DJ Earworm and the “Legofication” of Pop Music

Veteran mashup architect DJ Earworm deserves a friggin’ Grammy for this one:


The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Via Ponnie, thanks.

Sublime, poetic, and menacing in equal measure, “United State of Pop” is the most beautifully presented –not to mention addictive– musical riff off MTV monoculture I’ve heard since Plunderphonics. As the friend who showed me this puts it:

This video is an example of what’s being called the “legofication” of pop music…[songs] so generic and standardized in [their] structure (not to mention pop videos in their imagery) that all the parts are interchangeable. DJ Earworm mashes up the top 25 on the billboard charts for 2008 to illustrate this point.

Go to djearworm.com to download the audio, and click below to see the full tracklist.

“United State of Pop” by DJ Earworm

Flo Rida Featuring T-Pain – Low
Leona Lewis – Bleeding Love
Alicia Keys – No One
Lil Wayne Featuring Static Major – Lollipop
Timbaland Featuring OneRepublic - Apologize
Jordin Sparks Duet With Chris Brown – No Air
Sara Bareilles – Love Song
Usher Featuring Young Jeezy – Love in This Club
Chris Brown – With You
Chris Brown – Forever
Ray J & Yung Berg – Sexy Can I
Rihanna – Take a Bow
Coldplay - Viva La Vida
Katy Perry – I Kissed a Girl
T.I. – Whatever You Like
Rihanna – Disturbia
Rihanna - Don’t Stop the Music
Natasha Bedingfield - Pocketful of Sunshine
Chris Brown Featuring T-Pain – Kiss Kiss
Ne-Yo - Closer
Colbie Caillat – Bubbly
Mariah Carey – Touch My Body
Madonna Featuring Justin Timberlake – 4 Minutes
Pink – So What
Finger Eleven – Paralyzer

26 Responses to “DJ Earworm and the “Legofication” of Pop Music”

  1. Pete Says:

    Legofication?

    All this proves is that putting enough fliters on vocals will end up with the same kind of noise and over-producing is a surefire to remove any subtlety between any song.

    If that’s legofication, then sure, I agree. But it means smashing everything into the same kind of block first.

  2. Blaine Says:

    Oh my god, that is amazing. There is nothing better than viewing something that serves as tangible justification of your feelings.

  3. kc Says:

    Generic is right. Why would this make a mashup ‘sublime’ or ‘poetic’, though? That’s what I’m wondering…

  4. Terra Trouvé Says:

    That is truly amazing.
    Very showing of what pop is too. The song, while being generic pop, is still actually very good. It highlights the very precise musical formula that the pop execs stick to to crank out endless pop hits. music as a business.
    Some might argue that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. music as a commodity. (i’m playing devil’s advocate a bit, but there’s a bit of truth there.)

  5. Thews Says:

    i don’t think the term “mashup” is good enough for this, what this guy is doing is pure musical fusion.

  6. Skerror Says:

    Ace post Mer! A video like this gets us one step closer to pulling out of the psychosis pop music has degenerated itself into. DJ Earworm is serving us a naked lunch here…

    I wonder how long people can keep beating their heads against this shit. When does that crescendo point crop up where we reject all of this once and for all and start on something fresh and interesting again? I really hope 2009 is full of some serious creative destruction…

  7. Mer Says:

    All this proves is that putting enough fliters on vocals will end up with the same kind of noise and over-producing is a surefire to remove any subtlety between any song. If that’s legofication, then sure, I agree. But it means smashing everything into the same kind of block first.

    Well, yeah! And if that’s not a pretty succinct definition of what’s happened to mainstream music, I don’t know what is. Sour times.

    Generic is right. Why would this make a mashup ’sublime’ or ‘poetic’, though? That’s what I’m wondering…

    Sublime: empyreal, inspiring awe, lifted up or set high, exalted, of high moral or intellectual value, elevated in nature or style.

    Poetic: having or expressing the qualities of poetry (as through aesthetic or emotional impact).

    This music he’s made? This silk purse carefully stitched and sewn from three score sow’s ears? Pretty darn awe-inspiring to me. And there’s always poetry in a well-crafted, carefully structured, thoughtful re-imagining.

    Don’t know about you, but I feel like I live in a culture of scavengers. Crumb-eaters, turd-polishers. Most of them are too intent either producing or consuming regurgitated, mindless fare to realize they’ve been rooting shoulders deep in a rotting carcass their whole lives. Posturing poodles who think their auto-tuned, formulaic, uninspired shit don’t stink. Millionaire producers who DO know, and laugh like hyenas all the way to the bank.

