Last week I started writing posts about music videos. It’s been an unusually satisfying experience given that I typically have misgiving about writing blog posts. I’m not sure there is an outlet that would be interested in my ramblings about music videos, in general or about specific works, and I apparently have a lot I want to say.
Which is why it was fortuitous that ‘The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience’ was released this past week. Given that this was the spirit of the project, creating the work with no purpose or plan in mind, part of me feels this is a sign to keep going with these posts.
A slightly negative preface: I’ve never been overly fond of the works of The Lonely Island. Some of their works, “Natalie’s Rap” in particular, impressed me but that was largely because of Natalie Portman. Others, “Like a Boss” and “I’m on a Boat” I felt were lackluster in idea and execution. I have yet to see, “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” but after watching Bash Brothers (many, many times now) I have to admit I’m intrigued.
I read an interview in Entertainment Weekly today which confirmed many of the thoughts I had about this project. Namely that it was a labor of love, that came from a place of genuine affection, while also poking fun at Jose Canseco and Mark Maguire. It’s a project made by friends about something they lived through and wanted to celebrate and goof off about. In their words from an interview in Billboard magazine,
Schaffer: It’s a hot new label. Listen, there’s art or there’s commerce [Andy laughing] and we made sure this wasn’t commerce. Then by default, it was art.
Samberg [Laughing]: You can definitely say this project was, by default, art.
While they make light of their efforts you do get the sense when watching Bash Bothers that they took the joke seriously. What immediately impressed me when watching Bash Brothers was the quality of the production (which apparently had no budget). The sets, the effects, the lighting – all of it conveys this being a professional project. Which I don’t mean to overstate but having seen many low budget works (sadly including my own attempts) I find this impressive and inspiring.
In their interview with Entertainment Weekly Schaffer and Samberg explain the different styles they were emulating with their videos,
SCHAFFER: Also, on a musical level, similarly, we do some songs where we’re really trying to be in some of the styles from the late ’80s. Like “Uniform On,” we tried really to get close to an ’80s Beastie Boys vibe, and some of the others are very Bay Area-hyphy, and other things we just did whatever we felt like. So we weren’t strict on any of the rules, it was more a feel.
SAMBERG: Instinctively, when we got Mike Diva, who co-directed it with Akiva, we mostly discussed the styles of the song also being representative of the styles of the video, so it’s almost like you take a little bit of a journey through the last few decades of music video styles, especially rap music, which kept it interesting for us. So you have a more like Hype Williams one and then another is like a home video throwback.
And this journey through the past few decades of music styles is quite wonderful. Given that the justification for this project is that it is a lost album the different styles make a strange kind of sense. This certainly felt as cohesive to me as watching “Lemonade”.
I was hoping to laugh when I watched Bash Brothers and I certainly did. “Oakland Nights” starring Sterling K. Brown (as Sia) with it’s silk robes and kimonos is going to be with me for quite some time.
What I did not expect was to find real emotion tucked in among the jokes about steroids and broom sex. Watching “Daddy” I found myself getting misty-eyed despite the auto-tuned vocals wobbling in my ear. If that was a “serious” music video I am fairly certain it would win awards and it would deserve them.
I’ve watched Bash Brothers at least five times already and I’m not sure I’m done with it yet. This work, like others I’ve encountered, has some inexplicable quality that I am wrestling with, trying to understand and appreciate before moving on. It feels odd writing that statement about this work, even when the creators themselves say dismissive things like:
Samberg: We were describing it to our friends the whole time as, “We’re working on this thing for no one.” It turns out, what the world really was craving was, Major League Baseball having a baby with The Tree of Life and Lemonade.
Perhaps there is little more to the work than that. Songs like, “IHOP Parking Lot” I think you understand on the first viewing. It’s funny and fun and then it ends. Others, like “Focus on the Game” feel simple, basic even, but on the next viewing feelings well up inside me unexpectedly. I’m affected by the performances and it surprises me with each viewing. I keep feeling there is more to unpack when watching even if, perhaps, it’s just to find that I’ve already experienced everything and there is nothing left to be gleaned.