BREAKING NEWS: Shamir Reveals That “Ratchet” Lyrics Were Partially Written By GarageBand
Welcome back, readers!
Many of you are perhaps unfamiliar with Shamir and his new album, Ratchet. This is sad, because the news outlets tried — they really, really tried. The New Yorker’s Anwen Crawford profiled both artist and album here. Pitchfork’s review of the album also named it a “Best New Album,” which is like a Grammy, except that it’s for music.
All of this went to press before rumors began circulating, earlier this week, that Ratchet’s lyrics were unaltered versions of lyrical “samples” included for free with Apple Computer’s GarageBand software.
(The software, which comes pre-installed on most Apple computers, has become extremely popular with independent producers, up-and-coming musicians, and people who actually do have a little band that is really just for fun but does play a few gigs, on occasion, if you want to check them out on Facebook.
GarageBand is also a staple app for thousands of electronic artists — specifically, DJs who give entire concerts by connecting the sound system to a MacBook Pro, and then hitting various parts of the keyboard, while simultaneously jumping around a lot and shouting things nobody can hear.)
But first a little background about Shamir.
He is a young, African-American singer, creating unabashed pop in a style that reminds many white music critics of Michael Jackson, once they’re sure Ratchet isn’t a hip-hop album. He grew up in Las Vegas; the city’s influence is all over Ratchet, which is sometimes happy, sometimes sad, just like people in Las Vegas.
Shamir’s face appeared recently on a screen above Times Square, making Shamir an “idiosyncratic teen idol” (Crawford). He is actually so idiosyncratic that — unlike most teen idols — he’s completely unknown to American teenagers. Hardly any teenagers look at Times Square billboards anymore, as they are all too busy texting, or taking “selfies” or whatever, on their little devices.
Shamir has the androgynous, ageless appearance of certain dudes aged 18-24. His voice is high-pitched sometimes, almost as if he was a female singer, or a guy singing falsetto. His influences range from certain bands and performers he talks about, to other bands and performers he also talks about, even though (considered as a group) these musicians have nothing in common, at all.
Is he gay? Well, Mr. Big Hurry, we simply do not know. At least, I think that’s what Anupa Mistry means when he writes:
Shamir, on the other hand, conveys a more ambiguous sensuality that presents a challenge to pop—his lane, for sure—especially given his soft, high-pitched, luminous voice. He doesn’t tell us anything about his sexuality, but we all know how people can treat artistic, effete boys.
Let me be clear about something at this point: Frank Ocean definitely is gay. So I think it is fair to say that gay people everywhere are empowered by the existence of Shamir’s album, in general, and by his singing, in particular. It’s fair to say this because of Frank Ocean.
Shamir’s announcement has come as a predictable shock to the numerous critics that have embraced his work. For example, on “In For The Kill,” Shamir sings “I’ll be back someday / and when I do I promise you / I won’t make the same mistake.” Mistry quoted this line before observing that Shamir “has reconstituted his precious voice as armor.” The line was written by GarageBand, however, after the program put Cher, N’Sync, and Boyz II Men through something Apple calls “a big blender on the highest setting.”
“Vegas, we’re sinners all right, at least at night” was written by GarageBand after Shamir allowed the program to use his current location for better results. Next, the program discovered that “night” rhymes with “all right,” after compiling a quick index of every song ever written for guitar.
How did a computer come up with something as poignant, as human, as Shamir’s “feel like I’m right / But I’m always wrong”? Well, by trying to include both things in one song, which, as you can see, it did.
Not everything is GarageBand, a point Shamir was at pains to emphasize at his press conference. The lines “There was no way to move any faster / Because we stay stuck in one place” were actually rejected by his computer, but he “stuck to his guns” and kept them. Shamir also penned the line “Hi hi howdy howdy hi hi,” which is a whole line that uses only two words. It uses those two words a lot.
“The album is good,” Shamir concluded, reading a prepared statement. He is right. No matter where his lyrics may have originated, now that Ratchet has dropped, online and in stores nationwide, all his base are belong to us.