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Today's Top 40 Spectrum: The Mainstream Filter As Remix Author

I never used the phrase "remix culture" until a few months ago. Not only did DoktorPeace blog yesterday about remixed fan-created versions of video games, and not only did Girl Talk mess up our rigidly organized iTunes playlist of albums that we plan on listening to in order of release date and genre (we all do this, right?), but another Blogulatorian, Brigitte, is also taking a Ph.D level class on the subject, and I believe that it is the culprit in question that embedded the term into my vernacular. In fact, her and I (and her husband Qualler, of course, as I would never speak of anything in confidence with another blogger's wife) end up talking about it so often that I almost feel like I'm in the class with her, even though I haven't even read a single word of any of her assigned texts. It's almost as if her professor has remixed my life and both he and I didn't even realize it until this trembling moment of self-discovery (I assume he's an avid Blogulator reader)! So naturally this has gotten me to thinking how the world (and in particular, the mainstream) tends to remix the pop culture we are inundated with everyday before it even gets to our ears. Bear with me as we go through five examples of the current Top 40 jams, ranked from best to horrendous below...

"Forget You" by Cee-Lo Green: I first heard the unedited (or to stay in theme, "demixed") version of "Fuck You" on my wedding night. No, I did not marry one-half of Gnarls Barkley and he cooed it ever so lovingly into my ear while we lay upon a bed of roses. Rather, one of our wedding guests ran to his car, grabbed his iPod, hurried it over to the DJ, demanded it be plugged in, and yelled with a wild look in his eye and his dress shirt untucked "this is the best song ever!!!" and we all danced like it was as familiar to us as any of the other soul or funk standards that were played earlier in the evening. Fast forward to a couple months later and I start hearing "Forget You" on the radio. Now not only did it take me a few times of hearing it to realize this was the same song, just re-recorded so as to suitably fit the prudes (read: children) nationwide, but I am pretty sure never has a hit song had so distinctly different censored and uncensored renditions with so little done to it. Even Trent Reznor simply got silenced every other word as he orgasmed aurally to angsty pre-teens everywhere. Thus while I still largely love the song (unless we get into the gender politics of the lyrics, but that's no fun), I can't help but feel a little off because of its dualistic mixes, one by the artist, another by the business.

"Animal" by Neon Trees: Here's a song that not only feels like its audio was remixed before it hit our populist ears, but also for some reason has two different professional label-made music videos. One is the above concept piece paying homage (I hope) to one of the great scenes from the original Tim Burton Batman and another is this one here, marked as the "viral version", which boggles my mind because I'm not quite sure how something even more boring than the regular version could possibly have gone viral - nevermind that point that rarely are viral vids labeled as such, unless they're being ironic. Actually, if they are, I love it. Anyway, back to the music. Doesn't this sound like what will likely happen to Phoenix if they keep taking the mainstream bait? Or what happened to many late-90s bands who didn't realize their subgenre was dying, like Vertical Horizon or Stroke 9? Not sure how this is so wildly popular, but it's clear that given different circumstances, these guys might make worse pop music or better indie music, but instead they chose a strange combination.

"Check It Out" by Will.i.am & Nicki Minaj: Before you get excited about the in-your-face "Video Killed the Radio Star" sample and Nicki Minaj being all sassy, listen to the chorus. If you listen closely enough, you can hear how bored everyone in the studio was while recording and producing it. Ex-Hologram Will.i.am literally sounds like he's sarcastic when he's saying "check it out", as if he's just waiting to laugh exasperatedly when you check out the "it" in question and realize it's just him picking his nose and flinging booger tendrils in your face. Seriously though, it's kind of fitting that the aforementioned gerascophobic but admittedly hooktastic song is the basis for this track. One uses vim and vigor to try to reclaim the pop culture throne from fogies of yore, while the other proves that even the most futuristic and in-the-now sounds can come across as tired and limp when there's no effort or vivacity behind it. This form of "premixing" may be the most unconscious on the list here, but it comes across louder here than anywhere else on the list if only because the attitude of the verses and the laziness of the chorus are so vastly dichotomous.

"Only Girl" by Rihanna: Speaking of being bored, HO-LY COW Ms. Umbrella. Are you really just a robot that was built to create a perfect unforgettable pop song that's been slowly but steadily losing steam since your creation? Because I swear, if you put me to sleep while I'm trying to listen to Top 40 radio to keep myself awake on a late night drive home one more time, I will actively avoid you rather than just ignore you like I did with "Rude Boy". For realzies, just put some effort into it! Don't just bury David Guetta's epic snare roll from "Sexy Chick" underneath that same bold yet swirly Eurotrash synth effect used on Usher's "DJ Got Us Falling in Love", sing more like Katy than Mariah (I guess dying your hair red wasn't quite enough to continue blanchifying your image) and just hope it counts as a hit at the end of the financial quarter. I mean, srsly, you're starting to make Gabrielle Union look like Missy Elliot here. Stop trying to coast on the sounds of today and start actually trying, RiRi. You are the reason so many ignorant folks think remixing isn't a real art.

"Love Like Woe" by The Ready Set: And yet, at least I have the energy to scathingly scold Rihanna. Here I just sit with my jaw hitting the pavement, half of me convinced I'm rendered speechless and the other half just trying to send enough neurological signals to my arm, hand, and fingers to get me to press that little "x" in the corner of the YouTube tab. This has to be manufactured via many outside parties, right? It's not like some kid with a parental record label connect sat his parents down one night and said, "listen Mom, I've got an idea for you to hand off to that guy in your Toastmasters group - Justin Bieber meets Fall Out Boy with just a light zest of Bob Marley spirit. Eh? Eh? Oh, also slip him this headshot of this awesome haircut I just gave myself." Right? I mean if this is how the youth would remix their culture to help author the new generation's stamp on popular music, then I suppose we could also "remix" the death penalty laws in this country so it could be sentenced to punk kids (yikes, that last two-word phrase could be a blog post unto itself) who make bad puns and get saccharine melodies stuck in otherwise sane people's heads.

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  1. Blogger qualler | 11:20 AM |  

    Hahaha RiRi making Gabrielle Union look like Missy Elliot. That is a most apt observation, Chris.

    Seriously, though, that "Love Like Whoa" song is the worst thing I've heard since the Steven Slater rap song that I just heard a few minutes ago. And I just declared THAT on Facebook to be the worst thing of all time.

  2. Blogger DoktorPeace | 7:58 PM |  

    Remix week on the Blogulator!!

    What's it gonna be tomorrow? Monday?

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