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satellite cult: in the meantime
bad music videos, camp vs. cringe
while there is no proper dispatch this week, it felt pertinent to still bring some artifacts to your awareness. what is a cult without consistent and attentive leadership, after all?
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recently i recalled a moment from the early Youtube era, within the platform’s first five years or so, in which bad music videos were popular—the transition from web1 to web2 coincided with the peak popularity of sites like 4chan, Something Awful, eBaum’s World, and YTMND, places where memes were born and where what passed for comedy ran the spectrum from edgy to offensive.
cringe humor peaked in the internet culture of the late aughts, and certainly still lives on now. the time of Tumblr ushered in a rival attitude online, the next evolution of communities found on places like LiveJournal: death to cringe; you do you. but recently, as cringe humor has once again surged1 among internet users on platforms like Tiktok (see: the boomerfication of gen z, “Steven Universe gays,” millennial cringe jokes, etc.), i’ve been thinking about the role of cringe in online spaces, and what kinds of cringe are mostly victimless versus what kinds cause harm.
the bottom line is the most of us need to go to therapy, but since i’m not qualified to offer you that, i am here to provide what a cult leader does best: spiritual guidance. cringe music videos used to be my Youtube bread and butter, ranging from intentional parodies the web mistook as genuine because they were uploaded without context to videos considered cringe because of dated production values to videos considered cringe because they were simply unbelievably bad.
the thing about cringe music videos from this era? it wasn’t about hating them. it wasn’t about hating the musicians. there was actually a great love and appreciation among internet users for these videos. they were bad, sure, but it was camp. we celebrated them.
if you live in the US, you may have spent this week cringing at extended family members over holiday dinners. i ask you to cringe a little more with me. but now, the fun kind.
if you’re well-versed in web culture, these are probably familiar to you, but perhaps forgotten. when i watch them i remember curling up in a blanket in my parents’ home, ignoring my middle school homework, sipping hot chocolate after coming in from sledding at the park during an icy upstate New York winter. maybe i’d spend the rest of the night reading fan fiction online or playing Pokémon. maybe i’d go on MySpace when my parents weren’t looking. the possibilities felt endless.
this absolute treasure was my introduction to the music video cringe scene about fifteen years ago. while it disappointed me to learn shortly after that it was a piece of sketch comedy, it also wasn’t surprising given that Molvania is an entirely fictional country.
the 70s are a fascinating decade when considering the development of the relationship between between cinema and music as mediums. live performances on 50s and 60s variety shows, sometimes played straight, sometimes with sets and choreography, evolved into music videos as we know them by the late 70s. transitional periods like that often give us some of the most curious examples of work from both the new and old ways. this video blew up online in 2006, not a music video as the title says, and not even Swedish as the description claims. the musicians in the video, Armi Aavikko and Danny, are a 70s Finnish duo—this television appearance introduced them to international audiences for likely the first time when it was uploaded to YouTube. the mesmerizing, delightfully creepy nature of this video has stuck with me for the last decade and a half.
there can’t be a collection of “bad” early Youtube music videos without including the singer Jan Terri. several of her early 90s music videos have made it online over the years, but Losing You is charming and earnest in a way the others don’t manage to capture. Jan is just a busy woman, living it up in Chicago, looking for love. aren’t we all, really?
this entry is a little later than the others—uploaded to Youtube in 2011, i recall a lot of talk about it being a bad music video then, but now if you look at the comments, the tone has changed, with viewers hailing Chainmale as an unsung genius ahead of his time. like i said above, these videos are all the peak of camp.
the original 2007 upload is no longer on Youtube, but the low-budget music video by Russian boy band Steklovata for their song Novi God (which translates to New Year) inspired legions of parody videos in its day. according to Know Your Meme, the group was formed by a producer and originally only featured two of its four members, who were both orphans. in 2020, a Russian TV network produced an updated version of Novi God, featuring three of the four original members of Steklovata.
here’s another old Steklovata gem, uploaded in 2006:
and another uploaded in 2008:
maybe for a future dispatch, a deep dive into the Steklovata extended universe is due.
similar to the situation with the Chainmale video, i remember most comments under this video in its upload year, 2007, as expressing some variation of what did i just watch?, often with either vaguely or explicitly racist undertones. now, comments under the video lean more appreciative. there’s a lot of visual stimulation here, and something about the high energy and poor video upload quality produces something akin to a liminal space on your desktop. the video was never bad—just maybe a little overwhelming, and audiences outside Japan lacked the correct context to understand it. the context: the performers in the video are Mini-moni, who were a sub-group of the pop group Morning Musume and were marketed towards children. the man in the video is comedian Ken Shimura, who passed away in March of 2020.
i hope these video relics helped you remember something important about who you were fifteen years ago.
thank you, and until next time.
Backlash, perhaps, to ideas viewed as old and outdated? the consequences of coming of age in a culture where a polished online persona can mean the difference between being adored or being bullied? whatever it is, it’s a way to say i’m not like these people i hate—i’m very cool and culturally aware.