Written by Nathan Mattise
Hold on. If you don’t know about Girl Talk yet you’ve got some catching up to do (read this, this and listen to him here). The man is not only selling out hip music venues galore, he’s completely eradicating every idea you had about entertainment in the 21st century.
Take a minute to think about what the pinnacle of entertainment in the last five years has looked like. In literature Harry Potter was followed by the Twilight series. The box office was dominated by remakes and adaptations. Television had double digit seasons of reality shows (or new mimic reality shows) and an endless amount of SVUs or CSIs (and that’s without even mentioning US versions of successful foreign shows).
Music to some extent has faced a similar problem. Some of the hottest concert tickets in recent memory were from The Police, R.E.M and Led Zeppelin. New Kids On The Block have a new Billboard Top 100 album. Even when an entity that appears new and innovative arrives (see Vampire Weekend) it is immediately labeled as the new _____ (see Paul Simon).
This is why Girl Talk is so groundbreaking.
New ideas are hard to come by. For example anonymous “scholars” have long argued only seven types of stories exist. So as everyone today keeps striving for something new (be it storyline, sound, etc.) they continue to come up short. Whether or not he’s doing it consciously, Girl Talk is taking an entirely new approach to entertainment by bypassing the artistic desire for innovation and creation. He has no shame in admitting he isn’t creating anything new; what’s new is that an artist is finally embracing this idea and devoting his time and energy to intensely researching and selecting from the past rather than trying to create something entirely new. It’s the Audre Lorde approach (she’s a poet who once famously penned, “There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.”)
Listen to Girl Talk’s “Set It Off.” Girl Talk did not record a single second of the track. He weaves a massive variety of artists (Jay-Z/Rihanna, Ying Yang Twins, Radiohead, The Guess Who, Ozzy Ozbourne, The Spinners, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Grandmaster Flash, Young Gunz, Mary J. Blige, etc.) together leaving the samples almost entirely unchanged, adjusting the tempo of the track if necessary.
This is another reason why some of the negative press surrounding him may be ill-fated. According to the Carter-Franklin-Wright textbook used by Syracuse’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, the precedent here comes from the court case Harper & Row v. The Nation. Girl Talk’s defense against copyright law is the argument of fair use which relies on: 1) the purpose and character of the use 2) the nature of the copyrighted work 3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used and 4) the effect upon the market for the value of the original copyrighted work.
In Girl Talk’s favor, it can be argued he checks out in 3 out of the 4 categories. His use is non-commercial since he offered the album at a pay-what-you-want rate (i.e. donations not sales), the amount/substantiality he uses is small just because of the sheer amount of samples he fits into his work (sometimes over ten in one minute of music) and his effect on the market of the original work may actually be complimentary (“Hey, if I hear Heart in a Girl Talk sample maybe I want to own “Magic Man,” maybe even an entire Heart album.”)
So don’t worry about his shelf life being cut short by exterior forces. Girl Talk will stick around as long as people are willing to embrace the old while expecting to get it. I’ve got my tickets for Nov. 11 in his hometown and the only thing I know will be fresh is the sweat.
Links today from Wikipedia, NYT Online, USA Today’s Pop Candy and YouTube.