I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
The first nine seconds of Jamie Foxx’s music video for “Blame It” open like many music videos from 2009: Hype Williams, responsible for some of the biggest hip-hop and R&B videos of all time, steers a shot of a Rolls-Royce approaching the camera, dramatic piano and strings heightening tension. This makes sense, you think the first time you watch it. This is a song about clubbing. Here we are, going to the club. We see the stone-faced driver, outfitted in a fedora and a scarf. Wait, that looks a lot like … “Jake Gyllenhaal,” the title card then reads. Before you’re able to process, we get a look at another passenger. Hold on, is that … “Forest Whitaker,” the screen flashes. At this point, you start to wonder if you’re being punk’d, or at least if you’ve stumbled on the wrong music video. I could’ve sworn this was the Jamie Foxx song …
And then, before you have time to articulate your confusion, the camera homes in on an unmistakable middle-aged white man, unkempt stray hairs lingering atop a balding head, a look of befuddlement and concentration etched on his face. IS THAT RON FUCKING HOWARD? you scream out. Yes, it is. That is Ron fucking Howard, on his way to the club in a Rolls-Royce. It’s an image I still think about, ten years later, constantly. As of last year, a screenshot of Ron’s face in this very scene was my best friend’s caller ID in my phone. The camera moves to Foxx, sitting stoically next to Howard like a crime boss, and, as the strings crescendo, finally onto Samuel L. Jackson, shrouded in red light, puffing on a thin cigar as a bottle girl looks on. Welcome, everyone, to the first hit song of the Obama era.
In an insane story that could produce this video and this video only, Foxx, after calling Gyllenhaal, approached Howard, Jackson, and Whitaker at Obama’s inauguration — January 20, 2009, six days before the release of “Blame It” — to star in the video alongside him. If you remember, and I’m sure you do, “Blame It” is a ludicrously over-the-top and horribly catchy T-Pain collaboration that doesn’t exactly scream presidential; its most famous line, beyond the titular, croaking “Blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-alcohol” is Foxx singing, “Fill another cup up / Feelin’ on your butt, what?” I imagine that Obama’s inauguration was a once-in-a-lifetime event where many people, moved by the significance of the moment, promised many other people many ridiculous things, but surely nothing more improbable was promised than Ron Howard agreeing to film this music video. “I was picturing a sort of ‘We Are the World’ thing,” Howard later said. What he got instead was a music video with sparklers, girls kissing, T-Pain pop-and-locking, some bar mitzvah–grade choreography, and a song about taking shots of Nuvo.
The music video’s title flashes just as Ron is stepping out of the Rolls-Royce. The face of the song, if you will. “I had no idea what in the world it was or what I was doing,” he said. Ron and Hollywood friends disappear for the middle of the video, but they return for Foxx’s bridge — “Now to the ballas poppin’ bottles” — with Champagne glasses held high. To be fair to Foxx’s vision, the party looks incredibly fun. Everyone — including Cedric the Entertainer, NBA player Jalen Rose, and Quincy Jones himself, who all make cameos — is sweating and smiling, there’s a dancing panda, and what I’m sure is an open bar. And I know that between these dudes, there are a lot of Oscars, a lot of money, and a lot of clout. We get it, Jamie — your rolodex is major. But who, when they hear, “Blame it on the Goose / Gotcha feelin’ loose,” thinks of the dude who made A Beautiful Mind? Can you imagine Ron Howard ever blaming anything on Hennessy? “Probably the last time I was in a club was doing research for Night Shift in 1981. Discos, they were called then,” Ron told EW in what I imagine was the most wistful dad-voice possible.
“Blame It” was Foxx’s last hit as a singer, but it also signified other change. It marked the end of a certain era in hip-hop and R&B, an era Nas famously (and incorrectly) declared as killing off the genre at large: the nonsensical novelty rap songs that dominated the mid-aughts were finally being pushed aside by a new generation of young, craft-conscious rappers like J Cole, Drake, and Kid Cudi. It’s questionable if a song as vapid, generic, and predatory as “Blame It” — with its karaoke-like chorus, asinine subject matter, and utter inelegance — would’ve taken hold in the culture in the same way a few years later. And it goes almost without saying that, without the surreal exuberance of Obama’s Inauguration Night, Foxx probably wouldn’t have coaxed some of the greatest actors of all time, along with Ron fucking Howard, to star in his and T-Pain’s music video about getting shitfaced.
But he did, and the rest is history. Thanks to Barack Obama, Hennessy, Auto-Tune, and Jamie Foxx, we will forever have the director of Frost/Nixon doing his best mean mug in a Rolls-Royce on his way to the club. “I do not have a secret night-clubbing side,” he later insisted. “I’m the opposite of a big pimpin’ kind of dude.” Sure, Ron. Sure.