Monday, February 13, 2012

Karmin, Karmin, Karmin, Karmin, Karmin Chameleon

It’s fitting that my first blog post here (like my first blog post ever) would be the result of Zooey Deschanel—that short, dark glass of quirk. Now that we’re getting older, Katie and I have started watching Saturday Night Live again to stay on top of what the kids are talking about. Or at least we DVR it and watch it on Sunday afternoons.

Second from left.

This week’s show was hosted by Ms. Deschanel and included at least three skits that lasted the right amount of time as well as an appearance from Nic Cage which further proved that he is awesome at playing Nic Cage.

Then the musical guest arrived—Karmin. Here I have a confession to make. In my darker moments, I consider myself a musical snob. Not that I have high standards for what qualifies as art of the musical variety. I just think that I know more about music than you. This belief stems largely from the fact that I read on the reg and once hosted my own college radio show (like I said, my darker moments). Due to my fleshy physique, my lack of tattoos, and my ability to enjoy Jersey Shore non-ironically, however, I’ve never been accepted by the truly hipster elite.

I totally knew this post when it was just a Google Doc.

Either way, I was shocked that I would have never heard of a musical guest on SNL. Lana del Rey? Please. Played it for Katie in the car back when I still had a car (See, that comment is funny because my car was stolen). Sleigh Bells? Totally bought Treats like eighteen months ago. But Karmin? Nothing. I panicked for a second. Where did they come from? Apparently I need to spend more time on Reddit and Youtube.

You had me at hello, Imgur.

Karmin performed one of their originals, an upbeat number entitled “Brokenhearted.” As the lead singer bopped around on-stage, the place in my soul where I put my hands up because they’re playing my song started to stir. An eyebrow was raised when she broke out into a rapid-fire rap in the middle of the song, but by the end, I barely even reacted when she ended several lines with “Cheerio!” and put her fingers in the shape of a monocle over her eye. The second performance was equally bouncy. After the dour and dreary del Rey performance or the overwrought Coldplay experience, it was nice that people seemed genuinely excited to be on stage. I figured I might check out a clip of the songs on Itunes, but that would be about it.

Shortly afterward, however, I found the following Gawker article which gleefully proclaimed: “The Hater’s Guide to Karmin!”

Is that what the White Stripes look like?
Written by Max Read as a mock interview in which he gets to enact his dream date and ask all of the questions as well as provide all of the answers, the article attempts to eviscerate Karmin for being… too cutesy? Too internet-y? Too plastic? If that was it, I could let the article slide. People like some types of music and hate others. For example, I think that people who like the song “Pumped Up Kicks” exist on the musical spectrum between those who collect DMB concert tickets into scrapbooks and those who put Pink songs on mixtapes for potential significant others because of their emotional impact. So I get being judgmental when it comes to music.

But Max Read couldn’t stop at just knocking down these Berklee College of Music graduates for their “cutesy covers of popular rap and R&B songs.” And it wasn’t enough that he trashed their physical appearance: “What’s wrong with her face? ‘Experts tell me that Heidemann [the lead singer] suffers from a tragic syndrome known as ‘theater kid’ that manifests itself as extreme and frequent facial and gestural tics.’”

Finally, someone knocks those bully theater kids down a peg.

Side note: It seems problematic that critics still go straight for commenting on a female artist’s physical features as a sure fire of discrediting them. Lana del Rey totally has plumper lips than she should! Kelly Clarkson has weight problems! Madonna looks like ET!

Then Read slammed in what I thought would be the final nail in the coffin: “Yeah. It’s kind of horrible, isn’t it? The way they’re desperate for you to like them, and you’re desperate to (sic) for the song to stop playing so you can set fire to the entire planet for having provided an opportunity for something like this to exist.”

Oh snap! Someone must have been that editor at his college newspaper! You know. The one who thinks being a newspaper editor in college is actually something worth putting on a resume. So far, the article is Gawker-esque in all the right ways—snarky, vengeful, and poorly edited. 

