Songwriter Gotye has released a YouTube re-mix of his ubiquitous hit "Somebody That I Used to Know" generated from YouTube clips of his fans doing their own covers of that hit. It is a mildly edifying clip, but seems to me far more interesting than the simple tribute we are being told it is, whether a tribute to Gotye's fans, a tribute to the YouTube utility that mediated and indispensably facilitated his fame, or a tribute to Kutiman's fabulous Thru-YOU project.
While the inspiration of Kutiman is obvious in a superficial way, it is in their differences that Kutiman's project helps us grasp the substance of Gotye's re-mix. Kutiman is weaving unrelated clips into new compositions in a new iteration of the way DJ re-mixes are themselves a new iteration of improvisatory jazz riffs, and the knowledge and energy getting tapped into through all of these re-iterations is profoundly celebratory. The materials from which Gotye is drawing, to the contrary, are already absolutely related to one another, and precisely already through Gotye, and in generating a new piece from them he seems to be re-asserting a kind of authorship over material for which he was already the prompt. And the resulting affect is far more critical than celebratory.
For me what is striking about about "Somebodies" is its soothing musical vacuity, an evacuation that reminds one of new age world music electronica in the spirit of Yanni, as if the brutal vacuity of the lyrics of the original song-prompt made their way through the filtering tributaries of p2p-mediation to a formal vacuity that expressed that brutality more essentially still. Don't get me wrong, the best breakup songs often do have something of this rather vapid quality, from Fud Livingston's "I'm Through With Love" to Me'Shell Ndegéocello's "Fool of Me."
But in titling his (his?) new piece "Somebodies" Gotye seems at once to be making an ironic comment on the anonymous "nobodies" whose performances he is re-orchestrating, but also, more provocatively, on their role in producing the fame through which Gotye was substantiated into a "Somebody" we all know (or at least briefly used to think we knew). As Gotye surely knows as well as we all do, fame is fleeting and the recognitions it confers as falsifying as true, and it is right that the melancholy of the new piece is of a different character than that of the first, just as the breakup (of identification) to which it is now testifying is also a different one.
The observation that Gotye might be said to be "crowdsourcing" his way to a new hit is far less interesting than thinking through the ways in which p2p-formations like the one denominated "crowdsourcing" transform the public sphere in which legible selfhood is collaboratively conferred. It would be better, I think, to treat Gotye's "Somebodies" as a text functioning the way Dennis Potter's work -- most famously in The Singing Detective -- once worked to elaborate and complicate the constitution of working class spiritual life in the latter half of the twentieth century (very much including his own) through the mass-mediation of popular music and pulp plotting.
Also posted at Amor Mundi.
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This is my last posting for the next few days. I will be taking my office apart so that we can move to our new apartment downtown next Tuesday. I will be unplugged and disconnected except by tablet. Expect me to be back in the saddle before the end of next week probably in time to provide you with some more headlines. In the interim these are the stories I share with you this week:
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