Friday, March 5, 2010


When my buddy Van Der Sweet told me he was opening a blog I was intrigued. When he told me he wanted me to guest post I was unsurprised. It's a music criticism site, of course I'm in. Well, to be fair, you could have removed the “music” part and replaced it with pretty much anything and I'd still be in. But I digress. I read through what VDS and the team have up so far and I'm pretty impressed, so I showed up today to give my two cents' worth on a music video near and dear to my heart.

Okay, not really. It's closer to my colon. You'll see what I mean.

Today's offering comes to you from Jordan Roseman, better known to the listening public as DJ Earworm: a San Francisco-based “mashup artist” who has achieved worldwide fame thanks to his allegedly clever “United State of Pop” remixes featuring the Billboard Top 25 most popular songs of the year.

There will be a moment of silence for our good friend Originality, murdered by unimaginative DJs like Earworm. While it's entirely possible to be original and innovative in an electronic music format, that's not what this is about. At all.

Don't believe me? Check out the Best of 2009.

All right, let's get down to brass tacks, shall we?

First of all, I am apparently so far out of the loop when it comes to modern music that I actually had to look up the Billboard Top 25, because I recognized roughly ten percent of the featured performers (I almost wrote “musicians” but I try to avoid typos).

Of course nobody can miss the Black Eyed Peas featuring that skank who peed herself that time, or the creepy dude with the fake nails and the God of War lightning bolt drawn on his face (wait, that's a chick? Did we ever get a final word on that? Actually, never mind; I don't care).

Also figuring prominently was Taylor “I'm Gonna Let You Finish” Swift and Billy Ray's daughter. I know this because when I first watched it I had to ask a friend the identity of the attractive girl with the guitar – and yes, when he told me it was Hannah Shitting Montana I died a little inside and felt an overwhelming urge to go door-to-door in my neighbourhood identifying myself as a dirty old man.

It was nice to see Jason Mraz featured briefly towards the end; he's a very talented guy even if that song of his is overplayed to the point that hearing it makes blood gush from my ear canals. And I was pleasantly surprised to see the Kings of Leon represented amidst a sea of boring corporate hip-hoppers.

But otherwise I was lost. Let's go through it with my trademarked arduous attention to detail. Ready?

0:02. Oh goody, I hate it already. Pop dance music sucks.

0:19. Who's the guy with the magic-fire hand and the ambiguously-homoerotic posse?

0:42. How did that Gosling guy from Breaker High manage to score a record deal?

1:02. Look! It's a real band with instruments and everything! Sadly, this is the last we'll see of rock and roll in this video. Speaks to the state of affairs (*shameless plug*) of current music, doesn't it?

1:05. Is that broad making out with the dog?

1:14. I don't know who's wearing the Communist teeshirt, but this has always bugged me. Communism was not cool, is not cool, and never will be cool. Don't believe me? Go ask the Russians, or the Chinese (if you can somehow contact them). Want to be edgy? Come out wearing a swastika teeshirt. I'll see you at the public lynching.

1:32. Since when does Justin Timberlake ever touch a legitimate instrument, let alone a piano?

1:50. Anybody else confused as to the suddenly-religious message? “I found God”? This video has gone a long way towards convincing me God doesn't exist.

1:53. Oops, I was wrong. Rock and roll makes another appearance. Still not enough to offset the suck.

2:03. Man with drum on head, haphazardly beating it with drum sticks. Somehow I imagine he's hearing exactly what I'm hearing. Want to trade places, Drum Guy?

2:18. Thanks Lady Gaga. We didn't get enough of your puh-puh-Pokerface the rest of the year.

2:25. Why is Fergie channeling Lady Deathstrike? Look bitch. Overly-detailed acrylic nails didn't make us forget about Gaga's questionable gender, and enormous fuckoff claws are not going to make us forget about the pee incident.

2:28. Oh good. Now all the Jersey Village People have hands made of fire. Flaming Jagerbombs, anyone?

2:36. This image calls to mind galloping on horseback. Was this the intent?

2:42. I'll admit to being impressed that DJ Earthquake managed to shoehorn a song about blowjobs into the tone of this song, which tries valiantly to be uplifting, but Flo Rida scares the shit out of me. Look at the size of that man! I'd probably blow him if he asked, just to avoid his rage.

2:57. Does anybody else think the pseudo-white guy in BEP is even scarier than Flo Rida? He looks like my grandmother.

3:05. Jason Mraz is not enjoying this nearly as much as he looks like he is.

