4 Musicians Everyone Hates (Who Are Secretly Crazy Talented)
Don't you hate it when super-shitty, talentless, brain-dead musicians make it huge and rake in millions they clearly don't deserve? Especially the part where their fans hogtie you to the nearest train tracks and superglue headphones to your ears, forcing you to listen to their tripe for hours on end, with neither sleep nor water to help delay the insanity? God, that happens all the time, and it's just the worst.
But then some of these supposed no-talent hacks flip the script and turn out to not just be good at music but really, really, really amazing at it. Which, honestly, makes them bigger trolls than everybody on 4chan combined. These artists know so goddamn much about music, and how do they pay the bills? With just the stupidest songs this side of Barney Rocks The Triangle. That's like me taking my God-given ability to mold the English language into anything I want, tell any story, and provoke any emotion my heart desires, and using it to tell a fart joke.
Not that I'd ever do anything like that.
Debbie Gibson Has Been Writing Songs (And Operas) Since Before Kindergarten
If you were an '80s kid and too mature for Tiffany but not mature enough for, say, The Dead Kennedys, you probably listened to Debbie Gibson. Disposable fluff like "Shake Your Love" and ... and ...
Oh right, that. Disposable fluff like "Shake Your Love" and "Only In My Dreams" made teen girls dance for a few years until they lost interest, relegating poor Gibson to a lifetime of "oh yeah, her" nostalgia and B-movie schlock. Just your typical vapid, talentless pop tart running out of gas quicker than an 18-wheel stretch hummer, right?
With a final stop at the scrap-metal dump known as Celebrity Apprentice.
Oh, come on -- when has "right?" ever actually meant "right" on this site? Because hidden behind the mindlessly fluffy synth notes and D+ lyrics is more natural talent than any one god should stuff into any one body. Unlike many a manufactured pop sensation, Gibson was writing, recording, and performing before she had a record deal -- in fact, she was doing all that before she had a kindergarten diploma. Clearly born for music, Gibson had taught herself to play piano by age 4. She did this by listening to her father sing and transcribing his melodies to the keyboard by fucking ear. That's hard enough to do on a good day, never mind one that can fall to pieces because that day's Sesame Street featured no Grover.
Here she is performing "Only In My Dreams" accompanied by absolutely no '80s bullshit. Just her and her piano:
By age 5, she had already written her first song: a dark, poetic, pondering piece called "Make Sure You Know Your Classroom." Apparently, nobody bothered to record her back them, so here she is performing it 20 years later, in what may well have been her only gig in months:
The cutest song ever written about forcing terrified children to live out on the streets all alone.
At age 8, she started vocal training ... at the Metropolitan Opera. And she stuck around for four years, meaning she didn't just butcher "Figaro" for a week and then quit to shake her love forever. According to her, she "did La Boheme with Placido Domingo and Renata Tebaldi ... did Le Rossignol and Hansel And Gretel and had to learn to sing in eight different languages." Meanwhile, it took me three years to realize Opera Man wasn't singing in Italian.
This love, appreciation, and talent for the operatic arts even inspired her to write her own opera ... in the fifth bloody grade. It was called Alice In Operaland, and its plot saw Alice fall down the rabbit hole AGAIN, like Yosemite Sam getting tricked by Bugs for the thousandth time. This time, however, she skips Wonderland and skedaddles straight to Operaland, where she mingles with famous characters from historical operas. I wish I could show you one of her performances (Debbie, if you're reading this, hook a sad clown up, will you?) but there doesn't appear to be one. You'll simply have to travel to Australia and watch the non-Gibson version yourself.
But what of songs, you ask? There are tons of those, I answer, and she wrote them ALL. At age 12 she won a $1,000 songwriting contest with her original tune "I Come From America." And this time, somebody thought to record it. Presumably, her:
Just another vapid bit of bubblegum about quoting Tony Bennett and blowing your life savings at the Bellagio.
I mean it -- she likely recorded that herself. Because this is around the time she went on a musical tear, penning and recording over a hundred songs in three years from the safety and comfort of her in-home demo studio. You have a corner of your bedroom for video games -- she had a recording studio. And the creativity didn't end once people started paying her to write. Every single song on her first two albums came directly from her head -- words AND music. She has, at the very least, co-written all of her songs since, while also co-producing every one of her records. Sometimes, when everyone's busy playing elsewhere, she produces them all by herself. Friendly reminder: She's been doing this since she was 17.
Additional friendly reminder: She could rock a fedora better than
every men's rights asshole combined.
You know who else produces his own albums? Bob Dylan. But only sometimes. And it took him 15 albums to get around to it.
