Just about a week ago, the members of Right Said Fred got a mysterious offer. A “big, contemporary female artist who hasn’t released anything for a while” wanted to interpolate the British duo’s tongue-in-cheek Nineties hit “I’m Too Sexy” into a new song, the group’s Fred Fairbrass recalls.
The duo hedged their bets that the new song wouldn’t upset them and agreed to the blind offer. Just this morning, they heard the finished product for the first time: Taylor Swift‘s caustic, bad-girl Reputation single (and apparent Kanye West diss track) “Look What You Made Me Do,” on which she speak-sings the chorus to the same rhythm as “I’m too sexy for my shirt.”
“It’s pretty cool,” Fairbrass says. “I like the cynical aspect of the lyric, because ‘I’m Too Sexy’ is a cynical song, and I think she channeled that quite well.”
“[Taylor’s] lyrics were dark,” says Fairbrass’ brother Richard, who sang “I’m Too Sexy.” “I thought they were dark, slightly moody and aggressive – all the stuff I like.” He laughs.
Right Said Fred wrote the song in 1990 during a particularly sweltering September in West London. It was so hot that when they were recording a song called “Heaven,” Richard went into another room to cool off. “It was really hot so I took my shirt off and I started singing along to the bass line that I could hear, which is, ‘I’m too sexy for my shirt,'” he says. “And we were sitting there laughing, thinking it was very funny.”
“We suddenly thought, ‘We’re not getting far with the song we’re working on,’ so we played around with it and I wrote the ‘I’m a model, you know what I mean’ part, since I’d gone out with some models when we were living in New York,” Fred says. “The Eighties were very hedonistic, so it was a cynical look at the end of the Eighties. So the song was making fun of that.”
“I’m Too Sexy” came out in the U.S. in late 1991 and soon became a Number One hit in the U.S., spending 35 weeks on the Hot 100 and was certified platinum in a manner of months. It’s since followed Right Said Fred for the better part of a quarter century. “I’ve heard it in strip bars, in the backs of cabs, in other people’s cars and it doesn’t stop,” Fred says. “People send me texts every single day that they heard it in a club or a bar.”
It’s been on The Simpsons, The West Wing and Family Guy and they’ve also licensed a version of the song to the Alvin and the Chipmunks album Chip Chipmunk: The Dance Mixes and rerecorded the track as “I’m Too Smurfy” for The Smurfs 2. “We do a lot of autographs for kids,” Fred says of his younger audience. “We’ve done a lot of work in children’s hospitals because we have shaved heads, so we did stuff with the cancer ward for the kids who have to shave their heads or lose their hair. The song makes them happy, and even though it mentions the word ‘sex,’ it’s not a sexual thing.”
In fact, if Swift’s song had been too sexual, the group may not of have let her use it. In the past they turned down a Southeast Asian artist who wanted to change the lyrics to being about bondage.
“But we had no reservations, because we like her,” says Fred, adding that they deduced it was Swift who’d requested the song from the clues they were given. “To have an artist as big as Taylor Swift give you the thumbs up and introduce us to her fan base is amazing.”
“It also proves the point that ‘Sexy’ wasn’t just a ludicrous ‘Purple People Eater’ kind of nonsense song,” Richard says. “There was more to it than that.”
Fred is also grateful Swift reached out ahead of releasing the song to ask permission, avoiding the sorts of situations Sam Smith got into with “Stay With Me” (which interpolated Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”) and Robin Thicke with “Blurred Lines” (which was the target of a lawsuit by Marvin Gaye’s estate for its similarities to “Got to Give It Up.”) “The split and the percentages and the money – none of that crossed my mind,” Richard says. “The only time I thought that was this morning when a DJ said to me, ‘You do realize you have a songwriting credit on a massive album.’ I just don’t think like that. Maybe if I thought about that, I’d have more money.”
“We let our publishers and lawyer handle the business side,” Fred says. “I’m not a businessman, though we know what we should be getting. If there had been problems, we would have had a conversation, but we left it in their hands so we’re very comfortable with how it was arranged.”
So just how much of a percentage to the songwriting for “Look What You Made Me Do” are Right Said Fred getting? “I’m not going to share that,” Fred says.
Nevertheless, he says he’s looking forward to the residuals of Right Said Fred’s newfound association with Swift. “She and Jack [Antonoff, producer] sent us flowers today with a big thank you and said they want to meet at a party and celebrate,” he says. “So we’ll hold them to that.”