(15) emf, "unbelievable" 119 UPSETS (2) tag team, "whoomp! (there it is)" 119-114
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchfadness twitter poll. Polls closed @ 9am Arizona time on Mar 6.
janet towle on "whoomp! (there it is)"
In 2015, the Chicago Bulls held a 90s Night—which is no coincidence, right? Of course the Bulls would be nostalgic about the 90s. Anyway, as you can see, at halftime, the stadium dims the lights. Classic heyday Bulls clips play to a song that is emblematic of scoring and celebration, of good-natured pre-millenial swagger, of healthy, mutually-beneficial rivalry, and an announcer comes out on the darkened court to hype the performance to come.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this song was number one in 1993!”
A little deceptive—this song hit #1 for R&B, but only reached #2 on the Hot 100.
“Here to perform it live, please welcome Tag Team!”
DC the Brain Supreme saunters out resplendent in sunglasses and a dark vest, crowing “Party people!” with all that classic resonance. Steve Roll’n is there too, of course, in a cap and jeans, and when DC explains that “we’re kicking the flow,” Steve Roll’n echoes the line while doing a high kick to demonstrate just how serious they are. As the performance continues, DC and Steve Roll’n seem out of breath, out of sync, unable to galvanize their crowd—Steve’s “I’m taking it back to the old school ‘cause I’m an old fool who’s so cool,” has a particular sting—but DC’s smile as he chants his way through the shaka-lakas is a consolation. And as heartbreaking as it is, I can dig it. Here, several decades after its debut, “Whoomp! (There It Is)” doesn’t just feel like the right song to play at halftime on 90s Night: it feels like the only choice.
The Wikipedia article for “Whoomp! (There It Is)” begins with an italicized warning not to confuse this song with 95 South’s “Whoot, There It Is,” which was also released in 1993—several months earlier than Tag Team’s single, in fact—and which was also recorded in Atlanta. As we know, “Whoomp! (There It Is)” reached #2 on the charts, whereas “Whoot, There It Is” only hit #11. According to the Genius.com annotations of the lyrics, the content of the verses is quite distinct—it’s only the overlap between choruses that causes concern:
Really, though, the whole article is worth a read. The section on how “Whoomp! (There It Is)” has fared in popular culture makes me despair of writing anything funnier on purpose, as it includes lines like this: “The song has also been featured in several films, such as Shark Tale, Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Rio and Elf.” In one subsection, readers learn that in 2010, Gawker published an article whose title asked whether the man seen at 1:01 in the “Whoomp! (There It Is)” video is Barack Obama—and as is tradition for titles phrased as questions the answer is no, but there is a certain resemblance.
A week or so after I chose to write about “Whoomp! (There It Is),” as I was in the midst of wondering how I was going to address the question of the potential plagiarism, I heard about the controversy surrounding a cake from President Obama’s second inaugural ball in 2013. Celebrity chef Duff Goldman tweeted this:
Buttercream Bakeshop fessed up by posting a picture of the 2017 cake to their Instagram with the following caption:
And, of course, as you’ve probably heard if you’ve heard any part of this story before, much laughter has been gleaned from the fact that the original cake was made of cake while the copycat cake was made mostly of Styrofoam. In this case, it’s easy to say which cake is the better cake, the more deserving cake, the most original cake—both because one came four whole years before the other and because one was actually a cake.
Some confusion remains around “Whoomp! (There It Is)” and “Whoot, There It Is,” however—mostly due to the potential shield created by questioning the relationship of the date of recording in relation to the date of release—and various camps maintain adherents to this day. That said, both the Wikipedia page and a 1993 article in the LA Times seem comfortable hinting that the overlap can’t have been coincidental, and that Tag Team’s “Whoomp! (There It Is)”—which enjoyed the greater success and which was featured in such illustrious films as Elf and D2: The Mighty Ducks—probably ripped off 95 South.
I chose “Whoomp! (There It Is)” because when I was a kid—for several formative years between seven and ten—I watched D2 over and over on VHS. I’d never seen the first Mighty Ducks movie. I didn’t know anything about hockey and like many other budding writers I wasn’t particularly enamored with organized sports, much preferring, even then, to avoid situations that called for teamwork, or, as I would have phrased it if I’d known the right word and had a more keenly developed since of irony, “compromise.” I’d never yet had personal experience with a positive collaboration, only with group projects and partner assignments with people who were less nervous about their elementary school report cards than I was. But I loved the scene at the beginning of the movie where Charlie goes roller-blading through the city collecting all his old friends from their various houses and jobs and lives. I loved the ending, in which—no joke—the team, in plainclothes, sings “We Are The Champions” around a campfire. And I loved the scene—questionable on many axes—in which Team USA, on a rare day off, gets some lessons in “how to play like the real Team USA” from a group of kids they encounter playing street hockey.
