Crazy technologist Anil Dash likes to talk about the end of the canon, as it applies to everything from Lady Gaga remixes to forked software on GitHub. Meaning: Increasingly we experience slightly different versions of the same thing. There is no more canonical version.
This is especially true of media. My favorite version of “Paper Planes” may be different than yours. (Yours sucks.) You’re rocking the DFA remix and I’m all about the Afrikan Boy & Rye Rye version. Even live media events are fractured, splintered through the lens of FoxNews or MSNBC or Autotune the News. It takes something huge to crash through the filters and clutter of modern life to get us to all experience the same thing simultaneously.
The new Girl Talk, released on Monday, did that.
For a moment at least, we are all talking about the same thing, at the same time. When Bill Wasik tweets “#favoritegirltalkspots Track 11 1:32-2:50,” I can go hear exactly what he’s talking about. It’s a water cooler moment for the era of weak-ties!
And then there are The Beatles. Apple made a Big Fucking Deal about a Tuesday announcement, hyping: “Turns out tomorrow is just another day. That you’ll never forget.”
They meant the Beatles on iTunes. Oh, that! So it turns out, The Beatles aren’t already on iTunes or Amazon MP3 or Rdio or whatever. We’d done forgot about that. Thanks for the reminder, Apple.
It was like seeing some kid win Chutes and Ladders, then rub it in everyone’s face. How proud you must be of your triumph! I’m sure Apple will trot out some impressive number in the next few weeks to demonstrate just how many people were totally Yoko for the Beatles. But so what? Meet the Beatles? We’ve already met.
Look, I long ago stole everything I wanted from the Beatles catalogue. (Or ripped the CD. Same-same, but different.) And I’m not the only one! Plenty of people managed to play it on iTunes and iPods and iPhones and, for gosh sakes, even their Zunes before today. I mean, OMG: The Beatles were the top played band on last.fm charts last week! But how‽
It doesn’t take The Beatles’ participation to legitimatize digital distribution. Nor did it prove the artistic merit of it. Both of those happened long ago. It was merely a long-coming business victory for Apple.
And so the reaction to Apple’s announcement was basically a shrug and a collective shuffling on to whatever is next. Which happens to still be Girl Talk.
The Girl Talk album is a straight-up event, precisely because it’s a moment in time. It wasn’t released, as much as it was loosed upon us. You don’t know it’s coming and suddenly it’s just everywhere—saturating its market, in full. “All Day” is all over Twitter and Facebook and email and blogs and bulletin boards. On Wikipedia, people promptly built a database of all the samples. Over at Rdio they’re using that data to build a playlist of all the samples in order.
The new Girl Talk even comes with scarcity, something we’ve barely seen since the days of vinyl. You couldn’t download it for much of Monday because the server was overwhelmed. Sorry folks, Illegal Art is all sold out of bandwidth today. You’ll just have to fucking wait. Or have a friend upload it to his iDisk.
I’m not saying “All Day” is better than the “White Album,” or that Girl Talk is the greater artist. Pshaw, homie! The fervor delta has nothing to do with artistic achievement. But clearly Girl Talk won the week in terms of getting inside people’s heads. Greg Gillis—not Steve Jobs or Paul McCartney or Yoko Ono—gave us this week’s never-forget musical moment.
“All Day” felt fresh and alive and (unlike Apple’s surprise announcement) unexpected. The scofflaw samples and jarring juxtapositions that make us nostalgic for the past (like The Beatles!) while cluing us into something new and showing an entirely different way for artists to make a living around the digital distribution of their work (not like iTunes!).
My favorite Beatles moment today? It’s the sample of “Imagine” that hits at 2:58 on track 1
32 of the new Girl Talk.
Mat Honan is a co-founder of Longshot magazine and contributing editor to WIRED. He is Choire Sicha’s favorite Monkee.