So lately I’ve been listening to Girl Talk’s 2008 album FEED THE ANIMALS. I know, I’m a little late to the party, but I’ve been busy.
For those unfamiliar, Girl Talk is really one a musician named musician Gregg Gillis who uses unauthorized samples. Of course, that’s putting it lightly–Girl Talk’s music is damn-near 100% samples. Now, I love a good mash-up as much as the next guy. The thing is…there aren’t very many good mash-ups. A mash-up seems like a really easy thing to create, song 1 + song 2 and you’re done. But it’s more complicated than that, it takes a lot of time and effort to create a mash-up. And it takes probably ten times longer than that just to come up with good/interesting song pairings. So understand, I’m not coming from a place where I think Girl Talk creating entire albums of mash-ups is easy or simple. Gillis has talent, that much is apparent when you listen to FEED THE ANIMALS. The songs swirls together, blending so seamlessly you literally need a scoresheet to keep track of what exactly you’re hearing. Luckily there are people who have made such a scoresheet.
So if it sounds awesome and it’s not super-simple/requires some consideration what’s my problem? Why can’t I just let go and enjoy?
I don’t think it’s the fact that FEED THE ANIMALS is probably the most illegal record I’ve ever heard. True, I think it sucks that he didn’t pay the respective copyright holders a dime in order to sample their music, I don’t really blame him. I mean, for one thing, the number of samples is staggering. A glance at one of the charts that detail the samples created by Girl Talk fans reveal a massive amount of samples–some of which are only a few notes others complete hooks or riffs. But let’s pretend the guy had an unlimited supply of money and had asked for permission–many of the artists sampled on FEED THE ANIMALS probably would have said no. Do you think Ace of Base (or their copyright holders) want to be associated with DJ Assault’s song “Ass and Tities”? I don’t think so. FEED THE ANIMALS features samples from several artists that don’t want to play in the digital age, like AC/DC, who don’t distribute their music in very many digital venues outside of iTunes (and they do that begrudgingly). It also features Michael Jackson. Do you think the Michael Jackson estate would let someone mash-up and mangle his music . Rappers sample all the time, but what Girl Talk does is sampling taken to the next level. Artists that might not be unfavorable to a more traditional sampling (like Jimmy Page appearing on Puff Daddy’s “Come With Me”) might not like Girl Talk’s 2% usage of a song. There’s glory in having your stomping rock riff sampled or you chorus used, there is no glory in a few fleeting seconds.
I know that music is a business and that for the right price anyone will sell anything, but I can’t see FEED THE ANIMALS existing as a legal product. But is it the illegality that’s holding me back from fully enjoying FEED THE ANIMALS? I don’t think so. I think ultimately Girl Talk is the harbinger of terrible things. I recognize that what Gillis does is pretty awesome, but what he’s done is basically stand on the shoulders of giants. As good as “Give Me A Beat” is, it’s nowhere near as creative as Tom Petty’s “American Girl” or Carole King’s “It’s Too Late,” hell it’s not even as creative as Brittany Spear’s “Gimme More” (all three of which are sampled in “Give Me A Beat”). Taking something from nothing is infinitely greater than building on an existing foundation (especially if that foundation includes Brittany Spears). When a rapper samples he’s still written his verses if he hasn’t also created his beats. What does Girl Talk create? It creates a julienne-cut jukebox.
FEED THE ANIMALS is a work of art and Gillis’ efforts is to be admired, but I can’t help but worry about the next step. I can’t help but worry about a generation of kids that grow up listening to albums like FEED THE ANIMALS. Will they bother to learn how to play instruments? Will they bother with songwriting? Or will they skip over a few dozen steps and create mash-ups of songs created by samples of other mash-ups. I feel like Girl Talk is an evolutionary dead-end. It’s like a platypus, unique and interesting…so long as we still have other animals.