Juxtaposition: Weird Al and strategic use of the interwebs

Robinson Meyer notes some of the interesting ways Weird Al uses the interwebs to promote his work.  Writing in The Atlantic, Meyer observes:

No wonder, then, that this week Al has mimicked the tactics of the preeminent Knowles. From last Monday to this upcoming one, he released a new music video every day, eight videos in total. There are few songs on his new album that will lack a video, meaning that, in medium and marketing, he’s pulling a sort of time-extended Yoncé.

But not all eight videos are going straight to YouTube. Weird Al is spreading that goodness around.

His parody of Pharrell’s “Happy” is hosted by Nerdist, a sprawling online entertainment empire that achieved fame through its eponymous podcast but which now encompasses a news website, a network of audio and video shows, and a television program on BBC America. Al’s Lorde spoof, meanwhile, went to competing digital content factory, CollegeHumor. It did go to YouTube, but is marked “Exclusive” and a “CollegeHumor ORIGINAL.” A “Blurred Lines” send-up sits on Yancovic’s Vevo page.

via The Surprisingly Savvy Weird Al Internet Machine – Robinson Meyer – The Atlantic.

I also liked the reflection about Weird Al’s mockery driven art.  Since the idea of juxtaposition comes up so much on Life of Refinement, it seems worthwhile to think about Weird Al laying a mocking interpretation on top of something already widely marketed.  Adbusters-style mock advertisements do the same thing.  Borrowing the millions of dollars of advertising money that preceded to simultaneously undercut the original message and build a counter-brand.

The situationists would call this détournement – to turn something against itself.  A media concept articulated by Debord, but well understood by any Weird Al fan.  Here Meyer describes this process as “disruptive innovation:”

The phenomenon Weird Al describes here is actually well described by a genre of scholarly literature—by business scholarship, of all things. It’s disruptive innovation, the buzzword so buzzwordy that the New Yorker devoted a thinkpiece to it in print!. Disruptive innovation describes what happens when new products create a new market for that type of product, which winds up challenging the existing one.

via The Surprisingly Savvy Weird Al Internet Machine – Robinson Meyer – The Atlantic.

I also appreciate the documentation of the Lady Gaga incident.  Yankovic created a parody of a Gaga song and when he checked in with her to get her blessing to release the tune on an upcoming album Gaga’s people refused.  Weird Al released the song on youtube with an explanation and Gaga quickly relented.

It’s worth noting something more about the substance of Weird Al’s mockery.

Not only is “Tacky” a review of a number of bad fashion moves, it is also a conservative morality rant.  This tune marks as “tacky” oversharing on instagram, forcing others to pay, reminding people you’ve done them favors, insulting people, dropping names, leaving bad yelp reviews, and having no shame.

At points Weird Al references particular low-points of recent toxic internet culture such as: “I’m a live-tweet a funeral and take selfies with the deceased.” This could be a Fox “news” commentary.

I happen to agree with Weird Al on most of these morality points.  But given that Pharrell’s “Happy” is a sort of liberation utopian expression of pop-oneness, the grounded grumpy juxtaposed retort is interesting.  [Let's note that the use of the Odd Future crew in "Happy" is a juxtaposition in itself.]

If you add in the English-teacher favorite “Word Crimes” you can start to map a particular perspective to Weird Al.

I get the sense that Al is frustrated with some of the changes in this new-fangled world.  His juxtaposition is intended to bring down and anchor some of the worst behaviors of the current era.

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Filed under academics, fashion, humor, juxtaposition, media, representation, rhetoric

Animals captive in zoos drugged

Grotesque and cruel.  To enslave an animal in a zoo for viewers to consume for pleasure.   To ensure that the captive animals represent the happy animal fiction they are drugged.

