Monday, March 14, 2011

Breaking Rebecca Black Update

With Ark Music Factory's release of a rap remix of Rebecca Black's now-infamous Friday- which I covered yesterday- I am now convinced they are in on the joke, too. The lyrics openly make multiple references to "fried eggs" (which many have commented the word "Friday" sounds like in the song), refers to the guest rapper as "a fat Usher," and comments on the now-legendary bridge which elaborates on the fact that Friday comes after Thursday and before Saturday by remarking, "Ark Music Factory has educated you on the days of the week." Were they always in on the joke from the beginning? If not, they certainly are now. As the remix itself asks, "Kids, wouldn't you rather listen to this song than Charlie Sheen?" Either way, Ark appears to be in on it just like Mr. Sheen is. It's up to you to decide whether or not that's winning.

UPDATE: As of March 15, this video has been made private, thus adding more fuel to the mystery of whether or not Ark is in on the joke (or if they always were). It's about as confusing as deciding whether to chill in the front seat or sit in the back seat. Almost.

Challenge of the GoBot

Last month, Watson, the IBM computer who did a pretty good job against human contestants on Jeopardy! despite not knowing that Toronto isn't a U.S. city, became a conversation topic due to the long-standing love/hate relationship with robots: we are both awed by how intelligent they can be programmed to be and fear they will take over as they have in so many science fiction stories. Given that modern pop music has often been criticized for being artificial, it's not surprising that the next advancement in robotics is in the music field, as a group out of Southern California calling itself "Ark Music Factory" (presumably unaffiliated with C&C Music Factory) has created the latest advancement in robotics that is sweeping the internet, under the code name "Rebecca Black."

Basically, Ark Music Factory (who are so proud of themselves that they name-drop themselves in the intro to Ms. Black's song as if they were an artist or producer) claims to be an outlet which takes people who can't sing and don't have any talent and Autotunes the hell out of them in an effort to create a new pop star. Given the evidence of Friday, however, it's clear that this is a cover for their advanced robotics (well, "advanced" being a relative term). Looking at her, Ms. Black appears to be the result of an attempt to create a robot clone of Selena Gomez- though, either due to a malfunction or lack of parts, she was accidentally given Demi Lovato's chin.

The GoBot Mark I is clearly on the right track when it comes to writing and performing music, although it's clear there's still a lot of work to be done. The voice is still very robotic, though it is able to produce different notes (although, as many have pointed out, it sounds like it is saying "fried egg" rather than "Friday"). As far as songwriting is concerned, it is a very good first try for a song about anticipating Friday coming for a chance to party on the weekend. However, being a robot without first-hand experience, it mostly strings together clich├ęs, such as repeating the words "partying" and "fun." Being unable to drive, all it knows about automobiles is that they have front and back seats, thus coming to the conclusion that the biggest conundrum a teenager faces is which to sit in. Not surprisingly, the bridge is the most talked-about part for good reason: not only does it show that the GoBot still lacks knowledge of common English-language syntax, it also shows that, as a computer at heart, it is best at doing calculations more than anything else, caring more about informing the listeners when exactly Friday occurs rather than what happens on that day:

Yesterday was Thursday, Thursday
Today it is Friday, Friday
We, we, we so excited [sic]
We so excited [sic]
We gonna have a ball today [sic]
Tomorrow is Saturday and Sunday comes afterward

This verse is immediately followed by a black man who provides a rap interlude introduced with "I be Rebecca Black." Given the lyrics he raps are no improvement over the GoBot's (combined with the fact that he is clearly not Rebecca Black), it appears that it malfunctioned at some point and a replacement was required to finish this portion of the song.

Is Friday a good song? Not really. Is it a stunning example of the future of robotics as far as the fields of singing and songwriting are concerned? Maybe. Is this post just a lame excuse to jump on the making-fun-of-this bandwagon by making a lot of "this song is so poor it was probably written and sung by a robot" jokes that I'm surprised no one else hasn't made yet? Definitely. Either way, to quote Ken Jennings by way of Kent Brockman: I, for one, welcome our new cyborg overlords. And as far as Ark Music Factory is concerned, I guess any publicity is good publicity. But when you pretty much admit your music is manufactured right in the name, I guess you shouldn't expect much. Fun fun fun fun.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pop Culture Updates: Two Types of Nostalgia (Plus One)

Here's a first: two stories I previously covered on this blog have further a way. One definitely does, and there's a possibility that the other has some influence, direct or indirect, on a major network's big announcement.