3:19. I paused this and looked at it for a half hour, and I still don't know what those people are doing. They look like survivors of a very sexy shipwreck having an orgy in a life raft.

3:20. Hip Hop Lion. What? For a split second I thought Pedo Bear was making a cameo.

3:26. Dusting furniture made out of hot women. At this point – sure, why not?

3:38. Man unimpressed with pillow. Uncle Alex unimpressed with the life choices that led him to write this article.

3:43. I bet she doesn't even need those glasses to see. Fucking hipsters.

3:58. Miley Baggins has finally made it to Mount Doom and now she's going to throw her guitar into the pit. A grateful nation applauds.

4:04. The 80s called. They want their shitty graphics back. Your sunglasses suck.

4:09. Oh, fabulous. Now Hip Hop Lion is playing basketball. Way to avoid obvious stereotyping of Africans. (That's a twofer.)

4:13. Damn, she's not at Mount Doom at all. She's in a valley. Hopefully she's pointing at the bomber flying overhead swooping in for a live-ammo practice run.

4:26. “Life is beautiful”. That's definitely what I took away from this video.

4:35. Whew is right, Guy I've Never Heard Of. I spent a full five minutes thanking every major and minor deity I could think of that it was over.

Wow. That was unpleasant. A lot of people are going to give DJ Earwig a lot of credit for putting this montage together, mostly because the average dullard who listens to this kind of music is going to be awestruck at how he managed to get all of them in the studio to re-record their vocals in the same key. I don't give a lot of Lady Gaga fans credit for intelligence, obviously.

Let's talk about auto-tune for a second. On second thought, let's not – we've had quite enough of it here. Congratulations DJ Earwax: you've stolen T-Pain's crown for Most Egregious Use Of Autotune Ever. It's a tool designed to correct minor inconsistencies in vocals, and while I'll admit this list adds up to a hell of a lot worse than “minor inconsistencies”, there is such a thing as too much. This is too much.

And now the tune is automatically in my head forever. Well played, DJ Earthworm.

Frankly the bit at 2:48 where that hipster girl holds up the “sorry” sign should speak for almost everyone on this list. DJ Earfuck (I'm reaching at this point) managed to blend the shittiest of the shitty into a gigantic shit smoothie, and the masochistic voice that lives in my head is throwing its fist in the air and giving Mad Props. The rest of me just wants a drink. Going down, down.

Alex James is the head writer at State of Affairs and can regularly be found there, expelling rage and ego to his throngs of adoring fans, or else at the bar. Today: bar.


  1. I only managed to get to 57 seconds. And I think that's fairly admirable... I now understand why he calls himself earworm..

  2. Alex (and SST),

    I apologize in advance. I have no intention to be argumentative or discount your opinions, but I strongly adhere to some opposing views, and I thought I'd express them and see if any good comes of it, even if just a good thoughtful discussion.

    First of all, let me say that Jordan is an old friend of mine. Actually, we were roommates many many years ago - I haven't seen him in person for years, though we correspond occasionally. Back then, one of the things that was so endearing about Jordan was his endless fascination and enthusiasm about so many things. He was a computer scientist by education, but he was also the most talented composer I'd ever met personally. Although he typically wrote trance/techno pieces, and he could imitate the compositional style of just about any artist in the electronica genre, he also had a striking style all his own. His early piece "Etherjitters" remains one of my favorites.

    He was also an accomplished classical composer, and hearing him perform the always improving versions of his original solo piano work was an absolute privilege.

    He became DJ Earworm during a period of time when we had been out of touch - I learned about it in a music magazine, doing a spit take when I read "whose real name is Jordan Roseman." Of course I was delighted by his success, even in this entirely different genre, as I always believed strongly in his prodigious musical talents and abilities.

    (On a side note, I originally *hated* his DJ name - it made my skin (esp. the skin in my ears) crawl with anguished anticipation of some sort of brain-eating sci-fi creature. Of course, that was before I knew earworm was actually a real term for "tune that you can't get out of your head" or even more interestingly "a musical meme that spreads virally." Knowing Jordan and now knowing what the word means, I totally see why he chose it, and it's utter creepiness has dissipated for me. On the other hand, I would probably have made a different choice, if only for the many people for whom it evokes parasitic lepidoptera and mind-controlling space eels, rather than addictive melodies and infectious overnight hits.)

    His self-given name aside, I think you have missed two important aspects of his work. The first is evidenced in your concluding quote:

    "DJ Earfuck (I'm reaching at this point) managed to blend the shittiest of the shitty into a gigantic shit smoothie..."

