I’m not one for R&B ballads, really. They tend to be syrupy and over-emotive, which is obviously a generalisation but, you know, given the choice between a ballad and a club “banger” it’s the bangful one that wins me over 85% of the time.
However, like the very best pop songs, Brit soul type McLean’s “Broken” manages to transcend the genre with which it would be most closely associated. It’s a heartbroken, overwrought fist-clencher which, in a landscape of overproduced, autotuned pop spaff with half an eye on ringtone sales, actually makes you believe the singer is properly, hair-tearingly lovewrecked. Marvellous.
It also has a very interesting history, having first surfaced way back in 2006, when McLean went by the name of Digga (since changed because an American artist went by the same name). Unbeknownst to me, it became an online sensation, racking up millions of plays on YouTube and prompting, seemingly, everyone with a webcam to produce their own version.
The earliest versions of the song I can find are from 2007 – this one alone has over 2.8 millions plays at the time of writing:
Which isn’t bad for a song that has never actually been released. Apparently it was all over urban and pirate radio stations, and I think I read somewhere that it even got play on New York station Hot 97.
The real mark of success in the noughties, however, is how many deep n’ meaningful slideshows a song can soundtrack on video-sharing sites. “Broken” soundtracks bucketloads of the things. Here’s one featuring tears, blood-stained roses and Cupid shot dead by an arrow in the back:
While it’s reasonable to assume the song is about a guy getting dumped by his missus, listen carefully and you’ll hear a lyric that sounds suspiciously like “every day I wish it had been me that had died,” implying that he’s angry with his other half for popping her clogs. Which lends the song a whole other “level”.
Plus, if you scroll through the comments under the various versions on YouTube – not an activity you’d normally dream of undertaking, I know – you might encounter the odd claim that this darker interpretation of the lyrics is closely related to events in Digga’s own life.
Sometime in 2008 a new version of the song surfaced, with plusher production, a key change and running a touch longer:
It was only a matter of time before remixes started hitting the netz. This one makes it a bit faster:
This one makes it faster still:
This one tools it up for “the clubs”:
And this one adds what the original most obviously lacked – a big bloody donk:
I wonder what Digga thought as he witnessed so many people fiddling with his track, bearing in mind he quite possibly hadn’t made a penny out of it yet.
Likewise with the cover versions that started to hit YouTube – there are loads of them, and while they vary in quality they all exist because, ultimately, people love the song.
This one’s very good, despite (or because of) being recorded in a hotel bathroom:
This one’s quite good:
And this one isn’t any good at all:
Then there are the “remixes” featuring big names – in other words, the original with a guest rap tacked on here and there.
Here’s one with a bit of Lil Wayne purloined from somewhere:
DJ Ironik manages to trash this version – but it did actually appear on his own album, so perhaps Digga made a few quid out of it:
While Tinchy Stryder is slightly more bearable on this rendition – another official remix:
Tinchy’s rap appears over the NEW new version of the song, which is where this interesting little tale ends. Sleek, effective and with none of the swears or references to “smoking weed” that appeared in the original, it also has a polished video – the result of it being released, finally, as a proper single (through US label Asylum, a subsidiary of Warner Music no less – release date TBC, but probably around the end of November) under the artist name McLean:
If just a fraction of the people who have loved this song on the internet pay to download it, it will be massive. Similarly, since he’s now recording an album with big-name producers, it’s pretty hard to see how McLean, Digga, or whatever he chooses to call himself, can fail.
For a bonus, here he is doing an acoustic version for the Beeb – you might be surprised at his speaking voice: