Yes, I’ll admit it. I love Glee. It started Christmas of 2010, when I watched all 13 episodes of the first half of the premiere season in two days, and wondered what I’d been doing that fall that kept me separated from one of the funniest, most ridiculously perfect shows on television.
Verily, I wanted my hypothetical future children to learn their social lessons from this Ryan Murphy-spawned conglomeration of song, dance, and poignant preaching.
So, we’re clear on the fact that I’m a Gleek, okay?
That established, the big news this week was a hissy fit by Internet nerd musician Jonathan Coulton, who Tweeted that his cover version of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s seminal classic “Baby Got Back” was being used for an upcoming episode of Glee, and he had not been asked permission by the show’s music producers.
Jonathan Coulton (@jonathancoulton) January 18, 2013
I’ve heard of Coulton’s work before, while listening to a Spotify radio station begat of DaVinci’s Notebook of “Enormous Penis” fame. His songs are a mix of Richard Cheese/Weird Al-esque cover versions of popular music (like the “Baby Got Back” cover), and songs about Pluto feeling left out of the “planets” social clique.
Coulton is basically pissed that “his” song (a cover version, remember, which may or may not have any kind of legal protection on it) is being used without him being consulted first. Not that it’s being used at all, it seems, just that he wasn’t asked.
I’ll admit, the song is basically exactly the same. In Coulton’s version, he changes the classic line “Mix-A-Lot’s in trouble” to “Johnny C’s in trouble,” which is the same line used in Glee‘s version. So, yeah, it’s the same. But here’s where the whole nerd-cult-following-on-the-Internet thing becomes clear.
Big effing deal, nerd!
Coulton isn’t suing Fox for copyright infringement, or illegally using his song. He’s bitching about it on Twitter, to his 98,000-ish followers and their followers and so on and so forth. As of the writing of this post, that Tweet has been re-tweeted around 5,000 times, and made it into some news pages here and here among other places. The difference between those sites and me, though, is this:
There’s no question: Glee used his specific version. No, they apparently didn’t ask first. It’s not a question of “plagiarism,” it’s a matter of Coulton (and Fox, for that matter) being and having savvy publicists.
Glee uses controversy to boost ratings, like *every single* TV show. Remember this?
Oh, and this?
Glee‘s producers love this kind of stuff. People in Coulton’s circles (who don’t have access to YouTube, I guess) will tune in to the show so they can properly express their righteous anger during the broadcast on Twitter.
The clever thing about Coulton’s response, though, is it doesn’t just involve his circles; it involves all Glee fans, a group which is demonstrably larger and more vocal than his own. Glee‘s official Twitter account, for example, has more than 1.7 million followers. The official Fox response so far (to this immense injustice!) has been silence, and rightly so: they don’t give a shit.
If you look at it from Coulton’s perspective, it’s a win-win. People who watch Glee, but don’t know who he is, will hear a song he (sort of) created, and will potentially become new fans. People who don’t watch Glee, but are his fans, are taking up (imaginary, largely useless) arms against the network, and are increasing visibility of both the show and the artist. People who don’t watch Glee, and don’t know who Coulton is, will sadly continue their sad existence.
People like me, who both watch the show and know the artist, then, are merely feeding the publicity machine…but isn’t that the fun part?
Here are the links to all three versions of the song, mostly because I want you to be able to hear the original.
- I’ve Heard That Somewhere: ‘Glee’ Covers ‘Baby Got Back,’ And It Sounds … Familiar (npr.org)
- Glee Egregiously Rips Off Jonathan Coulton (kotaku.com)