    Jordan is an amazingly thoughtful human and composer. Although he has done three United State of Pop mashups (each an end-of-the-year review of the preceding year's top 25 pop songs), his intent is very clearly not to take simplistic musical hits, copy (or worse yet steal from) them, and mindlessly create the same. In fact, the first one was named United State of Pop for very specific reasons, the most obvious being he was literally uniting, or mashing, the currently popular pop songs. His intent was multifold, and a part of it was to show the blandness and similarity of pop songs from that year. Yet creating a mashup of that caliber is a difficult task (listen to *any* other end-of-year top hits mashup - you get, as you'd expect, an extended DJ mix of unfamiliar songs or worse yet, a clever "medley" a la" Captain and Tenille sing the K-Tel hits of 2010.") Fortunately Jordan is a truly exceptional talent. The result of his tongue-in-cheek playing around with the poppiest of of the pop was as catchy and addicting as any of the "originals." (IMHO, much more so in most cases.)

    His second State of Pop (Viva la Pop!) had a very different theme and intent, as did his other major mashup from that year, "No More Gas." Jordan has commented widely on the thought processes involved in the making of these mashups, and although they are both quite enjoyable in their own right, they are self-referential commentaries on music and culture, as well.

    --- to be continued ---

  3. Like you, I don't typically listen to the Billboard HOT 100 songs, preferring an more eclectic mix of experimental music. When the third installment, "Blame It On The Pop," was released, like you I didn't recognize most of the songs. To this day, I'll hear one of the constituent songs on the radio and think "Wow! Jordan had to use *that* to make his mashup?" I pity him the chore and usually wish Blame it on the Pop would start playing instead of the poor (original) imitation... (LOL)

    So, by forcing himself to create a mashup using the precise song list that what billboard claims to be the 25 most popular pop songs of the year, I would, using your metaphor, claim that he's "turning the shittiest of the shitty into a thoughtful commentary, a catchy tune, a healthy juice shake," if you will.

    I can't stress enough that he creates these insightful and catchy end of year mashups using a song list dictated to him, which (in many cases) has some less-than-stellar material, WITH NO SAY in the song selection. It may be fun and more challenging to solve a problem under seemingly impossible conditions but it definitely makes the task of creating worthwhile music that much harder. Jordan has succeeded, and succeeded well, each time.

    As I said, I'm not here to argue and I hope you don't take offense. But I do encourage you to give him at least one more chance, and listen to a few of the pieces he created out of songs he chose himself. I recommend What's My Name?; Stairway to Bootleg Heaven; No One Takes Your Freedom; Under the Confluence of Giants; Together As One; and I Like the Way Jenny Scrubs. In his simpler mashup style, I am fond of Heartless in a Bottle, If I Were a Free Fallin Boy, Reckoner Lockdown, and his silliest and funniest effort, Believe Somebody. (And of course Backwards/Forwards - the mashup of every Annie Lennox single - requested by the "original" artist herself.)

    I understand that as a critic you have a certain persona for your audience. But I would be very surprised if you listened to the songs above, with no pressure to produce a review, and you weren't blown away by at least one of them. Either for the pure listening enjoyment or simply for the awe-inspiring brilliance he puts into every aspect of these mashups.

    I know I've rambled, so I'll state my second exception briefly: I strongly disagree with your dismissal of mashups as art, as evident in your quote:

    "There will be a moment of silence for our good friend Originality, murdered by unimaginative DJs like Earworm. While it's entirely possible to be original and innovative in an electronic music format, that's not what this is about. At all."

    This is a far larger question than just the quality of Jordan's work; instead it touches on the nature of artistic endeavor. My stance, which is hardly original, is that all art is mashup. Every artist borrows from the pool of work that has come before, and by mashing with skill, adds just a touch of different, and, having created art, adds it back into the global pool. (I say it's hardly original as many versions of this idea have come from great artists, musicians and writers throughout time, perhaps the most famous being the quote "Mediocre artists borrow; great artists steal.")

    So moved was I by Jordan's (what I thought at first to be odd) change in direction, I started a Visual Arts Mashup group on Flickr. Although different than Music and Video mashups, Visual Arts mashups do enjoy a long history, from early mosaics to 20th century automatic dadaist collages. The group is called Visual Mashups and I am QThomasBower if you care to take a look.

    I'll check back and see if anything I've said has resonated with you and if so, perhaps we can continue this discussion. Or, you can write to me personally at the email given on this comment.




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