“Somebody once told me the world is gonna roll me – I ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed.” Thus began one of the most popular songs that alternative pop-punk-ska band Smash Mouth released. Smash Mouth, also known as “Guy Fieri in band form,” could easily be called the first toll of the bell announcing the death of 90s ska. But before they began to wither away into Twitter battles and pathetically misspelled pseudo-tributes to George Michael, Smash Mouth performed the soundtrack music for a certain film known as Shrek.
The Internet, it turned out, liked this film. It liked it so much, in fact, that its love for said film has its own Wikipedia page. And when the Internet loves something (see: DeviantArt, fanfiction.net) it loves it to an unsettling degree. Like Lennie from Of Mice and Men, the Internet has a bad habit of loving things so much it crushes them to death. For “All Star,” this came in the fashion of remixes after remixes.
It began with finding other characters from other series to create covers. From Disney animation to Steven Universe cartoons, many of these were from other kid-friendly sources. But the Internet doesn’t know “kid-friendly.” So as the election came up, we found ourselves listening to our current Dear Leader’s performance, and (through the Internet’s limitless talent to make things weird) a mash-up where every use of the word “the” is replaced with “China” and the recording speeds up 10%.
That’s a good junping off point to the next field of Youtube remixes. These changed the recording itself. Some replaced all the lyrics with one word, like “somebody,” or multiplied the number of “sheds.” Some reordered the notes by alphabetical order or by pitch, or removed any pitch alterations entirely. Some reversed the lyrics while keeping the rest of the song in order, while some removed all the lyrics entirely. These remixes didn’t stop coming, and things got really dank.
So the music nerds came in. Suddenly we had a Bach chorale following strict Common Practice contrapuntal rules. We had staggered remixes tripping you up with 7 beats per measure. We had remixes passing through ten different distinct musical genres. And we had this piece of musical genius here.
But now that the Baroque chorale has fallen upon the throne of Smash Mouth, where can we go? Fool! The Internet asks not “where”, yea – it does! After experimenting with adding the lyrics to “All Star” to other accompaniment tracks like Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” the Chainsmokers’ “Closer,” or Rick Astley’s notorious “Never Gonna Give You Up”, the assorted YouTube hordes found their true calling – autotuning the beautiful vocal stylings of Steve Hartwell to new melodies. We gained Smashified versions of Evanescense’s “Bring Me To Life,” David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” A-ha’s “Take On Me,” and Darude’s “Sandstorm.” I could go on… so I will. Thomas the Tank Engine’s theme song. Seinfeld’s theme song. A song from the Icelandic children’s show BNE Lazy Town. LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN’S DAMN FIFTH SYMPHONY! (At least we know why he went deaf now.) Perhaps the Internet asks not “where,” but perhaps it should consider asking “why not.”
So our larger question is – what made this shitty ska-pop song from 1999 the unofficial anthem of YouTube? I have two theories. First, it comes from the late 90s, the era much of the Internet grew up in. All the more so, it was featured in a popular children’s movie of the early 2000s (which is love and is life). If the 500 articles showing “you’re a ‘90s kid” show anything, it’s the enduring appeal of said decade. Second, the chorus’ refrain – “You’re an all star! All that glitters is gold!” is appealing to a generation that grew up surrounded by “high self esteem” advocates, and now is faced with a bunch of old jerks blaming us for everything, just like their parents did to them. The water’s getting warm, so you might as well swim.