First off, I recently talked about Peanuts Worldwide bringing Snoopy into the social media sphere by launching an official Facebook page, as well as the upcoming direct-to-DVD movie Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown. Well, Snoopy's social push continues, as he not only has his own Twitter account (one wonders if he writes his tweets via typewriter...or if his resident secretary Woodstock does it for him, given that he's been tweeting all his life) as well as a YouTube channel, which features the official trailer for the upcoming new DVD.

As I said before, I'm really looking forward to this. Wildbrain seems to have done a good job of capturing the '60s Peanuts style. (The brief cameo by Woodstock is at the same time both unusual and not- Woodstock wasn't officially named until 1970- after the concert, of course- but birds often hung out around Snoopy for years beforehand, originally drawn more realistically but eventually evolving into the stylized bird type we recognize as Woodstock, whose design has a copyright date of 1965. Yes, I have no life.)

But by far the much more interesting development was the announcement Nickelodeon made today that they'll be creating a late-night block of '90s Nickelodeon shows on their sister network TeenNick. Although I do think it would probably do better on Nick proper- I'm sure they'd get better ratings with the insomniac and/or stoner twentysomething crowd with old Pete and Petes and Clarissa Explains It Alls than with an old George Lopez or whatever Nick at Nite's playing at that time- it's a very interesting development.

Nearly fifteen years of live-action comedy history courtesy of not only Nickelodeon, but Dan Schneider, are represented in this photo. From left: Jennette McCurdy, Miranda Cosgrove, Kenan Thompson, Victoria Justice, Nathan Kress

Fueling this development is the large reaction these shows have on social networking sites such as Facebook, where these shows have over nine thousand million fans. Although I'm not 100% sure this is the case, did perhaps that silly rumor that I covered not once on this blog, but twice, have at least partly something to do with that? To quote Nickelodeon's own press release, "There is an entire generation of young people who literally grew up on these great 1990s’ series, and many of them have been vocal about wanting to see and experience these shows again." "Vocal" is an understatement, as I personally know. That rumor alone was a powerful example of that.

A lot of companies- not surprisingly, mostly those that have a vast history and/or back catalog- are great at using nostalgia as a marketing tool, and this is a perfect example of that. It may be born at least partly out of Nostalgic Bias Syndrome, but it also works as an example of companies using not only nostalgia, but social media to their advantage: not only was the idea born of social media, but "TeenNick’s audience also will have the opportunity to influence the block’s line-up by requesting their favorite series and episodes via social media sites set up by the network, including a dedicated Facebook fan site." Showing an example of this, Nickelodeon posted today on their official Twitter account a link to "Amanda Please!", a goofy website which served as a cross-media tie-in with The Amanda Show, supposedly run by series star Amanda Bynes's stalkerish "number one fan, please," Penelope Taynt (one of many characters Bynes herself portrayed on the sketch comedy show). One can see a direct link between Amanda Please! and iCarly, for example, as far as TV/Internet crossovers are concerned. (Both series, coincidentally, were created by Dan Schneider, who is responsible for most of Nick's live-action comedies over the past 15 years and whose creations so resonate with a certain subsection of American culture that there actually exists a real chain of New York City restaurants called "Goodburger, Home of the Goodburger"- a fact which Schneider himself is tickled by partly because he came up with "Good Burger" due to it being a mediocre name.) The more things change, the more they stay the same.

And that's true in more ways than one- to paraphrase none other than sister network MTV, Kenan Thompson is still dressing in drag. It's just that he's doing it on a much more well-known comedy series now. And perhaps the best example of that is his performance as another famous child star from another network...alongside a genuine famous child star from another network. Truly, it's a small world after all. Especially when pop culture and nostalgia are concerned. Aw, here it goes!

PEANUTS® ©2011 Peanuts Worldwide LLC. NICKELODEON elements ™&©2011 Viacom International, Inc. SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE ©2011 NBC Universal Worldwide. No ownership intended or implied.

