Why Terrible Music Gets Famous (feat. Meme Culture)
As I’ve often claimed before, music as an art form is primarily a means of expression. It’s what happens when you access the notational repertoire provided and symbolized by the 88 keys on a piano, pass it through the filter tempered with your specific musical dexterity, emotions and imagination, and get a resultant outcome more or less unique to you – the creator. The very nature of a process of this sort often renders making music a cathartic experience and one’s music, a representation of oneself in one form or the other.
Well, at least that’s the view shared by people who consider music as something more than the intermittent background noise that you hear on that boring cab ride to and from the humdrum joints life makes you frequent. Then there are those who believe music to be nothing more than a means to earn money and get famous, who don’t believe in writing music to inspire, to educate or to express. These are the ones who follow a certain formula for writing music, capitalize on current trends and deliver according to what they feel would sell quickly; and that, as it so happens, turns out to be kind of music that does normally sell – because it’s based on analysis and temporal data, and was written with a pre-defined goal in mind rather than as a conduit for expression, which is only fair considering music is an entirely subjective tool which can and should be used as people see fit to do so.
There’s also the third kind of music, however, that transcends all sorts of genres and has no tangible basis for existence. This kind comprises those who never bothered to acquaint themselves with the very basics of music like structure, rhythm, consonance and very often don’t even bother writing lyrics grounded in some version of reality. Resultantly, people don’t like their music, but very often the music itself is so unimaginably unimaginative, that people feel compelled to share their music with their peers all the same, so they don’t feel like they’re the only ones experiencing the madness. It can be likened to watching a game of football at a pub, where you see one side getting utterly slaughtered, and you turn to your friend, Mike from work and say, ‘Hey, Mike, you seein’ this?’, but of course, Mike was not, in fact, “seein’ this” because he’s sneaked out and now you’ve got to pay his tab. Typical Mike, I swear to god…
The genesis of terrible music that got famous probably lies in parodies, and that made sense because it was intentional, satirical and got some sort of a message across with its music. One such example I can think of would be the ‘rock’ band Devo, with their weird themes and intentionally discordant music. Hell, it was so deeply rooted in satire that their very name was short for ‘de-evolution’, which itself was a reference to mankind’s descent into regressing as a society.
The last few years have seen a particularly consistent rise in cringe-inducing music that gained infamy. I’m not sure most of you would remember ARK Music Factory, but they were the ones responsible for taking money from rich parents who wanted to turn their kids into pop stars with one-hit wonders, and they’re the reason we know Rebecca Black and her ilk. More recent examples of musical train wrecks would include people in and around the Indian subcontinent; think Dhanush, Taher Shah, that weird guy with the pedo mustache who sang about it ‘being his life, whatever he wants to do’, and the very worst of them all, if there ever could exist a denunciation so shameful, Dhinchak Pooja.
What’s surprising about the people mentioned immediately above, is that they seem to be completely and utterly oblivious of the extent of their lack of musical abilities despite people spelling it out for them in every way possible; but they continue to term them ‘haters’ and feed off of the attention they receive from the millions of people organically sharing their music within their particular peer groups. Or worse yet, they figure out EXACTLY what it is that fuels their particular brand of cringe, and capitalize on that so the very same comedic savants who sit atop their throne of what they call ‘ironic’ humor continue to come back and gleefully keep sharing their terrible content.
To understand exactly how this affects us, and why people keep doing this, let’s take a look at the kind of jokes that get famous on the internet, or essentially, how memes work.
The internet loves telling jokes in waves:
- The first wave is when people laugh at the viral clip or an image or a wall of text on its own standalone basis.
- The second wave is when people re-appropriate the humor in some new context, satirizing some element about the original that they may have missed the first time around.
- The third wave is when the joke is recognizable enough for the punchline to be the joke itself. This is, of course, the point where it begins to get meta and self-referential, and this carries on until it either ends up on Ellen Degeneres, or The Anonymous hacker named 4chan starts propagating images of the white-supremacist bigot named Pepe (source: Fox News. I am not making this up. They actually thought that’s what that was).
That’s how most of the internet memes that would’ve never been objectively funny gather interest, and with repetition, appear funny in an absurd way as a reference to either something else, or to how unfunny it is.
That said, there’s another class of people who think references are funny without knowing the original jokes simply because other people find it funny. For instance, how many people smugly claiming to enjoy ‘cracking open a cold one with the boys’, or making jokes about fidget spinners actually understand why anyone would ever find that humorous in the first place?
While we’re on the topic of internet culture, it also seems to have become popular to make jokes centered around some form of debilitation faced by the subject; and the debilitation could be in the form of mental illnesses or suicidal tendencies. What this does is essentially project a strawman version of the particular disorder which may apply to a larger number of people and get them to relate to the subject, thereby creating a false impression of what it really means to be in that particular situation. Also, because a lot of people seem to be able to relate to it, that creates the impression that it’s somehow a perfectly normal situation to be in, even if nothing could be further from the truth. It’s an especially perplexing conundrum because no one can really know if the person who initially made the joke meant it as a joke, or as a cry for help.
In fact, Facebook Nihilism has paved the way for young kids who haven’t even had a chance to develop the ability for critical thinking to be exposed to revelations normally suited to 50 year olds, such as the pointlessness of life, or the concept of ‘waiting to die’. Because it’s mostly presented without its appropriate and intended context, it has perverted the concept of what it means to really have a death wish, and has, at best, reduced the idea to some form of a joke, or at its worst, served to romanticize it; both of which are terrible scenarios.
Of course, I’m not looking to pass any sort of judgement here, but isn’t it somewhat of a problem when people are introduced to crippling depression and social anxiety (or a watered-down version of them) via knowyourmeme.com rather than a Wikipedia entry? Food for thought.
Getting back to the original discussion, in light of the nature of how memes work, when you share any of Dhinchak Pooja’s music in any form, or when you tag people in them, her organic reach increases irrespective of your motivations behind the share or the tag, and you set the wheels of fame and fortune for her in motion due to the current system that’s based on ad-revenues; essentially ‘rewarding her’ for being exceptionally untalented. And being the critical-thinking, rational human being that she is, she’ll choose to rinse and repeat every single time, because she gets paid in cold-hard cash every time someone laughs at her.
Of course, she’s only one of the hundreds out there who get famous because they’re mocked and joked about for attributes that are unoriginal and lack any sort of personality, and who stand on podiums others have built for them rather than working hard to build their own. But the problem with that is, people will eventually get tired of the trope, and when they’re no longer culturally relevant, they’ll inevitably get thrown off the podium right after their fifteen minutes of fame are up. These ‘celebrities’ live fast and die young.
So all in all, it’s not really that big a problem considering the clock’s ticking on these folks really quickly, but the fact that they’re famous makes quite a poignant point about the nature of the internet, and indeed, the nature of a herd mentality that thrives on schadenfreude and yet seeks the comfort of relating to people they’ve never met.
(Cheers to Manan Dhuri of MTTN for the cover poster!)