Now, this is a nineties revival I can get behind. Cee Lo Green tapped Family Matters star Jaleel White to play him in the video for his excellent new single “Cry Baby,” which is itself inspired by musicals from the fifties like Grease and West Side Story. The action is set, of course, to Cee Lo’s 2011 update of seventies-era soul. The fifties, the seventies, an older version of Urkel’s suave alter ego, Stefon Urquelle…suddenly I have a strange sense of vertigo, as if I’ve become un-moored in space and time. Hold me.
Although White might seem like a gimmicky choice at first, he actually does a great job creating that edgy hint of strangeness that makes so much of Cee Lo’s work stand out. In a manic parody of saccharine Americana, he smiles a bit too hard, dances a bit too jauntily. The multi-racial cast starkly juxtaposes the subtle (and not-so-subtle) racism of mainstream 1950′s culture. The song’s nasty lyrics juxtapose its catchy bounce. And then there’s the added weight of White’s history: the bummer of being a former child star who couldn’t quite navigate the transition to a successful adult career that follows him everywhere like an endearingly nerdy raincloud. (He was once quoted as saying he’d rather put a bullet in his head than ever play Urkel again. Poor dude.) For all these reasons, the video makes for a successful bit of satire without sacrificing any of its campy fun. For his sake, I hope White can parlay it into some better roles than the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog. Are you out there, Jaleel White? Team Crushable is rooting for you.