Gregg Gillis Is Not a Musician or: Why You Won't Find Girl Talk's All Day In My Top 25 Albums of 2010

Categories: Open Thread
girltalk.jpg
Does this photo make Gregg Gillis elligible for the NBA All-Star team?
As I was compiling my soon-to-be-revealed list of the Top 25 Albums of 2010, the toughest decision I faced was where, if anywhere, to place Girl Talk's All Day on said list. It was certainly one of the most talked about releases of the year, what with Girl Talk creator Gregg Gillis releasing the album as a free download on his website with no advance fanfare.

It's also, quite simply, an amazing, head-spinning work of art that's virtually impossible to dislike. In a sense, saying you don't like Girl Talk is akin to saying you don't like music. As great as it is, though, All Day also calls into question the very definitions of music, songwriting and what exactly makes one a musician.

I briefly considered putting it at No. 1 on my list, based on its overall listenability and the incredible creativity behind it, but something just felt wrong about giving the top spot to an album that features no music actually written or performed by the artist. (Music editor Martin Cizmar did this with the previous Girl Talk album in 2008.)

I considered putting it at No. 10, right behind the latest album from no-wave noisemakers Anal Cunt, a band that has spent its entire career making music as intentionally unlistenable as possible (with some of the greatest song titles of all time, it's worth noting), but then I'd have ended up "wasting" two spots in my Top 10 just to make some admittedly highfalutin statement about how original music, however haphazardly crafted, still has more inherent artistic merit than 71 minutes of overlapping samples.

I also considered doing the whole Anal Cunt/Girl Talk combo at Nos. 24 and 25, but I was only allowed the space to extrapolate on my Top 10, and I felt like wherever I put All Day on my list, it would require one big-ass asterisk.

Ultimately, I just decided to leave it off altogether.

Maybe it's because, as an aging Gen Xer staring 40 in the face, I'm just too old to appreciate what "the kids these days" are listening to. (Back in my day, sonny, when the Dust Brothers cobbled together a similarly mind-blowing collection of samples, the Beastie Boys actually wrote original lyrics to rap over it.)

Maybe it's because I'm a musician myself (albeit a mediocre one). I've played in a band and written songs, so I have the utmost respect for people who do those things well and with frequency.

Maybe it's just because the overwhelming majority (if not the entirety) of the music on All Day was originally released before Jan. 1, 2010 (in some cases, decades before).

Regardless, I consider Gillis an amazing artist, and the art that he creates is, without a doubt, music, but I would stop short of calling him a musician.  He's not a songwriter. He doesn't write hooks, melodies or chord progressions. He doesn't sing, rap, write lyrics or play a musical instrument.

What he does, of course, is take bits and pieces of existing songs and reassemble them in clever, inventive and often unexpected ways. Say what you will about the originality of such an undertaking, but it's just flat-out fucking cool to hear the late, great Ol' Dirty Bastard rapping over a Radiohead sample. It's amazing stuff, to be sure, but I don't think it should be judged in the same category as original music. If someone asked me to make a list of the best mash-ups or remixes of 2010, All Day would be No. 1 by a country mile. But how can one reasonably compare it to the latest album by Arcade Fire, Kanye West or even Anal Cunt?

If an artist creates a collage out of existing photos, it can certainly be admired and praised as a new and unique work of art, but nobody is going to call it photography or call the artist a photographer. Gillis makes musical collages, and he does it better than anyone else I've heard, but it's not the same as writing original music. I'm not saying it's inferior (or superior) to original music. It's just different, and it deserves to be judged in a different light.

What do you think? Am I being an elitist or an old fart? Do you by some miracle actually agree with me? Leave a comment below and discuss.

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5 comments
Nicki Escudero
Nicki Escudero

I included Girl Talk in my Top 10 albums of the year, not because Greg Gillis is a great musician, but because his latest disc is one of my favorite albums for the year. If you say Gillis is not a musician, you'd have to admit you don't consider any DJ is a musician. Which is fine, but that wouldn't stop me from calling a DJ's album one of my favorite albums of the year.

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luis
luis

Artist, not musician? Sounds about right.

buzzdennis
buzzdennis

I'm inclined to disagree with you on this one. We'll forget for a second that there are a few original samples by Girl Talk on his albums. Even though he uses bits and pieces from other music, he's still piecing them together to create one bigger piece of music. Don't all musicians do this? Traditionally they use multiple layers of instruments and original lyrics to piece the songs together, For example: A guitarist often uses a number of conventional chords in succession to make an original creation sound familiar. We don't claim that guitarists aren't musicians if they strike a G chord at some point in their song. I would suggest that you view Girl Talk in a different lens where his samples are his chords and his computer is his instrument. Computers are a very powerful tools that are redefining music and Girl Talk has simply found a new way to strike chords on his instruments.

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