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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Roll a D6" vs "Like It's Quidditch"

From a debate about the relative merits of "Roll a D6" and "Like It's Quidditch" on Amal's blog.

In answer to my shocked query as to how she could prefer the latter parody, stephanieboland wrote: "Because a chorus with meaningless, filler babbling will always be trumped by the sweet poetic justice of clever lyrics."

My reply, which would not fit on LiveJournal, is as follows:

Hmm. This may be partly a Not My Fandom problem; I do not really grok HP, so many of the allusions are lost on me. In some abstract case I would agree that content-based lyrics trump filler; but in this case I think several things mitigate against that conclusion.

One is that both songs are parodies of "Like a G6" -- the meaningless filler babbling is part of the source text. In that sense "Roll a D6" is a tighter parody; it does, line for line, what "Like A G6" does, while transposing it into the geekverse; while "Like it's Quidditch" has a more muddy relationship to "Like A G6". On the one hand, for most of the song, it simply takes the original as a tune, which it feels up with entirely unrelated lyrics. But then some of the lyrics only seem to make sense in the context of "Like a G6" -- though, again, maybe my weak HP-fu betrays me.

But take the line "with these muggles all around me they be acting like they drunk." What is clever here? In the original, there's something mildly clever about the (misogynist and alchoholic) boast that the very presence of the singer disinhibits and interferes with the higher reasoning faculties of women -- here, objects of both desire and (subtextually) competition, loci of insecurity. How does this map to Muggles? Why would Muggles acting drunk be desirable, and what would it have to do with Pumpkin Juice cups?

I guess the cleverest thing is the chorus's connection of "feeling fly" with the literal flying of Quidditch, and thus with the G6, which is, of course, a plane. But that's the only point at which the song seems to take on "Like a G6" directly, and it's muddy enough that one almost wonders if it was an accident -- if Quidditch simply rhymed.

Quidditch after all is more than just flying; it's a competitive game, cutthroat as games go but safe relative to the rest of Harry and the gang's adventures, providing, in the books, moments of sportive tension which nonetheless act as a relief from the life-and-death predicaments of the ongoing, mostly off-campus battle with Voldemort. But the parodists don't do anything with any of that; they just namecheck Quidditch and move on. (Whereas, even if the ├╝ber-dork commentors on YouTube will tell you it's not the correct die for a saving throw in 4th edition [which in itself is a wonderful piece of generative self-parody], the act of "rolling a d6" is a central image for what's going on artistically in "Roll a D6"; something which to an outsider is mundane and trivial, but upon which, in the imaginatively evoked life of the mind, your entire fate hangs).

So, the HP song seems like an assemblage of individually clever lines which are basically unrelated to each other, set to an unrelated song (or related only in the narrative context of "we are partying"), which the parody ignores except when it slavishly copies it.

In contrast, "Roll a D6" adheres strictly, in form, to "Like a G6", which is why much of its chorus is nonsensical "na na na na"'s and "Hell yeah's!" But, as I have argued, I think this is a consciously adopted creative constraint, not a failure of imagination. And within this form "Roll a D6" presents, as a whole, a unified and coherent narrative which functions both as a critique of "Like a G6", and an evocation of D&D culture specifically through the medium of parallels -- similarities and contrasts -- with the world of "Like a G6".

The purpose of the awkward opening encounter (see what Amal did thar!) is to ground us in the wider social context of D&D, and the main character's ambivalence. Her plans for the evening are dorkily embarassing. Seen from the outside, the emotional tone of the nerdish pastime she's planned is expected to be the opposite of the uninhibited bacchanal that the cool Asian posse in "Like A G6" will engage in that same evening. When we initially switch to the basement, the singer delivers the first lines in a downbeat, downcast cadence. This is no revel. She's stuck here with dorks. She's wasting her time. She wasn't invited to the party.

