Swedish Twee-&-B Duo jj Cover “Birthday Sex.” Why?


You may have noticed that Zach and Camille–SOTC’s daily stewards–aren’t posting today, because they’re on some kind of spiritual retreat that I’m not privy to the details of. As a guest, I’d be remiss in not writing an amorphous think piece that will fall through the cracks between more web-ready tidbits like “New Rolling Stones Song Exists” and “Something Is Not Safe For Work.” jj’s cover of “Birthday Sex” offers just such an opportunity.

jj became semi-“famous”–i.e., were able to play a SXSW show capable of disappointing people–sometime in 2009 as a “mystery” duo at the fore of some unspecified subgenre of indie-pop, the gist of which had to do with “being influenced by contemporary black music.” (Remember 2009, when the Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness Is the Move” and the xx inspired critical controversy by earning comparisons to r&b–it seems so long ago!) I can’t find too much to really dislike in the physiological sensation of actually hearing jj’s music… which is completely different than electing to listen to it, which I never do. Their version of “Birthday Sex” though–this cover of an overexposed pop-radio song–isn’t this sort of a step back in the whole pop-into-indie /black-into-white march?

Or, maybe it’s best to be Socratic about this: Why did jj cover “Birthday Sex” instead of just writing a new song? For laughs? Why does this bother me?

There’s a double-standard here. For example, I wasn’t rankled or disappointed when Solange Knowles covered “Stillness” last year. I think, though, that in her case, that was the elevation of a relatively unknown band into some kind of spotlight–basically, what happens when a Famous Person (the sister of one, at least) just happens to mention your name on the red carpet or in a sidebar interview. There’s a sense of late justice being served, or that, wow, pop culture and indie culture really are coming to meet halfway in some glorious buffet where everyone is free to pick at whatever and nobody get cramps.

But reaches like this–by an “indie” group into the kind of pop music that sells ringtones and rules the lives of America’s youth–still feel disingenuous. It feels more like a way of making the music “safe” (Swedish?) for their audience than expressing their admiration for it. This is kind of like how I don’t buy “chillwave” as some glorious reclamation of the pop-culture trash my generation–late-’70s/early-’80s babies–were sort of passively exposed to when they were three years old but apparently made a very deep connection with. I mean, some of it is good, but come on, generation, let’s not settle for someone else’s memories just yet!

Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve been professionally blogging for a half-day now, and am fully convinced that just about everything streaming through the Internet is a product of distraction and quiet, quiet evil, and when you see oases like this jj cover–places to relax, think, and complain–you make a chair and sit down.

Also, I’m pretty sure I just made up “twee-&-b.”