My attention has recently been absorbed to an unhealthy degree by this video. It’s difficult to encapsulate in any crude human language what’s going on, but if you’re reading this on a BlackBerry or something (presumably because you simply can’t be without NewMusicBox content, even for a moment) and aren’t able to view the video now, I’ll try. Someone has programmed an animatronic, anthropomorphic animal band from a pizza place to play Usher’s new single, “Love In This Club.” Each of the parts is “given”—the adaptation is relatively loose, a function of the animatronic’s limited articulation—to one of the band’s robot mammals/birds/celestial bodies. Assigning Young Jeezy’s typically guttural verse to a cat puppet operated by a wolf was an especially inspired move.
Thanks to several other YouTube videos, however, it quickly came to my attention that there’s more to “Love In This Club” than meets the ear—or, depending on your perspective, less. It seems that you can construct a perfect replica of “Love In This Club” using prefabricated loops from Apple’s GarageBand software. Having promptly deleted GarageBand as soon as I got my newest MacBook (to make room for my Style Council boxed set, natch), I can’t confirm this myself, but this video seems to offer strong evidence. Usher’s producer on this track, Polow da Don, has responded with some acrimony to these allegations.
The problem, I think, is that Polow’s use of a pre-packaged loop isn’t an investment of cultural capital, whereas a sample from existing music is. The use of a sample carries assurances that the producer knows the literature of sampleable music well enough to choose an appropriate one and can make use of the intertextual possibilities implicit in sampling to reinforce, problematize, or comment on the tune’s verbal content. On the other hand, fabricating one’s own beat from “scratch”—an admittedly artificial spectrum whose endpoints might be a) recording original music with acoustic instruments, à la The Roots, and b) making new pitch/rhythm/timbre combinations in a software synth like Reason—carries assurance of craft and originality. Using a loop from GarageBand carries only the assurance that you own an Apple computer, and if owning an Apple computer made you a talented, high-integrity artist, the world would be much richer in great art.
Like a hapless fly, poor Polow is stuck in a dense, complicated web of perceived authenticity values and cannibalistic production techniques. Fortunately, none of this should trouble you while watching a friendly gorilla pound out “Love In This Club” on an organ that flashes multicolored lights.
Bonus video: Speaking of appropriating Daft Punk, here’s Kevin Rowland from Dexys Midnight Runners singing over “One More Time” in a tent. Somebody write a thesis on this!