thinking about the millennial aesthetic vortex

thinking about the millennial aesthetic vortex

There are two TikTok-to-Twitter viral music stories that were rotating in the discourse rotisserie all last week: one is the systematic roasting and subsequent reclamation of a video of a Canadian band called My Son the Hurricane, and the other is the great success of and imminent backlash to a parody song called "Planet of the Bass."

If you have been offline, maybe at the beach or eating a hot dog somewhere, allow me to briefly describe the content of and reaction to these videos. The My Son the Hurricane video depicts a large, multi-horned funk band doing a little dance to their funky song together. Twitter user @holzawn appears to be the one who first struck a match to this particular pool of music discourse gasoline:

The reaction to this video was initially quite negative; I saw people tweet things like "If I saw this irl, I would reach into my pants, grab a handful of my own shit, and I throw it at them," as well as many individual misunderstandings of the genre of "ska" (this is not ska, this is just what happens all over the city of New Orleans, 24 hours a day and 365 or so days a year). Then because the initial reaction was so negative, the backlash was positive, with many other folks defending My Son the Hurricane's right to do whatever they want to do with their mouths, horns, and bodies. And the last layer of the discourse involved the classic battle between "let people enjoy things" and "let people hate things" which we will all be fighting online until we die.

Then we have "Planet of the Bass," currently just a teaser of a song by comedian Kyle Gordon, whose TikTok headline reads "Every European Dance Song in the 1990s." Gordon's character DJ Crazy Times has been around since December 2020, but this is the first time he's gone mega-viral with it, thanks to the pristine quality of this particular tune. The imitation Swenglish lyrics ("Women are my favorite guy"), the classic Hot Girl / Weird Guy dynamic, the female singer being named Ms. Biljana Electronica, and the location of the video (the Oculus, a transit center and haunted mall in downtown Manhattan) have all hit just right.

But the bloom is starting to come off the rose as "Planet of the Bass" evolves. A second video featuring a new female singer prompted outrage, even inspiring a Washington Post article asking "What happened to the original Biljana in ‘Planet of the Bass’? A third video featuring yet another female singer replacement — this one is TikTok comedy star Sabrina Brier — has upset the internet further, as Twitter users reply to the new video with plaintive pleas for Biljana to return, and others opine that sudden, unexplained Eurodance lady singer replacements were common in the 1990s, and Gordon's personnel shakeups are all part of the bit.

The thing that strikes me about these two separate video phenomena is the unabashed millennial energy involved. Big quirky funk band with singer wearing fishnets and suspenders? Retro parody song following clear stylistic guidelines? Did I get hit on the noggin and wake up in 2011?

I am a median millennial born in 1989, which is my qualification to speak on this matter, and I am fascinated with the chokehold a certain type of millennial aesthetic still has on popular culture. For My Son The Hurricane, the outsized reaction to their brand of let's-put-on-a-show funk fusion surprised me a bit. When I was in my early twenties, the music world was awash in jammy, funky bands: Vulfpeck, Papadosio, Turkuaz, Dopapod. I remember attending a Rubblebucket concert at my college, and at one point some members of the band danced through the crowd, hoisting robot puppets aloft. I don't think I had ever heard the word "cringe" used as a noun back then. We did not know such fun was embarrassing!

I also think "Planet Of The Bass" could have worked just as well as a YouTube musical comedy sketch in 2011. By the time YouTube really hit its stride in the late '00s and early 2010s, a certain signature YouTube-y approach had developed that many of its most successful videos shared: a crystal-clear premise, digestible at the point of service; editing at a pace that was faster than television but didn't completely disorient viewers; making wholesome topics naughty and naughty topics wholesome; and an overall gleeful PG-13 childishness, akin to having a cool substitute teacher who didn't care if you cursed or participated in light horseplay during class. That's what gave us Auto-Tune the News, Bad Lip Readings, the Bed Intruder song, Epic Rap Battles of History, and Kermit the Frog singing "Mad World."  "Planet Of The Bass," with its precise setup and broad, nostalgic appeal, is an ideal product for the '90s kids remember' generation.

Of course, when I told my husband I was writing this blog, he had the perfect response: "People just get mad seeing dorks have fun." And 'dorks having fun' is very millennial energy — it's not the jaded slacker energy of Gen X nor the nihilistic chaos energy of Gen Z. If I could encapsulate why millennials landed on this particular default, I'd refer to this quote from "5.4," Richard Beck's critique of Pitchfork published in n+1 Magazine, about '00s indie groups like Arcade Fire and Animal Collective: "So long as they practiced effective management of the hype cycle, they were given a free pass by their listeners to lionize childhood, imitate their predecessors, and respond to the Iraq war with dancing." A perpetual preschool of the mind, just trying to keep on the sunny side post-9/11 and mid-recession and mid-Forever War. Can you blame us for being corny? Well, sure you can, but it doesn't mean we will stop.

Millennial aesthetics are not going away anytime soon. Last year's Corn Kid phenomenon was orchestrated by the Gregory Brothers, aka the Auto-Tune the News guys. There's a band I have noticed on TikTok called Thumpasaurus with the same silly funkiness as My Son the Hurricane and I think they're kind of nice with it?  Musician Marc Rebillet, who makes incredibly millennial improvisatory comedic music with titles like "LET ME IN I'M TRYNA FUCK", did a Coachella mainstage set this year??

There are so many millennials out there. There are more millennials alive on this planet (of the bass) than any other kind of guy. Dorks are going to continue to have fun, and I suspect this won't be the end of the generational aesthetic war. If anything, I would not be surprised if new trends bubble up that continue to re-draw the millennial arc over again — we just had a shitty president and huge national crisis followed by a period of sleaze...maybe the Age of Adorkable will arrive soon...