Musical Musings: What is “real” music?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the term “real music.” This was sparked by George Miller releasing music under the name Joji. Miller has been making music for years as his crude characters Filthy Frank and Pink Guy. After two mixtapes from his “Pink Guy” persona, it became clear that, even outside of his irreverent and satirical music, Miller truly had talent for writing and performing serious music.

Or “real” music, as his fans called it.

The way I see it, if we have “real” music, then the inverse must be “fake.” How can music – or any form of art – be fake? Well, clearly in the world of fine art, certain devious people may forge copies of legitimate art in order to sell for profit. However, painstakingly forging a fine work of art still takes some amount of talent.

Miller has talent – there’s no argument there. So, why don’t people consider Frank’s and Pink Guy’s music to be “real?” They aren’t forgeries. Countless hours are put into producing them, yet people still think of them as inferior to Joji’s serious music.

Could it be because its content is meant to be humorous and often obscene? If that’s your argument, then I’d point you in the direction of Frank Zappa or Captain Beefheart. Obviously, I’m not putting Miller on the same level as these two hugely influential musicians, but they do both often incorporate humor into their music.

Then there’s Spinal Tap – the parody heavy metal band which was the focus of the 1984 film, “This is Spinal Tap.” Long after the movie was released, the actors continued to put out music. Personally, I’d consider this music to be just as real as the acts it is meant to satirize. Pink Guy’s music is often critical of modern hip-hop and rap, much like how Spinal Tap was of metal.

“Weird Al” Yankovic is arguably the most popular parody artist of all time. I was exposed to “Weird Al’s” music at a very young age. I had songs like “Phony Calls” and “All About the Pentiums” memorized long before I ever even heard the names TLC or P Diddy. I definitely consider his music to be “real,” and I’m not the only one. “Weird Al’s” music is widely accepted as legitimate, despite its satirical nature.

So, if acts like Spinal Tap, Zappa, Beefheart and “Weird Al” can be accepted as “real” music, I think it’s fair to group Miller in with them.

All right, here’s the real question: if Filthy Frank and Pink Guy are “real” music, then what is “fake” music? I don’t necessarily think “fake” is an appropriate word in this context – I’d suggest “illegitimate.” When it comes to music, I’d say something like “Kidz Bop” should be considered as less-than-legitimate. “Kidz Bop” takes popular songs, cleans up their lyrics a bit and releases cover versions sung “for kids, by kids.” Not to say covers are inherently bad, but they must at least try to add some sort of artistic merit that wasn’t present in the original – take Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.” “Kidz Bop” adds nothing to the equation, if anything, they take something away.

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