Hype Hype Hooray is a biweekly “critique” of the music scene and the blogosphere that feeds it, told through the lens of Jamie Hale, a journalist who likes music about as much as he likes scotch and a firm leather chair. Please enjoy with a grain of salt.
Today I decided to check out Rivers Cuomo’s latest contribution to music, “Homely Girl.” The song is 100 percent, fine-cut Japanese pop. It’s sung almost entirely in its appropriate language. It’s straight out of the closing credits of any anime ever. It’s also unbearable.
I sat down and decided to take a closer look at the song. looked at it from the outside: a well-made ode to popular Japanese music written by a talented and well-respected songwriter. But then I stepped a little closer and saw it for what it was: an awkward, conceited waste of time written by a narcissistic lunatic.
We all remember Rivers Cuomo, right? He was the awkward guy with glasses who fronted Weezer, the alt-rock band from the ’90s who did “Buddy Holly” and “Hashpipe,” among other things. Before he was a confident shooting star however, Rivers was once known as something of a king to awkward, outsider teens, who angrily embraced his words as if they were their own.
In those days Rivers thrived. Remember The Blue Album? It swayed cautiously, yet aggressively into our hearts, burning with a quiet intensity that inflated our troubled souls. We nodded our heads with every word. MY name was Jonas and THAT WAS how I felt.
Then there was Pinkerton. We grew with Rivers from his first album to his second, encountering the same painful experiences in our lives, learning the same lessons he did. This was an opus to being emotionally estranged–a sort of opera for those who isolated themselves within themselves. It was Rivers bearing his raw, beating heart to the masses. It was beautiful, but it ruined him.
He had gone in search of isolation from his newfound fame, but returned with his soul exposed. He called it a “painful mess … like getting really drunk at a party and spilling your guts in front of everyone and feeling incredibly great and cathartic about it, and then waking up the next morning and realizing what a complete fool you made of yourself.” He was embarrassed.
But instead of taking it easy and toning back a little, Rivers gutted himself entirely, taking out all the anxiety, social isolation and pain, and replacing it with vanity, overconfidence and optimism. His songwriting talent remained as a sort of shell, packaging familiar material with a whole different core.
His third record, The Green Album, sported a friendly, cooler band on the cover. It was light and relatively worry-free. It had catchy pop romance in “Island in the Sun” and crunching rock bravado in “Hash Pipe.” It had little substance. It was the white bread to Pinkerton‘s wheat. It was garbage. It felt like betrayal.
I had looked up to Rivers Cuomo. I had pored over his lyrics, felt his music. I played “In My Room” in my room. I once tried to talk to a cute girl in middle school by striking up a conversation about the lyrics to “My Name is Jonas.” She ignored me, but I prevailed in Rivers, who fell just like I did, standing back up to wail on his guitar.
Still, I didn’t give up on the man. With each new album I gave him a chance:
Maladroit was a nice return to Rivers’ hard rock roots, but its best song is the pop hit “Keep Fishin’.” The music video directed the bandmates in a madcap kidnapping story alongside The Muppets. It played every morning on VH1. I filed the album away and moved on.
I never actually bought their next album, Make Believe. I remember hearing “Beverly Hills,” and thinking it was a great sarcastic jab at Hollywood. But as it turns out, the song was never meant to be sarcastic at all–when Rivers sang “that’s where I want to be,” he actually meant it. After that, everything became absurd. The song had a Radio Disney edit. The video was filmed at the Playboy Mansion. It won Weezer their first Grammy. I hated it all so much.
I clung on desperately to hope with The Red Album, praying that Rivers would again redefine himself–this time in a creatively positive way, one that saw him thinking and exploring rather than vomiting and grinning. Instead we saw a monster in the man, a smirking rock star where our tortured loner should be. The album’s big single was called “Pork and Beans.” It tried to rage against the label that wanted Rivers to write commercial material, but ended up becoming a commercial hit. The video was a YouTube sensation. It won another Grammy.
I walked away after that. I got in my car and drove into the distance. The Rivers I had known and loved was dead. This new man pulled the strings, but nothing worthwhile came about. It wasn’t worth my time. Occasionally I looked in the rearview mirror. I saw an awful album called Raditude, and an only-mildly disappointing follow-up called Hurley–two lazy power-pop catastrophes. I listened to them in passing. There was no reason to turn back.
Sitting down in my home, his Japanese pop song still ringing in my ears, I take a minute to consider what it is that really makes me angry about all this. It’s not just that Rivers is a self-centered ass. Let’s be honest, there are millions of self-centered asses out there, and I could care less how highly they think of themselves. The difference is that Rivers is MY self-centered ass–OUR self-centered ass.
He tore out his soul and handed it to the world, but instead of retreating humbly to put himself back together, he snapped. He threw himself in reverse, hurtling a hundred miles an hour in the opposite direction, out of the beautiful harmonies of the human experience and into the self-obsessive slop of worthless pop music. He betrayed his own creative work, therefore betraying the great importance we placed upon it.
It makes me crazy. It makes me sad. But I don’t think just of myself. I think about the tortured genius who sat in his garage, his mind anxiously churning beneath posters of Ace Freely and Peter Criss, cursing the people who didn’t understand, writing words of love and rejection, passion and pain, plugging in his guitar and playing all his stupid little songs, just like me, just like all the rest of us. I remember that man and I mourn.
Tonight I drink to Rivers Cuomo, may his beautiful, tortured soul rest in peace.