In 1984, shortly before Winston and Julia are arrested, they look out the window and see a proletarian woman hanging laundry to dry. I don’t recall if this particular line is in the novel, but I’m pretty sure it’s in the film: Winston comments on how odd it is that a song written by a machine could sound so lovely.

I wonder, could anything be worse than a work of art that was spit out based on some algorithm? I’m not talking about experimental music that’s based on math, or randomly-generated collections of sounds. I mean a pop song. I think there might be one worse way to create a song: a focus group.

focus groupImagine a group of people randomly selected from among the shoppers at a mall somewhere in deepest Nebraska. They’re sat down at a big table with notepads, snacks and drinks. At one end of the room is a mirror taking up nearly the whole wall, and behind that wall is the marketing team for some new “artist”. The focus group members are given the following instructions: if you were a young African American, living in a poor neighborhood of Los Angeles, what would you think about? What would be important to you? How would you have fun? Just shout out anything that comes to mind.

What would be the result of such an exercise? Assuming at least a few of the people were under 50, had seen a few minutes of MTV, or a similarly-themed film, you’d end up with a list of clichéd buzz words — something like this:

  • party
  • 40
  • homeys
  • yo
  • hood
  • gang banger
  • drive-by
  • get paid
  • raise your hands in the air and wave them like you just don’t care
  • South Central
  • flava
  • old school
  • O.G.
  • mack
  • wannabe
  • playa

This would quickly be processed into something like…

This is how we do it
(This is how we do it)
La la la la la la la
La la lo lo lo lo oh
(This is how we do it)
La la la la oh

This is how we do it, it’s Friday night
And I feel all right
The party’s here on the West side
So I reach for my 40 and I turn it up
Designated driver take the keys to my truck
Hit the shore ’cause I’m faded
Honeys in the street say, “Monty, yo we made it!”
It feels so good in my hood tonight
The summertime skirts and the guys in Kani
All the gang bangers forgot about the drive-by
You gotta get your groove on, before you go get paid
So tip up your cup and throw your hands up
And let me hear the party say

I’m kinda buzzed and it’s all because (This is how we do it)
South Central does it like nobody does (This is how we do it)
To all my neighbours you got much flava (This is how we do it)
Let’s flip the track, bring the old school back (This is how we do it)

This is how we do it, all hands are in the air
And wave them from here to there
If you’re an O.G. mack or a wanna-be playa
You see the hood’s been good to me
Ever since I was a lower-case G
But now I’m a big G, the girls see I got the money
Hundred dollar bills y’all

If you were from where I’m from then you would know
That I gotta get mine in a big black truck
You can get yours in a ’64
Whatever it is, the party’s underway
So tip up your cup and throw your hands up
And let me hear the party say

I’m kinda buzzed, it’s all because (This is how we do it)
Ooh South Central does it like nobody does (This is how we do it)
To all my neighbours you got much flava (This is how we do it)
Let’s flip the track, bring the old school back (This is how we do it)
I’m kinda buzzed, it’s all because (This is how we do it)
South Central does it like nobody does, nobody does (This is how we do it)
YNV, SCC, (This is how we do it) all my homies
I’ll never come wack on an old school track (This is how we do it)
Check it out!

Once upon a time in ’94
Montell made no money and life sure was slow
All they said was 6’8″ he stood
And people thought the music that he made was good
There lived a D.J. and Paul was his name
He came up to Monty, this is what he said
You and OG are gonna make some cash
Sell a million records and we’ll make in a dash

Oh I’m buzzing because (This is how we do it)
South Central does it like nobody does (This is how we do it)
To all my neighbours you got much flava (This is how we do it)
I’ll never come wack on an old school track (This is how we do it)
I’m kinda buzzed, it’s all because (This is how we do it)
South Central does it like nobody does, nobody does (This is how we do it)
Oh it’s party time (This is how we do it)
Straight up comin’ from the West side (This is how we do it)
OG’s got the flava, yeah (This is how we do it)
And Monty doesn’t like nobody, doesn’t (This is how we do it)
Come on now, Def Jam, you know what it (This is how we do it)
This is how we do it (This is how we do it) baby

Yes, it’s more than ten years old, but I wasn’t blogging when it came out.

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