The Songs: Karmin, “Super Bass” and “Look At Me Now” and way too many others; Mac Lethal, “Cook Wit Me Now”; Jackson Foote and friends, “Get Low”; Sophia Grace, “Super Bass”; probably more that are shooting up the Reddit charts right now.
The Crimes: Anti-pop snobbery; humorlessness in the name of “musicality”; pandering to the commenting hordes on tech blogs who consider themselves above pop music, but not above being catered to directly and embarrassingly. And let’s not forget the racist viral hit of late November, Texts From Bennett, which came from one of the above auteurs.
Internet attention is precious currency for up-and-coming bands, who have to make their way past a torrent of acts both established and brand-new in order to get themselves heard. Those artists who have figured out that a pretty easy way to skip the line, so to speak, is to pander to the world of social-news sites—places like Reddit and Digg that are overwhelmingly male and extremely pop-averse, among other things—have held a depressing competitive advantage over the past few years, with their modest successes breeding breathless “future of the biz” stories that led to even more success and press and so on. There’s one other common thread between all these musicians; the geek-beloved strummer Jonathan Coulton, for example, suggests that people listen to his chiming cover of “Baby Got Back” before almost anything else he’s recorded; last year, the Bay Area duo Pomplamoose snagged a deal to annoy TV-watching Americans during the holidays after thrilling Digg and with wall-eyed, “real-music” versions of fun songs like “Single Ladies” and “Telephone.”
Yes; even though it’s been some 27 years since “Rappin’ Duke,” the “white people turn urban-radio tropes into something more similar to what they might listen to, with hilarity possibly ensuing” tack is still guaranteed to hit pay dirt among certain subgroups of people who consider themselves both musical aesthetes and “geeks.” Whether they’re cowed by the technologically forward production (irony alert!), unsure of which Urban Dictionary definition to use when figuring out just what the lyrics might mean, or just trying to fight the man, man (never mind that their computers were made by multinational conglomerates), these sorts of covers still get eaten up by YouTube viewers like they’re ice-cream sundaes made by dairy geniuses. And thanks to the increased importance of “virality” in 2011, artists who took this tack were often rewarded by showers of likes, buckets of retweets, and hordes of people delighting in the knowledge that there were a lot of people out there whose noses were all upturned at exactly the same angle—which meant that they could only multiply. The four most egregious examples below.
Karmin, “Look At Me Now”
This year’s most prominent example of turning urban-radio hits into Serious Music, Karmin is a Berklee-educated duo who managed to parlay their Internet-borne fame into something resembling pop stardom. That their first single, the fizzly Dr. Luke bite “Crash Your Party,” isn’t a rap song for the most part shouldn’t surprise after listening to about 30 seconds of one of the hip-hop covers that made them famous; they don’t really seem to enjoy the source material they’re working with, despite its proven ability to send Reddit types over the moon. Here, they dispense of the Diplo-and-Afrojack beat in favor of some ominous-sounding keyboards, and Amy Heidemann’s pained mugging at the camera while gutting her way through the original makes one wonder if she’s attached some sort of beartrap to her leg, one that will not unsnap until she makes it through the recording process without committing a syllabic error. Only when the chorus hits, and she can unleash her trained singing voice and show the world that yes, she is a serious musician, does she actually seem like she’s enjoying what she’s doing.
Mac Lethal, “Cook Wit Me Now” (a.k.a. “Nerdy white kid KILLS ‘Look at Me Now'”)
This Kansas City rapper at least leaves the “Look At Me Now” beat intact while going the “Weird Al” Yankovic route, turning Chris Brown’s spacey hit into an ode to making breakfast. Competent, for sure, although Mac Lethal proved that he lacks the class of the accordion-wielding song parodist by launching Texts From Bennett, which thrilled way too many people the Internet with its tales of a poor guy aspiring to live the life of a third-segment Jerry Springer guest. Only after it was revealed to be some ill-advised bit of viral marketing for Lethal’s hip-hop ventures did people wake up and realize that they were reposting humor that was simultaneously racist, classist, sexist, and homophobic to all their friends’ Facebook walls. Good job, everybody.
Jackson Foote, Eden Neville, Alex Koste, “Get Low”
This one is probably the worst of them all, taking the overproduction of Glee, the exacting musicality of college acapella crews, the smugness of a bunch of kids hanging out in their dorm room getting high and making fun of MTV Jams, and the excruciating experience of punishing overenunciation, and then turning the resulting pile of mugging and delight in “playing street” into a ball of solid paste. If you’re ever having a good day and you want to specifically ruin it by making yourself feel really, really bad about the world, your place in it, and notions of “privilege,” watch this clip.
Sophia Grace Brownlee, “Super Bass”
Probably the only place this trend could go: An eight-year-old mushmouthing her way through “Super Bass”—the clean version, where the coke dealer is actually hawking automobiles—bravely enough to get the notice of the Internet, and Ellen DeGeneres (also a Karmin fan!), and, eventually, Nicki Minaj. I hate picking on a little kid, but watching this performance makes me wonder one thing: How many of the YouTube viewers stumbling across “Super Bass” for the first time via this video realized after the fact that they liked Brownlee’s version of the song better than the original because it’s “cuter”? Right.
The 11 Most Infuriating Songs Of 2011
11. Kreayshawn, “Gucci Gucci”
10. will.i.am feat. Mick Jagger and Jennifer Lopez, “T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever)”
9. Katy Perry feat. Missy Elliott, “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) (Remix)”
8. Tyler, The Creator, “Bitch Suck Dick”
7. Maroon 5 feat. Christina Aguilera, “Moves Like Jagger”
6. Bon Iver, “Holocene”
5. Rihanna, “S&M”
4. Brian McFadden, “Just The Way You Are (Drunk At The Bar)”
3. [White Person], [White Person Cutely/”Seriously” Performing Urban-Radio Hit]
2. Lana Del Rey, “Video Games”
1. Jessie J, “Price Tag”