Bad Vibes

It’s 1998. Some of you are being conceived. Possibly to Cher’s ‘Believe’. Like a stylus scribing a sound onto a wax cylinder this song is imprinted in your DNA. Deal with it. Cher, like Madonna that very year, we’re moving into a lyrically modest danceable club anthem phase. The chorus hooks “Do you believe in life after love” and “I feel like I just got home” confirmed their place as the inescapable soundtrack to your supermarket experience. But there is something about ‘Believe’ that has haunted popular music ever since its release. It was in the presentation of the vocals. It was subtle by today’s standards but at the time it was a derailing suburban freight train. It was the birth of auto-tune. 

Now auto-tune is pretty simple to explain. Imagine all your vocal expressions, the rhythm of the way you talk and the timbre of your voice, were digitised and played back in relation to the notes on a piano. Even if you’re a horrible singer you now have instant access to perfect pitch. That’s auto tune. Or a version of it. It’s the sound of your voice climbing and descending a flight of virtual stairs. Not illustrated well enough? Google it.  

So back to 1998. There were angry mobs roaming the streets with burning effigies of Cher. The Robbie Burns statue in the Octagon had been strangled with the tangled entrails of the last few remaining VHS copies of Mermaids and Moonstruck. Chants of ‘If I could turn back time’ echoed through the halls of the Kremlin. Parodies featured on South Park. Its impact was felt so universally. It was the end of days. It marked the loss of the last trace of organic life in pop music. The human voice had left the building.

So here we are. It’s 2017. Auto-tune has been naturalised. The unadulterated human voice is now ugly and challenging. Lorde gets the hatchet because her voice has character and we can hear the lyrics (whether we like it or not). Sometimes we do NOT want nor need to hear the lyrics but we need to discuss what we are hearing and why we are still hearing them. Cue Jah Red Lion’s (ft. Twarnis Jahfori I) new single ‘Good Vibes’. 

Jah Red was born in Chile, lives In Auckland and on this particular track sings in a heavily affected Jamaican accent, which is drenched in this now familiar code red plague levels of auto-tune. It’s an unspectacularly moulded chorus verse chorus thingy with slightly more angular mid-section where Jahfori-I drops in for a bit of vocal contrast. There are no surprises here. It’s Soul/Reggae infused hip hop by numbers clubbish rubbish that’s destined for a big vanilla manila folder filed under generic sick beats bro. And I want you to know it’s always okay to say no to this shit and if you want to say it like this well let it be so because there’s more to this picture and it’s the words. 

So. Good Vibes. Fair enough. Everybody deserves to have a good time. Jah Red Lion deserves to have a good time with his mates and as this ditty clearly states “Yes WE have the good vibes” JahRL is not alone. So they’re “on the beach having a good time”. Nice. Tranquil. On the beach with their “big bag of ghanja”, or marijuana, which is illegal but its use should be at least decriminalised, but it appears that the authorities or fellow beach goers aren’t hassling them out because “everything’s nice”. Phew. Seems innocent enough. Except for the fact the Jah Red and his stoned entourage appear to have only located themselves at the beach to hassle woman, or at least to “watch the pretty girls” Unfortunately the woman at the beach this particular day have needed to take evasive action, needed to avoid the intoxicated bunches of guy at the beach, and “swim by” in an attempt to avoid the predatory behaviour of these baked voyeurs. This isn’t right. Nor is it true to the intention of the lyric. Jah Red and his posse feel entitled to behave this way. This is their idea of a good time. There are a more lyrics about controlling and (de)grading woman here. Hidden in a mist of style and technology. 

If your expression of “good vibes” compromises the safety and movement of people in the community or workplace it is totally unacceptable and you need to change. We have your number plates. We know where you live. We remember your face. 

This is not an auto tuned message. 

This article first appeared in Issue 7, 2017.
Posted 1:20pm Sunday 9th April 2017 by Reg Norris.