Sunday, March 27, 2011

Friday and Other Bad Songs

(News-Herald, March 24) Perhaps you don’t spend much time on the interwebs and so missed the latest contribution to American culture.
A thirteen-year-old named Rebecca Black received a special present from her folks—a two thousand dollar session with a production company that helped her create and produce a hit-ready pop song with accompanying video. The video was, of course, posted on youtube, where it had at first a few hundred hits, then several thousand, then a gazillion as carbon based life forms all over the earth lined up to experience what has already been called one of the worst songs ever. (To be accurate, as of Tuesday, March 22, Black’s video had 33 million views after less than two weeks. For comparison, Lady Gaga’s most recent hit video was up to just under 26 million views.)
Was the song that bad? Has it, as one iTunes reviewer claims, “ruined the meaning of music forever”? Hyperbole, perhaps, but, yes, the song is pretty bad. Black’s vocals are auto-tuned well beyond the range of robot singing, but there are far more famous singers doing the same. What sets the hit “Friday” apart is its special lyrical flair.
First, our young heroine wakes up and goes downstairs to eat a bowl of cereal (“Gotta have my bowl, gotta have my cereal, seein’ everything, the time is goin’”). By the second verse, she is at the bus stop where the approach of her friends in a car raises a more stirring dilemma: “Kickin’ in the front seat, sittin’ in the back, gotta make my mind up, which seat can I take?” Eventually she arrives at the climactic section in which she observes that yesterday was Thursday, today is Friday, tomorrow is Saturday and after that comes Sunday.
All indications are that this is entirely serious, but you can be forgiven for suspecting it’s a giant goof, because Rebecca Black’s “Friday” belongs to a special category of bad song. People have been trying to parody this insta-hit, but it’s simply not possible because the song is already its own parody, a song so dumb that nobody could possibly make it more ridiculous.
Not every bad song can achieve such invulnerability. “Achy Breaky Heart” may be an awful, awful song, but it is totally vulnerable to mockery (eg “Don’t play that song, that achy breaky song…”)
To mock something one must take its most notable characteristics and exaggerate them until they become silly. An unmockable song has been pre-ridiculified. Take “MacArthur Park”—what can anyone do to worsen a lyric like “Someone left the cake out in the rain, and I don’t think that I can take it, ‘cause it took so long to make it, and I’ll never have the recipe again.” (Plus, for good measure, “Oh noooooooooooo!”) And “Stairway to Heaven”—“If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now”??
The first time I heard “Wanna put my tender heart in a blender, watch it spin around to a beautiful oblivion,” I actually laughed aloud because I thought someone had written a hilarious parody of overwrought emo-boy angstiness. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that “Inside Out” was a real song and a real hit.
Neil Diamond could be accused of having a parody-proof style, but that might not be fair. Still, I defy any Diamond fan to defend the lyrics of “I Am” in which our highly emotive singer declares his deepest feelings and moans that “no one heard at all, not even the chair.” Could anybody possibly make that any sillier? (Maybe, but “ottoman” wouldn’t fit in the line.)
(We could argue that nearly the entire output of the disco era is too ridiculous to be mockable, and I might have trotted out examples except that I don’t really want to revisit disco. Living through it once was sufficient.)
But before curmudgeonly elders start the old, “They don’t write songs like they used to,” I should point out that ridiculously bad songs have always been with us. Practically everything Mantovani recorded makes me suspect that he was giggling at the massive joke he was playing on the music biz. And for fans of the big band era, all I have to say is, “Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamsy divies.”
Even the classical music whiz Handel calls on a chorus to declare with great stentorian seriousness, “We like sheep.” So don’t feel bad for Miss Black. She has lots of company. Also, her song is making her about 24 thousand dollars a week.

No comments:

From my Flickr