Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, December 02, 2011

Musical 180s: When Bands' Creative Left Turns Go Awry

Hi,folks-today,we have another guest post by Stephanie O'Donnell,the artist whose talents can be seen in the online webcomic Perfect Agent(written by Greg Carter)and yes,I'm proud to say that she is my younger sister. Her topic for this post is how some musical acts try to remake their image in order to stay current but wind up showing just how out of touch they've become.

I hope you enjoy Stephanie's music scene musings and oddly enough,she's not the only one in the family doing a guest post this week. My essay "Persuaded into Austen"is being featured as part of Austenprose's "Reading Austen" series,so you're getting two for the price of one here today,friends!

Remember Korn? Those angsty, Adidas and Puma clad upstarts who managed to top the TRL charts in the boy band revival of the late 1990s? Yeah, they and their music have not aged well. So much so, that in fact, their latest album, “The Path To Totality”, is purported to be a "dubstep" record. Not only is it going to sound like the usual treadmill in a rainstorm, but it will be accompanied by a malfunctioning robot on said treadmill.

For those of you who are unaware of dubstep, there's plenty of examples around. Google "Skrillex", and you will soon wish that you didn't. Basically, this is a last ditch effort on Korn's part to stay relevant and hook in a younger crowd by, as David Cross once said about advertising in an HBO stand up special, "hippin' it up and sellin' it to the younger folks".

That said, this is not a new concept by any means. Bands changing their sound, be it drastically or minimally yet still alienating, is a tale as old as time. And yes...a song as old as rhyme too. Beauty and the Beast.

In 1981, the Village People underwent an entirely new image under the orders of Jacques Morali, who put the group together. Disco was waning big time in America, and new wave/new romantic music was on the rise. They decided to stay fresh by taking the latter route, interpreting their character personas into a new romantic spin.

Yes, even the biker had to wear pancake makeup. It made him look like King Diamond had just lost a bet. But at least we can say there's no pretense or candy coating behind the whys and the hows. The band even admitted on this clip of them on the Merv Griffin Show admitted it was all Morali's idea.

"Renaissance" was their album release with the new wave overhaul. There's maybe 3 decent songs on the entire thing (ymmv) and nothing else. There even contains a song entitled "Big Mac", and guess what it's about? I don't know McDonald's missed this prime opportunity for sponsorship. It makes a helluva jingle.

But after that comes the songs "Diet", and "Food Fight", respectively. I'm guessing this was supposed to be some trilogy within the vein of Metallica's "Unforgiven" saga? But instead of an old man in a dirty, tiny cellar, we get a series of songs about mastication. Or in the latter's case, throwing it instead of eating it. I have no idea why this even exists, but the fact that it does is strangely fascinating.

In the late 1970s, Kiss managed to piss off the "Disco Sucks!" portion of their audience by writing the song "I Was Made For Loving You". Good going! But in the same year as the Village People were packing on the extra rouge and eyeshadow, they put out "The Elder". A concept album that was later admitted by one of the producers to be a product of heavy cocaine use, it centers around a boy on some kind of quest. Basically "Dungeons and Dragons" crap.

My brother was an avid fan, and even owned this on cassette. I remember oddly enough being a kid, and picking that one out to listen to more than anything. Of course now I can barely recall most of the songs, except for "A World Without Heroes", which VH1 Classic likes to trot out from time to time in Kiss specials.

Just in case you wanted to forget Paul Stanley's "Stayin' Alive" realness with regard to the hair AND the headband, don't worry! VH1 and all of its subsidiaries will make sure you have this ingrained in your psyche. Possibly to make sure the younger generations feel the pain that their parents (possibly grandparents?) did way back when this was considered "fresh and original".

I'm sure as you all know, if you've seen his "Behind The Music" special, that Vanilla Ice was a commercial failure not once, but twice! Two times the fun! Around 1994 or so, he attempted to fit in with the gangsta rap genre. His idea of that was to get an absurd hairstyle consisting of short dreadlocks that hung on his head like a dead mutant tarantula from a SyFy original picture.

One of his awful attempts at being just as hardcore as Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre was this little bon mot from one of the songs, "The Wrath": "And I'm still droppin' bombs/ You know the rap world's a battlefield in Vietnam". What's funny is that despite the effort (or lack thereof?) to completely erase his pop chart past, he still includes elements from "Ice Ice Baby" in it.

And wouldn't ya know it! Second verse really is same as the first! He did the same thing again in 1998 with his Limp Bizkit-esque resurgence by doing a nu-metal version of "Ice Ice Baby" entitled "Too Cold". It is basically the same song, but with a new title on it for some reason. He ditched the pseudo gangsta hardass look and decided to copy Total Request Live's rock darlings, as stated earlier, Limp Bizkit, aaaand KORN! He even got the same producer that worked with Korn to work on the album "Hard To Swallow". Circle of life.

Today he is now somewhat of a cult figure, since he is now affiliated with Insane Clown Posse, their label, and the Juggalo subculture. I'm using that term very literally since it's my humble opinion that juggalos are pretty much a cult in and of itself.

You've probably seen the "Gathering Of The Juggalos" infomercials on YouTube, or maybe the sketches parodying it on SNL. 4 days in a creepy hick town bordering Kentucky where all sorts of debauchery occurs. It's like if Jonestown was an annual mini vacation, but hold the Flavor Aid. And yes, "V Ice" has been very prominent in them:

Last, but certainly not least, it would be a crime to not mention Chris Gaines in this piece. Garth Brooks decided in the late 90s/early 2000's that he would be "innovative" and create a pop rock persona to accompany a movie that was never made about said charater's life, and a CD that was made.

Also an SNL appearance with Garth Brooks as host and Gaines as the "musican guest". An episode of “Behind The Music” was all about his alter-persona. This is arguably the antithesis of Lady Gaga and Jo Calderone's act during this year's Video Music Awards. I mean, this shit is so bad that I had to find an actual video outside of YouTube. He doesn't even have a Vevo channel.

Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines - Right now by purplenippleac

There’s many more examples, of course. This trope has always been around, and you’re damn sure that there will be many more faux pas moments in certain artists’ careers in the future. And it’ll just get weirder and weirder.

In fact, it was announced last night on CBS’ Grammy Awards Nominations Special that the dubstep darling, Skrillex, is up for Best New Artist. I can’t imagine living in a world where obnoxious bloops and bleeps and machine noises with no nuance get recognized by major awards. In a way though, it’s pretty hilarious. We are pretty much living in a comedy sketch at this point. Just laugh along.

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