Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Lonely Island - Incredibad

The Lonely Island - Incredibad
Published in 2009

One of the thugs that I have noticed is that there are certain genres of music that are more difficult than others. It is easier to make competent music in some areas than others. I want to be clear though, I don't think this music is any easier to make great songs, but just making competent songs is enough sometimes. When I listen to techno, while I can percieve differences, the floor level seems easier to achieve than, say as an extreme example, chamber music.

This may just be because we no longer practice the specific generes and that the more popular ones are more in practice. There is one genere that is incredibly hard to make, and I want to explore why.

Comedy music is really difficult to do well. Quickly, think about comiedians who use song as their primary vehicle for jokes. Here is my list:
Weird Al
Spike jones
Stephen Lynch
Lonely Island
Reggie Watts
Flight of the Concordes
Axis of Awesome
Bo Burnham
Richard Cheese
Tenatious D

If we start looking at comedians who write original songs and music as a side project:
Monty Python
Tim and Eric
Zach Gallifinakis
Ed Helms
Steve Martin

This is off the top of my head, and if I think of more, I'll add them. Although I think it proves my point. In the history of music, the number of exclusive comedy artists is a pretty tiny number. I know that I am focusing on sucessful ones commercially, but that is the best measure I have, because if they haven't been somewhat successful, I wouldn't have heard of them.

This genre is difficult for a few reasons. Let's do it in list form.
1. It's ephemeral.
2. It's timely.
3. It's funny.

On the first point, comedy music is pop music. If it isn't popular, there is no reason for it to exist. It takes the music of the moment and distills it down to it's essence. But, that moment will pass, and for the most part, the comedy passes with it. This is why King Tut is still funny, but some of the more obscure Weird Al tracks have not maintained their popularity.

On the second point, you have things that only work in their time. Someone born in 2000 may have a vague notion about Madonna, but would Like a Surgeon be funny to them?  Who knows?  To a nerd like me, parodies are funny because I seek out what makes them funny, but on a first listen, it would probably just sound like a particularly silly eighties track.

But the third hurdle is the hardest. Every time there is something in the world, you're expected to make the funny version of it. Every time you write a song, there have to be jokes that fit the form, and you are expected to be hilarious. The great artists, the ones you remember, take the ephemeral and make it timeless by making it funny.

The Lonely Island does this better than anyone right now. They do it by co-opting modern trends in music, taking their simple formula, and applying it. They also make very cinematic music, because for the most part, it goes on SNL.  They have a laser focus on the conventions and beats that go into a hip hop song.

Let's take a song at random. Incredibad, the title track, is a parody of the 80's story rap, taken to an extreme. If you don't know this form, listen to the song "Paul Revere" by the Beastie Boys. The pop culture ephemera is there, and their target is the 12 year-old kids who grew up listening to Licenced to Ill (or as we're commonly known, me and every other suburban white kid who liked hip hop at all).

The comedy though, is just in this insane moment of a story song, where the plot goes fucking crazy, and the three friends decide to team up or whatever.

Explaining comedy ruins it. I have trouble writing about music from time to time, and writing about comedy is the same. You cannot know why something is funny and still think it is funny in the same way. In your analysis of comedy, you anihilate what is funny and twist it and turn it into something else.

During college, I thought very hard about writing an essay about jokes and the program. I think that one reason that comedy is so important to groups of people is because it can codify and show members of your tribe at their most open and vulnerable. The communal experience of laughter is one of the few truly open moments, which is why laughing with a group of people in a theater is a different experience than watching something at home.

SJC is an incredibly small community, but the jokes that are told there reflect the miniture nature and the specific purpose. When someone refers to the program ironically or merely quotes a joke from a book, you get an experience that is limited to your people. If one looks at any small group, these short hands for humor will arise.

But our jokes are also incredibly obscure. They speak to us and us alone. I think this is part of the success of The Lonely Island. Their ability to make fun of specific aspects of hip hop culture, even obscure songs like Paul Revere, makes them hilarious to that group, which champions them for the rest of us.

I really like this album, and I genuinely like it musically as well as in a comedic sense. You should pick it up, you'll like it too.

"Oh, he just went up to his room. He's probably whipping the river."

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