Shock pop will eat itself

2012-10-20 09:18

Die Antwoord this week pulled off a most impressive feat. With the help of an insect, they managed to freakify the mother freak.

But in the process of taking on Lady Gaga, they played even further into the hands of the American pop machine that is consuming them.

In an excellently executed act of ­satirical sabotage, the trash rappers’ NSFW video for Fatty Boom Boom threw a whole canopy of shade on Gaga’s pending visit to South Africa.

It is, if you will, a pop curse drawn from the bravado of hip-hop culture. Gaga will be eaten alive on the streets of Joburg.

On an urban safari, bored by the wild animals, she spots the band’s “freaky fashion” and drawls, “maybe I should get them to open for me”.

But as a character in a Djibril Diop Mambety film once said: “You don’t walk in the jungle with a ticket to the zoo.”

Gaga – played by a drag queen – is hijacked and flees into the mean streets, where she picks up an infection and must visit a street gynaecologist. He extracts from her a revolting, slimy Parktown prawn. And then she encounters a lion?…

The Fatty Boom Boom one-liner is hilarious: This is what happens when you wear a meat dress in the jungle.

The play on pop iconography is astute. Gaga created herself as a robotic freak, birthed from an egg through a mix of science and black magic.

She arrived as a mind-controlled and sexless puppet of the mass media. Die Antwoord neatly shattered her image by inserting a symbol of the natural world in her woman parts.

The reason behind it, of course, is fame and money. Die Antwoord had a nasty fallout with Interscope – which Gaga is signed to.

The band attacked the label, drumming up as much publicity as possible to launch their new album independently. Fatty Boom Boom is a publicity stunt that tells us American-style pop has reached a new level of nastiness.

The implication of it all for Die Antwoord is what’s curious, though. Gaga is not hard core; she is mainstream, they’re saying. Her tour will be a safari. Unlike her, Die Antwoord are the real deal. Except, of course, they aren’t.

The middle-aged, middle-class ­Watkin Tudor Jones created the dumb, aggressive Ninja by neatly appropriating Cape Flats gangster culture and merging it with white poverty.

He says of his identity that he represents all South Africa’s cultures “f***ed into one person”. He’s essentially blackface and, in the Fatty Boom Boom video, Yo-Landi is painted in black – a zap sign to critics who raise the point that they’re “exotic coons”.

Of course American-style pop has long been a construct. Only one member of the Village People was gay and none of them sang – they mimed to hits generated by clever producers. In order to turn the stage into a music video, Madonna mainstreamed live lip-synching. Hell, Michael Jackson changed colour.

But it’s foolish to dismiss them – to say it’s “just pop”. Was Madonna “just pop” when she changed the Western world’s perception of femininity for better or worse? Nah.

In a world of pop power, just like Gaga, Die Antwoord are at best culture-busting tricksters. At worst, they are shock peddlers perpetuating unhealthy stereotypes to their armies of fans.

To shock, they will drape a snake around their six-year-old daughter, insult Xhosa initiation and glorify homophobia. They’ll act out misogynist fantasies and celebrate violence.

Lighten up, say their fans, Die Antwoord is an elaborate joke, a big old piss-take of gangsta rap.

The real problem, though, is that, like Gaga, their music is pretty crap. Neither makes music; they make an image. No one this week is talking about the song. They’re talking about the video.

Like Gaga, they need to keep reinventing themselves and, like her, they need to keep eating up the ideas of other artists to stay alive. That’s how it goes with shock pop. It eats itself.

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