UPDATE: Shortly after writing this post, I found another example of rumors, social media, and nostalgia coming together in that a well-known nostalgic character is using social media to fight rumors of his demise head-on. After pointing out that PepsiCo's website made no mention of Cap'n Crunch, the Daily Finance made rumors start swirling about the Cap'n walking the plank at the hands of nutrition. Thankfully for many (including myself) who adore the fictional sailor's mouth-destroying (in more ways than one) cereal, Quaker themselves put to rest the fears, stating that people are more likely to search for the Cap'n online by himself and not his parent company. According to those in the know, because of the less-than-ideal nutritional content of the product, Quaker no longer advertises Cap'n Crunch to children, and to ease the fears of those who grew up with him, the Cap'n himself states on his official website that "I was out on the high seas, but don't worry, I'm back and I'm not going anywhere." He also joined Twitter today in an effort to debunk the rumors, stating, "I'm hearing the rumors. I would never retire. I love being a captain too much!" The Cap'n is also using Twitter to help fight the rumors of his retirement. I commended him for such, to which he had this to say: "I'm not going anywhere and I want everyone to know it!" Now that's truly a way to fight silly rumors in the Internet age! I commend Quaker and the Cap'n for this clever way to not only debunk the rumor, but create product buzz as well. If the Soggies and Jean LeFoote couldn't bring the Cap'n down, the Internet surely won't.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Season of the Platypus

As I've said time and again, regular visitors probably know that I'm a big fan of Phineas and Ferb. And much like Matt Blum over at Wired's GeekDad, I am on an ongoing quest to get "ongoing quest to get more and more people to watch." And really, the main reason is because it's just a plain funny show that deserves more attention. It uses all sorts of humor- funny dialogue, sight gags, slapstick, running gags, pop culture references, funny music, lowbrow humor, and just plain insane stuff- and it excels with all of them and mixing all of them as well. I can't think of many other shows on TV right now- animated or otherwise- that do it as well as Phineas and Ferb does.

Much like Disney Channel's own president, Gary Marsh, I'm shouting its praises from the rooftops (not literally). As he said: "This is a smart, sophisticated comedy. It works on multiple levels for multiple generations, across virtually every cultural divide." The very funny John Hodgman of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart went one further, recently tweeting that it was "the only current show that rivals Mr Rogers/Schoolhouse Rock for modeling smarts, humor, decency, and good taste." I don't know if I'd go that far, but he's onto something. (Stewart himself, it should be pointed out, once imitated Dr. Doofenshmirtz during an interview with Rachel Maddow.) It's appropriate he brings up Schoolhouse Rock, since I've had a certain song stuck in my head:

You see, Phineas and Ferb starts its third season tonight. The aforementioned GeekDad, as well as the super-awesome Disney blogger Jim Hill, both wrote articles highlight it, as well as tomorrow's "Platypus Day" marathon. The marathon, starting tomorrow night at 5pm on Disney Channel, looks like it's going to be a nice little event for fans of the show as well as those who don't know it as well, so I suggest you tune in. You'll get some platypus-based highlights, the new episode that premieres tonight (which, from what I hear, is very funny), as well as two of the most amusing of the more recent episodes- a clever spoof of The Wizard of Oz- a movie that's been spoofed so many times over the years it's difficult to do it while still making it clever, but they manage- and a musical version of the pilot episode. Many of the jokes on the series rely on familiarity with the series and its running gags, so once you watch a few episodes, you'll probably be able to figure out what's going on, and perhaps even go back and look at other ones and see why they're so funny. But practically every episode has a good helping of jokes that work in various ways- and surprisingly, there's rarely one that doesn't. And next week, as I previously pointed out, we get a triple dose of star power with Jane Lynch, Tina Fey, and Joan Cusack. And there's more to come.

So if you have nothing to do tomorrow night, spend the night with a platypus. Chances are you'll be glad you did. And if someone asks if you're a little old to be watching a Disney show, you can proudly say, "Yes. Yes I am." Perhaps like this.

David Caruso jokes will never stop being funny. Ever.

PHINEAS AND FERB, SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK ©Disney. No ownership intended or implied.