If anyone ever asked me about my favourite American artists, some of the greatest musicians of our time would immediately spring to mind; Blondie, Elvis Presley, Ke$ha, the list is endless. However, having lived in the US for almost seven months now, I have come to notice something quite unexpected: the musical spoof has returned big time. I long ago abandoned the, admittedly hilarious, parody mix CD that my cousin made me when I was younger; gaining musical integrity at the age of fifteen meant that the likes of Weird Al’s “Yoda” (an emotive tribute to everyone's favourite Jedi) and “Which Backstreet Boy is Gay?” (a sharply observed exposé attempting to answer one of life’s greatest questions) were left at the bottom of the pile, gathering dust. I can’t deny that there was always a tinge of sadness when I started singing the alternative lyrics to “Barbie Girl” and no one else joined in, but nonetheless my newfound obsession with “genuine artistic talent” left no room for the insincerity of those who ridiculed the invaluable contribution to pop culture made by some of the most talented musicians mankind had to offer. Or something.
Having basked in the glory of my “alternative” music tastes at home, I soon found that in the USA I may as well have tattooed “hipster” on my forehead and had done with it. Never have I been exposed to so much generic hip hop, so much manufactured pop music, in my life. I long for the four indie tracks a Friday night at my local club Kasbah has to offer; I dream of sweeping my hair out of my eyes at "Propaganda" even as I get my groove on to “Get Low” for the third time in one night. Never have I been so aware of the state of popular music as I have been over the last few months. Just looking at the Billboard charts this week, the first songs that could vaguely be considered as rock or alternative don’t even make the top fifty, lost amidst a sea of pop, hip-hop and R’n’B. Obviously there are going to be many talented artists in the top forty, irrespective of the style of music they play, but the sheer volume of indistinguishable and generic pop and hip-hop seems to me a natural by-product of a lack of diversity that makes modern popular music increasingly depressing; the revival of the music spoof, then, may be symptomatic of a much greater frustration with the plethora of unremarkable music being rammed down the public’s throat, something the Saturday Night Live crew have certainly picked up on.
I first discovered SNL’s Digital Shorts after arriving in the USA. I vaguely remembered seeing “Jizz in My Pants” on one of those hilarious Youtube countdown shows that kept me company in the lonely hours of a last minute essay session, but had not realised just how popular The Lonely Island (Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone) were, or indeed how accurate. When I heard my first, stirring rendition of “I’m on a Boat” at UConn’s Late Night Karaoke, I genuinely believed it was a real song, the inane lyrics not exactly standing out against the genuine article. My facebook wall over the last few weeks has been covered with links to the latest Lonely Island production, “The Creep”, something that seems to have caught the attention of people on both sides of the pond; what started as just another skit on Saturday Night Live (which, by the way, is virtually impossible to watch in the UK) has become a mainstream phenomenon on a global scale. The contributions of stars like Julian Casablancas, Akon, and Nicki Minaj lend these parodies a credibility and a sense of self-depreciation that make them all the more amusing, but the line between parody and “serious” music has been blurred beyond recognition. For instance, the song “I’m on a Boat” with rapper T-Pain went platinum in the US, as well as earning a Grammy nomination for “Best Rap/ Sung Collaboration”, and the Lonely Island’s first album, Incredibad, peaked at number thirteen in the Billboard album charts. That’s a hell of a successful start for what is essentially a well-produced joke. If only serious artists would put this much effort into their songs, then maybe they wouldn’t find themselves the butt of it quite so often.