The Mashup: Art?

December 20, 2010 § 1 Comment

In this technological era, the opportunities to create new forms of media are virtually endless. The tools of production have been democratized and with this anyone, regardless of their skill level, can create video or music and share it with the world via the Internet. These tools have spawned a new form of media, which I would hesitatingly call art, known as the mashup. The mashup combines elements from other, previously published works to form a hybrid, a synthesis of these pieces into a completely new thing. The mashup is primarily associated with music, although it can be seen in film as well, and while its origins can be debated, I would argue the most artful appropriation of elements from songs to help create something new is found in the hip-hop genre. Here artists use “samples” of other songs as a definitive element of their new song (think Kanye West and his use of outside material in the many hip-hop songs he produces).

One of the most famous mash-up artists is Pittsburgh’s Greg Gillis, who goes by the moniker Girl Talk. Gillis mashes up pop music from the past 40-50 years and often generates surprising results from conjoining 70’s pop ballads with club-bangers from the 00s. His newest album, All Day (which can be downloaded for free here), showcases Gillis’s talent for finding commonalities among many different genres of music and lyrical content. Some of these such moments are shockingly fun, such as when Simon and Garfunkel meet Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz or when I Want You Back meets with Lil Kim’s The Jump Off. Needless to say, these auditory nuggets are scattered all throughout All Day and make the album, if nothing else, an extremely entertaining listening experience.

Another well-known mashup artist is Steve Porter, the man behind the Press Hop video, or as it’s better known the video where Jim Mora and Allen Iverson verbally duel back and forth between “Playoffs?” and “Practice?”. Porter creates his own techno mix backgrounds, but overlays them with press conference sound bytes and their corresponding video segments. The results are often hilarious and quite catchy for being an amalgamation of press conference sound bytes. Once again, like Gillis, Porter’s talent lies in combining these phrases and videos into a coherent whole, smashing together different time periods and different sports to make something not entirely related to sports. I find myself returning, time and time again, to these videos when I need a laugh.

So are mashups just a form of entertainment, or can they be art? To be sure, they take talent, and I’m sure anyone who has actually attempted to make a mashup is aware of the time and skill it takes to make a good one. The creativity present in the music of Girl Talk and videos of Steve Porter is evident and manages to exude a certain sense of joy as you listen or watch their work. I think the mashup is an example of the kind of art that has begun to pervade postmodern culture. Instead of just drawing inspiration from past, artists are beginning to draw directly from the past and are using the past to create new content. This is known as pastiche, and reflects the postmodern individual’s fragmentation in this world, as there seems to be no historical referent from which to base his historical position. Therefore, as we don’t feel at home in history, music from the 70s can be seamlessly combined with music from the 90s without it seeming out of place.

The mashup reflects our current cultural state. Often it is played for humor, and it accomplishes this well by conflating the past and the present in an ahistorical manner that lends itself to parody and humor. In that sense, the mashup could be considered a postmodern form of art, one that comes from a new way of thinking and that is gaining steam. These artists are taking our meaningless bits and pieces of pop culture (pop songs and sports) and recreating them into things that live and breathe with an energy that wasn’t there in their original state. Whether you consider the mashup to be art or not, it’s something worth paying attention to as we consider the cultural climate we live in.

Press Hop 2:

List of samples on All Day:


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