Andrew W.K. and “The Death of Irony”
An In-Depth Roundtable Discussion and Debate
Andrew W.K. as Model for Post-Irony and the Demise of Cultural Contextualization
Andrew Wilkes-Krier has set off a fierce debate about the use of irony as an aesthetic using nothing more than Motorhead’s pummel, The Bay City Rollers’ sugary hooks, KMFDM’s tech-stomp, and the most mindless fist-banging lyrics this side of Quiet Riot. Collegiate hipsters flood his shows, but would just as readily use many of the bands redolent of Andrew W.K.’s arena metal idiom as ironic fodder. He has proclaimed his unironic love for both Napalm Death and “We Are the World.” He unblinkingly says things in interviews like: “If this was the last day of your life, what’s the music you’d wanna hear going down? Making that is our continual goal.” More than one magazine has pointed out that 25% of the songs on his debut I Get Wet have the word “party” in them.
Ex. 1 Andrew W.K.’s “Party Hard”: “We will never listen your rules/We will never do as others do/Know what we want and we’ll get it from you/Do what we like and we like what we do/So, lets get a party goin’/Now its time to party and we’ll party hard/Let’s get a party goin’/When its time to party, we will always party hard”
If he is indeed being ironic, should he be reviled for being a gimmicky jape? Or revered for being a brilliant appropriation artist? If he is indeed as serious as he says, should he be lauded for creating visceral body music? Or derided for cock-rock arrogance?
Andrew W.K. is fundamental to rethinking our zeitgeist because his very existence forces cultural aesthetes to redraw the lines of irony. His metal-isms redefine “underground,” his churning gutterisms redefine “pop,” and his stupidity redefines “smart.” Any level of post-modernism one attempts to enjoy the music on – genuine, ironic, post-ironic – has an unavoidable conflicting argument. Andrew W.K. defies cultural contextualizing – the best context to enjoy him is one where you ignore context altogether. Therefore, if he is successful, Andrew W.K. will render all arguments of irony as archaic throwbacks to the days of slacker-chic. Pop stars are already becoming savvy enough to be self-referential (see N’Sync’s “Pop”) and rap stars use ironic hyperbole to such a degree that legions of award show protestors can’t get the joke (see Eminem’s “Kill You”).
Irony is not dead, but arguing about it soon will be.
Works Cited: Heath, Chris, “Andrew W.K.,” Rolling Stone, Apr. 11, 2002. McLean, Craig, “Party. Puke. Rule,” Spin, May 2002. Sheffield, Rob, “Andrew W.K. – I Get Wet review,” Rolling Stone, Apr. 11, 2002. Ward, Christopher D, “Andrew W.K.: It’s Time To Party,” CMJ New Music Report, March 2002. Wiederhorn, Jon and Gideon Yago, “Andrew W.K., The Philsophy of AWK,” MTV.com Worley, Gail, “I Get Wet, Also: An Exclusive Interview with America’s Next Big Thing, Andrew W.K.,” Ink 19, March 2002.
Response: Andrew W.K. as Model for Post-Irony, etc.
One is tempted to think that anyone who would exert any energy at all championing Andrew W.K. is dumb. However, the esteemed Mr. Weingarten is clearly not dumb, so I can’t help but be baffled about his indulgence on this subject. Some of our primary impressions after listening to the album:
• It’s the lost Cheap Trick record from 1977, but without wit, style, or Bun E. Carlos.
• Icky bubblegum metal (with umlauts over the “u.”)
• Michael Boddicker called: He needs his synth sound from the Buckaroo Banzai theme song back.
• This music implores me to turn my baseball cap backwards and de-pants my frat brother.
• Joe C. must be spinning in his tiny, dirty grave, because this is totally music-to-have-a-midget-gyrate-to.
If AWK is going to be credited with anything, it is the synthesis of Poison’s lyrics and Rob Zombie’s rhythm section, neither of which is particularly boast-worthy. What separates AWK from these predecessors is not the harmonic or lyrical content of his music, but his alleged sincere attitude towards it. This posturing in itself is not an original feat either. Terence Trent D’Arby once claimed that he was more talented than Michael Jackson and Prince combined, but I think even the most rabid fans of his music would hesitate go quite that far.
On the other hand, Mr. Weingarten seems to believe that AWK’s fans have, to be trite, bought the hype – lock, stock and barrel. He further concludes that this represents a significant shift in the cultural dialog with regards to music that is deliberately daft. Even if we were willing to concede, as Weingarten and many others have declared, that irony is dead, the only explanation for this album’s apparent popularity is that many people are dumb. In addition, Weingarten writes, “If he is indeed as serious as he says, should he be lauded for creating visceral body music? Or derided for cock-rock arrogance?” Given these choices, we would have to side with “derided for cock-rock arrogance.”
If this music is the soundtrack to The Death of Irony, then, my friends, The Terrorists Have Already Won.
Works Cited: Davis, Ned, “Email” – Apr. 9, 2002; Weingarten, Christopher R., “Andrew W.K. as Model for Post-Irony and the Demise of Cultural Contextualization,” Ink 19, current issue.
Rebuttal: Andrew W.K. as Model for Post-Irony, etc.