After their experiences at the zoo in Boston, Murphy and Mufson were curious about the use of psychopharmaceuticals in other captive gorillas, so they surveyed all U.S. and Canadian zoos with gorillas in their collections. Nearly half of the 31 institutions that responded had given psychopharmaceutical drugs to their gorillas. The most frequently prescribed were Haldol haloperidol and Valium diazepam, though Klonopin, Zoloft, Paxil, Xanax, Buspar, Prozac, Ativan, Versed, and Mellaril had all been tried.

via Even the Gorillas and Bears in Our Zoos Are Hooked on Prozac | Opinion | WIRED.

Thanks to Dan Weiss’s daily coffee from the Rumpus for the link.

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Filed under Animals, drugs, nature, representation

RIP Paul Horn

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Birdman, consumption and representation

I launch the new video by Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan and the first image is . . . Birdman?

A month a go, Birdman splashed out in an effort to sign Young Thug.  While you are being courted by Birdman and Young Money why not shoot a video with a few of the symbols of conspicuous consumption?

Birdman, Birdman Birdman.  It is astounding how much space he takes up in this video.  Father figure, founder of the feast, center of the party, exceptionally wealthy and entitled.  The symbols are all there.  Lighting up a cigar in the middle of a boutique sneaker store, bored yacht face, neck yoke of control over attractive women, mansion hallway vignette with Young Money/Cash Money plaques, comforting stacks of cash to sooth weary fingers . . .

(What would it cost to create this video out of rented artifice?  Not actually that much real money . . . rent a mansion, boat, cars, shoot the plane scene with a landed dummy plane . . . )

Birdman doesn’t rhyme in the video — he just stars in it.  (He does give the exiting dialogue — a shout out to his deceased mother Miss Gladys).  I guess Birdman is the price you pay for entry into Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan’s video.

I appreciate that this opening verse gives Thug a chance to rhyme what to him is a kind of normal accelerated pace.  His lyrics are distorted by his own voice and he plays with the sounds in a pretty creative way.  I don’t know why I like the natural caterwauling squawks that emit from Young Thug more than the digital ones, but I do.

Quan always has a quality flow, and I like his subtly shifting styles through this verse.  His deep voice growling does good riding the bass line. It seems like his references and similes could step up a notch . . . but he certainly sounds good.

What to make of the brief scene where Young Thug gives a stack of money to an old woman?   Young thug is arguing in the song that he does all this to bring money home to his family — a little consciousness break in a snowstorm of sexism and consumption.  Hold on, Quan suggests that his motivation is his mom and dad.  And Birdman concludes the video with a sponsored vodka shout out and tribute to his deceased mom.

One of the early critical arguments about hip hop was that the representations of hip hop quickly became images constituted by the artists in order to sell an image to an audience.  That hip hop involved performers going to work and creating something intended to meet an audiences expectations (usually male and privileged).  One way to read hip hop was to imagine what kind of audience might enjoy and buy this kind of performance.  (I’ll note the writings of Eric Watts, Tricia Rose and Robin D. G. Kelley have mostly influenced my perspective on this subject).

To a degree this crass consumerism vs. I’m-just-doing-this-to-feed-my-family debate is played out in the video.  I would say that the dominant visual narrative of consumption clashes with any other message.    In some ways the class consciousness (dropping off a couple of stacks for mom) is part of the representation of excessive wealth.  (Gza: “Who promised his mom a mansion with mad rooms /She died, he still put a hundred grand in her tomb” Gold).

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Filed under capitalism, class, communication, gender, hip hop, media, representation, rhetoric

Janelle Monae & 500th post

This is the 500th post on life of refinement.  I’m proud of the non-linear series of artifacts gathered here that point toward new understandings.  I use this web site to archive interesting things.  Meaningful things.  This is a curation of the rambling series of artifacts and patterns of representation I find significant enough to be marked and analyzed in a free open public space.  This is as close to learning as we’ll ever get.

Thanks to all who read the website.

***

 

I knew of Janelle Monae and appreciated her music but only had singles in my library.  Inspired by a Wax Poetics write up, I bought a copy of “The Electric Lady” last night.  With two full listens into the album (barely enough to comprehend what is going on) I’m sold.

