As much as I look forward to the annual Best of Bootie mashup compilation (a free download), I do feel conflicted. As a writer and musician, I’m uneasy over the appropriation of other artists’ songs inherent in the process. But as a music fan, I find the tunes very clever and catchy.
While copyright questions persist, postmodernists have long referred to this kind of practice as pastiche, taking other forms of art to produce something new. Most Bootie mashups are two songs put unexpectedly together — such as “Easy Heaven,” mixing The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” with The Commodores’ “Easy” — that preserve large portions of the original. That said, listening to that song won’t keep anyone from going out and buying a Cure or Commodores album. In fact, these mashups usually make me more interested in buying an artist’s records, especially if it’s an act I hadn’t heard before.
The most famous masher, Girl Talk (who’s not part of these compilations), argues that he takes so many songs for any particular track that the result is a new work he can sell. While few Bootie tracks are as complicated (although “No More Gas” features Rihanna vs. Kardinal Offishall vs. Akon vs. Ne-Yo vs. Estelle vs. Pussycat Dolls vs. Leona Lewis vs. Danity Kane vs. Madonna vs. Timbaland vs. Justin Timberlake vs. Lupe Fiasco vs. Matthew Santos vs. Britney Spears vs. Flo-Rida vs. T-Pain), the mixes are not sold but given away on the Web and at mashup parties. But while the Bootie camp doesn’t profit from the distribution — so they would argue fair use — they do gain a measure of fame and/or notoriety that makes them in-demand DJs at events where they can charge admission. How does one value that, then?
Legal issues aside, the 2008 compilation of 20 songs with 13 bonus tracks is one of the merry pirates’ best efforts. While putting together the soundalike choruses of Wreckx-N-Effect’s “Rumpshaker” and MIA’s “Paper Planes” should have been obvious, producing “Roxanne Should Be Dancing” by pairing classics by The Police and The Bee Gees, or creating the self-loathing lounge sound of “Every Kind of Creep” by mashing up Radiohead and Robert Palmer take a certain kind of genius.
And bonus songs like “Single Ladies (In Mayberry),” mixing Beyonce with the “Andy Griffith” theme, or the marriage of Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” to Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” to make “Wicked Wedding” represent creating something quite remarkable while making us look at the originals in a different light. That, to me, does seem a kind of art.
I’m sure people could spend all day arguing copyright vs. fair use and reach any type of harmony. I’d rather spend that time discovering new and interesting music.