This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #470: Black Sheep by Metric, as sung by Academy Award Winner Brie Larsson from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to Scott Pilgrim vs the World.
My daughter, Leah has a best friend. She and her best friend used to hang out a lot in person. Then Covid-19 appeared and now, the girls mainly meet via the phone. When they chat, they usually chat for a long time. A year ago, when we first went into lockdown, we were very, very strict about staying close to home and, as a result, we were starved for news from the outside world. So, whenever Leah finished with a phone call, we would ask her questions about her friend and her friend’s family…just so we could find out how other folks were coping. The conversations went something like this:
Me: So, how’s your friend?
Me: What’s she been doing to keep busy?
Leah: Not much.
Me: How is she liking on-line school?
Leah: It’s ok, I guess. We didn’t talk about it.
Me: Ok then, what did you talk about for over an hour?
Leah: Our universes, mainly.
Then Leah would sigh, roll her eyes and say, “Never mind, Dad. You wouldn’t understand anyway.” And she would walk away.
So, today’s song choice is my attempt to understand my daughter and her bff’s world….their “universes”. Here goes.
In recent years, storytelling has evolved. In the past, when you read a book, you got the story that was told within its’ pages and then you were finished and moved on to the next book. If you saw a movie, you saw the film, usually in a theatre, you ate your popcorn, let the story wash over you and then, at the end, you grabbed you coat and went home. The same can be said with songs, too. In essence, storytelling involved contained worlds or tales told exclusively within a given space. As consumers of the stories, we understood the parameters involved. But then, along came franchises such as Star Wars and Harry Potter and with them, a new way of telling stories called “Trans Media Narratives”.
The simplest way to understand the term, “Trans Media Narrative” is to accept the notion that stories are now being told in ways that extend beyond the pages of the books they are in or the movie screen they are on. These stories are expanding and coming at the consumer from multiple media formats. Think of Harry Potter, for example. Initially, this was a series of books about Harry and his friends and the dastardly, Lord Voldemort. But, as time has gone on, the world of Harry Potter has expanded into differing formats such as interactive websites, theme parks, graphic novels, new books have emerged that came directly from the original series (such as “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”), new movies have been made, new characters have been given attention and have seen their storyline developed and on and on it goes. The end result is, the original world of Harry Potter, as told via the book series, has expanded and grown and is available to be explored and enjoyed in many different ways by fans and consumers alike. In this way, the world or “universe” of the original series has grown much richer and deeper.
Today’s song is a case in point. “Scott Pilgrim vs the World” was released as a movie just over a decade ago. It was based on the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels series. The movie takes place in Toronto. The scene depicted in the video for this song takes place in a real Toronto music venue called Lee’s Palace. Anyway, the Scott Pilgrim “universe” exists in graphic novel form, in video game form, in movie form, in song form and much more. “Scott Pilgrim vs the World” has been labelled as a “cult classic”, which is code for “not a commercial success but, beloved by true fans”. Word of mouth recommendations have elevated this movie in the same sort of way that the camp classic, “Rocky Horror Picture Show” has risen above its meagre beginnings.
The plot line of “Scott Pilgrim vs the World” is that Scott, in order to date his heart’s desire, must first defeat her seven evil exes. The format for these confrontations is a Battle of the Bands at Lee’s Palace. One by one, Scott Pilgrim defeats the ex-boyfriends. In this video for “Black Sheep”, the ex-boyfriend is the guitarist named Todd, whose super power is Veganism. Like I said, the movie is campy and silly but, it is cool and cutting edge at the same time. In this video, you will see how multiple media formats are integrated (music, movies, graphic novels, video games, even choreographed fight moves like those seen in movies like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”.)
“Black Sheep” is sung in the movie by Academy Award winner, Brie Larsson. *(The movie also stars Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza and Michael Cera, among others). In real life, the song is from a Canadian band called Metric. In the movie, all of the bands in The Battle of the Bands were, in fact, real bands like Metric. Metric is lead by a talented lady named Emily Haines. This band has a string of hits in Canada and are great live. *I will include a live performance of this song by Metric in the comments section. As an added bonus, every time Metric posts a video of them playing, “Black Sheep” live, the first comment in their comment box is always the opening line that Scott Pilgrim uses in the video you are about to see, which is about Todd, the guitar player. Look for it in the Metric video. Fans of Scott Pilgrim always smile knowingly when they see it.
Anyway, “Scott Pilgrim vs the World” is beloved by fans of the story for a reason. They can enjoy this movie in more meaningful ways that you probably will because they have explored the graphic novel series, the computer games, the interactive websites, they have read the fanzines and so on. They are immersed in a “universe” that has many layers and realms to it. So, as you watch the video for “Black Sheep” do so in the knowledge that this is merely one scene in a multi-layered world that you are more than welcome to dive in and explore.
As I end this post, I hope that I have come close to describing what Leah and her friend discuss when they talk together on the phone. Whether I have captured the essence of their conversations or not isn’t really that important in the long run. First of all, I am over-the-moon with happiness that Leah has found such a good person to be her friend. As we all know, having true friends is like finding treasure. As a Dad, I want my girls to surround themselves with good people. Leah is off to a good start in that sense and I am pleased. Chat your heads off, Leah. It is all good.
But, in the larger sense, I believe that “trans media narrative” storytelling has implications for how we, as people, interact with the world of information in which we find ourselves. We live in a time of small soundbites and short tweets. When, in fact, this rich, layered way of storytelling exists, as well. As educators, it behooves us to move beyond the teaching of story structure and of framing the understanding of narratives as being simply that a story has a beginning, a middle and an end. That is no longer proving to be the case. We are alive in a time of prequels, sequels, origin stories and so much more. Our openness to understanding nuanced stories is far greater than ever before. So, when you watch, “Black Sheep” please understand that whole worlds or universes are contained within this one song. To understand that is to revolutionize how you think about the information you consume. In simpler words, there is potential for your mind to be blown. Red pill or blue? The choice is yours. Good luck.
The link for the music video for Black Sheep by Metric as sung by Brie Larsson in the Motion Picture, Scott Pilgrim vs the World can be found here.
A live version of Black Sheep by Metric can be found here. *Watch to the “Todd” comment in the video’s comment section.
Metric has their own website that can be reached by clicking here.
I will close with a shout-out to my own daughter, Leah. She has her own blog and writes about YA books. Her website can be reached by clicking here.