Mindy Kaling, writer and actor on The Office, who plays the pop culture obsessed flibbertigibbet, Kelly Kapoor, recently tweeted, “You cannot just put on the Girl Talk album and walk away if you’re DJ’ing a party.” Two more of Kaling’s DJ rules followed with “If you do not own a single Rihanna, Beyoncé, or Katy Perry song, you cannot DJ,” and “80% of the music you play MUST be post 9/11 if you’re DJ’ing a party.” I’ll admit that I am not immersed in DJ culture. I also do not attend a lot of parties with a DJ. But I have hosted a few parties in my time and have DJ’ed. That said, I am very close to breaking all three rules in Kaling’s set. My only saving grace is that I own a few Beyoncé songs (and please kill me if you ever find Katy Perry’s music on my iPod). Isn’t Girl Talk’s music pretty much custom made for parties, though? Can’t the DJ just put on All Day and catch a break to chat up some ladies?
I’d venture to say that Gregg Gillis, aka Girl Talk, has become the most successful crossover mashup artist in music today. He has turned what was once a niche fad into a popular gap-bridging medium. We had always been leading up to this, from the DNA remix of Suzanne Vega’s a cappella track, “Tom’s Diner,” to the incredibly sample heavy Paul’s Boutique, and ultimately to the blend of technology and creativity that brought us “Can’t Get Blue Monday Out of My Head.” The technology has given everyone the ability and access to make a mashup, but not everyone has the talent that Gillis has to create something as joyous and virtually seamless.
All Day is the latest from Girl Talk, offered as a free download from his label, Illegal Art, and delivers just as much, if not more, than the promise that came with his earlier work. My first listens to All Day, one of my favorite albums of the year, were filled with wonder at the dexterity involved in Gillis’ sound manipulation as well as a giddiness in hearing the disparate elements brought together to create an electrifying whole sound collage. I reveled in his choices of songs to blend, as in the past most mashup artists have dealt primarily with a narrow range of music. In using everything from Jay-Z and Ludacris to Arcade Fire and Fugazi, Girl Talk proves that the mashup is genreless, bound by practically nothing. A perfect example is in the track entitled “That’s Right” (though Gillis means for all his albums to be listened to as a whole rather than in tracks), where the somber and romantic tones of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” delicately entwine themselves with Foxy Brown’s “Hot Spot,” before Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” lends a percussive backing.
As I recently took another listen, I had new discoveries. For one, I find that a lot of today’s top 40 hits are completely devoid of melody, based purely on rhythm. So, that might be another reason that mashup artists can successfully put these songs together, as one track might be purely rhythmic, without melody, and the other provide that melodic foundation. Again, Girl Talk goes beyond even this premise as he often surgically sews up samples that have complementary melodies. One of my favorite bits from the album comes fairly early when the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” is married with both the Doors’ “Waiting for the Sun,” Aaliyah’s “Try Again,” and Missy Elliott’s “Get Ur Freak On.” Another comes with probably the most frequent mashup guinea pig, Jay-Z, finding his most ebullient and carefree partner than ever before in General Public’s “Tenderness.”
Girl Talk doesn’t just follow the tired routine of blending two songs together to make one. With respect to Mindy Kaling, he layers sometimes up to five songs or more to make an endless party. That is exactly why a DJ could technically put on one of his albums and wander off. And guess what, Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Katy Perry are all represented. However, it appears that Gillis might be breaking another of her rules as quite a few of the songs are pre-9/11, and I’m not just talking about the ’70s examples of the Doors, Ramones, Black Sabbath, and ELO. “Move Bitch” is barely post-9/11, while “Can I Get A…” and several other hip-hop classics litter the All Day landscape. However, they are evenly distributed. Girl Talk, I think, realizes that nostalgia is just as powerful as hipster currency, and plays to both sides effectively.
Wolverine used to go around saying “I’m the best there is at what I do” before he would ‘snikt’ them with his adamantium claws (nerd alert!), and in effect, that’s what Girl Talk is doing with All Day, being the best he is at what he does before you slices and dices music for your pleasure. Haters to the left, to the left.
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