The Greatest Pop Act of the New Millennium? OK Go.
The day after Kanye West apparently had a nervous breakdown, the band OK Go released their video for the song The One Moment. Now, poor Kanye, let’s not pile on there, he’s a good rapper, but once he got roped into that Kardashian Clan, he was doomed.
The point is, you don’t read a lot about OK Go. Usually YouTube posts a few teasers for their videos right before or right after they’re made, but you don’t hear much about the band themselves. Which almost seems absurd given what I’m about to say, but I think OK Go might be the best Pop Act of the new millennium.
Now going back to the 1950’s, the definition of Pop Music has shifted. When you think of Pop in the 50’s, you think of Elvis Presley if you’re in the Rock and Roll mindset, or Frank Sinatra if you’re in the Crooner mindset. Again, there is no right answer, it all depends on your perspective.
In the 60’s, it is almost universally accepted that the early Beatles were the definition of pop, before they grew their hair long and started traveling to India. In the early 80’s, Michael Jackson was the self-proclaimed King of Pop. But by the late 80’s, when Michael Jackson was constant tabloid fodder and was, himself, acting more and more erratically, a scrappy little Australian band named INXS briefly reigned at the top of the Pop Mountain (probably the summer of 1988), before a bunch of talentless, manufactured boy-bands defined the genre. (Except Justin Timberlake. I had to put in that disclaimer or be punched by my wife.)
With modern music fractured into a million different shards, what is pop music today anyways??? Taylor Swift and Kanye? Is it Justin Beiber? No, I’m telling you it’s OK Go. Let’s start from the beginning. In 2002, OK Go released their pedestrian self-titled debut. Unremarkable, except for their debut single “Get Over It.” Their career trajectory was that of a one-hit wonder.
They then released their second album Oh No in 2005 and it is here where they released the single “A Million Ways.” The song was catchy, the lyrics were clever, and their video for the song briefly caused a ripple in the internet. I heard the song and was stunned it wasn’t it a hit. It didn’t even chart. (Well, except for in Scotland, where it peaked at #41.) I watched that video over and over and enjoyed it more each time.
If I was stunned, the band had to be floored. They tried harder and harder and for the fifth single on the same album, the band spent a week rehearsing a new dance routine, but this time they would perform it on rented treadmills. Here It Goes Again broke the internet, but the song only made it to #38 on the American charts. And this is where you ask the question, if everyone knows your song, and likes your song, does it matter where it is on the charts? Here It Goes Again redefined what success is for a band.
Starting with the album Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, OK Go attacked success through videos, each more epic and spectacular than the last. That album yielded 8 singles, none of which hit the music charts, and countless amazing videos. If you close your eyes and listen, though, you don’t hear rock, you don’t hear rap, you clearly hear pop. Like if you took INXS and stripped away Micheal Hutchence’s powerful, sexually-charged voice and replaced it with a softer, more melodic one. Somehow OK Go circumvented the traditional model of getting their music to the masses.
For a guy who spent the past week listening to 5 different genres of metal for a separate article, today OK Go’s video for The One Moment, the band’s 19th single and the 4th off their album Hungry Ghosts, surprisingly inspired me to write this article.
How is OK Go not the most popular band in the world? The One Moment just had 5 million views in the 12 hours since its release. When I’m done watching it I want to watch it again, then when I walk away from the computer, I’m singing the refrain in my head.
I will be the first to admit Hungry Ghosts is not the best album around, but name a pop band with great albums. And I know Gangnam Style had 2 ½ billion views but he was CLEARLY a one hit wonder. Seriously, we won’t count the debut album, but OK Go, since 2005’s Oh No, has released at least a dozen great classic pop songs. In that time frame, who can top that? The only name that comes to mind is Katy Perry. Her success, though, is still in the more traditional sense.
Where are the awards? Where is the praise? Where are the red carpet appearances? What’s holding them back? In the age of the internet, who makes better music for consumers on the internet? My only theory is that it’s because the lead singer looks so much like the despicable Dennis Reynolds…