Recently, Voice Media Group held a competition to help determine the best music writing in the pages and on the blogs of its 14 papers. This winning piece by Shea Serrano first appeared on L.A. Weekly‘s West Coast Sound music blog.
By Shea Serrano
1:04 pm: In about 25 minutes, I’m going to be chaperoning a middle school dance. The dance is for the school’s graduating 8th graders, of which there are several hundred. I’ve probably chaperoned fifteen of these things already. It’s like being a bouncer at a night club, except this party will take place in a cafeteria and nobody told me not to let in Black or Mexican people.
1:08: Oh shit. They’re serving free cake at this dance. That’s actually kind of great. There’d probably be less hostility at proper night clubs if they gave away cake, right? Once when I was in a club, I got into a bit of a tiff with a gentleman. Shortly thereafter I snuck up behind him on the dance floor and punched him in his ear as hard as I could. I’m almost certain that wouldn’t have happened if I’d had a slice of Italian Cream Cake on a Styrofoam plate in my hands. Fuck your nightclub for not serving cake, yo.
1:34: There’s a girl in here with a tattoo on the back of her neck. That’s neat. It reads, “Mala Fama.” Literally, that’s Spanish for “Bad Fame,” but she’s only 15, so basically it means “I Need Better Parents.”
1:37: They’re playing Usher’s “Climax.” What the fuck is happening right now?
1:40: Oh snap. Went from Usher straight to 3ball music, which is basically a more modern, trendier, hipper version of Cumbia music. It’s been around in Mexico for a decade or so and is fairly recently beginning to gather itself into a “thing” in America. Mexican kids, particularly those with visible ties back to Mexico, love it. With good reason, too: It’s an energetic dance music rooted in Latino culture that has, almost incidentally, spawned the rise of the Hispanic Hipster. (Peruse this site for a bit to see some of its characters.)
1:40:15: p.s. There was no transition from Usher to the 3ball mix. “Climax” stopped, there were a few seconds of silence, and then the new music came on. The DJ has zero idea what he’s doing. Poor guy. He’s just over there clicking buttons.
1:45: “Thriller”? This guy is killing me. Zero continuity. He couldn’t have spent any time planning this mix, right? I mean, fuck. One time for Valentine’s Day I gave a girl some chocolate milk, a pair of neon shoelaces and a card with a picture on it of a dog smoking a cigar that I’m fairly certain was meant to go to a dad celebrating the birth of his first child. (All available at your local Walgreens, FYI.) In fairness, I was only 14 years old, which meant I wasn’t having sex yet*, which meant I wasn’t really trying to impress her that much, but still. It was bad. I knew it even then. This is worse than that.
*I started having sex at fifteen. I was 5’5″ and weighed about 115 pounds. I’d like to find the girl I lost my virginity to and ask her a million questions. The first: What the fuck were you thinking?
1:52: Ah, yes. He’s playing “Cha-Cha Slide.” See, now this is a good song to play at a middle school dance. It’s timeless and everyone gets to participate and there’s a template in place so nothing gets too crazy and they can all— WAIT.
1:53: OH NO…
1:53:15: HE PASSED THE BRIDGE. HE’S GOING TO LET IT PLAY THROUGH. THAT MEANS…
1:54: Yep. We just hit the “hands on your knees, hands on your knees” part. God save us all.
2:01: “Macarena.” HE’S PLAYING THE GODDAMN MACARENA. THE TERRORISTS HAVE WON. CLOSE AMERICA.
2:12: Redemption: He’s playing “Humahuaqueno Carnavalito” by King Africa, the most bizarre, incidentally brilliant Argentine recording artist of all-time. It just got live as fuck in here real quick.
2:16: Victoria de Mexico’s “Arrancame el Corazon.” This shit needs a Funkmaster Flex bomb sound effect in it ASAP.
2:16:30: BTW, how happy would you be to find out that every time Flex has an orgasm, that bomb sound effect went off? That’d immediately become, like, YOUR FAVORITE THING IN THE WORLD, wouldn’t it? God, please let that be true. #FunkmasterFlexOrgasmBomb
2:16:30: Oh, also, here’s a curious conundrum: We can all agree that all aspects of life would be about 1,000X better if they were followed with a Funkmaster Flex bomb sound effect, right?
May I please get the number 2 with a Dr. Pepper? [Funkmaster Flex bomb sound effect]
Honey, I’m pregnant. [Funkmaster Flex bomb sound effect]
Sorry to tell you this, but you have stage four cancer. [Funkmaster Flex bomb sound effect]
You know what the only thing that isn’t better with bomb sound effect? SONGS. Stop playing that shit in the middle of tracks, Flex.
2:24: And there’s LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem.” The DJ accidented his way into a mostly appropriate, relevant song. Things are looking up.
2:26: Christ, several of these kids are shuffling with the intensity of 1,000,000 suns. One of the boys has eyes like Daniel Day Lewis during the “I drink your milkshake” speech from There Will Be Blood. I don’t wanna be here when he starts calling kids afterbirths. Time to move around.
2:30: The cafeteria has sectioned itself off into groups, with (what I’d guess were) the popular kids participating in one dance circle, (what I’d guess were) the middle tier kids in another and (what I’d guess were) the lower level scamps standing around the edge of the room eating pickles and looking for an even better place to eat a pickle.
2:38: Ha. For a moment, I thought the DJ, the afternoon’s unlikeable antagonist, had managed to actually blend together a few Selena songs. Alas, he’s just been playing a premade Selena medley available as a single track (it’s actually called “Cumbia Medley”). Cheater.
