History of Lyrics That Aren’t Lyrics

By | October 4, 2011

The Atlantic

Shalalalalalala la la la la ti da! This ingenius mashup combines all the catchiest non-word lyrics from 26 hit songs that span over 49 years — from the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” to Hanson’s “MMMBop!”

The song is directed by viral video virtuoso Joe Sabia and performed by Jane Lui, with Michael T.on bass and Jonathan Batiste on piano. Together they are also known as Collective Cadenza. Sabia has created YouTube videos for clients that include GoogleBBC America, and Weezer, and mashups like this Google Wave / Pulp Fiction remix. In an interview below, he walks us through the making of the History of Lyrics That Aren’t Lyrics and what “viral” really means.

The Atlantic: How did you get into the business of making viral video hits?

Joe Sabia: In the seven years I’ve been creating online video, I’ve always treated everything as one big experiment based on what I’m fascinated with and curious about. And what I’ve created has consistently been a reflection of the things I spend the most time thinking about. Because if I’m not into what I create, how will people enjoy it? I’m obsessed with things like music history and theory, video remixing, languages, geography, science, pop culture, politics, satire, humor. None of these themes are ever independent from any other in what I create. I remix, mix, and mash everything. I try to find the most entertaining, impressive, and emotionaly stirring ways to blend what I love into one video experience. I’m not afraid to devote hundreds of hours to a creation.

Also, I’ve been really motivated to just try everything. I live by the creed that every concept dreamt up — no matter how big or small — MUST be published. The world must see it. Because why not? What’s the purpose of a unrealized concept? No one benefits from that. You just need to be creating at all times, and you’ll learn a hell of a lot in the process.

How did you get the idea for History of Lyrics That Aren’t Lyrics? What was the process of making it?

I’ve actually had this musical concept for three years — all written out and unchanged — but it was hard to find people to help me pull it off. I discovered Jane when she made a cartoon medley, as I selected it to go on Boing Boing TV on Virgin America. This girl was 100% perfect to sing Lyrics That Aren’t Lyrics, obviously. And I roped in my supremely talented Juilliard-trained friends — Michael T. and Jonathan Batiste — to accompany. (The three of them are each doing their own thing musically, and are very successful at it.)

With the help of a friend who is incredible at sound engineering, Matt McCorkle at Equal Sonics, I went into the studio with my horribly-sung spec video on how everything will be arranged. Now, the mind-blowing thing is that Jane, Michael and Jonathan learned it in about 90 minutes, figuring out the key changes and playing everything by ear. Four takes, and it was over. These guys are just too good.

And the Eyes Wide Shut/New Year costume motif was just as improvised as the music’s creation.

Is viral content a science? Can viral success be engineered?

I think the Internet has proven that it gravitates towards embracing certain themes more than others. The stereotype with the word “viral” is the sophomoric and lame association that cute animals, nut shots, and Rube Goldberg machines are the tactics that must be employed to “go viral.”

What the online video sharing age has proven — since 2005 — is what has been proven since the age of books, phonographs, or VHS: innate in all of us is the propensity to share content that we like. To hand someone else something we just consumed and say, “CHECK THIS OUT!”

But what the Internet has given us is SUCH an unprecedented array of content to like. It has millions of things we’ve never seen before, millions of things that blow us away, millions of things that make us laugh or cry in millions of ways. With all of this emotion — spread out in what seems to be an infinite pool of content — you have no choice but to be unique about what you create. You have no option but to produce what hasn’t been produced before. It’s a heavy mandate.

What’s next for you?

I’m going to keep creating experiments and concepts all so different from one another. Musically, I’m thrilled to have teamed up with my new Juilliard friends. With them, I’m creating a group called Collective Cadenza, where we’re going to put together thought-provoking videos based on unique and contorted musical concepts. These musicians are the best on the planet, and to show their abilities in unusual, artistic ways is something I couldn’t be happier to be a part of, giving them exposure beyond music halls.