How Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You” Became a Viral Hit

Written by Rizoh. Posted in Music

Published on August 27, 2010 with 4 Comments

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Whoever said there’s no such thing as an overnight success hasn’t met Cee-Lo Green. The straight outta nowhere but suddenly everywhere single “Fuck You” may have given Cee-Lo his biggest hit since “Crazy.” And it happened faster than you could say Thomas DeCarlo Callaway. One morning, every blog in America is going cuckoo for”Fuck You” and the next day it’s already reached nearly 2 million ears. Cee-Lo gambled with a risky song and won big time. How did such an expletive-laden song become a web anthem overnight? Well, let’s examine the factors that fueled “Fuck You”‘s success.

The Music
Bruno Mars and B.o.B. co-wrote “Fuck You.” They played Cee-Lo a rough sketch while trying to decide whether or not to complete the song. Cee-Lo heard it and immediately fell in love with the idea. The song narrates Cee-Lo’s non-autobiographical tale about being ditched for a Ferrari-driving baller. Musically, “Fuck You” owes its DNA to 60s classic soul. It’s impossibly catchy. An instaclassic.

The Message
Remember when Jay-Z told his love interest on “Party Life” that her options are filet mignon (with Jay) or hamburger helper (with broke boyfriends). Cee-Lo is the guy buying her hamburger helper. If you think of Jay as the guy trying to woo the chick with a Ferrari, Cee-Lo is the guy catching Metro to work. In other words, “Fuck You” is a song most people can relate to. People are generally drawn to songs with identifiable themes. But that’s not all.

“Fuck You” also appeals to a generation of music lovers disenchanted by mediocrity, formulaic songs. There’s nothing like this song on the radio. A friend described it as “a metaphorical fuck you to the music industry.” People are quick to throw their weight behind anything that challenges the establishment, especially if the establishment is visibly broken. It worked for Radiohead when they dropped In Rainbows. It’s now working for Cee-Lo.

The Messenger
Let’s be real, the messenger is just as important as the message here. If any artist could waltz into the studio, cut a song called “Fuck You” and sit back and watch it soar to 2 million views, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Hell, we’ve had tons of successful expletive-laden hits before this (Lily Allen comes to mind). None of them had the same impact. “Fuck You” was tailor-made for Cee-Lo’s personality – a fat, anti-Hollywood, genre-bender who just doesn’t give a fuck. People love people who don’t give a fuck.

The Web
Cee-Lo posted “Fuck You” on his YouTube page on Thursday night. By Friday morning, it had spread like wildfire throughout the web. Twitter led the noise, followed closely by Facebook (more people are now sharing on Facebook than you may realize). Celebs and power Twitter users (like ?uestlove) were tweeting the living daylight out of “Fuck You.” That sent millions of eyeballs to the song. Blogs also played a key role in spreading the song. In fact, this is pure proof that the blogosphere can be instrumental in disseminating viral content. Then came the YouTube craze.

The Videos
Like most viral content, this song has inspired various funny video responses. The one that immediately gained speed was 50 Cent’s remix. While the original took me to cloud 9, 50’s remix brought me back down to earth. But it’s still 50 Cent and people will check for it and then click back to compare with the OG. More eyeballs. As of this writing, 50 Cent’s version of “Fuck You” has amassed nearly half a million YouTube views. This is music to Cee-Lo’s ears.

Finally, something has to be said for intuition. Cee-Lo is no stranger to hit songs. He must have known as soon as Bruno and B.o.B. played him the song that this one would generate a strong reaction from people. He must have looked out the window to see all the planetary bodies aligning in his favor.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard “Crazy.” Downtown Records had sent out a few press copies containing 4 Gnarls Barkley songs. I think they were testing the water to see if the project was worth completing. I was on my way out with some friends when my copy arrived, so I decided to take it for a ride. As soon as “Crazy” came on, my friends looked at each other with eyebrows raised and jaws dropped. I remember saying that “Crazy” was going to be a monster. A few weeks later, “Crazy” became a ubiquitous smash and I was basking in the glory of hit-prediction accuracy. “Fuck You” gave me the same feel.

While “Fuck You” currently exists as a strictly online phenomenon, Cee-Lo went ahead and recorded a spineless version to appease radio. It might as well not exist. “Fuck You” and the clean version “Forget You” will be officially released on October 4. The Lady Killer arrives December 7, just in time for holiday shopping.



Rizoh is the most powerful man in all the lands. He lives in Houston where he earned a BS in Nerf Herding. He's the founder of The Rap Up, the former editor of, and is in the Grammy-awaiting band Pervertable Disciples.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook


There are currently 4 Comments on How Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You” Became a Viral Hit. Perhaps you would like to add one of your own?

  1. fuck youuuuuuuuuuuuuuu

  2. b.o.b shld hve gone for another hit for himself…

  3. Wasn’t that much of a success.

  4. are you kidding me?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. JohnGotty
  2. Video: Cee-Lo Green – Fuck You | The Rap Up
  3. Music I’m Thankful for This Year | The Rap Up
  4. How Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You” Became a Viral Hit | Rizoh |

Leave a Comment

Site Meter