We Can Stop The New Muse Song Before It’s Too Late

by evanmcmurry

Madness,” Muse’s first single off their forthcoming album, is almost guaranteed to be a smash. It’s not even bad, which puts it a good rank or two above Muse’s normal simplicity-masquerading-as-minimalism approach to the craft of songwriting; a loungeier, less anxious version of “Crazy,” “Madness” sounds like a Motown song played by one of the robot cover bands that will deck your average hotel bar fifty years from now. Which is to say it sounds like ninth-rate OK Computer, an album that comes off as more prophetic with each passing year.

None of that matters, though, because by December you will never remember what life was like before “Madness” spread. Contemporary pop culture obviously has a bad habit of overplaying songs—R.E.M. actually had to recover their reputation from the success of “Losing My Religion,” and we all remember the summer of “Black Hole Sun”—but things have gotten several degrees worse with the addition of a) the internet and its metastasizing effects, and b) the crutch of reference, in which everybody wants to show they’re relevant by alluding to the meme of the moment, and everybody must make wide-ranging cultural points by reading their thesis into the current cultural data. “Call Me Maybe” is a perfect example of the former, “Crazy” a perfect example of the latter.

This is not a “wah internet/music ain’t what it used to be” post, but there is something depressing about how predictable the arc of “Madness” is. It will be, for a few weeks, the song everybody turns up when it comes on; then it will be the song that makes your friend’s drunk girlfriend point to the speaker when it’s played at a bar, with a wistful look on her face like the song was written just for her; then its lyrics will start appearing on your Facebook wall via GIFs with cats; its chorus will be taken out of context and slapped over a photoshopped picture of Paul Ryan or Rush Limbaugh or Todd Akin looking crazy; then the mashups will start; eventually someone will splice together a video of Barack Obama singing it; we’ll probably get something similar involving Star Wars; round about that time, some overcast asshole (hello!) will write a takedown of it for Pitchfork or Vibe; your dorky officemate who wears billowy polo shirts will have it as his ringtone; your mom will be singing it; everybody will be complaining about how often it’s being played; someone will make a skit about how it’s used to torture terrorists. In six months, it will settle comfortably into karaoke machines and wedding DJ playlists the world over; and about one year from now, it will be in the second, more serious half of a preview for a romantic comedy, under that scene when one lead stares at the other out the back window of a car that’s pulling away.

It should be pointed out somewhere in here that the internet’s promise of destroying monoculture doesn’t seem to quite be working out the way it was supposed to. Monoculture has changed somewhat in what it focuses on—I don’t think anybody ever really liked “Call Me Maybe,” in the way that everybody did like, say, “Billie Jean”*—but details aside, we’ve been as eager to use our new technologies to gather around single articles of culture as were when those technologies were MTV and cassettes. And a band like Muse—which views music less as an act of individual artistic expression than as the creation of cultural DMZ where anything challenging is prohibited, in exchange, of course, for money—can just as easily win the race to the Bland Central in 2012 as it could in 1982.

None of the above has to happen. Knowing how overexposed memes form allows us to spot them as constructs rather than organic growths of cultural data. So, when you hear “Madness” come on whatever device you use to listen to music, please, simply hit the next button; if enough people do so, we can shortcut what has been a depressingly quick ossification of cultural processes. Or, when it’s December, and you can’t stand hearing this song—or hearing it referenced—one more fucking time, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

* Yeah, you could poke holes in this argument. I’d say Hootie and the Blowfish, for instance, land somewhere between the two.