Tag Archives: Taylor Swift

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:

“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?

“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.

“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.”

“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.

“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.

The Best Music Videos of August 2014

Shake It Off Taylor Swift

selected by Cleopatra Parnell & Gabriel Valdez

We’re launching a new feature, highlighting the best music videos of the past month. With the help of our writers, we’ll sift through so, so many bad music videos just to bring you the very best we find. In fact, I think Vanessa Tottle’s still watching K-Pop videos. Tell us what you think of the new feature. With no further ado, our Top 10 for August 2014.

10. Ahhh Sh*t – G-Unit
dir. Timo Albert

Composed almost entirely from real-world footage of police brutality, it mirrors G-Unit’s straightforward lyrics:

“Now why the f*ck did you call them cops?
Put your hands up, you still getting shot.”

It’s not any more complicated than that, and after these last few months of brutality, watching a militarized police force roll out to fire on civilians, treat cameras like loaded weapons, close air space and arrest press in violation of the First Amendment…it’s shocking.

As a site mainly covering film and music videos, Vanessa and I have discussed writing articles on Ferguson, but it’s frankly neither of our areas of expertise, and we don’t want our own voices to distract from those more appropriate to the discussion. I’ve also been waging my own crusade as of late, which you’ll see spark some notable changes to the site soon.

Suffice to say, the equipping of police forces with needless military gear, combined with a complete lack of training to use it, has exacerbated the already difficult relationship our minority communities have with an historically “separate but equal” brand of law and justice.

“Ahhh Shit” may not be the greatest artistic monument to what I hope is a true turning point, but it is on spot, angry as it has the right to be, and it’s the first time phrases like “f*ck the police” have held real weight and meaning for me. Suddenly, I don’t dismiss that phrase. I listen to what comes next.

9. Time Machine – Jason Chen
dir. Paolo Ongkeko
prod. Don Le

This is how you use a low-budget wisely. “Time Machine” isn’t groundbreaking or superbly polished, but it is effective in telling a story and adding design touches that make it feel unique and worth rewatching. To me, that counts for more than a perfected set or the best editing techniques. Sometimes, effort and care show through the work more than the production budget does, and this is one of those times. It’s cute without being cloying, and the charm of its two leads (Chen and Red Hong Yi) goes far in making it such a watchable MV.

8. Go – Grimes feat. Blood Diamonds
dir. Claire & Mac Boucher
prod. Lana Kim, Jett Steiger, Rachel Nederveld, Summer McCloskey

Grimes has always felt like Sia meets World of Warcraft, and the MV for “Go” alternates between club dancing and some pretty hardcore LARPing. That’s when she’s not playing in water or being fondled by mimes. This vid’s weird, but there’s something about it that really works. It’s eminently watchable, it’s suggestive (of what, I have no clue), and it complements its music perfectly.

7. Happy Little Pill – Troye Sivan
dir. Jeremy Koren (Grey Ghost)

Owing more than a little of its imagery and visual composition to Nine Inch Nails’ “The Perfect Drug,” Koren cleverly evolves Mark Romanek’s 90s music video. Koren’s is less Edward Gorey, more Bret Easton Ellis – instead of reflecting Trent Reznor’s wild, self-medicated mood swings from depression to mania, Koren conveys a muted, professionally-medicated world of emotional dispossession. It’s a deceptively brilliant audio-visual tone poem.

6. Shake it Off – Taylor Swift
dir. Mark Romanek

Speaking of Mark Romanek, this guy’s really branched out from his 90s, Goth S&M days. I’m not much of a Taylor Swift fan, but even I have to admit this is a truly positive celebration of imperfections and receiving criticism. It features some good dancing (particularly from one of my favorite poppers, Fik-Shun Stegall), some bad dancing, and a lot of great visual comedy on the part of Swift and choreographer Tyce Diorio. Best yet, it’s the ultimate YouTube comment-defeating song.

5. My Copycat – Orange Caramel
dir. and prod. Digipedi Studio

For this exercise, Vanessa sent me a whole lot of J-Pop and K-Pop (Japanese and Korean pop music). At one point, I had to put my foot down, and the word “intervention” may have been mentioned.

