Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pop Goes the Music

There was a time when I thought music could get no more annoying than Far East Movement’s “Like a G6.” Not only was that song single-handedly responsible for derailing my carefully planned Thanksgiving dinner, it also had to be the first song I heard in 2011 thanks to the abysmal collective taste of American youth. That I truly believed things could not get worse is proof that, for all my cynical pretense, I really do expect good things from the world.

But this was in the before time. This was B.R.B.: Before Rebecca Black.

Once the infamous “Friday” burst onto the music, or at least the internet, scene, I longed to hear the inane croonings of Far East Movement once again. “Friday” makes “Like a G6” sound like a lush symphony, with lyrics to rival Milton. So I must admit I was wrong. It could get worse, and it did. Music took a turn for the worse, igniting in me a heretofore unknown appreciation for the song that last year I would have gone back in time and killed J. K. Rowling *and* Dame Judy Dench to never hear again.

Maybe “Friday” began as a joke. Yes, it’s famous for being the “Most Disliked Video of All Time” on YouTube. But once a song gets a performance on Glee with no implied sarcasm or commentary, it stops being a joke and becomes an indisputable sign of something very, very deeply wrong with us. If there was ever one thing that Americans knew how to do, it was how to have good taste in bad things. We turned ballet into burlesque and musical theater. We invented blue jeans. Thanks to us, Neufchâtel is now cream cheese, symphonies are improvisational jazz, and gelato – what the fuck is that? Here, have some ice cream. We have always been the “so bad, it’s good” thought leaders of the world: fried foods, impractical automobiles, skankalicious fashion, sitcoms and, of course, pop music.

So what happened? When did “so bad, it’s good” become just straight-up bad? I certainly don’t know the answer, but perhaps I can nudge us back on track through some good old-fashioned analytical writing. Ahem.

Insofar as speaking into autotune can be considered music, Far East Movement’s “Like a G6” is superior Ms. Black’s “Friday” in at least a dozen ways. Here are five:

1. While both have bad lyrics, Far East Movement’s are deliberately, hilariously so.


"Poppin' bottles in the ice like a blizzard
When we drink we do it right gettin' slizzard
Sippin' sizzurp in my ride like Three 6
Now I'm feelin' so fly like a G6."

As opposed to:

"Kickin' in the front seat
Sittin' in the back seat
Gotta make up my mind
Which seat can I take?"

These passages pretty much make my point for me. There is hardly a word that is *not* funny in the FEM verse, whereas the only humor in Ms. Black's derives from the listener's confusion over why anyone would write anything so asinine down on paper and subsequently repeat it where anyone might be listening. Moving on.

2. They both write exclusively about partying and related irresponsible behavior, but FEM actually know what they’re talking about.

 For instance in the passages quoted above, both discuss having fun driving around with friends, but whereas Ms. Black's wild Friday night consists of a difficult and unresolved choice regarding where to sit in the car, FEM establishes that not only do they have no difficulty whatsoever deciding where to sit in the car, they also have no interest in being forced to make any either-or decisions in life. In particular, rather than choose between taking codeine or promethazine while pre-gaming, they instead consume both simultaneously while driving circles around Ms. Black's friends' car. At least Dev is old enough to sing a party song and legally know what she's talking about.

 3. They both repeat the same word over and over, but when FEM does it, it's funny.

 Repetition does not automatically make for bad music (just ask Handel), but it does help. The key, though, is to pick the right word or phrase to repeat. If you're trying to be ridiculous and catchy and to make a quick buck without having to put too much thought into it, you should focus on three elements: a) how the word or phrase sounds phonetically b) how memorable it is and c) what feeling or action it encourages.

