Girl Talk (Gregg Gillis) made me do something I never thought I would again: enjoy pop music.
I would classify myself as a music geek, although not of the highest order. I don’t have 15,000+ songs on my iTunes or the biggest iPod on the market. But I do read music Web sites, write record reviews and listen to music that casual music fans would probably consider weird. I often have headphones on and probably spend too much of my money on concerts.
I don’t personally remember hating pop music but I can (and probably still do) recall feeling better about myself because I had “taste” in music. When people I knew weren’t serious music fans ask me my favorite band, I would often say “you probably haven’t heard of them.” What kind of jerk answer is that?
By definition music nerds have to hate popular music. In fact, your music nerdiness can often be directly correlated with just how much you hate pop music. It’s targeted at the unwashed masses and lacks substance, intelligence and gravitas. Peddlers of pop music are mostly concerned about image and sales numbers – something indie musicians clearly will never care about. Their records sell at Wal-Mart and their videos are on MTV. They are sexy, do Pepsi ads and sing the national anthem at baseball games.
One DJ from
It’s not like Gillis is breaking any musical barriers here. Old-school rappers have been using samples for decades. Unlike many rappers though, Gillis has avoided legal trouble from the artists he samples. It’s probably because he has always stood firm that his music “recontextualizes” the original source material. Basically, he isn’t stealing the hook from Billy Squier’s “The Stroke,” he is weaving it into a quilt of many other samples to form an entirely new product. Unlike other unlicensed sampling, Gillis isn’t profiting off another’s work. In fact, he is probably exposing them to a new audience.
For example, album opener “Once Again” takes the intro from
Revelations like this are everywhere on Night Ripper. I find myself singing the chorus to D4L’s “Laffy Taffy” sample on “Hold Up” and not having an ounce of irony in my voice. Who’s D4L? I have no idea. But at least now I know there exists a band named D4L who rap about shaking dat laffy taffy.
Songs are given new life from this pop music Dr. Frankenstein. The drums and guitar from Nirvana’s “Scentless Apprentice” are as brutal on “Smash Your Head” as they were in 1993 on In Utero – maybe more so when featured alongside Young Jeezy. The Emotions “Best of My Love” makes a great backbeat for Purple Ribbon All-Stars “Kryptonite (I’m on It).” Genres, timelines and popularity are of no consequence to Girl Talk. Britney Spears and the Pointer Sisters? Do it. The Breeders and Stevie Wonder? Bring it on. It’s like Gillis threw your music library into a blender, set it to puree, and created a 42 minute milk shake of pure pop pleasure.
In addition to making an amazing party album, Gillis has done something far more profound – revived pop music for a lot of jaded music fans.
Going to any “indie” show is a lesson in pretension and assumed coolness. Most fans (myself included, most of the time) just stand around, arms folded, quietly enjoying the band. Dancing is simply not cool. It is something teenage girls do.
The thing is, roughly the exact same crowd can be found at Girl Talk shows (because he is “cool”) dancing like teenage girls. Gillis has pulled the ultimate rope-a-dope on hipsters. By peppering pop songs with “indie” samples like Neutral Milk Hotel, The Pixies and Weezer, he has allowed them to simply love music again.
If one kid goes to a Girl Talk show and then steals their parents’ Genesis, Chicago or Aerosmith albums or their younger brother’s Young Jeezy or 50 Cent records, I’ve got to think that’s a good thing.
I have listened to Night Ripper roughly twenty times through in a month span. That’s more than I can say for a host of critically acclaimed, “important” albums that came out this year. Does this mean Girl Talk is more important or better than Of Montreal or Radiohead? I don’t think so. But in a way, yeah, it does. I’ve listened to “Once Again” off of Night Ripper about once a day since I’ve acquired it – and it’s probably more than that, between my car and iPod. That is ridiculous. And although that number will probably level out eventually, it says something about the power a pop-minded mash-up DJ can have over a music geek like me.
Often dismissed as somewhat of a fad – something that loses relevance the longer it exists, I think that’s the way Night Ripper and Girl Talk’s music in general, should be. It’s the Voltron of pop music, taking choruses and hooks from a host of sources and turning them into something more, something bigger. Best of, the source material is not only used, but revived as well. Am I going to come back every so often to listen to it as much as say Arcade Fire’s Funeral? I doubt it. I don’t think the record will have as much resonance when I am say, 32 instead of 22. But every single time (so far) I’ve heard B.I.G’s “Juicy” mixed with Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” I think Gregg Gillis is a goddamn genius. Who thinks ten years down the road anyway?
I used to keep bands like Styx and Electric Light Orchestra out of my iTunes library (despite liking many of their songs) for fear someone cooler than me would see it and scoff. Although that never happened, I do recall doing it to people on more than one occasion. No longer will I laugh when the first artist in someone’s iTunes is 2Pac. Girl Talk has made it more than just ironic to like bands like Heart, Cat Stevens and Puff Daddy – he’s made it cool. He’s shown me (and probably others) that there can be just as much musical value in a mainstream, MTV rap song as there is in an Icelandic minimalist techno song – sometimes even more.
We shouldn’t hate pop music simply because of what it is. We should love it for what it isn’t. It’s not pretentious or deep or complicated. It’s just pop. And despite how goofy the lyrics for “My Humps” are, it’s undeniably…pop-y. And that has to be good for something.
Now, James Taylor is nestled right next to Jens Lekman in my library.