“The Gorillaz cartoons seem more real to me than the actual people on TV. Because at least you know that there’s some intelligence behind the cartoons, and there’s a lot of work that’s gone into it, so it can’t all be just a lie.” -Damon Albarn
In 1998, Blur frontman Damon Albarn teamed up with animator Jamie Hewlett to create a virtual band that they eventually named “Gorillaz.” The band consists of 4 characters: Stu “2-D” Pott, Murdoc Nichols, Russel Hobbs, and Noodle. For me, the appeal of Gorillaz lies in the fact that none of it is real. Not a single member exists, they’re completely fictional and their albums and accompanying music videos read like a comic book. Like Albarn said, pop music is overly saturated with shock value and fake personas. Having a fictional band that wins awards, goes on lengthy world tours, and even their own MTV cribs episode is ultimate satire.
One of my favorite albums of Gorillaz’s is their 2005 LP Demon Days. The 15 track album produced such hits as “Dirty Harry”, “Dare”, and the one I want to talk about now: “Feel Good Inc.”
In my opinion, the entire song displays pop music as a way of escapism from the totalitarian control media has on the minds of civilians in their city/world. In the music video, our first image is the band minus Noodle on a stage in front of an inanimate crowd, and 2D seems to be the only member who is concerned about their current situation.
Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, feel good
Sha, sha ba da, sha ba da, feel good (x6)
(Change) Sha, sha (change) ba da (change), sha ba da (change) (x2)
The laughing is a sinister transition from the joy of a children’s choir in Dirty Harry to maniacal laughter that echoes through your headphones. The repetition of the words “feel good” feels like a command more than comfort, as well as the subliminal message of “change”. What is changing, we’re unsure of. It’s then that we realize the band is actually stuck in a tower with the words “Feel Good Inc.” plastered on the side.
City’s breaking down on a camel’s back
They just have to go ’cause they don’t know whack
So while you fill the streets, it’s appealing to see
You won’t get undercounted ’cause you’re damned and free
2D says these lyrics through a megaphone to no avail. No one in the crowd is listening to him, or even moving yet. The idiomatic “straw that broke the camel’s back” is destroying the city, and he’s trying to warn them from his place stuck in the tower. The Inc is over-saturating and brainwashing citizens through the media, which ironically blinds them from seeing there is no room left for free thinking. As for the last line of this chunk, I feel like it’s one of the most important of the whole song. It’s important to think for yourself of course, but at the same time, if you were really above impression and coercion, you wouldn’t need to explain it to everyone. Being a “free spirit” can’t simply be an aesthetic, but a genuine trait.
You got a new horizon, it’s ephemeral style
A melancholy town where we never smile
Citizens of the city are buying into the illusion of freedom provided by the Inc. Freedom is simply treated as a fad, rather than a necessary right. (wow. sound familiar??????)
And all I wanna hear is the message beep
My dreams, they got her kissing, ’cause I don’t get sleep, no
As 2D waits for the “beep”, he waits for a beacon of hope, for someone else to see that the Inc is controlling them. Throughout this whole analysis, I don’t want to sound pretentious. I mean, I use social media. I’m on my phone for hours every day. It’s easy to be sucked into the digital culture, and we absolutely live in a time where we live online. We communicate with old friends, share information, and create waves through social media. But if we can easily use it to spread valuable information, isn’t it just as easy for people to spread hateful, harmful things? Who draws the line for free speech without becoming hypocritical?
Windmill, windmill for the land
In Jerusalem by William Blake, he writes, “And was Jerusalem builded there, among these dark satanic mills?” in response to the industrial revolution in England. The growing number of windmills in the countryside represented the country’s shift towards a more industrial age, where economics took a stronghold over the minds of the people. Now, 2D sings in an almost ode-like fashion yearning for a return to the simplicity of a windmill. In the technological age we live in now, a windmill represents the calm before a controlling center of society.
