Every so often, from this generation’s (not-so) hot mess of Bieber wannabes and rappers named after their pre-teen Hotmail username (“Bubba Sparxxx” – come on, man) – rises an artist or two that brings a breath of fresh air to the music scene. These talents have deservedly claimed the limelight by extending beyond overdone pop clichés and avoiding whoever the Insane Clown Posse hired as their musical consultant.
That being said, there are few “unique” musical acts that have garnered critical acclaim for their originality – though surprisingly, are not the pioneering creators most of us perceive them to be. FIB delves into some of the most popular music “innovations” of modern times that have actually been tried and accomplished in the past from virtual bands to comedy rap.
1. Before Gorillaz, there was Alvin and the Chipmunks
Yup, you read that right. Before annoying every parent who was forced to watch Justin Long and B-lister co. voice these chipmunk stars in the cinemas, they annoyed radio listeners in 1958 as a legitimate animated band. Originally named David Seville and the Chipmunks, the trio actually managed to score literal Grammy awards (seven to be precise – let that sink in) as well as an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show as eerie hand puppets. All this was due to the creator’s – Ross Bagdasarian Sr. – undeniably original, yet bizarre concept.
Thus, the beloved animated band Gorillaz, gracing the alternative rock charts of the late 90’s to early 2000’s (with comeback albums in recent years) – was definitely not the first virtual success of their kind. With an art style that made them look like drug-addled Nickelodeon drop-outs (with, you know, actual musical talent), front man Damon Albarn with artist Jamie Hewlett conceived Murdoc, 2-D, Noodle and Russel – the four eventual iconic band members. Gorillaz have definitely left an impressive trail of memorable albums in their wake, including the alt-rock, hip-hop delights, “Feel Good”, “Dirty Harry”, and “Clint Eastwood”. Additionally, their live concerts are quite the visual treat for stoners and lovers of good music alike – featuring their animated music videos displayed on a giant screen and sometimes even holographic images of the cartoon members themselves.
Though not exactly being the original of the animated music realm, the trip-hop four can at least take pride in not having a slew of cash-grab films sullying their legacy.
2. Hamilton wasn’t the first hip-hop musical to grace the Broadway stage
If you haven’t at least heard of the musical Hamilton yet, you’re either not a millennial, or have no interest in the theatre, pop-culture, or the magic of music in general – in which case, do you even like anything?
But getting back on track – Hamilton is a musical production created by Lin Manuel Miranda, a talented human specimen who took part in both composing the music for the show as well as starring as the title character himself. The production made waves among theatregoers for innovatively taking on a genre unlike other traditional, Les Mis-esque musicals – hip-hop. A diverse, multicultural cast was featured to play various roles that would typically be taken on by “white” actors, further breaking ground along with their subtle commentary on modern civil rights. With rapid-fire verses and witty rhymes, Hamilton skyrocketed from their humble, Off-Broadway beginnings to the grand stage of the Richard Rodgers Theatre, truly fanning what was once a “small spark, into a flame.”
But while Hamilton is doted over by Broadway fans – and most likely the political activists you knew from college – it is, in fact, not the first musical of its kind. In 1996, a band of rap artists titled GhettOriginal Productions created Jam on the Groove, a show dedicated to the prospering hip-hop culture of the time. Much like Hamilton, the musical was a head-tapping masterpiece full of bone-breaking choreography and slick beats (played by a live DJ), performed by a cast of mainly Latino and African American descent. As if that wasn’t a parallel enough comparison to Miranda’s brainchild, the production placed a palpable focus on the social injustices of modern society, albeit one that spotlighted the art of dancing as a positive movement towards the expression of self-identity. Unfortunately, while it did score an international tour, Jam on the Groove never really danced its way up from its Off-Broadway status – or even enough to gain its own Wikipedia page. Sadly, the once-beloved cult hit has left only a few magazine reviews (for which I had to ransack the depths of Google for) as a reminder of its once revolutionary existence.
3. Marilyn Manson and Lady Gaga’s “Shock Antics” are nothing new
If you’ve ever been exposed to the wonderfully weird music of the 21st century, it’s impossible to not have witnessed even a sliver of Marilyn Manson’s fine class acts. From proudly declaring that totally edgy moment he smoked human bones to literally urinating on tens of equally asinine fans – the man has never run out of gas in the freak flag department.