Some of it is pretty good, though. We continue to see a lot of clever music videos coming from South Korea. Whoever came up with the concept for “My Copycat” needs a raise and a promotion and possibly some sort of medal. You remember those side-by-side pictures where you have to circle the differences from one to the next? This is that, except the difficulty ramps up over three-plus minutes, and there are certifiably nutty “Where’s Waldo” interludes. In fact, this whole thing feels like some weird peek into an alternate “Where’s Waldo” universe.

4. Don’t – Ed Sheeran
dir. Emil Nava
prod. Lanette Phillips, Luga Podesta, Brandon Bonfiglio, Danyi Deats-Barrett

Note to self: if I ever make an autobiographical music video about my rise from rags to riches, cast a popping, bone-breaking hip-hop ingenue like Philiph Chbeeb who can dance across fencetops to play me. Also, make riches.

I’m a huge fan of the dancing in this video and how it’s filmed. There’s not too much full-body cinematography, the camera instead focusing on isolations and building out a character. It’s a wise choice in connecting the visuals and lyrics to tell a story, relying on Chbeeb and the choreography by NappyTabs (Napoleon and Tabitha D’umo) to bring out the dance.

If director Emil Nava’s name sounds familiar, we named his emotionally compelling dance video “Wrong or Right” by Kwabs as the #6 video from the first half of 2014.

3. #Cake – Shabazz Palaces
dir. Hiro Murai
prod. Danielle Hinde, Kimberly Stuckwisch, Jason Colon

I’ve never been so terrified of the repeated suggestion to “eat some cake.” What is this video, a strange, midnight run of iconic mystical imagery tilted on its side, of 100-foot arms reaching from the rooftops, and the repeated insistence to “eat some cake.” It’s narcissistic, it’s creepy, it has a nude goddess figure (I’m assuming) as tall as a skyscraper, it’s all about how Gaza is like Seattle and Neptune, and it really wants you to “eat some cake.” This is a crazy video that fits right in with Shabazz Palaces’ breathtakingly poignant weirdness.

2. Crow – 18+

I’m fond of saying I really like David Lynch movies, except for the ones David Lynch is involved in. Meaning I tend to like modern surrealism, just not Lynch’s brand. Well, “Crow” out-Lynches Lynch himself.

Surrealism often relies on the subconscious to make visual choices – images may seem random, especially when juxtaposed against other, seemingly random images. In “Crow,” these images together don’t necessarily create a narrative so much as they build an overpowering tone. By the end, the whole video holds a deep, quiet, and slightly creepy power over me. Waves crash upon a shore on a screen that cuts right down the middle of some weirdly exploitative anime. The feeling evoked is inexplicable, but Cleopatra and I (and Vanessa), all agreed that it’s present and palpable.

Fittingly, no one knows quite who directed this, and 18+ have remained a rarity in this day and age – a mysterious and unidentified musical duo. Who knows, this really could be a David Lynch side project. If it is, I guess I’ll be eating crow.

1. Jazz – Mick Jenkins
dir. Nathan R. Smith
prod. Julia Elaine Mills

To find words to describe Mick Jenkins’s “Jazz” is to speak through tears. It’s an overwhelmingly powerful message in a month that’s given us Ferguson, MO, while its metaphor of selling water as if it’s gold is disturbingly timely in a month that saw Detroit attempt to shut off water to entire communities.

We live in a country that’s losing it, pure and simple. Early last decade, the few remaining voices of opposition we had to “patriotic” foreign wars resided in the community of stand-up comics. It was an odd alliance. Early this decade, the most relevant protests are being made from a resurgent hip-hop community that’s proved inclusive to African-American, Hispanic, and Native American rappers, and returned the genre to its social justice roots.

“Jazz” is going to be in contention for our video of the year, I’ll tell you that right now. More importantly, there may be no better artistic flagship for the current moment.


I Can’t Stop Drinking About You – Bebe Rexha
dir. Mike MiHail

Bang Bang – Jessie J. feat. Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj
dir. Hannah Lux Davis

Heart Made Up on You – R5
dir. Thom Glunt

Superheroes – The Script
dir. Vaughan Arnell

Runaway – Pell
dir. Matt Robertson

Monument – Royksopp & Robyn
dir. Max Vitali

Special thanks to Amanda Smith and Vanessa Tottle for helping Cleopatra and I view and research more than 70 music videos from the month of August.