Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Beauty of Musical Comedies, or Why The Lonely Island was so damn funny, Tenacious D's "Tribute" made us snort, and "Crazy-Ex Girlfriend" has us giggling

So I had the great pleasure of introducing to a colleague of mine this week several music videos from the comedy group, The Lonely Island.

And you know what I realized? I miss The Lonely Island. I miss good musical comedies. The Lonely Island was so funny. They were so damn funny. Why were they so funny? And in the middle of the night last night (because my brain works that way), I started thinking more seriously about that. And the answer to that question has to do with something really obvious but also unspoken: the music itself.

I remember reading a review of The Lonely Island's album, Incredibad, from Pitchfork back in the day and agreeing with pretty much everything they said.
It's clear that the group (Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer) knew what they were doing as musicians, not just as comedians.

Take our favorite song on the planet, "I'm On A Boat."

It's not a parody of a hip-hop song. It is a hip-hop song. It has the same braggadocio and swag as the music of DJ Khaled, Rick Ross, Kanye, and Lil' Wayne.

And it's musically good, it's aesthetically pleasing, it's well-written. That's what makes it hilarious at the end of the day. I have this theory anyway that the more aesthetically pleasing a creative work, the more convincing (and even manipulative) it is. I think the same thing applies here.

Other Lonely Island songs follow suit. "Three-way" uses classic 90s R&B riffs and lines like "Hop off the bus with the Alizé" that give it its distinct R&B sound.
Pick your favorite Lonely Island song and five bucks says there's something musically interesting going on that makes it work well with the lyrics and video. "Motherlover" and "Boombox" have really great choruses in the major key that temporarily shift the music away from the dominant minor key. "I Just Had Sex" has all of the makings of a 2010 pop song (including Akon as a vocalist). These songs work because they're musically clever and cheeky. Not just because the lyrics are funny. 

Years ago, my brother and I became temporarily obsessed with the song, "Tribute" by Tenacious D. And I think we both liked it so much because it was musically fun to jam to (with our air guitars).
My brother's favorite moment of the song arrives around the 2:40 mark. If you know the song, you know exactly what moment I'm talking about. And that's not an accident. The song is structured like other classic rock songs by groups like Led Zeppelin (Jack Black and Kyle Bass are huge Led Zeppelin fans, and Bass was inspired to write "Tribute" after hearing Metallica live in concert). Tenacious D musically prepared us for the moment when the devil asks, "Be ye angels?" and Tenacious D respond in the negative. They paid homage to other classic rock songs in form and style to make their ridiculous song sound epic and, thus, epically hilarious.

Although the show is hit and miss, the new tv show "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" operates in the same way. What keeps people tuned in, I suspect, is the effectiveness of their musical comedy. The song, "Sexy Getting Ready Song" works so well as its own musical number:

Reminiscent of the music of Brandi or Toni Braxton circa 2000, it gives the listener classic R&B poppy hooks while slowly unraveling itself and becoming increasingly absurd. The interlude with the rapper is so perfect as well, as the rapper discovers how much work some women put into for a date and then becomes wracked with guilt over the pressures women face in a patriarchal society to look beautiful.

I had *just* been listening to some early 90s hip hop (Public Enemy and Advanced Chemistry in particular) when I heard the song, "Jap Rap Battle" from the show:
The flow of the rhymes, the musical line of the bass guitar, and the back-and-forth interplay between the two female characters and the call-and-response from the group all make it sound like a classic 90s rap song. And it's a good one.

It's all obvious once you say it out loud. Good music makes good musical comedy. It's deceptively simple. It's so deceptive in fact that people paused when The Lonely Island was nominated for a Grammy for best rap in 2010 for "I'm On A Boat." Shouldn't the group have been in the comedy section of the Grammy's? Was "I'm On A Boat" good rap or good comedy? The answer, of course, is both.

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