2:39: BTW, Selena has grown to be an iconic cultural figure since her death in 1995, and that’s cool and respectable (and even a little predictable), but back in the early ’90s man, she was basically Drake for Mexicans, yo. An example: I, like all of the morons I hung out with, spent a significant portion of my formative years trying to convince people that I was a ruthless, O-Dog-like street tough. It’s just what you do when you grow up in a shitty neighborhood. I wore shorts and chanclas with socks pulled up to my knees (an absolutely necessary ensemble for Mexican thugs), had a respectable amount of NBA jerseys (purchased from the flea market like a real playa) and pretended to want to fight anyone that didn’t immediately cower at my ballerina-esque frame. Being considered “hard” was something my friends and I actively pursued. But whenever “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” would come on, fuck you. We were like preteen girls at a pretty, pretty princess slumber party. And you couldn’t tell us shit. She was the one artist that transcended gangsterdom. Kids today still like her, but they like her for different reasons than we did. I’ll take it though. Cumbiaing all through this bitch right now.
2:47: “Teach Me How to Dougie.” Jesus, that unraveled fast.
2:51: Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass.” That’s not that weird, I guess. What is weird though is that the bulk of the football team has taken over one of the dancing circles, with them all in the middle dancing and singing along in what appears to be an entirely authentic manner. There’s zero irony. They appear to actually be enjoying the process. The rest of the crowd is nonplussed. Kids today are super advanced. Word to them for that. There’s no way anything like that could’ve happened in 199— WAIT! IS NICKI MINAJ 2012’s SELENA?!!??!! HOLY CHRIST!?
2:53: Hahaha. The music stopped because Jose R.’s mom is here to pick him up. That’s the best. He looks pissed. Poor kid.
2:57: A mix from DJ Erick Rincon, 3ball God.
3:01: “Y.M.C.A.” I think this guy’s having a hard time figuring out if these kids are 14 or 45.
3:03: “Boot Scoot Boogie.” Took longer for this to come out than I was anticipating. We’re nearing the end of the dance. I’m actually a little excited to see what jewel he’ll finish with.
3:06: Now he’s playing a regional hit called “Stanky Legg,” probably the standout track from this dance rap thing that started in Dallas. They’re as bad at this dance as they were the “Teach Me How to Dougie.” Still, they’re working at it. Admirable. We need that “Good Job, Good Effort” kid from the NBA playoffs here stat. He could be putting in all kinds of work.
3:07: Ah, that’s sweet. One kid that doesn’t know how to do the “Stanky Legg” dance is trying to teach another kid that doesn’t know how to do it how to do it. It’s like watching cavemen play with a PSP.
3:10: Oh snap. Skrillex’s music has officially made an appearance. I’d like to point out here that in the last 36 minutes, the DJ has played (a) a group that got famous by wearing animal print leggings, (b) arguably the greatest Latina singer ever, (c) a California rap group that fizzled out in by mid-2011, (d) rap’s greatest method actor, (e) one of the primary figures in one of music’s most interesting new subdivisions, (e) the biggest hit from a disco group originally built to target gay audiences, (f) perhaps the marquee track from Dallas’s D-Town boogie movement and (g) the poster child for Americanized Dubstep. And he did so with zero transitions: song, silence, song. HAS ANY DJ EVER BEEN THIS BAD AT BEING ECLECTIC? OR, PERHAPS, IS HE THE PIONEER OF A WHOLE NEW DJ MOVEMENT? IS HE A GENIUS? A DULLARD? IN TUNE WITH THE UNIVERSE? BARELY ALIVE? IT ALL SEEMS IN PLAY.
3:12: Man, getting close to the last song. Three minutes left. All I care about in this world is what that last track will be? It could be anything, really. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was just a few minutes of whale noises or pots being dropped on the floor. What if he ends with Morrissey or Snow Patrol or Shabba Ranks?
WHAT IF HE ENDS WITH SHABBA RANKS?!?!?!
Dudes, I’m calling it right now: If he ends with Shabba Ranks, he is the Earth’s greatest living DJ. BOOK THAT.
3:14: Oh, good. He’s playing Ester Dean’s “Drop It Low,” featuring Chris Brown. A sample of the lyrics: “They wanna see me drop it, drop it, drop it. Wanna pop it, pop it, shake that ass on the floor.” Cool, cool. Chris Hansen should be wandering in any moment now.
3:16: DJ announcement: “Alright, everyone. This is the last dance. Make it count.” I’m starring dead at him right now. He’s fucking pumped about this, I can see it in his face. Silence.
3:16:04: Here it comes.
3:16:07: OH MY GOD. I’M SO NERVOUS. THIS CAN GO 5,000 DIFFERENT WAYS.
Dude. Seriously? Donna Summers’ “Last Dance”? That’s how this story ends? Like, for real? GODDAMNIT. So disappointing.
He was excited too. He put that on like, “I’m about to blow the fucking roof of this cafeteria with this one! You bitches are gonna be eating outside from now on!” Jesus. I’m going home.
Personal Bias: All of them, all of the biases.
Overheard in the Crowd: Lots of stuff, probably.
Random Notebook Dump: Whenever I’m reviewing a show, I type all of my notes into my phone and send them as text messages. It’s helpful because it makes the timestamp thing easier to do. Usually I send them to my wife. Occasionally, I’ll send them to someone who’s not expecting them. For this one, I sent them to another writer. There were about 45 texts total. He sent back two responses. Both of them had a lot of curse words in them.