crossover moment between MySpace notoriety and mainstream attention.
But 15 years later, the song reeks of a very particular time in the late 2000s, where a maximalist turbo-pop attitude had once carried 3OH!3 to brief stardom. Shortly after they made their grand entrance into the zeitgeist with grossly misogynistic lyrics, a burgeoning Katy Perry and Kesha would eventually eclipse 3OH!3 in both musical style and overall success, and terrible jokes about women and Helen Keller would never fly so blatantly again. 3OH!3’s moment in pop culture was cemented, but after 15 years, is any of the music worth revisiting? What was this moment like, and was it really as bad as we remember it?
“Don’t Trust Me” was the lead single to the duo’s label debut, Want, which came out in the midst of their Warped Tour journey on July 8th, 2008 via Photo Finish Records (a division of Atlantic Records). When I first heard the track as a 12 year-old, I loved it, but was rightfully embarrassed enough to tell no one, listening to it exclusively on MySpace from time to time. But eventually, the song peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has since been certified 3x platinum — accolades that, barring a miracle or its opposite, 3OH!3 will never achieve again.
Want, on the other hand, only peaked at 44 on the Billboard 200, and absolutely does not stand the test of time. Of course, in the iTunes age, I never bothered to listen to the album — but for the album’s 15th anniversary this month, I decided to give Want a close listen for the first time ever. I expected brazen pop hooks amidst squelching synths, terrifyingly bad lyrics about getting fucked up and disrespecting women, all around bafoonery. I wondered whether the music would be actually good, “so bad that it’s good,” or just plain bad.
The answer is mostly “it’s bad,” but not without a few surprises. Want features hip-hop in droves. Heavily associated with the “crunkcore” genre — a combination of southern hip-hop by way of Lil Jon with the emo-tinged aggression of post-hardcore — most of the album’s 12 tracks are souped-up shout-along crunk anthems that reek of Monster Energy Drink and embarrassing cultural cosplay. At the time, southern hip-hop in particular was still wildly popular, especially among young people. Whether for love or love of money, 3OH!3 — Sean Foreman and Nathaniel Motte — chose this hybrid presentation as their go-to style.