Ten Years Later: You Got Served
There have always been dance movies, from Fred and Ginger to Flashdance, Footloose and Breakin’. The last 10 years have been a particularly lucrative time for dance movies, with the Step Up franchise now working on its fifth entry. The current incarnation would seem to trace back to ten years ago today, when You Got Served hit theaters. 2003’s Honey didn’t make much of an impression: perhaps the problem was it was a star vehicle for Jessica Alba. With You Got Served and the dance movies that followed, dancing was the star, and they made stars out of the actors who performed them. Well, future movies would make them stars. Most of the You Got Served cast is still working, but not headlining anything.
I’ve been a fan of the Step Up sequels, the original Stomp the Yard and even the straight-to-video Honey 2. Each film seems to one-up the previous competition’s choreography and do the formula with an innocent joy, because it really doesn’t matter what the story is as long as there’s good dancing. I had never seen You Got Served though, because back in 2004 I was all business. No big stars for me to interview, no Fred Topel. And since Served was the first, I had no way to know what an infectious genre it would become.
You Got Served opens up the then-underground world of street dance crews, competing in neighborhood contests for prize money in the thousands, all decided by applause. David (Omari Grandberry) and Elgin (Marques Houston) lead their dance crew. When a rival crew hustles them out of $5000 by stealing their moves, Elgin turns to crime to recover their money while David jeopardizes their friendship by dating Elgin’s sister Liyah (Jennifer Freeman).
Clearly this plot is not about pushing the boundaries of narrative, but it’s unobtrusive enough to hang the dances on. I’d like to believe that the dialogue is some meta deconstruction of dance movie dialogue, but the meta movement wouldn’t come for another few years. The characters talk smack, pose and move the plot along by saying exactly what’s bothering them or announcing what needs to happen for them to succeed. Steve Harvey, then and still the most famous cast member, shows up as a mentor giving wisdom about remaining friends through the competition and becoming stronger because of things that did not kill you. His delivery is only slightly less convoluted than mine, but it’s magnificent that either Harvey or the screenwriter thought they were saying it for the first time. This was also one year into Meagan Good’s reign of being in every African-American cast movie, which I guess she still is.
There is plenty of dancing. Choreography has obviously advanced in the last 10 years and the Step Up movies have turned each dance into a mini-narrative, but You Got Served has some impressive hip-hop moves, with often five or more dancers performing in sync. There are a lot of impressive acrobatics like one-armed hand stands and some amazing flips. There’s even a training montage!
The grand prize in the final competition includes a chance to dance in a Lil’ Kim video, with Lil’ Kim playing herself. There’s someone we haven’t seen a lot of in the last 10 years. Likewise, MTV VJ La La appears hosting the TV coverage of the dance off. Granted, I didn’t know who La La was 10 years ago, and I wouldn’t know if she is still MTV’s top VJ today.
Was this soundtrack ever big? I don’t recognize any of the songs 10 years later, not that I’m any expert in hip-hop music. It sounds like generic beats and raps to me, but I guess the soundtracks to the Step Up movies aren’t chart toppers either. It’s whatever they can dance to.
Opening at $16 million for a $40 million total gross, You Got Served made a tidy little profit, though it wasn’t a blockbuster. It would probably take another year of cult following on video, and then another year of production time for other movies to see there was an audience there. Step Up would be released 2006. You Got Served would be followed by a straight to video sequel, You Got Served: Beat the World, but not until 2011. Screen Gems would have an even bigger dance movie hit in 2007 with Stomp the Yard, both films aimed at an urban audience but with universal appeal.
Step Up also dealt with a kid from the streets, as embodied by Channing Tatum, but was definitely the Caucasian version. While the Step Up movies built elaborately upon themselves, I am comfortable saying it was the success of You Got Served that reintroduced audiences to the dance movie, which might have remained an artifact of the Breakin’ ‘80s had it not been served up this way.
Perhaps the greatest lasting effect of You Got Served was the “South Park” episode that spoofed it, in which Randy Marsh gets served so hard he ends up in the hospital. The episode titled “You Got F’d in the A” aired April 7, 2004 and incorporated the unique dance moves of Raisins girls, Goth kids and Butters. Being satirized is the great immortalizer, not to mention exposing You Got Served to a different audience. I do wish more people still said, “You got served.” It’s really fun to say.