Youtube Mashups: Suitable additions to the canon?

by Gareth Sénèque

Youtube song mashups. A fascist contraption designed to force your eyelids open. I’d thought these two things go together almost by definition, but it turns out the opposite is true. These videos self-sustain, have me sitting here rapt, like a child on acid.

Though it is of course all a matter of perspective, I’m pretty sure Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’ is objectively bad. This was my initial feeling, that I was on a stupid quest to understand something irrelevant. Indeed, each clip tried to evade my sincerity. The first two did so with ease, but the third offered itself as something different, a temporal exploit or missing page of Kurt’s suicide note. Or perhaps just proof that sometimes it is a bad idea to pay attention.

1. PSY vs. Ghostbusters – Gagnam Busters

This clip starts off as pure Ghostbusters, with Psy then announcing himself by walking towards the camera flanked by the heads of horses against a bland background. It’s all Psy’s lyrics and Ghostbusters’ beat. Slimer even makes an appearance.

So far so what. But, just as I’m about to write the effort off as another failed tilt at Youtube history the chorus builds, peaks, and instead of “Gagnam Style!” I get Chevy Chase miming “Ghost BUSTERS!” and I begin to understand.

It seems that dance is the key, first shown in a clip from the original video. A guy that looks like Billy Dee Williams and the Ghostbusters crew are doing a little jig, smash-cut and Psy is trotting wildly. My eyes widen. Something clicks. The formal lineage is unmistakable. I’ve traveled through time without leaving the relative safety of my office chair.

These are two pieces of culture that should exist in parallel, but do not. It is only through the magic of technology that we can carry the illusion just far enough. Indeed, the fantastic impossibility of what I’ve seen is tempered only by a reminder that Bill Murray is unwilling to do a sequel.

2. Britney Spears vs. Metallica – Enter Toxman

The opening chords to Enter Sandman are right out of the heavy metal hall of fame. Ten seconds in Britney sings “intoxicate me now/with your love now/I think I’m ready now” and all I see is sacrilege, dark visions of church burnings and riots at Hot Topic.

Thankfully the impiety is minor. As Britney’s voice hits a higher pitch for the lines “too high/can’t come down” the music syncs up and we’re taken through a dark tunnel filled with new light. Kirk’s chugging distortion becomes a reminder of a forgotten night where Britney, wearing a t-shirt that said ‘if the riff fits’, mistook the Metallica tour bus for a familiar part of Louisiana itself. What she found was not Faulkner’s deep south, but something else entirely. This video is very clearly the product of that experience.

Images of Metallica at their best are buried deep inside my head, together with the memories of youth. But this track is so catchy that I refuse to close the book. It took Britney to take them to the next level. Lars, are you listening?

3. Nirvana vs. Rick Astley – Never Gonna Give Your Teen Spirit Up

This is a song that transcends both originals. Kurt’s guitar is the lean incisor that opens Astley’s timid maw. Together they lead and then nail each chorus, a young band whose faces are invisible beneath their American hair and Rick Astley shaking it back and forth in a pair of well-ironed white jeans.

The video asks me to make an emotional gambit. I now worry as Kurt strums, Seattle’s favorite son reduced to a silent machine, he the sum of his technique and not the evidence in his heart. I feel horror at Astley’s nonchalance, his casual indifference to the plight of someone not unlike him, a man enamored by the mere fact of himself. The wall of hair neither keeps Rick out nor Kurt in.

The clip becomes art. Ominous juxtaposition of Rick and the cheerleaders with the visible symbol of Anarchy over their uniform’s left breast. The crashing drums, Rick’s promise to never hurt us. Kurt’s is the final word: denial.

These three minutes have been the most modern of my relatively short life. And at last count, well over two million people have had the opportunity to feel the same way. When two distinct creative acts, separated by time, their impact already felt, are wedded together to make something more than the sum of their initial contribution, it is evidence of magic.