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Or else forget about it: Why Smooth will never be forgotten

Or else forget about it: Why Smooth will never be forgotten

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June 1999 changed the world. On the first day of the month, Napster launched and began to change the music industry; George W. Bush announced he was running for president of the United States; and June closed when a legendary Mexican guitarist teamed up with Matchbox Twenty’s frontman Rob Thomas to give the world a five-minute Latin rock song about being smooth.

Cut to June 2016. The Bush family worked to reassemble the rubble from Jeb Bush's doomed presidential campaign, and music streaming service Rhapsody, in a shrewd attempt at cultural relevance, rebranded with the husk of Napster. Yes, even the sturdiest monuments eventually turn to dust. And yet somehow, in June 2016, "Smooth" remains smooth.


The 17-year-old pop song crescendoed into a full-on revival at the beginning of this summer. In 2016 "Smooth" is a BuzzFeed quiz, the subject of a failed Kickstarter, a T-shirt slogan, an Onion article, a Neil Cicierega remix, and a 15MB Twitter GIF experiment from yours truly.

The song's moment has extended deep into the summer. In recent weeks it has invaded the 2016 Olympics, first as a comedic measurement tool to see how long it took the runner-up to finish the women’s 800m freestyle after Katie Ledecky was done destroying them, and then as an honest-to-goodness soundtrack for dressage. (The former was sadly taken down by the IOC, because fun is a punishable offense.)

But how did "Smooth" become an internet joke? Or is this an honest-to-goodness comeback?

Well, first we have to acknowledge "Smooth's" existence as something that's simultaneously loved and loathed. As MTV News' Sasha Geffen pointed out, "Smooth" is on a similar level as Smash Mouth's "All Star." Both songs blew up back in the day as sincere pop hits. But as time went on, their inherent cheesiness revealed itself. Some people love the corny quality, while others, like Mastodon's Brent Hinds, hate it for that same reason.

In the early years of Twitter, when irony wasn't a default, people tweet about "Smooth" in earnest. Here's the earliest reference to the meme-ification of the song and its opening lyrics.

"Earnest" is the keyword here. During Twitter's younger days, people tweeted "Man, it's a hot one" either because it was hot on the day they tweeted or because they wanted to talk about "Smooth." By 2012 the tweets had morphed into nostalgic goofs, from misheard lyrics to this Rob Thomas parody account, the premise of which was a robotic-like newsreader who observed the weather, while restraining itself from tweeting the obvious lyric...

...until it finally gave in to tweeting the whole song:

By the end of 2012 into 2013, "Smooth" became a late-night comedy-level punchline, with Twitter users treating Rob Thomas like a catchphrase machine, making "Smooth" references about the Cleveland Indians' Carlos Santana (no relation), imagining Carlos Santana weeping during a fake phone conversation with Rob Thomas, and lamenting over a failure to respond with "Like seven inches from the midday sun." By 2014, regular people were tweeting "Man, it's a hot one," as if they were that one friend winking at you, silently asking you, "Hey, remember 'Smooth?'"

In 2016, "Smooth" has been so thoroughly mined of gags and knowing nods, that people have tweeted every single lyric on its own. I was able to reconstruct it nearly word-for-word — even the damn guitar solo. The point of all this is that "Smooth's" comeback into our lives wasn't sudden. It wasn't even a comeback. It only feels fresh because of mainstream ubiquity, transcending Twitter and appearing on the world stage — albeit a stage shared with a dancing horse and the mayor of New York City.

That observational tweet was over a month ago, but I can guarantee you, when Bill de Blasio used "Smooth" as his entrance music at the Democratic National Convention, every single person in that photo made a joke about it. And even before that, you can still find people dropping "Man, it's a hot one" or "Smooth" references, notably as a running gag from The Washington Post's Heather Schmelzlen:

It's impossible to pinpoint the exact moment when "Smooth" became an internet meme, but it was surely before the current flashy moment.

Frankly, it's the type of joke that defies an origin story, a meme that blows up because of a long-con social media pyramid scheme: one person, years ago, makes a joke that resonates with a handful of buddies, and then those people make a variation of the same joke, and then a few more decide to take it further and make "Smooth" remixes, that leads to a video involving Katie Ledecky's world record and the croons of Rob Thomas, and now everyone wants to be part of the club.

It's as if several Twitter worlds — Media Twitter, Comedy Twitter, Music Twitter, Sports Twitter, etc. — gradually and unintentionally joined together, and all of us, in silent agreement, decided to make "Smooth" jokes for the rest of our lives.

In the midst of all the jokes, though, the earnest "Smooth" tweeters never left. The "Smooth" fans the unwittingly set this ball in motion are still around, preaching the good word of Rob Thomas, tweeting YouTube or Spotify links to "Smooth," either because they love the song, they love Carlos Santana, they love Rob Thomas and Matchbox Twenty, or all three combined. They're the ones who keep "Smooth" alive not through jokes, but through authentic love for a song that sounds like one of the greatest Latin rock songs ever, until Rob Thomas starts singing.

That's the simple reason "Smooth" remains smooth after all these years: because people love it.