Years later emerged yet another contender for the throne of Shock Schticks – the ever-beloved “Monster Mother” Lady Gaga, thankfully taking the stage with music that was at least as melodic and catchy as her videos were absurd. Still, with the granted skill of producing more poetic party hits, Gaga never shied away from memorable public antics ranging from downright outrageous to “slightly strange, but cool in an art student sort of way.” These included wearing the infamous dress of raw meat to the 2010 MTV Music Awards, and emerging from a gigantic egg onstage like a deleted scene from Prometheus at the Grammys.
While being the eccentric king and queen of everything wild and bizarre in modern music – these “shock tactics” were (you guessed it) actually done before. More specifically, by two influential music icons of decades past – Alice Cooper and Madonna.
Mr. “Super Duper” Alice Cooper was an American singer-songwriter in the rock-n’-roll sphere as early as the 1960’s, entertaining audiences all the way up to the 2010’s with his theatrically macabre antics. These included, but were not limited to – a fake guillotine onstage “appearing” to decapitate the singer, gleefully impaling baby dolls into a sword shish kebab, and beating the shit out of Santa Claus on the concert stage. He was labelled the “Godfather of Shock Rock”, and deservedly so. Little did he know, however, that some white-faced buffoon would years later attempt to one-up his acts by sexually assaulting a security guard’s face with his thong-covered dong (ah, classic Manson).
Madonna, on the other hand, had a little less flair for the grotesque and a more iconic focus on scandalous controversy. The Queen of Pop brandished her love of bizarrely racy fashion, including the now-iconic cone bra as well as going blatantly topless at Jean Paul Gautier’s 1993 runway show. She treated fans to erotic literature of her own nude photos, and unashamedly used Catholic images among her provocative acts onstage. With a legacy both praised and condemned throughout the years, the “Material Girl” laid the foundations for controversial pop way before Gagaloo began turning herself into some sort of human-motorbike hybrid for an album cover.
4. The Lonely Island weren’t comedy rap band pioneers
Viral champions The Lonely Island have made a name for themselves in the world of music and sketch comedy – churning out classics like “Jizz in my Pants” and “I’m on a Boat”, where Andy Samberg croons about “riding on a dolphin, doing flips n’ shit.” Evidently, the trio centers themselves on hilarious satire, rather than taking the art of pop music too seriously (here’s to you, Jake Paul). In managing to launch themselves to Internet stardom through the fervid aid of Youtube views, Samberg and co. have consistently collaborated with big names in the music industry for many of their priceless tracks, including Michael Bolton, Tegan and Sara, and Justin Timberlake. Pretty soon the three were performing their way to the Academy Awards for “Best Original Song” (“Everything is Awesome” – The Lego Movie), shooting an eventual hit feature film (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping) and making anyone who’s watched “The Poop Song” restore their faith in musical comedy.
But let’s backtrack to a time when music was on the cusp of the early 90’s Alternative Rock Revolution – a time when the one-strap backpack was, like, totally rad, and Semisonic were a thing. It was at this time a young hip-hop group of three male New Yorkers emerged who had a talent for personifying the most stereotypical frat boys you can think of, as much as they did for spitting clever rhymes on social issues and fighting for their right to party. If you’re familiar of classic 1990’s Top 40 and that last bit hit a chord, you’re right – these guys were the legendary Beastie Boys.
Unlike The Lonely Island in all their random wackiness, The Beastie Boys were a little less SNL and a little more subtly mocking and sarcastic in their act, but that didn’t stop them from being the most beloved “funny” rap crew of the generation. With hits like the mainly nonsensical, blaxploitation parody “Hey Ladies”, the rant-y “No Sleep ‘Till Brooklyn”, and what seems like either a Humpty Dumpty or John Lennon tribute, “Egg Man” – it’s these guys’ hyperactive wit that provided what would soon be of musical influence to the rap comedians of today.
And there you have it – musical acts that were probably not as unique as you once thought they were, but that definitely doesn’t take away from the fact that these artists aren’t remarkable talents in their own right. In fact, it’s hard to create something truly original with all the different genres and styles explored in past years, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t drop some killer tracks – or even do it better.