September 4th, 2009 – T-Pain and Smule’s new iPhone app “I Am T-Pain” is all over the internet right now. At first I wasn’t sure if it was a smart idea for T-Pain to release an app that’s essentially a parody, but the more I think about it, the more I think he may be shrewder than many give him credit for.
When T-Pain first started showing up on other people’s songs, I knew he was going to be one of those artists that would soon end up everywhere. His road to stardom has pretty much followed that of Akon. Because of their distinctive sounds, Akon’s nasal whine and T-Pain’s use of Cher-like auto-tune, they both lend themselves well to singing hip-hop (well more like hip-pop) hooks.
The problem for T-Pain is that his voice is nothing special without auto-tune, and therefore everyone who passes some cash Antares’ way can replicate his style. So how did he stay relevant? He made his own name synonymous with Auto-Tune, which in itself has become a genericized trademark. He has made Auto-Tune a household name even though it’s been around for a while (it was even being used in a similar fashion by Cher a decade ago).
When the comedy group Lonely Island released the song “I’m On A Boat”, it parodied what hip hop music has become. The song was non-sensical, with an over the top production style, glitzy video, and included everyone’s go-to-hook-guy, T-Pain. I found it interesting that T-Pain was parodying the very music he himself was a part of, and I respected that he didn’t take himself too seriously.
Then came Jay-Z’s much hyped song “Death of Auto-Tune” which he performed live on TV and lo and behold, who do I see with him on stage? T-Pain, one of the last people I would have expected up there. It was then I actually started to think about what T-Pain might be doing. Had he already realized that being known for using Auto-Tune would relegate him to the Time-Life 2000’s compilation album 20 years from now?
When he and Smule released the “I Am T-Pain” app, it became clear to me that he was acutely aware that the style that had catapulted him into the spotlight, was fleeting. He may not have invented, or been the first to use Auto-Tune, but he made sure that he was the most well-known. I’m sure he’ll come out with music in the future that doesn’t use it, but the “I Am T-Pain” application is his declaration to the world that no one else can use it the same way. He owns it.
So now that T-Pain has finished that trend, what’s next? Good question, but he at least made sure that it remained his legacy. I don’t think he will be able to keep doing the same thing, he’ll need to change and expand. Until then, tonnes of bedroom T-Pain wannabes will be making tracks a year behind the Auto-Tune trend.