Which Musical Genre Was South Park Spoofing With “Tween Wave”?


Last night’s South Park was in large part about the fad/scourge of Tween Wave, a new genre that horrified parents and mobilized kids all across the country. Dubbed as such because it would be the Next Big Thing from 2009 through 2012, it made the phrase “this sounds like shit” quite literal; it basically sounded like someone (or, shudder, multiple people) with really bad indigestion letting the world know about their digestive tract’s problems over sorta-dubsteppish beats. But what musical subculture was the episode really making fun of? Some theories, below.

Chillwave. When the often-beleaguered father figure Randy Marsh becomes so stubborn about his love of Tween Wave that he starts his own band, he calls himself Steamy Ray Vaughn—and his eventual partner in musical crime is a lady who refers to herself as Steamy Nicks. Which, you have to admit, is a gross, yet giggle-worthy, spin on certain outfits’ tendencies to say “look, ma, a reference!” and expect audiences to titter and nod along.

Crabcore. Look at the haircuts in the above picture. Also, have you heard brokeNCYDE?

Dubstep. Layered below the flatulence are some beats that could be described as “dubsteppish,” and indeed, when this preview aired people were referring to the impending episode as the “dubstep South Park.” It wasn’t quite that, but it probably got a couple of Rinse FM listeners to tune in.

Odd Future. This was speculated before the episode aired, although I suspect that was a manifestation of Music Critic Stockholm Syndrome more than anything else. (And yes, Randy did force himself to like the genre after initially being repulsed by its gleeful marrying of beats and, uh, blaaats, and that forced liking turned into him getting super-stubborn about the for-real, man nature of his fandom. But it’s not like Odd Future is the first group to have that effect on critics!)

Axl Rose. I’m only putting him here because of the second guy from the left in the above shot, who looks like a pockmarked, willing-to-wear-heart-tees William Bailey.

All of them—and all of us. The episode’s central figure was Stan (son of Randy) Marsh, who upon turning 10 realized that all music sounded like shit to him—while he was trying to figure out what exactly was wrong with him, he visited a doctor who played him a Tween Wave track and a Bob Dylan song back-to-back. But in Stan’s estimation, both of them sounded like shit (the Dylan impersonation was pretty dead-on until the flatulence started); this caused the doctor to diagnose him with “being a cynical asshole.” Which is a common condition in cultural commentary these days, and not just because music’s a bigger wider world these days—as anyone who’s ever looked at a Google Analytics report knows, saying something sucks can get pageviews, laughter, and “right on, man”s more easily than honestly engaging with things and looking at them from a holistic, honest perspective. The twinning of Stan’s attitude shift and his turning 10 (not to mention the episode’s title, “You’re Getting Old,” and the family-related stuff going on at episode’s end) seems to speak to the loss of innocence that inevitably happens when we all get older and start realizing that not everything around us is as great as it possibly seems. Saying “everything sucks” might be the easy way out when one doesn’t have time to engage with cultural products or when one just can’t deal anymore, and God knows South Park has been (unfairly!) dinged for having that world-view in the past; although if anything, the fact that this episode could have been taking aim at any number of musical genres speaks to the idea that subcultures are in their very nature polarizing, and that maybe even the stuff that sounds shitty on the surface might mean something to another person.

(And yes, I’m even including crabcore there.)