In their usual rush to deal solely in convoluted bon mots and witticisms, Mr. Hornbuckle and Mr. Davis seem to have missed the primary focus of my article. Arguing over Andrew W.K.’s musical aesthetic is pointless since every volley – praise or derision – can be refuted with a corresponding counter-volley. Since the main discourse around Andrew W.K. is “irony,” it, by default, makes arguing about irony pointless.
For example, take Mr. Hornbuckle’s and Mr. Davis’s knee-jerk reactions to AWK (which surely couldn’t be a glaring sign of their age, could it?). They say, “If AWK is going to be credited with anything, it is the synthesis of Poison’s lyrics and Rob Zombie’s rhythm section, neither of which is particularly boast-worthy.” This begs the following questions: 1. Could referencing Poison’s lyrics be just a way for Hornbuckle/Davis to dumb down AWK’s so-stupid-its-smart demi-ironic conspiratorial tone (taking a cue from The Ramones and The New York Dolls)? 2. Could referencing Rob Zombie’s rhythm section be just a way to devalue the visceral thrills of pioneering groups like Ministry and KMFDM? 3. Could saying anything bad about Andrew W.K.’s music be another example of how his confrontational style went over the head of someone too-in-tune (or not-in-tune enough) with his quasi-ironic posture?
Although I wholeheartedly answer “yes” to each one of the questions, the answers are not important. The important thing is to realize that any arguments about AWK’s aesthetic are pointless due to the nebulous nature of his ironic stance.
Unfortunately, we cannot listen to Andrew W.K. in a vacuum, but if we could, I’m sure Mr. Hornbuckle and Mr. Davis would drop their pompous stances, loosen their ties, and party hard, party hard, party hard.
Works Cited: Hornbuckle, M. David and Ned Davis, “Response: Andrew W.K. as Model for Post-Irony, etc,” Ink 19, current issue. Weingarten, Christopher R., “Andrew W.K. as Model for Post-Irony and the Demise of Cultural Contextualization,” Ink 19, current issue.
A Response to Mr. Weingarten’s Rebuttal
Mr. Weingarten, you are showing (perhaps as a function of YOUR age?) a surprising obeisance and respect for Mr. W.K.’s “stated positions” about his work, as if anyone should give a rat’s ass what an artist SAYS about what he or she is trying to do instead of simply looking at the work.
If I told you I worked for 16 hours straight crafting those “bon mots and witticisms” and that they were the single finest example of cultural criticism since Elvis Mitchell grew his hair into dreads, would that make it so?
Apparently to Mr. Weingarten it would.
And what exactly IS “demi-irony” anyway?
An Addendum to Mr. Davis’s E-mail
Mr. Weingarten wrote in his recent article: “In their usual rush to deal solely in convoluted bon mots and witticisms, Mr. Hornbuckle and Mr. Davis seem to have missed the primary focus of my article. Arguing over Andrew W.K.’s musical aesthetic is pointless since every volley – praise or derision – can be refuted with a corresponding counter-volley. Since the main discourse around Andrew W.K. is ‘irony,’ it, by default, makes arguing about irony pointless.”
This statement erroneously conflates the actual point of my article with some theoretical argument that Mr. Weingarten imagined himself arguing against in his original article. I made no argument whatsoever as to whether the work of AWK is or is not ironic. My main point is that he sucks. I agree that it’s pointless to discuss whether or not it is ironic.
He states further, “The important thing is to realize that any arguments about AWK’s aesthetic are pointless due to the nebulous nature of his ironic stance.”
I have to think that Mr. Weingarten believes that discussion itself is pointless, which in turn makes his original article pointless. I am however, pleased that Mr. Weingarten brought up the comparison of AWK to The Ramones and/or The New York Dolls. The contention is that both of these bands were successful in creating visceral music with dumb lyrics and that AWK is essentially following in their lead. Although some of the language that has been used to describe these bands (much of it nearly a quarter century prior to the alleged “death of irony”) was similar, a quick listen easily proves that both The Ramones and The New York Dolls are superior to AWK in countless ways.
The comparison, in fact, is ludicrous, or perhaps Mr. Weingarten would prefer “the comparison is Ludi-Chris.”
Works Cited: Davis, Ned, “A Response to Mr. Weingarten’s Rebuttal,” Ink 19, current issue. Hornbuckle, M. David and Ned Davis, “Response: Andrew W.K. as Model for Post-Irony, etc,” Ink 19, current issue. Weingarten, Christopher R., “Andrew W.K. as Model for Post-Irony and the Demise of Cultural Contextualization,” Ink 19, current issue. Weingarten, Christopher R., “Rebuttal: Andrew W.K. as Model for Post-Irony, etc.,” Ink 19, current issue.
Parting Thoughts on Andrew W.K. and the alleged death of irony
I suppose Mr. Hornbuckle caught me on a technicality (Mr. Davis, apparently too busy to participate in the debate properly, would rather make derisive comments that add very little to anything). If, as my original thesis stated, Andrew W.K. renders arguing about irony pointless, then arguing about arguing about irony should prove an even more fruitless endeavor.
I stand by my statements, but withdraw the debate due to the very real possibility that we have wasted an inordinate amount of time.
Andrew W.K.: http://www.awkworld.com • Gail Worley’s Interview: http://www.ink19.com/issues/march2002/interviews/andrewWK.html ◼