    (DJ Earworm’s use of Pink as a friggin’ leitmotif: “So what? I am/I’m still a rock star!” somehow says it all.)

    So, to me, there’s something really poignant about a piece that exposes and elevates the scavenging like this. Sublime, and a bit terrifying.

    Poetic because it is self-aware, it’s tongue-in-cheek (if nothing else, mashups are a product of ironic, legofying times) and carefully structured, but it never stoops to ugliness or crudity. It’s not small-minded or scornful. It, like all good poetry, does not lower, but lifts its subject matter.

    I usually listen to mashups and think to myself a little sadly “oh, how clever.” Then I go on with my day feeling a little bit hollowed out. I listen to this one, and it moves me. It’s expansive, it breathes. He’s brought mindful delicacy and finesse to something grotesquely oversimplified, and I think that’s wonderful.

    Putting it another, simpler way: I doubt I could pleasantly sit all the way through a single one of these cruddy pop hits ONCE, let alone want to listen to it on repeat. But I’ve revisited “United State of Pop” multiple times.

    Repeating for emphasis: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Especially when that whole is self-aware, alert, and has not given up on beauty.

  8. Pete Says:

    if that’s not a pretty succinct definition of what’s happened to mainstream music, I don’t know what is.

    Some people would call it genre.

    My “smashing into blocks” was actually directed towards Mr Earworm. It sounds like all of the sample have gone through a heavy amount of editing to make them sound the same. Which is fair enough, he’s doing a mashup here. Consistency is key.

    What I do not feel is true that this proves that all mainstream is made of swapable parts. Especially when the evidence is so heavily altered, and cut up into such tiny pieces so it stop making any sense.

    I’m pretty sure that this could be done with any genre, or any similar bunch of noises.

  9. Mer Says:

    Hmm. What kind of filters/over-editing are you talking about? There may be a unifying “hall sound” on it, but I’m pretty sure he hasn’t pitch-shifted or otherwise grossly altered the samples. It’s not like he just threw all of the songs in a blender. The parts are all recognizable and distinct enough for my ears to pick them out as separate threads. I think they still “make sense”.

    I’m pretty sure that this could be done with any genre, or any similar bunch of noises.

    I’d genuinely love to hear you have a go at it!
    Certainly, it has been done before, but not as well, or with such lovely results, in my opinion.

    (Have you heard any of the John Oswald stuff, by any chance?)

  10. Luai_lashire Says:

    I like the way it sounds. It might mean more to me if I’d ever actually heard any of these songs except “I Kissed A Girl” (I try very hard to keep away from the places that one might hear these things).

    In terms of “proving” how “legofied” pop music is…. sure, I guess it does, to some people. Personally, I have a few other favorites that do that better for me. In particular, I like “Title of the Song” by Da Vinci’s Notebook (http://searchbeta.playlist.com/tracks#title%20of%20the%20song is where I listen to it) and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdxkVQy7QLM (though this one covers all genres really).

  11. elise wilson Says:

    I thought this was really haunting, as well. I think he’s done a good job of distilling the most the melancholy bits of all the songs. I heard those bits in the songs myself, and he really has an ear for them. Even songs like “Lollipop” and “Whatever You Like” – if you listen to them in a certain mood (almost, “if you set your brain to a certain frequency”), they feel really, genuinely sad and wistful. I swear. It’s not about the lyrics or the theme – it’s just a certain sound, a certain emotion in the voice. I always thought it was just me, but this guy picked out those moments and combined all of them. Maybe this isn’t the “Legofication” that you’re talking about (though I see that too), but the hand-picked melancholy is really what stayed with me.

  12. Jerem Morrow Says:

    People only want one fucking flavor.

    Snazzy post.

  13. Meshu Says:

    Brilliant post Mer! Mash ups have become my new favourite genre of music, and I thank you for introducing me to a new, top notch artist!

  14. Groonk Says:

    he’s done this before in 2007. it was just as brilliant then. it’s also the only way i dare listen to any of the songs he’s fused together into a workable symphony of awesome.

    http://djearworm.com/united-state-of-pop.htm

    hell, i use that one in my workout mix. it’s just a simple fact of being human that some sounds strung together are more appealing to the masses than others. this fact has not gone unnoticed by those with power, money and the want to make more money.

    thanks for the heads up on the 2008 version.

  15. Ben Morris Says:

    Rather entertaining in it’s own right and a damning indictment of modern pop. I’d say that’s quite a feat.

