A while back Nick Sylvester theorized that Gnarls Barkley had “… found themselves or been forced into one of the more fascinating instances of the publicists and publicity engines becoming more “artistic” than the albums and artists themselves.” I don’t completely agree with him, but I see his point. Anyone who heard Gnarls’ album sampler knows that the rest of the tracks on St. Elsewhere are filler, made to get an album out just as “Crazy” was blowing up. But I also think that the core tracks of the album, “Crazy,” “Smiley Faces,” “Go-Go Gadget Gospel” are the work of two guys trying to go at something special and different. But after watching phased out can-you-even-call-them rockers OK Go at the VMAs last week, it was obvious that the general public, and even some venerable rock critics, have been had by a group of sell-outs to the likes of which we may have never have seen.
What OK Go has done is admirable. That is, become rather famous (and presumably successful) by being a band that isn’t about the music. Yeah, I know that robotic pop-stars like Cassie and Young Dro get churned out of major label factories at night and are at the top of the Billboards that same day, but those type of acts start out as cons from the beginning. OK Go have been around for a minute, they’ve got a few EPs and two full-lengths to their name, and started out as a honest-to-goodness band. Late last year they released a now legendary video of themselves simultaneously dancing to one of their songs. It blew up on MySpace/YouTube and gave the band a glimmer of exposure, which they parlayed into a tour playing first on a three-band bill headlined by Panic! at the Disco. The video was alright at best, but anyone who had seen Napoleon Dynamite should have been thoroughly unimpressed. Fast-forward to last month, and OK Go are back to irrelevance. So they leak this video of them doing choreographed shit on treadmills, which to anyone who has jumped off a treadmill, was, again, thoroughly unimpressive. MTV got wind of the noise from the internet and stuffed them onto the VMAs already bloated performance list.
The performance wasn’t as boring as it was insulting. The band made no attempt at even acknowledging that they actually had their music playing to, and MTV probably could’ve played a different band’s song all together without OK Go even noticing or caring. It was also kind of sad. Here we had four guys in three-piece suits jumping on fucking treadmills, which once had actual musical aspirations, being puppets on national television. When MTV said jump, these assholes asked how high.
But as much as I hope that OK Go is never heard from again, their use of the internet as the most powerful medium in music is truly historic. It’s most historic because the band is its own “publicity engine.” No big idea from the beginning. No larger power at work here, no major label threatening to cut their deal if they don’t become this or that, just four guys who once gave a shit about their craft but who now suck at two. And the saddest part is that at the end of the day, the most we can say is more power to them.