This essay is running as part of the 2019 Uproxx Music Critics Poll. Explore the results here.
There are many quotable lines on 1000 Gecs, the debut album from breakout duo 100 Gecs, but one in particular stands out: “What the f*ck?” It’s the single phrase that’s repeated on more than one track, but it’s also the exact response people have upon hearing virtually any song from the album for the first time. In the context of the music, “What the f*ck” is imbued with both sadness and anxiety: a reflexive response to knowing you’ve screwed up or failed to meet the expectations you set for yourself. When the reaction to the duo’s maximalist genre mishmash is “what the f*ck,” it should be underpinned with that same sense of dejection: 1000 Gecs and the response to it points to how countless music fans — critics included — have failed to move past outdated notions of what good art should be.
Listening to 1000 Gecs recalls a slew of disparate musical styles from the past couple decades: crunkcore group brokeNCYDE, the cheerleader noise-pop of Sleigh Bells, the pitch-shifted euphoria of nightcore remixes. Much of the music that 100 Gecs riffs on was derided or ignored by the gatekeepers of yesteryear. There’s a caustic brostep breakdown at the end of “745 Sticky” while trance — and not the “artful” kind done by Lorenzo Senni or Barker — is the backbone of “xXXi_wud_nvrstøp_ÜXXx.” In The New York Times Popcast episode on 100 Gecs, Eli Enis — who interviewed 100 Gecs for The Outline — mentioned that 1000 Gecs was created around the same time that members Laura Les and Dylan Brady were re-appreciating the music of their adolescence (3OH!3 was one such artist).
This referencing of “obviously bad” music proved to be a blessing. For one, 1000 Gecs is distinct because artists have rarely, if ever, explored these different sounds, and such a scarcity of music that covers these genres allows for nostalgic reminiscing amidst appreciation for its ambition and innumerable hooks. More importantly, there’s little standard for what “good” music from these genres entails.
If you think about rapper Lil B and the biggest criticisms about him, they were fueled by notions of what rap music should be; Lil B released an incredible amount of music, which indicated to people that he wasn’t worth taking seriously, but his rapping was also too repetitive, too “non-lyrical,” and too flippant for many hip-hop fans. PC Music’s arch pop experiments were similarly ridiculed for their joke-y nature, but those who appreciated the music saw it as another exciting avenue for pop music. One thing that 1000 Gecs has going for it is that few people are claiming that it’s a bad version of the music it’s aping, though part of that is because the duo are covering so many genres that their music becomes an entirely new thing.
The genre-blending that 100 Gecs employ, though, is different from what’s heard elsewhere around the world. Throughout the past decade, Korea has been at the forefront of combining different musical styles into a coherent pop song. This past year, the most satisfying attempt was Red Velvet’s “Zimzalabim,” a song that concludes in an impressive consolidation of girl-group harmonies, drumline percussion, and buzzsaw synths befitting festival EDM, though that’s after the song’s incorporated balladry, a breakbeat, and clanging hip-hop beats. There’s a neatness to it all that’s ultimately different from the sudden jerking of 100 Gecs’s genre switch-ups, which is felt both between and within tracks. “Money Machine,” one of the album’s most outright catchy songs, suddenly ends with a huge wall of noise while “800db Cloud” pulls a similar trick except with a hardcore metal breakdown and pig squealing.
These genre jump cuts work with the explosive sound of the instrumentation to keep listeners enthralled, but they also succeed because they’re funny. They have the same unexpectedly hilarious effect of listening to Babymetal’s “Line!” which features a kiddy-voiced hip-hop interlude in an otherwise trance metal song. The abrasiveness of the transition adds to the absurdity of its existence. Part of why the music can seem so bizarre is because artists are often expected to follow certain rules beholden to the respective genre they’re working in, or to do things that are consistent with the image they’re presenting. There was, for example, a surprisingly large amount of people surprised by Taylor Swift rapping on Reputation — it makes sense given her pop-country beginnings — but the quicker that music fans are unsurprised by something as banal as a white pop star rapping (or in the case of Lil Nas X, a black rapper making country music), the faster we’ll normalize the notion of drawing upon numerous influences and letting it show in our art. That 100 Gecs feels like something new is a testament to how far we have to go for that to be a reality.
The idea that art can be both serious and funny is something that’s still a struggle for many. In music, if something is considered funny it’s often because it’s trying to be comedy, such as with Weird Al’s parodies. If it succeeds in being both, and is seen as such, it does so by being wry, like Father John Misty. Even rarer is when lyrics and instrumentation are both funny and serious, as is the case with 100 Gecs. There’s a legitimate humor to several lines (“Your arms look so fucking cute / they look like lil cigarettes” is a ridiculous, amusing insult) but their genre agnosticism and the flatness of their drum programming is equally exciting.
Even with 100 Gecs, a lot of the responses to their music have been that it’s just dumb fun, implying that their music could never be as insightful as, say, a singer-songwriter album. But that disregards how their lyrics are emblematic of contemporary living. “745 Sticky” has a manic energy to it that echoes in its lyrics about hustling and making money, and how that coexists with feelings of worthlessness and desires to spend one’s income frivolously. “Ringtone” traverses the emotions that go along with a breakup through the visceral effects that come with hearing a ringtone set for an ex. “Gec 2 Ü” has a touching line that reflects finding contentment amidst the doldrums and stresses of life: “Dishes are piling up but that’s cool / ’cause at least we got food / Everything is piling up but that’s cool / ’cause at least I got you.”
When I saw 100 Gecs live in Chicago, their music had taken on a new dimension that wasn’t obvious upon home listening. While it was hard to appreciate the depth of the aforementioned lyrics, certain phrases had newfound meaning once an entire crowd of people sang along to them. Hearing dozens of people scream, “Lost the money in my bank account” felt like an acknowledgment of how we’re all doomed in terms of our finances, while shouts of “I might go and throw my phone into the lake” felt like a generation spouting their love/hate relationship with social media, online relationships, and the internet itself. Best of all was that three-word phrase: “What the f*ck?” In the moment, it felt like everyone was cognizant of our collective anxieties and our desire to find release. 1000 Gecs allows for just that, enough so that regardless of its sense of humor and musical roots, it demands to be treated as a serious, and important, work of 2019 art.