Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sandcastles in the sand and (bleep)s in boxes

To cleanse the awful memories of Mariah Carey Night on "Idol" from my brain, I want to spend a few minutes talking about a much happier form of music: viral video parodies.

After the success of last year's amazing "Let's Go To The Mall" video from the beyond-brilliant "Slap Bet" episode, the "How I Met Your Mother" writers are going back to the Robin Sparkles well with next week's episode, which will feature another vintage '80s-style (but from the '90s, because the '80s didn't get to Canada until 1993) video, titled "Sandcastles in the Sand." friend Joe Adalian at Variety has some details about the video (including spoilers for some of the cameos), as well as the complete audio of the song. I've refrained from listening to it because I think it'll be much funnier in video form, but for those who can't wait to listen, have at it. (Please refrain from discussing either details from the Variety article or the lyrics in the comments here.)

Now, earlier in the week I was introducing Hulu to a friend who doesn't spend much time watching streaming video (i.e., she has a life), and after showing her how to find the latest episode of "The Office," we wound up watching, in quick succession, four of my favorite "Saturday Night Live" digital short music spoofs: "Lazy Sunday," "Natalie Raps," "Dick in a Box" and "Iran So Far." (Probably should have shown her "Roy Rules" while we were at it, but it didn't occur to me. Plus, like I said, my friend has a life.)

Originally, I was thinking of doing this post as a ranking of the best TV music spoofs, but I didn't have the heart to choose between Natalie Portman telling the little girl in the Amidala costume to suck her euphemism and Justin Timberlake demonstrating the three steps, or between Andy and Chris agreeing that Google Maps is the best and Robin rapping about Canada Day.

So, instead, to keep this post from just being an excuse to link to all the videos and audio above (not that there's anything wrong with that, and let's not forget "Ted Mosby Is a Jerk"), a few random observations:
  • I guess being a rock (or rap) star remains the ultimate dream in Hollywood, no matter how successful you are in other fields. The "HIMYM" guys have their own band (and perform the show's theme song), and I'm sure Andy Samberg considers going on stage at a Timberlake concert to be the greatest moment of his career to date.
  • As I've said before, making a song parody requires great musical chops as well as great comedy chops. Weird Al and the guys from Spinal Tap are all very strong musicians, and part of what makes all the above songs so funny is how catchy they are. "Iran So Far," in particular, sounds exactly like a song I might hear on the radio today, give or take the object of Samberg's lust.
  • YouTube (and now copycat sites like Hulu) have obviously made these videos an easy marketing tool for the shows in which they appear, but at what point does the trend take a downward turn? Are we going to get tired of Robin Sparkles or yet another sexually inappropriate Digital Short, or is it simply a matter of them remaining popular as long as they're good?


Anonymous said...

Actually, Alan, you might have heard the music for "Iran so Far" on the radio, since it borrows heavily from Aphex Twin's "Avril 14th"-- indeed, the reason NBC can't replay it is they don't have legal permission for the extended sample (anything goes on a live broadcast, apparently, even if it's a pre-filmed segment).

Here's the website I learned all this on:


Alan Sepinwall said...

Oh, I remember that coming up at the time. However, I'm assuming they resolved whatever the rights issue, because "Iran So Far" was only recently put on Hulu, even though other sketches from that period have been up for a while now.

Unknown said...

Would it be possible for you to do a post linking to all your favorite Internet music video parodies? I know I'd be interested.

Anonymous said...

I think, like anything in art, as long as there is quality and originality, they'll be popular and have staying power, as opposed to the perpetual "I'm F-ing (Insert Incongruous Celebrtiy Name Here)" rehashes. Parody songs will never get old as a genre, but, like with anything, derivitive crap will always be crap. Or worse than crap. They will be what crap craps when it takes a crap.

Anonymous said...

Not only are the best song parodies performed by good musicians, but some musicians (such as Justin Timberlake) have turned out to be talented comedians, too.

Michael said...

I suppose some day people might get sick of the SNL digital shorts (they are after all, from the same people each time), I think there's plenty of room for things like Robin Sparkles. Robin Sparkles is funny and popular, but it's nowhere near as well known as say, Dick in a Box. What could happen I suppose, is for less capable comedians to start saturating the web with unoriginal music videos. Dick in a Box, Robin Sparkles, and the Scrubs Musical are all distinct to me at least. Aside from being music, I don't watch one and think that it's just like the other.

For an example of a somewhat less successful (to me at least) attempt, look at the music video for one of the characters from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It's funny, and obviously the people behind it have the comedy chops, but I can't remember the tune for the life of me.

Anonymous said...

I don't think we have to worry about being innundated with parody songs from hacks. Crap has a way of floating to the bottom (well, mine does. Low-fiber diet). Maybe I am wrong, but I think more people get access to viral videos via forwards or postings on sites like this (thanks, Alan!), so unless you are actively looking for Parody songs on YouTube, you will probably escape seeing the crappy stuff, if only because no one (or at least, fewer people) is going to pass it on.

Am I wrong? I get this stuff as a third party, but are any of you on the cutting edge, starting the virus, so to speak?

Anonymous said...

I could still listen to "King Tut" today, and laugh at the SNL production of it....


Anonymous said...

I don't watch HIMYM and I somehow missed the "Let's to the Mall" phenomenon. That's absolutely brilliant.

One of my favorite parodies is Ricky Gervais' cover of "If You Don't Know Me By Now." On the UK Office David Brent used his severence pay to record a video for the song and it is hilarious.

I also have a soft spot for Stephen Colbert's "Charlene."

barefootjim said...

Can't forget that Michael Scott Joint: "Lazy Scranton."

Which, of course, was a parody of a viral video parody.

I know that they don't quite fit in the viral video parodies, but The Simpsons (of course) did quite a few things in the mid-1990s which were tailor made for virality (viralness?) (viraltude?). My faves were "Monorail," "Dr. Zaius" and the all-time classic "The Amendment"

Which makes me wonder if, in any discussion of TV Comedy, bringing up The Simpsons is the equivalent of calling somebody a Nazi during a flame war.

Undercover Black Man said...

I never saw "Natalie Raps" before! Thanks, Alan.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I never saw "Natalie Raps" before! Thanks, Alan.

My pleasure. At the time, it was sort of dismissed as a strained attempt to recreate the "Lazy Sunday" magic, but I've always loved it, because you just don't expect to hear Natalie Portman be that... butch.

"Whatchu want, Natalie?"
"To drink and fight!!!!"
"Whatchu need, Natalie?"
"To ^*%& all night!!!!!!!!"

Anonymous said...

I'm going to throw out this little diddy, which I have no doubt will forever have a place on Alan's site:

Not a parody, exactly, but certainly trying to fit in the style of the Who. It gets credit for being intentionally unintentionally hilarious.