The Samberg Effect

The Samberg Effect

There are certain genres of pop music I just don't pay attention to. It's probably just a cognitive shortcut, but I can be reasonably certain that the vast majority of what's in the Top 40 just won't do it for me. These days that means over-produced bubblegum, faux-genuine ballads by singers so generic they might as well be beige wallpaper, and club hip hop that isn't even half as interesting as the more progressive side of the art. Still, I find myself enjoying parody tracks in these very same styles for more than just their humor. I have dubbed this odd phenomenon The Samberg Effect.

I take this name, of course, from the SNL Digital Shorts by Andy Samberg and the Lonely Island crew. They've made a cottage industry out of taking brainless pop styles and putting them in absurd contexts, mostly for laughs. But there's a big difference between their Natalie Portman Rap and, say, the rap battle at the end of the Mr. Show "Camp Monk Academy" sketch. Samberg and company are actually conversant in the genres they lampoon, so the resulting parody is a loving, though still silly, homage to the style.

The item that set me off on this path is a little more recent. The stars and writers of the hit web series The Guild have put together a music video promoting the upcoming third season. It's a bubblegum pop song about the absurdity of virtual romance via a video game, but aside from the lyrics it could pass as anything marketed to the ears of girls between the ages of 10 and 18. So, why do I have significantly more tolerance for Felicia Day singing this dreck than I do for essentially the same product coming from the likes of Britney Spears?

At first glance it might just seem like it's easier for folks like me to identify with the parody performers or their subject matter. Maybe that's true for a lot of fans of the above tracks, but I don't think that's quite it for me. I no more understand what it's like to be a female actress than I know what it's like to be a club-hopper or a black man from the streets of Atlanta. Also, I've never played an MMO and don't plan on starting any time soon.

No, I think The Samberg Effect is more about comic distance. The reason I don't enjoy the Top 40 but will gladly listen to a joke rap about an anime club is because I'm not expected to take the latter seriously. The song gets filed away in a completely different part of my brain in much the same way candy bars don't share cupboard space in my home with vegetables and pasta. It'd make me sick to have a diet consisting mostly of the wrong category. Genre parody allows me to enjoy a guilty pleasure wrapped in a humorous buffer zone.

So, is there any reason I shouldn't be able to enjoy the Top 40 for being candy? Nope, but I never said The Samberg Effect was entirely rational. For now, I'm okay with letting the parodists supply me with all the junk food I desire.