Thursday, June 26, 2008

Feed the Animals and Postmodernism:
Girl Talk as Andy Warhol

Jean Baudrillard once said...
Everything is political. Everything is aesthetic. All at once… everything is now aestheticized: politics is aestheticized in the spectacle, sex in advertising and porn, and all kinds of activity in what is conventionally referred to as culture… When everything is aesthetic, nothing is beautiful or ugly anymore, and art itself disappears.
This disappearance of art dates back to the movements of Cubism, Dada, and even Pop Art, so it is wonder what Baudrillard might think of Girl Talk's Feed the Animals - a "pop music car wreck," as described by Tom Breihan in the Village Voice blog, Status Ain't Hood. Feed the Animals may not be a postmodern album, but it does incorporate a number of postmodern themes (not entirely by design), while the album's creator shares some interesting connections with pop artist Andy Warhol.

It would be too strong of a statement to claim that Feed the Animals represents the "death of music." Avant garde artists have been challenging the borders of music for decades. Furthermore, Girl Talk's song collage style is not unique to him only, and DJs have been creating albums solely from samples for some time now. But Feed the Animals represents a somewhat liberation death of music history. The tedious unfolding of history was another great Baudrillard declaration, and Feed the Animals is the soundtrack for the slow decay.

When songs of different genres and eras crash upon one another the way they do on a Girl Talk track, they are devoid of any historical context. Furthermore, Feed the Animals makes the argument that no era is more important than any other - The Band's "The Weight" is no more important culturally than Lil Wayne's "Lollipop." In the context of a specific era, the most popular songs become the most relevant. This can be a liberating idea - free from the constrains of history, music is no longer an elitist sport. As Gregg Gillis states, "I'm presenting these songs that people are supposed to hate for whatever reason."
The whole point of not liking something is being defensive because you're scared of not being cool. But I'm just making fun music so you can let your guard down and enjoy it, don't worry about what's cool and what's not. I think the lines are breaking down in general on that level.
Much like Warhol, Gillis's work functions by appropriating the work of others into a new context. Warhol appropriated advertisements and celebrity profiles, creating varieties of silkscreens, separating the works from their original context. Like Gillis and his samples, Warhol picked very recognizable images - a Campbell's soup can, Marilyn Monroe, Chairman Mao. While political commentary has been ascribed to what he was doing, Warhol claimed little political intent. Warhol was not so much critiquing American consumerism as he was participating in and celebrating it. Much is the same for Gillis, who states, "The music is in no way politically based."

But the thing about appropriation is that when a work is taken out of its original context, regardless of what the new author's stated intent is, the floodgates of interpretation are open. One can easily look at Warhol's "Mao" series and interpret a political history of how Mao's image once held great esteem only to later be reduced to a joke, and their interpretation would not be off-base. Similarly, Rolling Stone critic Christian Hoard notes a "striking" pairing of "'Hunger Strike,' Temple of the Dog's shout-out to poor folks, with Ludacris' cash-celebrating 'What's Your Fantasy.'"

Both Warhol's and Gillis's work is not about figuring out the artist's intent, but deciphering how we relate to images, sound, and media, and how that defines our interpretation of and relationship with culture.


Adrian said...

The most salient characteristic, in my eyes, shared by Gillis and Warhol isn't their penchant for reappropriation, it's that they're both from Pittsburgh.

Will said...

Why didn't I think of that? What kind of idiot doesn't think of that?

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Despite your obvious Pittsburgh gaff, this is a very succinct and thought-provoking analysis. Up here at the Sled Island festival, art is being married with music in a big way and it's pretty mindblowing.