We live in an age when celebrities are very good at selling their brands. (Love the new spray tan, Kim.) Or they pay someone who is very good at selling their brand. (Love the new bag, Ivanka’s social media person.) But for the most part, the content is all the same: hot photos of celebrities with other hot people, shoes, cute pets, salads made of three to four leaves. It can get boring.
But every once in a while, a celebrity’s personality translates to the internet in a gloriously goofy, original way. Sure, DJ Khaled’s “major key” schtick is required Snapchat viewing and Cher’s Twitter account is the closest thing to what your grandma would be like on LSD. But no famous person is more surprisingly incongruous online than Pitbull, the Cuban American singer whose singles include “Give Me Everything,” “You Know You Want Me,” and “Sexy Beaches.” (Chorus: “Hey, hey, hey, hey / I wanna see [sexy beaches, hotels] / I wanna see [sexy beaches, hotels].”)
When Pitbull arrived on the music scene in the early aughts, his persona was pretty straightforward. Here was a Latin rapper whose natural habitat was a neon-lit South Beach dance floor, whose diet seemed to consist of vodka shots and lime wedges, and whose eyes were covered with giant dark glasses so often you’d think his optometrist prescribed them. The same way Jason Statham needed adrenaline to stay alive in that terrible 2006 thriller Crank, Pitbull circa-2006 needed bottle service at Liv every Saturday night.
But when social media became a necessary part of celebrity existence, something weird happened to Pitbull’s brand. His aura as a suit-clad playboy, once distilled into tweets and Facebook posts, seemed better fit for motivational cat posters than the stage of a club.
Samples from his Facebook page, as chronicled by BuzzFeed last year, range from the clichéd to the nonsensical: “Dreams don’t work unless you do,” “Everyone has a story, a struggle,” and “Respond with a smile.” On Twitter, his inspirational directives often come with a hashtag for every day of the week, including: #MondayMotivation, #TuesdayMotivation, #TravelTuesday, #TuesdayThoughts, #WednesdayWisdom, #TBT, #FridayFeeling, #SaturdayNight, #SundayFunday. Adding to the bizarreness, his earnest messages are often paired with close-cropped photos of the rapper that seem to be fished from Google Images by Mr. 305 himself. (Which serve as unintentional reminders that the 5-foot-7 musician looks, well, kind of old to live the lifestyle he sings about.) Even his posts about hanging out with other celebrities are embarrassingly dad-like. “#TBT Ringing in the new year with @justinbieber two fly chicos #Dale,” he wrote when he posted an old photo with a prepubescent Bieber one random day in July. Online, Pitbull is ground zero of the internet’s uplifting meme mill, a walking Hallmark card, the essence of a spunky SoulCycle instructor wrapped in a 35-year-old bald man’s body.
Perhaps most emblematic of Pitbull’s online enthusiasm for life and the general idea of living it is his catchphrase “dale,” a Spanish expression that translates to “give it” or “go ahead.” The word has made its way from the singer’s sexual song lyrics (“Let me see you act like an animal straight out the cage, baby. Dale”) to Labor Day tweets (“This one goes out to all my hard workers #LaborDay #Dale”). Its fluid meaning and low character count have made it an instant hit among his fans on social media. “I learned how to live in life from Pitbull,” an 18-year-old from Tehran who uses the hashtag often told NPR in 2014.
Pitbull, once just a man who sang about sexual encounters in dim corners of da club, is now inspiring the young minds around the globe with meaningless optimism. It’s just ridiculous enough to be charming.