But then we cut to the LARPiverse and we see the inner lives of the players -- the lives of their characters. The contrast is striking -- in the imagined world, the same actors evoke wonder, majesty, beauty; they have presence and style. Suddenly the partying drunkards of the original song are the ones who look awkward, superficial, and ignorant of the deep sources of fun and abandon.

But of course, the singers of "Like a G6" might say, this aren't the geeks' real lives -- or how they really look -- this is only happening in their heads. But as we cut back to the basement and the gamers sitting at the table begin to rock out, head-banging and slugging down Coca-Cola, they make their reply: the life of the mind is real life. This is how we live.

Their geekish imitation of cool dancing, their "Hell Yeah's" and repetitions, are a conscious, knowing parody of the moves of "Like a G6"; but at some point they go beyond mere geek triumphalism to a kind of redemptive unification. It's not that what's happening in the basement is the opposite of what's happening at the club, whether denigrated or lionized; it's really the same urge, played out in a different way. They're making fun of the besotted partiers of "Like a G6" but they are also joining them. Playas or players, we're all one.

This contrast between self-knowing self-deprecation ("I'm a level 13 ranger, yeah I've been playing for a while..."; "all night eating Twizzlers") and celebration runs through the entire text, and gives it its bite.

I don't see anything similar in terms of narrative thread going on in "Like It's Quidditch". There's no moment of surprise or reversal equivalent to the moment where we drop into the LARPiverse of "Roll a D6". Instead, thematically, it looks like all "Like It's Quidditch" has to say is "we like Harry Potter; we are having a party; here are some allusions".

Don't get me wrong, I like the people in "Like It's Quidditch", it is a fun song, and superior to "Like a G6" in many ways (lyrical sophistication being one of them). But as a work -- particularly as a short film -- it's a hell of a lot slighter than "Roll a D6".

Posted by benrosen at May 11, 2011 11:57 AM | Up to blog

There are of course non-textual reasons for musical preferences, as well. One would have to be nearly illiterate to prefer Iron Maiden to They Might Be Giants on the basis of textual analysis. Nevertheless, it would be quite reasonable to prefer Maiden on the basis of textual content for reasons of tribal affiliation, differing intellectual interests, or familiarity.

Posted by: Matt at May 11, 2011 12:59 PM

I finally got a chance to go and watch the original video (which necessitated looking up "G6" and led me on a brief Wikipedia tour) and then the other two.

I think there are good things about the Quidditch one--the Quidditch/G6/"fly" connection you mentioned, the more-direct copying of the style of the original video--but I'm surprised to see a suggestion that Like It's Quidditch is more lyrically sophisticated than Roll a D6.

Roll a D6 does several nice things with lyrics. For example, they vary the rhyme with "wizard" from verse to verse, unlike the original song, making it less boringly repetitive than the original.

Meanwhile, Like It's Quidditch starts out with a lyrical problem: Quidditch doesn't, in fact, rhyme with G6, both because the stress pattern is wrong (first syllable vs second) and because "itch" and "six" don't rhyme. Near enough for hip-hop, sure, but then they go and compound the problem by trying to rhyme "figures" with "wizard." I think that might be more or less within the bounds of rap rhymes (where the vowel sounds seem to be more important than the consonants), but even getting that close requires a stretch (how many people associate "figures" with HP?).

And in Roll a D6, I laughed out loud at the clever reworking of "put yo hands up" to "raise them up" in reference to a necromancer raising the dead.

And even though the video for Roll a D6 doesn't echo the original very much, it's got surprisingly high production values.

Anyway, so not only do I agree with you that Roll a D6 is a better parody on all sorts of levels, I also claim that it's got cleverer and better-constructed lyrics.

Posted by: Jed at May 21, 2011 08:35 PM

I loved your breakdown of the parodies. I'm not a D&D guy (preferring GURPS), but I agree that for style points and more, "Roll a D6" should not be classed at or below "Like It's Quidditch". The latter is amusing and somewhat well done, while "Roll a D6" had me in stitches and tears.

Posted by: Raymond at June 9, 2011 07:29 PM
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