Wall-E, Dolly, and … Blu Cantrell?

We’re still riding high from seeing Wall-E, Pixar’s breathtaking new film that will inevitably top some year-end lists come December. If you haven’t seen it yet, and for some reason do not plan to do so immediately, read the A.V. Club’s interview with director Andrew Stanton — it will give you the spark you need.

The movie’s opening scene of a barren, post-apocalypse Earth is set to “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” a song from the 1964 musical Hello, Dolly! (and the subsequent Barbara Streisand film version). The song is sung in part by the characters Cornelius and Barnaby, two store clerks from Yonkers, N.Y., who head to the Big Apple for a weekend to sport their duds, cruise around in “one of those new horsedrawn open cars,” and kiss some girls.

This wide-eyed romanticism is embodied by Wall-E’s character, the last robot left on a desolate Earth, with a quiet satisfaction with his job and a dreamer’s fascination with human trinkets. Wall-E is a trash compacting robot, and his pad is a museum that houses a meticulously filed collection of found objects. (This recalls Ariel in The Little Mermaid; something I’ve found only one mention of.) Anyway, Stanton saw part of his eponymous robot in “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” and worked the song into the plot:

[T]his song is about two guys that are just so naïve, they’ve never left a small town, and they just wanna go out in the big city for one night and kiss a girl. That’s my main character.

Let’s look at the three ambitions of Cornelius and Barnaby in “Sunday Clothes” — (1) nice clothes, (2) nice cars, and (3) girls.

Hip-hop (we should say gangsta rap, to avoid generalizing) celebrates success in these three fields. It’s reflected in any number of slogans: “Money, cash and hoes,” “Hoes in different area codes,” “Get money,” “Money on my mind,” “Fuck you, pay me,” and so on.

But in “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” fancy dress is treated as a form of therapy. This has since been coined “retail therapy,” and the idea is applied exclusively to women. (Well, almost exclusively.)

Since gangsta rappers are all about gender stereotyping (“G’s up, hoes down”), then it of course it takes a woman to truly bring retail therapy to the forefront of hip-hop.

Blu Cantrell does this in her 2001 single “Hit ’em Up Style (Oops!).” It’s a cruising, jazzy song from R&B master Dallas Austin (who produced TLC’s “Creep,” among others) and a sidelong anthem for women’s empowerment. The lesson: If he cheats, make him pay:

Hey ladies
When your man wanna get buckwild
Just go back and hit ’em up style
Put your hands on his cash
And spend it to the last dime
For all the hard times

So there you have it: Pixar, Broadway musicals, hip-hop. Apocalypse, love, retail therapy. Wall-E, Dolly, Blu Cantrell.

If you’re spent after reading this, we don’t blame you. Go buy a ticket to Wall-E; it’ll make you feel better.

MP3: Michael Crawford – “Put on Your Sunday Clothes”

MP3: Blu Cantrell – “Hit ’em Up Style”

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