  16. Laura Dale Says:

    Ok, the last three seconds of this song has a little melody in it that I’ve heard somewhere. I think it’s very similar to the ending of a Bjork song (which was obviously not in the mashup, he either was influenced by it or it was coincidence). Is there anyone who knows what the song is who wants to help me out? I’m going nuts trying to identify it.

    Thanks coilbabies

  17. Laura Dale Says:

    He being Chris Martin, since it’s part of Viva la Vida. I need coffee. Sorry for the incoherence.

  18. Chris L Says:

    Mer, I want to live in your brain.

    Re: John Oswald, I’ve never really had a chance to hear any of his stuff (though he gave a short talk at my college, and I think played a small excerpt – it was years ago), but thanks to that link you posted, Plunderphonics will soon be on my hard drive.

    To Doubting Pete, I was able to recognize a couple of the songs in there (mostly via a friend’s little brother), and they sounded largely intact. I guess the only way to tell if they were severely pitch-shifted would be to ask Mr. Earworm, himself.

    I agree that it might be possible to do this with some other genres, I’m thinking of punk rock in particular – but you’d probably have more difficulty finding the same unity of rhythm and vocal style, if only because punk tends to be a more raw. This is especially true if you restricted your selection process to the top 25 songs. (Does such a chart exist? Somewhere, probably.)

    I think that is what makes this work so impressive – the fact that he didn’t just go searching willy-nilly through every popular single that was put out this year – his list of ingredients was restricted to an arbitrary list of top-sellers.

  19. Ponnie Says:

    hey, i’m that friend!

  20. Andi bowler Says:

    “I’m pretty sure that this could be done with any genre, or any similar bunch of noises.

    I’d genuinely love to hear you have a go at it!
    Certainly, it has been done before, but not as well, or with such lovely results, in my opinion.”

    Ah, to be a musician! I failed music theory in the worst way, but I would do it all over again if it meant I could come out of it able to write a music smashup. I’d head straight to the classical section and see if I could wed Mozart to the Rite of Spring (ok, the results might not be pretty, but you know what I mean.)

    However, to make up for it, in my nonexistent free time I will search the net for anything someone else has done along those lines. It has to exist somewhere!

  21. R. Says:

    Pop music is pretty much cut and paste these days and that video showcases that. Hopefully this year something new will come along and the masses will have a new opiate for their souls.

  22. Mer Says:

    Andi, there are tons of classical “mashup” style pieces out there that I bet you’d enjoy: work by Charles Ives and PDQ Bach (“Unbegun Symphony”), and that guy John Oswald I keep mentioning did a series of compositions called “Rascali Klepitoire”.

    I mean, there’s an absolutely VAST world of mashup music out there… most of it’s clever, some of it’s brilliant, but very little (for me) resonates on a heartfelt level.

  23. Nadya Says:

    In the middle of this year somebody stole my iPod from my car, so I listened to a *lot* of radio over this past year, and I’ve absorbed most of the songs in this mashup completely. From Groonk’s comment I followed the link to Earworm’s State of Pop 2007, a year in which I didn’t listen to any pop music whatsoever, and I have to say that it’s a lot more fun to listen to when you know the source material. I will also say that I think that some of the music he had to work with for this isn’t that bad. You might laugh at me, but I actually really like Rihanna and T.I. Shut up. But as far as Legofication goes, it’s still dead-on. I’m not saying that you can’t do a convincing mashup of the Top 25 of ’84 with Prince, Madonna, Chakha Khan, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, Yes, Tina Turner, etc. But I feel like the top pop songs back then had more range – lyrically, melodically, emotionally. We’d have to ask someone who does mashups all the time, but it seems to me that it would be more of a challenge to come up with a mashup as smooth and cohesive as this 2008 one with pop songs from back in the day.

  24. Mer Says:

    I think his 2007 mashup is clever and fun, but as Elise put it, “the hand-picked melancholy is really what stayed with me” in regards to the 2008 piece.

    I keep bringing up Oswald (a pioneer of mashup/collage technique) but I’m not sure who all is familiar. Here are a couple interesting examples of his work. Again, not necessarily moving on a heartfelt level, but impressive and worth checking out:

    And here’s a beaut from Sven Koenig, which reminds me of some Aphex Twin stuff:

  25. Nadya Says:

    Just re-watched this… one of the videos in this song has the Tower Theater in it! Love that theater. Amazing.

  26. Nadya Says:

    For some reason I keep feeling compelled to come back and comment on this post further… possibly because it’s one of my favorite things posted this year. I still listen to this song at least once a week. Anyway, I found an example of the same thing done horribly wrong:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-jtnB4iAKA

Leave a Reply | Register for this Site | Login