Guilty Pleasures — NIN Mashups

Trent Reznor NIN test

by Gabriel Valdez

I have a secret condition. I haven’t told anyone about it. You’re the first to know; I’m finally going to admit it here. You see, I have an addiction. I have an addiction to mashups.

I’m so sorry, I know it hurts the ones I love, but I just can’t stop. The premium stuff is so good, and the premium stuff is Nine Inch Nails mashups.

How deep does the rabbit hole go? In the spirit of a 70s Public Service Announcement, let me show you the worst case scenario: like the desolate underground cities of H.P. Lovecraft, built to worship unfathomable heathen horrors whose mere sight could drive a man insane, there’s an entire cottage industry out there that remixes NIN with My Little Pony songs.

This is the hard stuff. All but the most hopeless among us stay away from this. We know what madness lurks inside. People into this don’t just mess up their lives, they come out wholly different, as if time and space have ceased to matter and all is boundless shadow, a dead calm ocean that anchors you in place, the sun turned off, the stars pulled from the sky. Here’s a truly horrifying mashup of NIN’s “In This Twilight” and Fluttershy singing “So Many Wonders.”

What did I just make you listen to? You feel the insanity creeping in and yet…and yet, you want more. Curiosity’s the greatest addiction of them all. Fine then. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. Following are my five favorite NIN mashups:

TAYLOR SWIFT vs. NIN
“Shake It Off (The Perfect Drug)”

The newest kid on the block is one of the best. Most mashups just take the the bass and percussion from one song and tempo-adjust the lyrics of another on top of it. These are lazy as hell. This could have easily been one of those jobs, but there’s a lot more work that goes into creating a new duet from two existing solos.

There’s a clever musical humor here, too, saving a sort of Trent Reznor/Taylor Swift rap duet for the two-thirds mark where the rap solo has replaced what used to be the guitar solo. A good video mashup doesn’t hurt, and my favorite part of the video is that, when Swift starts to rap, Reznor reacts by giving up on life and taking absinthe. Meta-commentary, people.

What mind-numbing horror next awaits our vulnerable minds?

KATY PERRY vs. NIN
“Where is Everybody vs. ET”

Most of the dealers chucking out remixes stand on the corners of YouTube, enticing you with mashups as a way of hooking you into their own original material. What makes this remix different is that it involves frequent NIN member Danny Lohner. You can tell – it’s more complex and polished than most remixes out there. It’s not about being clever, it’s about delivering a brand new piece of music.

This is the harder-edged Katy Perry I’ve always wanted to hear:

But these are just practice rounds. I didn’t want to start you off on the really intense stuff.

THE BEATLES vs. NIN
“Come Closer Together”

The biggest danger in NIN mashups is that you’ll just take the percussion line from “Closer” and shove something else over it. Five minutes’ work, call it a day, everybody leave early!

Not good enough.

“Closer” is too easy and too iconic to just lay a vocal track over. Hell, that percussion line wouldn’t even work for “Closer” if Reznor wasn’t finding ever-more-complex layers to put on top of it. “Come Closer Together” just straight up moves, leaping from one moment of each song to the next. It barely sits still, blending each song’s most complex moments. The listener has to stay on his or her toes. It’s clever, evocative, and beautifully fuses together the musical styles of two completely different eras. Plus, it includes the immortal line, “I want to fuck you, right now, over me.”

PHIL COLLINS vs. NIN
“Closer in the Air Tonight”

Now you’re deep in it. I tried to tell you. This stuff will ruin your life! You don’t really want to know how Phil Collins’s iconic “In the Air Tonight” is combined with NIN’s “Closer,” do you?

Why would you want to know how two of the world’s most atmospheric songs are meshed? Why would you want to set your eyes upon such timeless mysteries? Why gaze into the abyss? It might do that thing. You know, gaze back.

Fine. When your family asks what’s wrong, what’s different, just keep this secret. Keep it safe. They can’t know. Wait, hold that thought – link them here, we could use the clicks.

This is another mashup that manages to take me on a musical journey, rather than just being a gimmick or earworm. Combining two of the greatest slow-build songs in history is fraught with musical peril. Instead of relying on either song’s atmospheric pace to dictate the mashup’s, the remixer breaks down each song and rebuilds them together. It’s not a fusion so much as a ground-up reconstruction, complete with red herrings and almost-climaxes that play with your expectations of what’s familiar.

MICHAEL JACKSON vs. NIN
“Only Billy Jean”

Rarely do mash-ups take the chance of creating an equal duet between two artists. Even more rarely is this done with Reznor, whose vocals are precise but whose attitude rarely fits into other songs. When that chance is taken, it’s usually not Michael Jackson chosen to play opposite Reznor.

The best mash-ups don’t just play the instrumentation in two songs against each other. They fuse the meanings of two songs to create something altogether new. “Only” becomes the subtext for “Billy Jean,” a sociopathic underbelly it hinted at but was always missing. “Billy Jean” gives “Only” the concrete motive for such an explosion of id. It’s a brilliant new creation, and one of the few mashups that’s as good as any of NIN’s or Michael Jackson’s songs on their own.

So concludes our brief trip into the vast plains of irresolute hopelessness, your mind shredded at the dark possibilities you’ve only briefly glimpsed.

What’s that? What did you say?

Where’s Carly Rae Jepsen?

Sigh, you’ve learned nothing in the end, have you?

The best mashups figure out how to get both vocalists in there at some point. As a duet, a call-and-response, even just getting the off-vocalist in as the chorus. That would’ve worked brilliantly for the “Call Me a Hole” mashup, especially given the storyline of Jepsen’s song. Picturing the two singers meeting at a party, hearing both songs as internal monologues…it’s just too perfect. But it’s just Jepsen’s music and Reznor’s voice.

As is, the Jepsen mashup is strong on concept alone, but leaves a lot on the table that could make it better. It’s a cute hipster moment to share with your kids one day so they can roll their eyes before going back to their rooms, pulling out their hidden Downward Spiral 30th Anniversary editions, dousing themselves in eyeliner, and downloading straight into their brain all those Clive Barker novels that President Bristol Palin outlawed after you voted for her cause you’re a Republican now. What’s that you’re making for dinner? Last Polar Bear Ever Stew? What an interesting name. I wonder what’s in it.

I can only hope your children don’t find those My Little Pony mashups. You don’t know how to communicate with them anymore. They grow up so fast. You don’t understand them. You worry. Were you ever like that? Have your polar bear, honey. That’s what Carly Rae Jepsen brings to the table. You hypocrite.

Guilty Pleasures is a new occasional series that will feature various writers’…you guessed it: guilty pleasures.

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