This project is wonderful dance music and a really good concept album (or an extension of a concept album to multiple projects — Monae plays an alter ego pretty consistently).   The record is an extended riff on technology, cyborg/human interactions, civil rights and living life with dual identities.  Given that “The Electric Lady” could be a Phillip K. Dick novel, the smooth inviting production and musicianship is what carries the project.

This albums sounds VERY eighties to me.  From the sonic structure and choices of beats/samples to the rock opera lyricism of the concepts.  At points I was reminded of my nostalgic childhood filled with Styx, Heart, Bon Jovi and Run DMC.    The strings sound eighties.  The drums sound eighties.  Even the vocal harmonies remind me of eighties hits.   But the eighties were a point of technological jump off and the slight broadening of pop music.

I like the futuristic world that Monae is painting.  And the willingness to build futuristic pop music out of the sonic blocks of the past.  Astute Monae names tracks after inspiring pioneers: “Sally Ride” (astronaut) and “Dorothy Dandridge Eye’s” (first black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award).

In the context of the blog, I’ll quote the end of the “Dance Apocalyptic” when Janelle Monae says: “I really really want to thank you for dancing to the end.”   Thanks for reading and dancing ’til the end.

 

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Filed under art, communication, funk & soul, hip hop, human rights, music, representation, resistance, rock and roll, technology

E-40 Bamboo

Salute to E-40!  Nice dance-heavy video to get things going for the day, but the song is great.  The beat has that Bay area clap, snap and slap sound while 40 Water’s flow just disrespects the beat.

Anyone know who made this beat?

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Filed under dance, hip hop, music

Electoral politics in Iceland: anarchist performance art

I appreciated Constantin Seibt’s article on the anarchists playing with the Icelandic electoral system.  The Best party had a wonderful list of campaign promises:

A glance at the most important campaign promises of the Best Party is more than enough to highlight the audacity of Reykjavik’s voters. They were promised free towels at swimming pools, a polar bear for the zoo, the import of Jews, «so that someone who understands something about economics finally comes to Iceland», a drug-free parliament by 2020, inaction «we’ve worked hard all our lives and want to take a well-paid four-year break now», Disneyland with free weekly passes for the unemployed «where they can have themselves photographed with Goofy», greater understanding for the rural population «every Icelandic farmer should be able to take a sheep to a hotel for free», free bus tickets. And all this with the caveat: «We can promise more than any other party because we will break every campaign promise.»The Best Party emerged from an idea for a sketch show.

via More punk, less hell! – News Ausland: Europa – tagesanzeiger.ch.

You know how it goes, they win the election, form a coalition government, fix the budget, and suggest that humorous performance art may be more effective than traditional governance.

An assessment of four years of anarchist rule yields a rather surprising conclusion: the punks put the city’s financial house in order. They can also look back on some very successful speeches, a few dozen kilometers of bike paths, a zoning plan, a new school organization that no one complains about any more and a relaxed, booming city – tourism is growing by 20% a year and some say that is the new bubble. In speeches, president Grímsson no longer praises Icelanders’ killer instinct, but their creativity. Real estate prices are again on the rise and the Range Rovers are back too. In polls last October, the Best Party hit its high-water mark of 38%. Shortly thereafter, Gnarr announced he would retire and dissolve the Best Party. His reason: «I’m a comedian, not a politician.» He added: «I was a cab driver for four years, a really good one even, and I quit doing that as well.»«My question was always: ‹How do we fuck the system?›» says Örn. «And the answer was, we show that non-politicians can do the job as well. But quitting with a certain election victory within reach, that’s truly fucking the system!»

via More punk, less hell! – News Ausland: Europa – tagesanzeiger.ch.

Thanks to longreads for the suggestion.

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Filed under art, capitalism, communication, do-it-yourself, humor, media, protest, punk, representation, resistance