Justin Bieber’s ‘Baby’ is both the most hated and successful song in the internet era. Its music video has 729 million views on YouTube, 200 million more than the any other video on the web. Fans watch it because they can’t get enough, and haters watch it because it re-energizes their anger towards JB, kind of like jumper cables for Jason Statham in Crank 2. The weird thing about the wide variety of emotional responses to Baby is that the song itself is exceedingly simple, mediocre, and generic. It’s pretty much the lamest song ever. Paradoxically, it is that very lameness that makes it ripe to be covered by one of the most ingenious musical developments in recent memory — Dirty Loops.
In modal jazz, there is one chord rather than a series of chords. Modal jazz is stripped down such that it provides a base over which an improviser can superimpose an unlimited amount of harmonic substitutions. The one chord doesn’t change, so there is incentive for one to expand beyond its basic prescriptions and create a sense of forward harmonic movement as a series of chords might. It is open-ended music. What Dirty Loops realized is that superimposing new chords over the simple melodies and lyrics of songs like Baby is relatively easy. Most of the melodic phrases in Baby use three or less notes. But it’s not like they are moralizing kitschy pop songs by making it high art —- they synthesize jazz, funk, pop, and rock in equal parts, so that Baby retains its fundamental catchiness while being elevated to new levels of sophistication.
The men of Dirty Loops strike me as down-to-earth bros. Their black and white videos are filmed in some basement, where it seems they sit around jamming all day. Did I mention that they are Swedish? They smile a lot in their videos; you can tell they are sharing a meaningful musical experience. And they definitely are. These guys are absolutely incredible musicians. The piano player has chops for days and a killer voice. The drummer holds it down and brings the heat. And the bass player…good god. When I first watched their Baby video, I thought he was offspring of Marilyn Manson and Ash Ketchum. But after three minutes, I was convinced he was the best bass player I had ever heard. He had mastered his instrument.
The first time I heard of Dirty Loops was when they posted their cover of Baby to YouTube in December 2011. Up to that point, they had posted videos of their own versions of Circus by Britney Spears, Rude Boy by Rihanna, and Just Dance by Lady GaGa, and they had released a mixtape with covers like SexyBack by Justin Timberlake, Hot in Herre by Nelly, and Dirrty by Christina Aguilera. I wouldn’t say any of these were worse or better than their cover of Baby; everything they have put out has been straight fire. My personal favorite would be the Rude Boy cover. It incorporates the funky bass and reverb snare of Michael Jackson, the advanced harmonies and aesthetic sensibilities of McCoy Tyner, and the raw energy that makes you want to fucking rage.
At any rate, Dirty Loops videos were middling in 5-figure view counts before they posted their cover of Baby, which has scored 2.2 mil views in four months. This spike in viewership is definitely the work of the cult of Bieber. His tween romanticism is nothing more than the younger form of the carnal impulses doled out by Britney, Rihanna, and Gaga. Baby isn’t objectively better or worse than Circus as a song, but because it is so widely and deeply hated, the Dirty Loops cover comes across as some cathartic redemption of justice. And to some extent, it is. But people should relish their cover because it is outstanding and enjoyable music — because that is what Dirty Loops is doing — not just because they hate JB and everything he stands for.
Dirty Loops employs every iota of the musical spectrum, from the esoteric idioms of post-bop to the catchy hooks of the Billboard Top 100. That’s a beautiful thing. That is deep music. You can appreciate their virtuosity, or you can just sing along. Or both. I am currently jockin Dirty Loops, and I have been jockin consistently since the moment I first heard them. These guys are the real deal. They are pop. They are jazz. By combining the two forms, they place themselves in a new category altogether.