Then Read reaches out for the journalist gut shot: “I don’t want to guess at people’s motives for liking this cover, because that would require me to think about this cover, but isn’t it kind of shocking that so many people who claim to hate rap or R&B suddenly like it when it’s performed by approachable young white people playing ‘real instruments’? Just something weird to think about.”

That is something weird to think about. I was under the impression that since Obama was elected, racism doesn’t exist, but I was willing to go along for the ride. The real instruments part seems odd as in most of their videos and in their performances, the couple stuck to microphones, a cowbell, and a keyboard, but I suppose those instruments can be classified as real. Does it matter that all of the songs that Karmin covers were already Billboard hits and largely accepted by the mainstream? Or that they also cover such non-rap standards as “Firework” and “King of Wishful Thinking”? What makes them approachable? Because they’re white? Because they smile? Oh well, maybe he was just trying to flavor up a throw-away piece with some of the gravitas that invoking racism can bring to the table. He wouldn’t be the first.

But does Read really think the people who like Karmin are racist? Back to Mr. Read: “No, not at all. Just that you, know, for some people, there may be some unspoken cultural biases at play. Like racism.”

What he said.

Well now that you bring it up. I did think there was something Klan-y about their performance. In the sense that both groups start with a K and are theatrical. So people who like rap covers by white people are racist? To be fair, Read supports his case with zero evidence—even of the anecdotal nature. Both he and Maura Johnston, a music critic from The Village Voice who calls Karmin’s music a “pile of garbage and fronting,” seem very concerned that Karmin lack street cred, having come from Berklee and not making their way up the musical totem pole the real way—ie car commercials or being born in Brooklyn.

I wonder if it’s not threats of racism but that conservative urge to criticize intelligentsia which drives these snide dismissals of Karmin. If Amy Heidelmann and Nick Noonan weren’t engaged white folk from Berklee’s ivory tower but strung out heroin addicts or vegan chefs from Williamsburg, would they have more street cred? Both Read and Johnston attack Karmin for their name which stems from a Latin word carmen meaning "song" with an altered spelling to “hint at ‘karma’” (Thanks Wiki!). Johnston’s response? “The only thing I can say to this…is ‘Shut up, college.’” 

Shut up college? C’mon Maura, that seems downright Coulter-esque of you. I know all the really good names like Lady Gaga and Hanson were taken, but what’s wrong with a little Latin now and again? Where would Gawker and The Village Voice be if it wasn’t for overly educated liberal arts majors with a bastion of cultural allusions and a dearth of real world skills?

Maybe it’s that chimerical notion of authenticity in music. Willie Nelson has it. Taylor Swift doesn’t. Or at least that’s what music critics might want you to think. Is it that when Heidemann sings “You're so misunderstood/ Cause you're so complex,/ you and your complex/ and you claim you’re so low key/ Well you coulda fooled me, Mister TMZ,” she must be “fronting,” but when Miley tells us about not getting the memo, we really feel it? Is Rihanna’s “We Found Love” deeper lyrically because we know what happened with Chris Brown? Would Karmin be more musically “serious” if they wore meat on their clothes and had less of an internet following?

Has anyone actually read my lyrics?

Why do I care about Karmin you ask? Why have I been listening to “Brokenhearted” and “Crash Your Party” for most of the night/today? Maybe it’s because Karmin samples the beat from Black Sheep’s “The Choice is Yours”, and I would listen to anything sung over those bass lines even Max Read’s sloppy, race-baiting piece of fronting garbage. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t mind enjoying music contrived to make me enjoy it. Because that’s the beauty of pop music. Sure, it’s bred in a factory, and yes, it’s formulaic, but man is it ever delicious.

1 comment:

  1. Oh man, I was so excited to see a post with California Dreams in it, and then realized it wasn't and was sad.

    Oh man, I still like that scene from varsity blues when the QB is talking about his dream.

    Ohh yeah, sorry, back to my point. I miss Milli Vanilli..