Take for instance the phrase "Like a G6," which is repeated approximate 4,000 times in FEM’s aptly titled song "Like a G6." How does it sound? For starters, the phrase utilizes the metrical foot trochee, a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable.* This makes the phrase both internally consistent, internally repetitive, and easy to pronounce repeatedly. It also places an emphasis on "like" and "G," an emphasis that is doubled by both the vowel sounds and the phrase meaning, particularly on the "G." Thus all technical components of the line converge to highlight what is certainly the most important part of the phrase.

For contrast, imagine how strange it would sound if the emphasis were on "a" or "6." It would be awkward, ridiculous, and not at all catchy. It would, in fact, be Ms. Black's "Friday," where the phrase "It's Friday, Friday, Friday" is repeated at least 500 times. In metrical feet, this phrase is antibacchius trochee trochee, which is really just absurd. Antibacchius is so useless it doesn't even have a Wikipedia page, and following it up with a double dose of trochee is why listening to this song makes one feel as if one's head is being used as a marble in a giant pinball machine. Further the repeated emphasis on the syllable "fri" is an incredibly poor choice for a song. The hard "i" sound is harsh, nasal, and one of the most difficult vowel sounds to sing. The one thing these choices do accomplish is to make it very clear what the important part of the phrase is, but just in case you missed it, Ms. Black is going to repeat it a few more times.

Now there are many ways to make a phrase memorable. You could, as was done constantly in the bubblegum music of the 50s and 60s, take phrases straight out of a dictionary of colloquialisms and force them into awkward songs like "Beat Me to the Punch" or "Leader of the Pack." More respectably, you could choose a phrase that's funny, or weird, or unique. You could be clever. You could choose a phrase that will make people everywhere say "what the fuck does that even mean?", such as "like a G6". Or you could be obvious. Infuriatingly, excruciatingly obvious, like by making the chorus of a song about it being Friday "it's Friday, Friday, Friday". Something like that.

Lastly your repeated phrase needs to inspire feeling or action in your listeners. This is why many successful pop songs have had signature dance moves to go along with them. “Like a G6” opens up a wealth of possibilities in this regard. There are at least 33 ways for a human being to imitate a Gulfstream while dancing. But exactly what should you do while repeating “Friday” indefinitely? Based on the people in the video, absolutely nothing.

Ok, enough serious talk.

3. "RB" - too much makeup to be pretty, not enough to be funny.

 Honestly Ms. Black is pretty. She looks totally normal and fine. Almost too normal, though, as if she’s some early Selina Gomez prototype from the Disney Child Star Factory that didn’t quite meet spec and was released into the wild with a “what’s the worst that could happen?” Well, now we know. This is the worst that could happen when a rogue Disney Channel actress is unleashed - and allowed to do her own makeup.

Each scene of the "Friday" video cakes on more and more of makeup that was apparently borrowed from The Drew Carey Show. Certainly there's no absolute law stating how much blue eye shadow is too much, but thanks to Ms. Black we now know the exact amount required to land yourself exactly between "attractive" and "humorous." If she were 5 years old and playing with her mother's powder puff, it would be cute. If it were Blue-Man-Group-extreme, it would be funny. Somehow, though, it's neither. Whereas Ke$ha's bad makeup might make one take her for a spaceship, Ms. Black could only ever be taken for an incompetent 13 year old girl.

4. There's a difference between "so retarded, it's funny," and "so retarded, it's not even funny."

Take for instance the respective raps. Who is the "Friday" rapper guy, anyway? Why is he cruising for 13 year old girls? Is he auditioning for To Catch a Predator or is he just Roman Polanski's limo driver? In contrast "Like a G6" features adorable Asians rapping about God knows what. It really doesn't matter, because Asian rappers are automatically hilarious and non-threatening.

5. "Like a G6" spawned better parodies.

"Friday" is so bad not even the parodies are good. But, thanks to "Like a G6," we can all enjoy this:

See my point?

Hugs and kisses,

S. Misanthrope

*Since William Shakespeare wrote in iambs, an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, this proves the common claim that FEM's lyrics are indeed the exact opposite of Shakespeare.

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