I was watching “Saturday Night Live” this week (eyes over here, Mrs. Beatty) and the first musical guest was Gwen Stefani doing “Wind it Up” with an over-enthusiastic drum line and a throng of badly-dressed dancers.
It’s difficult for me to describe my reaction to seeing this, but in short: I became firmly convinced that the World is coming to An End. It started as an unfocused sense of unease from deep within my soul. Each yodel and every sample made it more concrete, more defined, until it became a concentrated pit of despair lodged in the center of my heart.
Imagine you’re a simple country villager in the outskirts of ancient Rome, and you’re asked to cater at one of Caligula’s parties. As you stand dumb-struck behind the buffet table, watching the proceedings, the servants wheel in another horse and some more lubricant, and you think, “Well, they’ve finally done it. They’ve destroyed civilization.” That’s the sense I got.
Now, I still like to think of myself as being on the fringes of hipness — not really genuinely cool, but at least at the VH-1 level of social awareness. But seeing this thing rocked my whole perception of what’s going on in American pop culture. It wasn’t just that I didn’t like it; I didn’t understand it. At all. I hated “Hollaback Girl” and “My Humps” like any right-thinking person should, but at least I had a sense of what they were trying to accomplish with them.
“Wind it Up,” with its video and album and fashion line and interviews and promotions and YouTube and MySpace appearances, is such an engineered consumer product package that it’s as far removed from actual music as Lunchables are from actual wheat. Video didn’t just kill the radio star, it’s on Fox News promoting its new fictionalized account of the murder titled If I Did It.
I’ve heard and read a lot of people — usually well into their 40s by the time they say it — say they remember the exact moment they realized they were “old.” Usually it’s when a clerk calls them “sir” or “ma’am,” or when they meet a co-worker who was born the year they graduated high school/graduated college/were released from rehab.
For me, it was watching a woman (who’s two years older than me!) doing a performance on “Saturday Night Live” and me feeling like I just saw a series of mushroom clouds over the horizon.