Just/a/position: The Why of Girl Talk’s All Day
All Day has gotten a lot of attention here at Alex-Spencer&Friends. Just yesterday, it received its own poem. We’ve looked at its finest moments. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the link is being passed around to those of our number who haven’t yet experienced it. (You can get it free, so there’s really no excuse.)
It’s a thousand parties given voice, on the run from the law. Right now, it’s possibly my favourite album of the year, despite actually only being actually one single song. Despite actually being two-thousand other songs. It’s the best pre-party record of all time…
So, it’s brilliant, okay? Miles has already dissected the highlights (just fyi, this post is going to be deeply in conversation with his, so I recommend going and checking it out if you haven’t already) and concluded that the appeal is “more simple than any ‘What is Girl Talk saying with this combination?’ nonsense”, which is fair enough. All Day is a hell of a feet-mover and hip-shaker, and that might be all you need to know.
However, as is my wont, I’m going to be contrary. Miles has done the how. I’m having a think about the why.
The mash-up form, as it appeared in the early ‘oos, is something I’ve never really ‘got’. They seem, to me, like a (post-)modern equivalent of novelty hits. Hearing two completely contradictory bands next to each other is played for laughs, right? It’s just novel to have Beyonce duetting with Kurt. It seems to encourage the idea of ‘real music’ over ‘guilty pleasures’. Isn’t it funny when the proper musicians stoop down to the level of popstars?
This is all personal preference/prejudice, remember. And I can see how it could maybe show a song through a new filter, maybe reveals some of the shared foundations and dirty tricks pop pulls across all of music. I’ve just never heard one that makes me feel that way.
But then there was Girl Talk. All Day does seem to make an argument for a continuum of pop in which all genres are equal. First of all simply by the sheer mass of songs and types of songs it is made up of. This creates a universe within the album, a patchwork of hundreds of songs. But more key is how it uses them: that patchwork is an entity completely separated from most of the songs that comprise it. Songs are used more like samples in early 90s hip-hop, where they created a backdrop to the raps and squeezed fresh life out of long-dormant songs. Or like in DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing where an entire album is built out of (largely unrecognisable) scraps.
And it does all this as a celebration. There’s no sneer on the face of All Day. The secret origins and histories of its component parts occasionally inform the joy of listening to it, enhance or change your reading of it. Rude Boy is one of my favourite songs of 2010, but I’m not familiar with Waiting Room. So, the idea of Rihanna as the vocalist of Fugazi means little to me. Not so Miles.
But I like hearing Rude Boy, in any situation. All Day does the basic curation thing that sampling tends towards: this is good stuff, or interesting stuff, or the good bit of a song where the rest fails. The timeliness, I reckon, is a big factor in our obsession with this album. It dropped a scant month ago, right as we entered this period of reflectiveness. It’s as good as any way of gauging the music landscape right now, and squeezes absolutely everything you could need in an end-of-year roundup into less than an hour.
Not that the majority of the samples are from the last year so much as it offers a history of everything it’s taken us to get to this point – from XXX to Willow Smith. And that history suggests a possible present. A musical world that could exist, right now. If only. A world where pop is equally informed by old-school hip hop and old pop music? That’s world I’d take, every time.
All Day does all the other stuff that mash-ups and samples can do, with added finesse. Occasionally, two songs running alongside one another offer a laugh – Dancing in the Dark riffs against All The Girls Standing in the Line for the Bathroom by N.E.R.D. is just funny. But it also makes Springsteen sound that little bit more epic. Or it puts a popular song through a new filter: putting Bad Romance against Aphex Twin brings out that dark side that I think a lot of casual Gagaites like myself want more of from the Lady herself. But that’s just hinted at in a momentary snatch that leaves anticipatory saliva on the lips.
And that’s just one aspect of it. On one level, it’s a joke. On another, maybe it’s a ironic self-aware dissection of pop, rap, and everything else it assimilates into its mass. On another, it’s about putting a 19 year-old Kylie fronting a heavy-metal band. But mostly importantly… another uninteresting thing about the traditional mash-up, one song playing against another, is that they tend to rely on you liking at least one of the songs. At its very best, Girl Talk takes songs you don’t like and somehow makes something great of them. That’s not a mash-up, that’s alchemy of the highest order.
Mash-up making meaning? That’s just a bonus. Great rap over your favourite songs. It’s magic. Get your damn hands up.