It’s no accident that many of the street hockey kids are black, or that “Whoomp! (There It Is)” was the song chosen to accompany this moment. According to the Wikipedia page on D2, a critic from The Washington Post was moved to say that “D2: The Mighty Ducks reaches an extraordinary low—even for a Disney sequel. This unctuous barrage of flag-waving, message-mongering, counterfeit morality, which contains the stalest kiddie-team heroics in recent memory, makes the original, innocuous 'Ducks' look like one of the Great Works.” But the reason why I loved that scene, and the others, had to do with the exaggerated, so-trope-laden-as-almost-to-be-archetypal portrayals of freewheeling teenage friendship. I loved seeing Russ Tyler, the leading street hockey player, go on to join Team USA and show off his signature knucklepuck because I love the moment in narratives like these in which we assemble the team and begin to train. I’m not alone in this love—assembling the team seems to be a crowd-pleaser, it’s one of the reasons why people tend to be fonder of The Fellowship of the Ring than The Return of the King—but I think I can trace my particular affection back to D2 as the originating example, for better or worse: this is how you introduce an array of characters, these are their distinct individual skills, this is how they have historically had disagreements, and this is how they will come together, this is the start of how the bad guys will be overcome.
Which isn’t to say you should vote for “Whoomp! (There It Is)” over “Natural One” or “You’re Unbelievable.” In fact, considering questions of Styrofoam, maybe you shouldn’t. But if one of your metrics for comparing one-hit wonders has to do with nostalgia, with positive association, then all I can say is that I hope you’re a sports fan, or that I hope you watched D2 before you were cognizant enough to recognize its counterfeit morality and after you became cognizant enough to recognize the joyful amplified power of a collective.
Janet Towle's fiction has appeared in The Normal School, Eleven Eleven, Carve, and is forthcoming from New South. She has an MFA from the University of Arizona.
dan gibson on "unbelievable"
The CD single for EMF’s “Unbelievable,” a song that topped the American pop charts for one week in July of 1991 (riding its time out on Billboard’s radar for 23 weeks in total), is available—as of this writing—for one cent. There are 61 copies available. The vinyl holds out for $4.25, probably because people are weird about vinyl these days. The audio cassette? 99 cents.
All the purchasers seem to believe the band is from Australia (they’re not), but they do offer solid praise:
“If you love the song Unbelievable you'll love it being sung 6 different ways on this CD”
“This is an incredible single. Five very different versions of the same song and they're all good.”
There’s no time here to get into the four (or five) versions of “Unbelievable” here, but in its most famous form, it’s the best one-hit wonder of the 90’s, essentially opening the decade on a high-note unmatched by the Primitive Radio Gods and Mark Morrisons of the world. At very least, we need to appreciate “Unbelievable” for knocking Paula Abdul’s “Rush Rush” from five weeks of pop dominance, then holding off Bryan Adams’ seeming inexorable “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” from the top of the charts for a week.
1991 was not a particularly good year for pop music. Sure, there was a lot happening on the “college rock” front, but the radio was jammed up with Extreme’s “More Than Words,” Wilson Phillips songs, and the painful reality that Ted Nugent once had a top five hit (“High Enough,” which I regret even mentioning). EMF’s brief dance with crossover fame was—at very least—fun, something you couldn’t say about, say, Gloria Estefan’s “Coming Out of the Light.”
And fun should be the primary standard by which we judge one hit wonders. While there’s something deeply comical about the weird set of circumstances that allowed a song by a fictional band from a TV show to hit number one, “How Do You Talk to an Angel,” there’s no reason to ever listen to that particular track again. Tal Bachman might have had one hit for a reason, if listening to even the first few moments of “She’s So High” is evidence. “She's blood, flesh and bones/No tucks or silicone…” Please God, make it stop.
EMF figured it all out for one moment. The guy with the Vision Street Wear shirt on keyboards, dudes in shorts on guitar and bass, the shirtless drummer, the sideways Oakland Athletics painter cap guy on vocals, even DJ Milf (I know, that doesn’t help, but it seems to predate the “modern” use of that term). The opening is huge, immediately recognizable and not wasting time with an unnecessary build-up. The Andrew Dice Clay samples have probably outpaced his grade-school-filthiness nursery rhymes as the most memorable moment of his career.
Sure, it would have been nice if EMF would have had the good sense to permanently slink into the darkness after they had their moment. Let’s just pretend their 1995 cover of “I’m a Believer,” which might somehow be worse than Smash Mouth’s take on the Monkees song, didn’t happen. You’re right, there was precisely no reason for EMF to return in 2012 to perform Schubert Dip in its entirely. We’ve all made mistakes.
Sure, EMF were—at best—a less interesting version of the Happy Mondays or some other big UK indie act of the era (I see you, Inspiral Carpets), but it works. This isn’t a track that you’ll be unfortunately reminded by the canned soundtrack while perusing the paper towel choices at your local supermarket. There’s too much joy; it’s made for bad imitations of James Atkins’ Gloucester accent while taking the kids to school or as a jam on your Apple Music jogging playlist, remembering the wild flailing you did to this song once during a high school dance. Plus, it made a great soundtrack for the Richard Spencer getting punched video:
What more could you ask for?
Vote for those days when the British music you listened to in an effort to seem cool crossed over to the American mass consciousness. Vote for joy in musical form. Vote “Unbelievable.
Dan Gibson is the communications director for a tourism agency, but in previous lives, he was the editor of an alt-weekly, a playlist compiler for iTunes, a freelance music writer for Idolator and elsewhere, the manager of a bakery, call center employee, fake classified ad writer, a music label employee and a record store manager. He is also the co-founder of Beat on the Street, a multi-generational dance troupe.