Whenever I’ve been asked how the Orange and Black Ball was for me, I’ve just said “fun.” It was also really interesting. In the week leading up to it, I found it kind of hilarious. Princeton was putting on a Homecoming Dance in its gym. It screamed high school. Plus they had a DJ. And because it was Princeton, the DJ was famous and expensive.
Because I went to the Princeton / Yale Glee Clubs’ Football Concert, I didn’t hit any pre-games and did the Orange and Black Ball very sober. I’m sure this would warm the hearts of the Alcohol Initiative, but the subtext is that I was in the minority by doing so. It’s been said that people are often enough drunker for Alcohol Initiative sponsored events than nights on the Street, but I’ll say it again: People were pretty drunk. Which, since the most repeatedly advertised aspect of the O&B Ball was the dancing and dancing no longer requires coordination (in fact, you are usually kind of co-balancing with someone else) this ought to have surprised no one.
This ball is apparently a revival of the Prince-Tiger Homecoming dance discontinued in the 60s (NOT a continuation of the Princeton Club of New York’s fundraiser which happens about the same time of year and features orchestra, silent auction, and dancing until 11:30). The pictures Princeton put up of the ball are all black tuxes, white dresses, and couples dancing. It looked like that scene in the beginning of It’s a Wonderful Life. The ball itself was nothing like that, but exactly like a high school dance mixed with a Super Mash Bros show.
The warmup band was enjoyable. I can’t remember what it was called but it was five guys on vocals, drums, sax, keyboards, and conga drums. The singer especially stuck out as good. They played popular songs on real instruments which was pretty refreshing, given that no one I saw at Lawn Parties save the Deloreans and like one sixth of Far East Movement involved instruments in their shows. “Don’t Stop Believing” and “Fuck You” were memorable and involved a lot of singing along.
I’ll mention now that I’m not really qualified to write this article because I didn’t have any pigs in a blanket. I saw one on someone’s plate and immediately went to the the food table on the left if you’re facing the back of the gym. It contained evidence of neither pigs nor blankets. Somebody asked about them and we got told that they were at the other table. Arriving at the other table, I saw a pan with like seven left. I got a plate and watched as the two people in front of me helped themselves to one or two. I had begun salivating when I noticed I was at the wrong end of the line and people were staring at me in a “don’t fuck with those pigs in those blankets” kind of a way. Not taking them anyway would remain the largest regret of my night.
Because, once the Mash Bros came on, the ball was pretty much just a concert, I don’t really know how to transition from a description of the ball to review a Super Mash Bros show and reflection on mashup in general. So here is a review of a Super Mash Bros show and a reflection on mashup in general.
Mashup, as I guess most everyone knows, is kind of the inevitable conclusion of the trend of increasingly sample-based popular music. Every part of the song is taken from another, usually popular song. Anyone who noticed that, once iPods came out, kids started changing songs every twenty seconds, could have predicted that this would be popular. The easiest way to make a mashup is to take the a cappella of one song and put it over the beat or instrumental from another song. There is a novelty in hearing rappers rap over riffs from classic rock (and, say, juxtaposing lines from Rick Springfield and Academy Award Winning Three Six Mafia to create the lyric “I wish that I had Jesse’s girl but I’d rather get some head”).
Music has been on a steady move from a participatory activity to a personal one. No longer do we have to get together and sing if we want to hear singing, or know how to play an instrument for instrumental music. Next, through recording, we haven’t had to have access to anyone who can make music. And now you don’t even need to know how to sing or play an instrument to make music. One immediate result is that people don’t sing together as much anymore and I don’t know all the words to any whole song. (This point was brought to a head when I was at a wedding and late at night the groom’s grandfather kept being incredulous at the fact that none of us knew any songs we could be singing together after the National Anthem. He was especially incredulous at those of us who were in fraternities: His fraternity had sung all the time together. Unfortunately, the one example song he gave had the word “darkies” in the first line, making his argument seem pretty gravely antiquated.)
So if music has become just about listening, not even performing anymore, then how can a band legitimize their physical presence (and price) when essentially all they are doing is hitting play on one of three Macbook Pros? (The Cataracts at Lawn Parties really failed to do this: functions I gleaned from their presence were swearing, singing along to recorded music, making me pump my fist “like it’s Jersey Shore”, and insisting on the fact that they wrote and produced Like a G6.) Super Mash Bros. found an ingenious solution for this problem. They had prepared a video montage to play alongside their music. I’ve seen other shows incorporate this, but, at least the most recent one I’ve been to (being U2 360—my parents took me, okay?), played little triply animated clips from time to time, but mostly just had it display colors. Super Mash Bros occasionally had a static display, but was pretty constantly playing clips from music videos or movies or TV shows from the past fifteen years.
More so than others of their genre, Super Mash Bros. depend entirely on pop culture references. Their name is the title of an N64 game with one letter removed. Their logos impose their name on the logos of the Lakers, Nickelodeon, Men in Black, and, of course, Super Smash Bros. They know their audience, and are seizing on something VH1 figured out ten years ago: that people love remembering random shit from their youth. That’s why Will Smith showed up like four separate times on the projector. My best description of their concert was that it was like dancing while browsing reddit—for those who don’t know, a website that aggregates popular links, mostly images; people develop jokes in the comments, often referencing pop culture, usually Fresh Prince of Bel Air. So while the argument for it not being a very High Art is perhaps legitimate, it is aggressively entertaining. Though skeptical of it, I was completely engaged when bits of songs that I loved came up, or clips (which were almost certainly all 240p rips from Youtube) from Wild Wild West.
The idea of combining bits from earlier materials to make a new piece isn’t new or even limited to recorded music. Most pretentiously, many Modernist poets heaped allusions from past works into their poems. There are probably more samples in The Wasteland than in a Mash Bros song. But because Eliot drew from the literature of many centuries and languages, it required that the reader had read a certain canon to make sense of anything. Super Mash Bros. require only that you were alive during the nineties.
In the Prince, a member of the planning committee wrote not only that a ball at Princeton was the “greatest idea ever,” but expounded (his word) on the fact that the point of the ball was to integrate peoples’ social groups in an all-school function; people’s unity of space and experience was riffed on. People who otherwise would never be in a hot room facing the same direction, would now have the chance. I definitely was not meeting any new people. Seeing a lot of people I didn’t know, sure, but not talking to any. Even the couple that made out upon me on the dance floor, I vaguely knew. I imagine the most interaction with people outside their social scene that occurred was grinding. But, I guess if you say “We want to put on an event so that a Princeton students of all kinds will grind with each other: We’ll have Chess Club Presidents and All State Cheerleaders, Fraternity Presidents and Third Level Vegan Independents all rubbing their genitals on one another in Dillon,” you’re never going to get the funding for Super Mash Bros.
A description of one of Mash’s shows on their website said “they played continuous mashups of really well-known songs for about an hour that made you want to dance and/or sing along. The amount of energy they brought, along with the great music and visuals, kept the entire crowd into it the whole time.” This pretty much exactly describes the Orange and Black Ball. A bunch of mostly drunk college students were together with their friends, dancing to and being engaged by string of pop culture references to a beat, and sweating heavily (unless they were taking much needed rest breaks for lemonade, photos, or non-pigs-in-blanket finger foods). So while it was definitely fun, I wouldn’t call it “the greatest idea ever.”