Another way to look at this could be from the eyes of George Orwell, who used windmills to represent tyrannical rule (and the Soviet Union) in Animal Farm. In Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, the title hero fights windmills, thinking they’re giants.
So honestly, choose your own perspective.
Turn forever hand in hand
Take it all in on your stride
It is ticking, falling down
Love forever, love has freely
Turned forever you and me
Windmill, windmill for the land
Is everybody in?
During this part of the video, we finally find Noodle sitting on the edge of a floating cliff with a singular windmill. She’s separated from the rest of her band, which originally alarmed 2D but Noodle doesn’t seem to care. So no, not everyone is in. When he sings that last line, helicopters begin to chase the floating island, possibly representing the constant presence of a “Big Brother” like surveillance.
Laughin’ gas these hazmats, fast cats
Linin’ ’em up like a** cracks
Play these ponies at the track
It’s my chocolate attack
De La Soul, the featured rapper on this track, appears on 4 screens that box 2D and the crowd in. The only non-screen surface is the ceiling, which is painted like the Sistine Chapel. Escaping the taunting words is impossible for him, and he’s no better than a sitting duck. As for the chocolate reference, I can’t help but relate it to 1984 by George Orwell, in which Big Brother distracts citizens from tyranny by giving out chocolate rations. It could also really just mean poop..that could definitely also be what he meant.
Sh*t, I’m steppin’ in the heart of this here (yeah)
Care Bear rappin’ in harder this year (yeah)
Watch me as I gravitate, ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!
I feel like calling someone “Care Bear” as they try to help others and liberate the oppressed is just…very funny.
Yo, we gon’ ghost town this Motown
With yo’ sound, you in the blink
Gon’ bite the dust, can’t fight with us
With yo’ sound, you kill the Inc.
It’s common that the reference to ghost towns in music, literature, and poetry, refers to more than just an abandoned town. It also calls attention to the mass employment and economic turmoil that brought them to that place. Next, The “blink” is the perfect play on words. The attention span of the masses is exceptionally short, and you’re in the “public eye” for as short as a blink. Using their blink of attention, the Gorillaz plan to use their political commentary in their music to stand up against the oppressive Inc.
So don’t stop, get it, get it (get it)
Until you’re cheddar head
And watch the way I navigate, ha-ha-ha-ha-ha (ha, ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha)
De La Soul is still taunting 2D, telling him to keep up the futile fight until he’s fried his own brain. Perhaps his “gravitation” and “navigation” refers to the fact that he’s already liberated himself, and that’s why he’s on the screen, not locked in the tower like the rest of them.
Don’t stop, get it, get it
Peep how your captain’s in it
Steady, watch me navigate, ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! (x2)
Sha, sha ba da, sha ba da, feel good (x4)
In the end, Murdoc’s surrounded by half-naked women, Russel is allowed to play his drums without interruption, Noodle is peaceful with the windmill, and 2D still panics as the laughing returns all around him. 3 members of the band have been given their personal paradises, remaining complacent while 2D still searches for an escape from the tower. The most fascinating part of the video to me is, we never see what, or who the Inc is. 2D is fighting an enemy he can’t see, and is told that the fight is futile with no allies to support him.
In conclusion, I obviously really like this band. I’ve spent hours watching their videos, reading about the inspiration behind them, and trying to understand why they are the way they are. I think the quote from the beginning of this post says it best. They aren’t real, so they can’t lie to you. We as a collective idolize celebrities that absolutely do not deserve it. We claim to love people who have never met us, and probably wouldn’t care if we met them. Social media warps our perception of happiness, others, and mainly, ourselves. We see what other people have, and suddenly what we have isn’t worthwhile. Everything turns into some type of competition, and sometimes it feels like calling it “social” media isn’t valid. (remember, im not on a high horse. I literally have a 7 hour screen time average.) Gorillaz represents, to me, what music could be. We listen to it because it says something important, and makes us want to dance. To me, they try to call back to simplicity.