Baby Got Jacked

« January 2013 »


For a week or so, I've been wondering, in the back of my head, why the Jonathan Coulton / Glee pontifigurd resonated with me as much as it did.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, first, welcome back. I hope your vacation in that Faraday cage was relaxing. Anyway, what happened was, a few years back, independent musician, video game closing credits master, and all around nerd icon Jonathan Coulton wrote a new arrangement of Sir Mix-A-Lot's famous gluteal ode, Baby Got Back.

It included monkly chanting, banjo, a now cliche gentle rejoinder of (relatively, I know) high-impact hip-hop lyrics, And it was delightful. Borderline fucking delightful, in fact. Anyway, Coulton paid for the rights to the song, released his for free, it garnered him a bit of the old Internet viral attention, hooray, everyone's happy.

If you haven't heard Coulton's version, but do watch Glee regularly, why are you here? Seriously. What the fuck? Am I misreading my audience that badly? Anyway, since you're here, I'll point out that you heard a Baby Got Back cover identical in virtually every way to Coulton's on last week's "Glee". A version that is available for sale, for profit, in iTunes.

This is a shitty thing to do, but that's not why it bugs me. What bugs me is how blasé they were, and continue to be, about it. The original "Baby Got Back" included the line "Mix-A-Lot's in trouble". The Coulton cover changed that to "Johnny C's" in trouble. The Glee version, despite not being sung by a character named "Johnny C", still says "Johnny C's in trouble". It's fucking lazy even within the realm of ripping someone off.

They didn't give a shit. They wanted it, they took it, and the legality of it is complicated enough that they know they can adopt the "try and stop our deep-pocketed corporation and our lawyers if you want".

This isn't even the first time they've done it. I've seen references to at least three other covers Glee has lifted the arrangements of before this. Because they know they can. And if they step on you, you have no recourse, even with 100,000 Twitter followers and a successful career in at least one tier of the modern entertainment industry.

Coulton's made the best of it, in modern Internet populist fashion, by re-releasing his cover on iTunes as a cover of Glee's cover and donating the proceeds through the end of February to charity, but Fox will look at him atop the moral high ground and keep selling Glee T-shirts and Glee season sets and Glee songbooks without even bothering to write their own goddamned backing tracks for their reimagined covers. Because they can, and because nobody will stop them.

Which is, really, a microcosm of the situation we all find ourselves in. You can do well. You can even do very well. But odds are, you don't have any fucking power. Rampant income inequality has sapped a lot of it, and the system has sapped the rest. You can get through it, you can work around it, you can slip through the cracks, but they know you can't stop it.

But hey, at least you can get a spiffy song and send sixty-odd cents to charity. Small victories are still victories even when they're the biggest ones we can get.