Limp Bizkit's Drummer Is A Master Of Jazz Drumming
The music of Limp Bizkit, a band named after one of the most creatively disgusting sex acts around, sounds so simple and slapped-together that any moron just north of comatose could pull it off. Downtuned power chords, a record scratch here and there, and the vocal equivalent of vomiting onto a microphone and then deep-throating it -- with their powers combined, you get perhaps the only nostalgia act ever to ruin your childhood before it ended.
They ruined cookies too, the bastards.
But then you drink yourself into enough of a stupor to sit down and actually listen to the music, and you realize ... somebody there is actually really good. Now, usually when we discuss talented Limp Bizkit people, we either mean Wes Borland or George Michael. But I have someone else in mind: their drummer, John Otto.
The best-looking guy in the band, simply because somebody has to be.
Otto might not have been born a musical master, but neither is he just some ugly white dude haphazardly banging on de drum all day while Fred Durst stomps around being 45 and still bragging about "nookie." He actually trained as a jazz drummer while he was a student at Florida's Douglas Anderson School Of The Arts. Upon graduation, he joined an avant-garde jazz ensemble called the Matt Butler Quartet. I couldn't find any recordings of Otto in the band, but here's the kind of tunage he played on the regular with them:
Like with his former band, Otto's Bizkit drumming is amazingly complex and diverse, taking what's usually a straightforward 4/4 beat (for the non-musical, that's the every-AC/DC-song-ever beat) and jazzing it up with more variety and alternating patterns than anything about the he-said-she-said bullshit has any right to have. And the best news of all: You don't even have to listen to Limp Bizkit to understand! Listen to him on his own, away from any and all references to Durst's unwashed asshole:
Unless you got a hot date or your mom's dying in the other room, sit down and watch that whole video (well, the first half anyway -- the second half's just Otto babbling about ... something. Rainbow Dash, probably). Two things leap out:
A. That is a huge drum set. Bigger, even, than Durst's cock in his own mind.
2. He uses the whole thing and does so expertly, whereas any of us would stare at that monstrosity and timidly hover around one cymbal and one snare like it's a 1,500-channel cable package we use only for Wheel Of Fortune.
Meanwhile, here's what he uses when he's being lazy and just messing around.
If you insist on hearing him play actual Bizkit songs before you believe me, I got those too. Here's the isolated (and shockingly soothing) drum-and-keys part of "My Way":
And now, "Pollution," which is even more complex and unpredictable and way less soothing:
Bottom line: If you want to play Limp Bizkit songs and do them well, don't come within 500 feet of me, you psycho. Also, you need to either be a fucking amazing drummer or hire one. One who can switch up patterns and jump from one eclectic part to another without ever missing a beat. And sure, there are plenty of accomplished jazz artists that can do that, but how many have songs with lines like "Bums are the type of shit that's in a diaper" on their resume?
Just the one.
Hanson Has Been Writing And Playing Their Own Songs Since 1992
As I've mentioned before, Teenage-me was an angsty little shit and did not enjoy cheesy, corporate, manufactured teen pop. So you can imagine how hot under the collar of his 'N Suck shirt he got when Hanson showed up and ruined his fragile little life.
It was almost as bad as when 'N Sync grew a sense of humor
and ruined 'N Suck for him forever.
Yeah, for no real reason aside from "they were handsome and happy," I despised Hanson. Here were three little blonde brats -- one of whom hadn't reached puberty yet -- driving the girls crazy with ... nothing. They were literally singing nothing! Teen-me couldn't fathom how anyone could hear "Mmmbop, dop dop doo wop, dibbydabbydaba doo wop, dop dop doo" and decide that was the poetry of our generation.
Years later, I heard the downright-awesome "This Time Around" and asked nobody in particular when the hell Hanson became a real band.
Later, I realized ... they were real all along. And they were real before the youngest could tie his own shoes.
As young tots, Zac, Isaac, and Taylor ... sac found themselves drawn to their father's record collection. Their family quickly realized these weren't just three silly kids adorably mumble-singing "On Top Of Spaghetti" entirely off-key. No, these kids could fucking harmonize, and if Mama and Papa Hanson had been just a wee bit hornier, they probably could've birthed an entire gospel choir. And so around 1992 they took their act public. Even with crowds staring them down, they still kicked ass:
They've been playing instruments with the skill of grown-ass men from an age when most kids still struggle with "Chopsticks." And I don't mean "Madonna brandishing a guitar that might not be plugged in," or "some Backstreet Boy nailed a couple piano chords 10 years into his career." All three Hanson kids were playing real music, real early, and they were real good at it. Were they Steve Vai-esque virtuosos? No, but that's not a requirement either. If the music that makes you feel good when you perform it doesn't require 45,000 notes a millisecond, then go the hell ahead and bang this out when you're 13:
And, yes, they wrote that song. Just like they've written every original song on every album since their first one way back in 1994. So you can't even say they got their dad or whoever to write everything while they just parroted it back and prayed their producer wouldn't scream at them for fucking up take 214. They've certainly evolved and matured since 20 years ago (more than I can say for a lot of bands), but that doesn't change how they were stupidly talented from the grade-school get-go.
