The BAMM Argument: OK Go

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BAMM writers Chris and Jasper face-off for and against a musical issue of the day. This time around – the pros and cons of viral promo-vid pioneers Ok Go …

For (Christopher Davies):

Let’s begin with a caveat: there’s no point in pretending that Chicago rock quartet OK Go are better known for their musical output than for their innovative promo vids. Ever since they rocked out four treadmills for the beautifully simple and engaging reel to ‘Here It Goes Again,’ internet-land is always awash with excitement whenever they unleash their latest effort.

And this, it would seem, is where the problem lies for a lot of people. Naysayers insist that OK Go represent something insidious – a genuine triumph for style over content, a band who eschew any interesting creative direction in favor of gimmicky virals that are guaranteed to rack up the Facebook hits. Their music takes a very noticeable second place – perhaps even to the band itself.

Just how fair is this? No-one has ever claimed that Ok Go are a revolutionary-sounding act – their stock-in-trade is the sort of whimsical indie which has proven to be the lifeblood of college radio stations for decades now. This doesn’t mean that their output is bad: perhaps a little uninspiring to those who demand a little more ‘oomph’ with their listening choices, but there’s certainly a market for their kind of thing.

Is their music worthy of the same contempt as the stuff out there that is genuinely lazy, tired and cynical? Sure, they’ve recently started to engage in all sorts of corporate sponsorship, but last time I checked that wasn’t fundamentally incompatible with having artistic integrity. Only the tiresome whiners who still hold up Kurt Cobain as some bastion of ‘never selling out’ would be so churlish. (And while we’re on the subject, here’s a bonus controversial argument for you all: Nirvana really weren’t very good).

Also – let’s address the fact that OK Go’s music is overshadowed by the videos. Whose music wouldn’t be? This isn’t so much a comment on the state of their sound as it is the sheer imaginative power of their promos. To dislike a band for excelling in one area of their craft – while they are simultaneously nothing less than proficient in all the others – is a bizarre mission statement indeed.

Against (Jasper van der Put):

Let me start off by stating that I think cross-media fertilization is a good thing. Engaging multiple senses should make for an enhanced artistic experience. As a consequence, I would have zero problems with OK GO if they would define themselves as a multimedia platform, with the video aspect at least of equal importance as the so-cal band ‘s musical stylings. My issue lies with the persistence of OK GO in portraying themselves as a proper band, when the music’s in fact the weakest link in what OK GO brings to the table.

Consider the band website. OK GO very clearly presents the tabs marked Shows (live music) and Music (recordings) ahead of Videos. Standard practice for any indiepop band you might say. Looks can be deceiving. Their entire frontpage consists of paraphernalia that ties in with their video for the new single “Needing/Getting”, including behind-the-scenes documentary, novelty merchandise (car fresheners) and “OK GO’s ultimate road trip playlist”. Then there’s what Paste Magazine refers to as:

“More impressive than the driving stunts, intricacies of the course and thousands of instruments (junkyard pianos, homemade percussion, tubas and Gretsch guitars) that are featured in “Needing/Getting,” however, is the successful collaboration of band branding that the video represents.”

Sure, partnering up with Chevrolet for their new video was fruitful. Having your video premiered at the Superbowl is not to be sniffed at. But this is a BAND, or at least so they say. But there’s just not much music going on with OK Go. Before I set about writing this piece, I watched this video at least three times and while the driving stunts, intricacies of the course and thousands of instruments used are firmly planted in my brain, there’s not a single hook or melody that stuck with me from the song itself. It’s a pattern that exhibits itself throughout the band’s singles catalogue, from the treadmill shtick to the Rube Goldberg Machine video. They even went as far as to perform their breakthrough treadmill act at the 2006 MTV Awards, supported by a BACKING TRACK.

This choice of marketing value over musical prowess and novelty choreography over musical instruments grants the final push with which to discard OK Go as a musical act. They might be great video producers, fine marketeers, stunt drivers or treadmill ballerinas … but it’s pretty evident: OK GO are not a band. At all.

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  1. […] indie act whose curious viral marketing techniques have long been the subject of analysis here on this very blog. After these fame-snaring antics with treadmills and rally courses […]

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