show them how funky and strong is your fight

NPR did a story last week on bands who make their living off of YouTube (hat tip to crasch for the link). The big example they use is the two-person remix/cover act Pomplamoose:

While I love the phenomenon of bands making money in new, exciting Web 2.0 ways, I really wish these people weren’t the example NPR cited. Because they’re everything I hate about hipsters.

Watch the video I linked to above. What goes on?

First, the entire focus of the video is on process. We get close-ups of kickstands pounding on bass drums, fingers dialing on mixers to get distortion. We see exactly how the artists created that hypnotic three-part harmony on the chorus: they just recorded Nataly singing the same line three times! When the piano comes back in, we get a shot of Jack playing the piano. Like clockwork. Everything arranged just so.

Pop music is of course produced with exactly this eye to precision, but the beauty is that it appears spontaneous. When you watch the original “Single Ladies” video, you see a tightly choreographed but unpredictable dance arrangement. You don’t see the days of rehearsing that went into getting it just right. Ditto any other pop classic, like “Hey Ya” or “Womanizer” or “I Saw The Sign”: the result looks spontaneous, even if it came about mechanically.

But hipsters – especially hipsters with access to new media, like YouTube – are all about process. If you can duplicate the rituals of your forefathers just so, you can produce the same kind of inspirational art they did. It’s not about passion or creativity; it’s about following the steps. RTFM, n00bs!

mcsweeneys

Second – and maybe I’m just sensitive to this because I read a TigerBeatdown post last week on how guys have a hard time dealing with girls in bands, but – what the hell, Pomplamoose. Your video consists of a man really enjoying himself: look at him hammer on those drums! look at him bob his head while he plays guitar! look at him tinker with all these cool sound-effect toys! And then there’s a girl who looks terrified. She stares blankly at the camera, moving her mouth as little as possible. She’s so washed out by lighting and makeup that she looks like a hostage. Not only is she not rocking out as hard as the dude is, she doesn’t look like she’s enjoying herself at all.

I’m not saying she’s been coerced into that. I’m not suggesting that she was locked in a basement for a week, then dragged into an attic studio and forced at gunpoint to sound like Regina Spektor (though were that the case, would it look any different?). I’m saying this is a style that the hipster subculture rewards. Guys get to be enthusiastic; girls have to be cute. Guys get to play with all the cool technical toys; girls make pleasing sounds into a can.

(Note that I’m judging the image Pomplamoose chooses to present, not the reality behind it. Maybe Jack’s only sorta technical. For all I know, Nataly mixed the entire video herself with Logic Express while chaining Nat Shermans and banging her head to the Stooges. But the video doesn’t depict that. The video depicts Jack rocking out and Nataly standing very still)

And this wouldn’t gall me half as much if (A) I hadn’t just read that TigerBeatdown post and (B) they were covering less rockin’ songs. But come the fuck on, Pomplamoose! “Single Ladies” is one of the most bold, positive music videos of all time (of all time!). It features a strong woman, confident in her femininity, not just deflecting an ex-boyfriend’s butthurt but throwing it back in his face. “If you like it, then you shoulda put a ring on it! If you like it,” etc. To bleach the passion out of that song and handle it with sterile gloves is a crime.

And “Single Ladies” isn’t the exception. Here’s their cover of “Beat It,” probably the hardest song on Thriller. Remember the knife-fight in the garage? Remember Michael Jackson strutting around an empty pool hall, pumping his fist and straining his face with anger? Remember that sweet Eddie van Halen guitar solo? Well, screw that garbage, hipsters!

I won’t begrudge Pomplamoose any of their newfound Internet success. I just wish they weren’t afraid to rock out.

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6 Responses

  1. Hey man, chill out…they’re just having fun and making a living. You make it sound like they just committed a sacrilege. Maybe they will rock out in their own time.

  2. I have to agree with Guitarplyr. You’re really kind of harsh for something that really is a stylistic choice on behalf of the two artists.

    They’re not out trying to make a statement. They’re having fun with music arrangements and trying to present it in a fresh format.

    I personally like that Nataly looks so vulnerable when she sings, and I love Jack’s enthusiasm, and if anything, I think it reflects an honesty to themselves as individuals and as a couple that you DON’T see in the typical overly-produced mass-media videos and performances out there.

    These guys are in a phase in their lives where they can get paid doing something they enjoy. It may be inevitable that they will change as they become more successful, but this new form of media is giving a lot of people a chance to see them earn their success in a fresh way.

    I’m suspicious of this “hipster” label I see a lot out there these days, but I don’t think it applies in the way you seem to think it does here.

    And, by the way, you are correct. She does do the mixing of the music and video, according to the articles I’ve read.

    • @VSmirk and @Guitarplyr: I’d probably like them more if they weren’t covering songs that (to my critical ears) have to be played as rockin’ as possible. I’m not averse to the simplistic sound. I just don’t think it adds anything to “Beat It” or “Single Ladies.”

      Then again, they have paying customers, while my 1300-page Gravity’s Rainbow parody sits on the shelf.

  3. Well played.

    I personally like the fresh take on the old classics. Maybe it will get tired to my ears after a few more years, but playing with the arrangements of old songs often (if done right) gives me a new appreciation of them. Like I’m hearing them for the first time.

    You should take the time and peruse their (Pomplamoose’s) original compositions. They have some really great non-covers.

  4. I dunno, previous commenters. I can’t even watch these videos because Nataly looks so freaking uncomfortable and disconcerting. It’s really ruining the experience for me, especially when taken in juxtaposition with these super rock-out songs.
    I THINK I would enjoy these covers if I had listened to them without watching the videos, but now I’m haunted by how little fun Nataly appears to be having. It makes her look really noncommittal about the song and like she isn’t really into it. That’s not a quality that I look for in a musician. I want to believe that they are having fun and that they love what they do. To me that means … smiling, or at least being emotional at ALL. Like, angry if the song calls for it, or some other emotion, … I think it’s weird that I even have to stipulate that.

    I’d feel this way even if the genders were switched, although I do confess to reading those Tiger Beatdown posts and relating to them.

  5. Anyone who says: “I’m suspicious of this “hipster” label I see a lot out there these days” is a dirty, dirty hipster. No offense, hipster dude.

    Also, these are two absolutely terrible covers. This sound feels as if Twee and Polish had a child, (tumblring the whole birthing procedure, natch), and then that child, probably named Ook or some shit, grew up and constantly went to poetry readings not to enjoy the goings-on but to mumble into a teacup that he really needed just to use the bathroom and oooh is that an Elvis Costello reference I can do you one better. ‘Scuse me, I gotta go to a Ghosts of Jerry Orbach show and punch someone.

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