Now they only endorse fresh waffles.
Oh, and regarding "MMMBop": Teenage-me was wrong about them singing nothing. Despite its gibberish chorus, the song is actually a treatise on mortality and friendship. Basically, most friendships are fragile and end quickly ("In an mmmbop, they're gone" was simply a poppy way of saying "anything good can end in a New York minute"), so it's important to keep making new friends and to hold on to the few that last, because they're the only ones who will stay by your side as the cold touch of the Grim Reaper draws nearer and nearer.
Ten-year-olds wrote that.
Justin Bieber Taught Himself To Kick Ass At Every Instrument
Two years ago, I kicked off this jaunty column of mine by sticking up for Justin Bieber. So why not do it again? It's clearly what the Internet clamors for.
He's been pretty quiet lately (getting publicly eviscerated by pissed-off celebrities is a surprisingly effective intervention), but he's still barely fixed his public image. Where once we saw an untalented, annoying pretty boy who made terrible music and did terrible things, now we see an untalented, annoying pretty boy who lives in fear of Jeffrey Ross saying more mean things about him.
The next "lesbian twink with a shitty mustache" joke might be the one that
makes him commit mass murder.
But if he just made one decent album, with good, rich, thoughtful tunes that HE created, instead of writers and producers vomiting up audio swill for him to "ooh ooh" to, that's all he would need to win over the public. But like hell that's ever gonna happen -- it's Bieber!
Actually, it could happen. Because it's Bieber. And Bieber is a fucking musical maniac. Has been since diapers, when his mother bought him a drum kit and he responded by beating the ever-loving shit out of it. But unlike many kids who simply pound on the thing because they're kids and need something to beat on that isn't the cat, he quickly figured out ( on his own, no less) how the instrument actually works. That soon turned into this:
Yeah, Justin Bieber likes to pepper ( some of) his shows with a Motley Crue-esque drumfest, both to score way more girls, girls, girls than any macho moron still making gay jokes about him and to remind an intensely forgetful public that no, he does not suck. But he's not just a drummer. He's also pretty nasty at the (also self-taught) guitar:
Let's talk about you for a second. How're you doing with that C chord?
OK, enough about you -- back to Hootie McBieb, who at age 13 was playing expert bongos with his guitar's body, mixing it with tapping pretty and varied enough to impress Van Halen, and actually making it sound like a real song instead of random strings pawed by a blind house cat.
But maybe you don't give a shit about that flowery acoustic shit. You wanna rawk, and Bieber ain't worth a damn if he can't shred. Here you go:
Yes, it's short, and yes it isn't Opeth. It's also a better solo than what most people can attempt, and way, way more than anyone expected from the guy who warbled "Baby." If one day he breaks out a full-length solo for his slack-jawed fanbase, remember who gave you the first heads-up. Send all money earned from every "MIND. BLOWN." article written about it anywhere on the Internet directly to me. You're welcome.
Even better idea: Just send me money and don't write the shitty "MIND. BLOWN." article at all.
Then there's the piano. And songwriting, for that matter. Just listen to this gorgeous piano ballad he composed for his grandmother, at age 9:
So there you have it: One of the most maligned and despised pop stars of our time taught himself piano, guitar, drums, and vocals, all before his voice started cracking. And he got damn good at them all, something he still is. Yes, his records are trite and cheesy, because that's what sells. But don't be surprised if he drops an Automatic For The People-type masterpiece on us eventually. Clearly, it's in him.
Or, maybe he'll record the next great mariachi album. Because he also plays the trumpet and, if his other instruments are any indication, he probably slays at that too:
... or not. Hey, can't win 'em all. Even Prince probably sucks at the oboe.
Who'd have thought that the drummer of Limp Bizkit would be the true artist of the group? Turns out musical geniuses are where you'd least expect them. See how in 4 Lesser-Known Halves Of Music Duos Who Deserve Your Respect and also check out 4 Musical Geniuses Hiding In Unexpected Bands.
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