Freelance Hellraiser – “Smells Like Booty”

Released: 12.25.01

Peak: Did not chart

The mash-up phenomenon suggested that we lived in some fantastically providential popscape, where illuminati had composed older songs according to some mystagogical formula that would allow forthcoming nerd acolytes to align those tunes precisely with the hits of the future. The true explanation, as usual, is far duller: Pop songs share structural similarities regardless of genre, and new technologies allowed wise guys like Roy Kerr, dba the Freelance Hellraiser, to electronically slot those tracks together with comparative ease.

Anti-pop jerks could even argue that mash-ups proved what little artistry songwriting required–assembly line hacks simply adjusted a small set of interchangeable parts till the desired commodity resulted. But if the pleasures of the mash-up were partly formal, reminding us that songs were above all material things, that reminder also linked them to traditional theories art created with a specific effect in mind. And “Smells Like Booty” could have been plotted according to cathartic rise-and-fall that’s practically Aristotelian.

By contrast, the most beloved of mash-ups–the one that made all the year-end lists and general interest pub trend articles–may have been “A Stroke of Genie-us.” But Hellraiser’s amalgam of Christina’s “Genie in a Bottle” and the Strokes’ “Hard to Explain” is too static–the chorus doesn’t build to the right level of release. “Smells Like Booty” not only soars higher than its predecessor because its components mesh more coherently, but because those components work better in the first place. As produced by Rob Fusari (later known as Lady Gaga’s rabbi) “Bootylicious” borrowed a touch of adolescent danger from “Edge of Seventeen” to inflate its ass-proud braggadocio, but “Smells Like Teen Spirit”–maybe the exemplar of manipulative rock dynamics–lent even more edge.

Of course, part of the fun with “Smells Like Booty” came from the infuriated response that the mere suggestion that Nirvana and Destiny’s Child were comparable aesthetic objects could elicit from rockists (at least in those simpler times before New York Times readers learned they were rockists.) But if formal was part of the fun, and pranksterism another part of the fun, the biggest part was the fun itself. One more reason pop trumps pop art–its conceptual tricks, when pulled off, don’t misplace their aesthetic frisson amidst the intellectual justifications.

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