by Scott Nelson
David Bistline’s mashup “Sweet Interruption” layers five sound tracks to create a conversation that morphs with each new “interruption.” In his reflection on the project, David Bistline outlines three interruptions caused by various parties within this situation. The first interruption he refers to is Kanye West taking the stage during Taylor Swift’s VMA acceptance speech. The second is “vocals from Beyonce’s ‘Sweet Dreams’ that drown out Swift’s fans and essentially steal the spotlight musically.” The third he pegs as Obama’s interruption of Beyonce’s vocals over Swift’s music, when the President criticizes Kanye’s actions.
I, myself, provide a fourth interruption. By analyzing and commenting on the author’s work, my ideas in turn are absorbed into the message, complicating it and maybe even turning it away from its original intentions. All of this interrupting becomes part of the additive process of the mashup by juxtaposing ideas and altering the “original” message.
In the beginning of his project reflection, Bistline implies that Taylor Swift constitutes the “original message”: her music begins first and its combination with her acceptance speech make “her sound more genuine and innocent.” Back in the mashup, we get our first interrupter: Kanye. Kanye’s interruption contrasts with the innocence of Swift and turns the conversation to one of his making. Kanye is an artist in a different genre, and while his commentary may be on the art of music videos in general, this difference in genres creates both an artistic and racial dichotomy — Country music is most often conceived as being White and Conservative, while Hip hop is most often associated with minorities and Liberalism. Swift’s apparent surprise at winning the award highlights this dichotomy as well: “I sing country music, so thank you for giving me the chance to win a VMA award.” Kanye’s interruption brings with it associative baggage that in turn changes the message.
Interestingly, while the author describes Beyonce’s vocals as “stealing the show,” I didn’t get that vibe. It’s difficult to label either Swift or Beyonce as the interrupter, as the music tracks (with minor adjustments by the author) fit well together and create a cohesive message, albeit a surprising one, given the earlier assumptions about the demographic and political alignment of either genre. Admittedly, I’m not a Taylor Swift nor Beyonce fan, so I could’ve been easily fooled into thinking this was a track on one of their albums. The harmony created by this juxtaposition places both Beyonce and Swift as the message being interrupted by other sources — once Kanye jumps in, it’s not about pleasurable music, but instead it turns to a larger conversation regarding art, race, and as we’ll see, politics. That I, as an interlocutor, knew more about Kanye West’s interruption as an Internet meme than anything about the music of either Beyonce or Swift reinforces this shift — had Kanye not interrupted, Swift’s acceptance speech would’ve fallen to the wayside and never become a cultural object worthy of remixing.
President Barack Obama provides a third interruption, one that complicates the message about race and artistry, but also adds the dimension of politics. The message has been changed once again. With Obama’s interruption, I immediately thought of West’s emotional, unscripted appearance during a benefit concert for victims of hurricane Katrina in 2005. While West spoke about the portrayal of blacks as “looters” and whites as “searching for food,” the inadequate response to the disaster, and the troops overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, journalists seized upon one part of his monologue: “George Bush does not care about black people.”
Obama’s interruption changes the message once again, complicating it with tensions between art and politics. Obama’s association with politics recontextualizes the figure of Kanye West. I, as a listener, am no longer thinking about the Kanye West who interrupted another artist during a speech, but instead the Kanye West who comments controversially on politics. Obama’s derision of Kanye as a “jackass” complicates the message of the mashup further. While the tension between Bush and Kanye is apparent, we would assume that there would be less between Obama and Kanye given the liberal slant of hip hop (and Kanye’s music in particular) and the Democratic party. This third interruption shifts the message to questions of whether artists have a right to criticize politics or perhaps the even more neglected question of whether politicians have a right to criticize artists.
Bistline ultimately achieves the goal of mashups. By taking five tracks and juxtaposing them in relation to interruptions in a conversation, we can see the power of interruptions to alter the message by creating associations and topic shifts. In a little over two minutes, Bistline has created a Sweet Interruption worthy of discussion and critique.