By Abdullah "T Kid" Saeed
By Matt Caputo
By Devon Maloney
By Chris Chafin
By Village Voice
By Katie Moulton
By Hilary Hughes
By Gili Malinsky
Sometimes, I fear that "music journalism" on the Internet functions like the Bad Boy Records roster, in that press darlings eventually become as disposable as G-Dep or Mark Curry. Or Loon. Ain't that Loon with the Muslims? Some have compared us to a band called "LMFAO" that I've never heard. I understand this is a bad thing. One time, someone also compared us to Andy Samberg. I know this is a bad thing. Though for every couple of times someone says something disparaging, someone else will make a Beastie Boys "Cooky Puss" comparison. That's pretty dope.
Overall, I'd say the year was fun. Thanks, Internet! One time, I even got free clothes. A couple of times, I got free soup dumplings. 2010 will see us putting out an EP, a mixtape (or two), playing some shows outside of New York (including SXSW), and hopefully releasing a full-length album by year's end. "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" and the Internet in general have been both good and bad for us, but I ain't mad. In fact, I LOVE THE INTERNET.
Oh, hey, Victor!
Hey, what up, Hima.
So, I Wikipedia'd the word "meme." Apparently, a meme is "a postulated unit of cultural ideas, symbols, or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena." Its Greek root roughly translates to "something imitated."
A publicity campaign for any product, be it a band, a fast-food chain, consent for an unjust war, or a sexy scented body spray can be understood as a meme, a threading of an idea into the psyche of a culture by means of repeated and varied reference. Implicit to the definition of a meme seems to be the participation of its audience in its own proliferation, from a fan doing a YouTube video tribute to "Single Ladies" to the rhetoric of a presidential speechwriter trickling down into an op-ed writer's piece and slipping into casual conversations. Culture can be seen as a network of memes, and marketing can be seen as a means of monetizing/commodifying/capitalizing on those memes.
Yum! Brands is the largest fast-food restaurant company in the world, with more than 36,000 restaurants in more than 100 territories worldwide and more than $11 billion in sales in 2008. They own KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Long John Silver's, A&W, a restaurant I have never heard of called Wingstreet, and a Chinese food chain called Dong Fang Ji Bai, or East Dawning, a name taken from a poem written by 11th-century Chinese poet Su Shi, who (somewhat ironically) wrote incendiary poetry about the government's monopoly on the salt industry. I don't know how many millions or billions of dollars have been spent to make "Pizza Hut" and "Taco Bell" the recognizable names they are today, but suffice it to say, much of the work for the "viral" potential of the song had been done for us by years of advertising. "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" is an infectious meme largely because it references a meme already proven to be infectious.
Our manager said something about how she spoke with someone from Yum! Brands who supposedly loved the song but felt the name of our band would be a "problem" for marketing. This is fortunate because my financial situation would not have afforded me the moral fortitude I would've needed to say no to money from Yum! Brands.
Rob asked us if we would describe "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" as a "protest song." I don't think we ever set out explicitly to write "protest songs" per se, but if people feel inclined to think of our stuff as protest music, I guess that's fine. If there's something we can learn from the U.S. Army blasting "Rivers of Babylon" for sleep-deprivation torture in Abu Ghraib, it's that context is everything.
When you go to a combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, you are at the Pizza Hut and you are at the Taco Bell and you are at the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. The space is transformed by a corporate language from one single physical space to a number of illusory spaces. These spaces serve to expand the illusion of choice. The space has been recontextualized. It's comparable to covering walls with mirrors to make a room appear bigger.
Legally, a corporation is considered a single entity or "person" comprised of a group of actual people. So in the same way that a corporate language can splinter a single physical space into a number of illusory spaces, so can it render a number of physical human beings into one single illusory corporate being. These people have been recontextualized. The onus of the collective actions of those human beings is not legally theirs, but is of that single being, the corporation.
In this light, it becomes a bit easier to imagine how some individuals in the Yum! Brands Corporation could absolve themselves morally from a sense of personal responsibility enough to allow for Yum! Brand's alleged "sweatshop" labor practices protested by the Organic Farmers & Gardeners Union a couple years back, or to ignore any correlation between the growing successes of the fast-food industry and the more rapid increase of obesity and other junk-food-related medical problems in the developed world. Linguistic abstraction often works to detach people from their various ideologies and moralities. Another example of this is the Internet, an illusory space in which linguistic abstraction helps to provide the detachment necessary for bloggers and message-board commenters to get their needless/uninformed/etc. hate on. But whatever, to quote 504 Boyz, "Haters Gon' Hate." I'm not saying we need to get mad at language for its shortcomings, just saying we are what we say. Just saying.