CONTENT WARNING: SELF-HARM, MENTAL HEALTH
I discover mashup artist DJ Earworm late on a Sunday night, and plunge abruptly back into the buried life of the child I had once been. The wind is brutal as I wait for the Nightrider, and in my ear 25 different artists sing 25 disparate songs. Images splash across my cracked phone screen — Pitbull first in a half-second snatch, then Lady Gaga, followed by will.i.am and Kelly Clarkson and Kanye and countless more.
‘Blame it on the Pop’ is a sonic collage of nostalgia, a time capsule of half-remembered melodies from my childhood. In his most acclaimed entry of the ‘United States of Pop’ oeuvre, DJ Earworm strings together musical samples from the 25 top Billboard hits of 2009 to form ‘Blame it on the Pop’. No sample lasts longer than a few seconds — a snatched word or phrase, ending as immediately as it begins and bleeding right into the next. There’s Jay Sean, then Fergie, then Miley serenading us with ‘The Climb’, Taylor Swift from the ‘Love Story’ days, Soulja Boy, Jason Mraz, a few sped-up lines from the All-American Rejects. Somehow, DJ Earworm threads morsels of 25 disparate melodies into one holistic song. It’s an impressive display of technical prowess. Yet despite its patchwork nature, ‘Blame it on the Pop’ nevertheless proffers a cohesive lyrical narrative — a feel-good message about getting back up when you’re down, and making it out of this mess.
“This year in the charts, so many of the pop song seem to tell the same story,” DJ Earworm writes in a song note on his website. “Yeah, we’ve been through a lot, but right now we’re gonna celebrate with music and dance, and it’s gonna be ok.”
2009 was a strange and formative year for me. That old me is dead and gone, but I still remember shards of her. Several of her friends spoke animatedly about killing themselves, and many of them found themselves fascinated with sharp objects. Once during language class, she and a friend pulled scissors from our pencil cases and dragged the blades along their forearms until the skin reddened and tore. For the rest of the day, she carried the incision like a bright and bold accessory. The only vocabulary she had to describe these events back then was “teen angst.”
But as ‘Blame it on the Pop’ loops through my mind, its familiar chord progressions conjure up more joyful filaments of the kid I was in 2009. The kid who heard those songs first. She bopped to them in the car every Friday evening on the way to piano lessons in Allawah. In Visual Arts classes, she hummed along to Nova 96.9FM with her classmates, mucking around drawing ugly charcoal portraits behind the teacher’s back. On train rides home, she and her friends blared Flo Rida and Taylor Swift from their tinny brick Nokias and Sony Ericcsons, annoying all the other passengers as they laughed and tried pathetically to harmonise. She stole songs off the G Drive of the school’s shared server, where girls buried their contraband material — torrented movies and pirated pop songs. She lay sprawled on the couch on bad days with her eyes closed and shitty earphones in, letting Jay Sean assure her that there was no need to worry, even if the sky was falling down.
It is these sweeter parts of 2009 that I think of now, as I press play on ‘Blame it on the Pop’ once more and take another nostalgic trip through my decade-old, rose-coloured recollections. Truth be told, I despised many of the songs that feature in this mashup when I first heard them as a child. Only now, aged like wine, do they at last sound rather lovely to me. Perhaps it takes a decade to appreciate how well the Kings of Leon meld with Jason Mraz. I guess it really is gonna be okay, isn’t it? Even if the sky is tumbling down. Isn’t this easy—feeling love, love, love? We’ll make it out of this mess. Change your mind. Baby just say yes.