Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

AMNESTY 2012: Farrah Abraham – Finally Getting Up from Rock Bottom

No points for guessing who picked this one…


David Moore: Every year I try to game the Controversy Index — now available to all readers who care to hover their mouse pointer over the average score — and every year I’ve been successful. This year was a real challenge. At 2/3 through, I was disappointed that nothing would come along to shock and awe me. There were a few contenders, all novelties (Psy’s “Gangnam Style” and Taylor Swift’s “Never Ever Etc.” are in the lead at the moment). Right on cue, Teen Mom star Farrah Abraham puts out a mysterious “soundtrack album” to her tell-all autobiography that finds an amateur dance producer (maybe a college classmate? A DJ D-lister? No one knows!) creating a mock EDM score to the poetry Abraham’s presumably written as part of an art therapy process. The album puts teen trauma through a Flash emulator, chintzy and strange, but nonetheless a dizzying plunge into high school mundanity and madness. This particular song — the jarring conclusion to the remarkable 27-minute song suite My Teenage Dream Ended and “lead single” released via InTouch magazine’s website — also, funnily enough, manages to cram the last three years’ worth of controversy into a single condensed nugget of gold (or shit, depending on your point of view). I vote gold, obviously — the gleeful, earnest amateurism of Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” the cracked demon-child singalong of Ke$ha’s “Cannibal,” and the masterful roller-rinking of weirdo music a la Das Racist/Wallpaper.’s “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.” The barely competent post-dubstep club track pounds clumsily while Farrah shouts through an Autotune filter at off-rhythm intervals. The result lands somewhere between Mu and Heidi Montag, between avant and inept. And within that maelstrom, I swear, are some of the best lyrics written this year. She’s got the 2012 thesis statement: “I came dressed up on the way down!” She’s got existential poetry that wouldn’t be out of place on a mutant disco compilation: “There’s heavy traffic on the highway! / My eyes are up, up, up! / My head’s on straight!” And she ends it with some of the best shrieking from the depths of depression I’ve ever heard: “DIG YOURSELF…OUT!” I could do the exegesis on how this captures the (likely) headspace of warped reality TV stardom, but that would be facile. I could justify it as avant-garde, but that would be disingenuous. I really don’t know exactly what this is, maybe never will. But damned if I can’t stop listening to it.

W.B. Swygart: “Dude. Dude. Dude.” The bit where everyone involved misses the cue for the second verse. The bit at around 1:27 where I suddenly realised that yes, this song has a chorus. Beyond that, I am really very confused, and my best guess is that someone was trying to convince their mates that they could make a The Knife record with their eyes closed. Pretty sure I’ve got the score bang on, though.

Iain Mew: As Abraham’s recognisably human but unnaturally phrased and phased voice reads out disconnected idealistic phrases in malfunctioning poetry, I’m not lost for comparisons, though you may wish I was. It reminds me strongly of later times listening to Radiohead’s OK Computer after thinking I’d got about all I could out of it, and suddenly finding its android interlude “Fitter Happier” the most affecting track on it. The clanging beat of “Finally Getting Up from Rock Bottom” does a much better job of sustaining uncomfortable immediacy than Radiohead’s lift music and lift noise, though.

Edward Okulicz: The beat’s a bit amateurish but the rest of the production is a potentially super-hot Blackout-esque electro-pop track just crying out for a bit of polish and a decent tune on top. As performance art it’s probably a 10, as an exhibit of AutoTune it’s probably a zero (unless you like it used to effect a harsh, shrieking quality), and as a pop song it’s somewhere in between. I can’t help but imagine it like a monologue put to music in a somewhat compelling way, and then remixed just one step too far.

Josh Langhoff: I understand the impulse to like her music. Besides devoting much thought to early Half Japanese this year, I fell in love with Ja Rule’s “comeback” album, heard by approximately 12, that sometimes rendered him incomprehensible, grappled with the agonizing prospect of enjoying life, and made me wonder about the artist’s grasp on reality. The difference between those two and Farrah Abraham is pleasure — they provide it and “Rock Bottom” doesn’t. It’s OK as background noise, I guess; but on a related note, it’s been more than a decade since I listened to my Langley Schools Music Project album, so you’ll forgive my wariness here.

Patrick St. Michel: I’ve seen Farrah Abraham’s music labelled as outsider art, a commentary on post-modernism and Laurie-Anderson like… and I totally get it. Her My Teenage Dream Ended, intentionally or not, is one of the most strange and interesting albums of 2012. “Getting Up From Rock Bottom” hits on everything that makes Abraham’s music thinkpiece worthy — bleak lyrics delivered through heavy Auto-Tune, backed by a club-aspiring beat that sounds just off. Even the official clip — which features nothing more than flashing lights at what appears to be a club — comes off as unnerving. Thing is, a song being interesting to talk about doesn’t make it good music (Google “vaporwave”), and “Getting Up From Rock Bottom” is really ugly sounding. It’s fascinating to dwell on, but nothing that would get anywhere near my iPod.  

Jer Fairall: Independent of context, the monotony of this particular buzz-and-stomp dance track could be easily mistaken for some avant-leaning producer’s attempt at… something, but the ugly mess that is the vocal reveals the whole thing as a product of no one involved having the slightest fucking clue what they’re doing beyond the attempted exploitation of a fifth-tier reality star. That there’s apparently a cult forming around this is nothing new, but at least The Shaggs’ discordant fumbles were all their own, and even Rebecca Black was somewhat easier to listen to than this.

Katherine St Asaph: Ever since “Friday” started to spew hate-fueled pageviews, bloggers have scrambled over each other like preteens playing Transformice to declare every reality-show squib, unfunny parody and viral curiosity the worst song since. The stream’s remained steady; the let’s-call-them-artists, whether trollgazing or genuine, want and court that publicity, and the sites oblige, afraid to pass up the lucky penny stock. Enter Farrah Abraham: done with Teen Mom, pushing a memoir, premiering on a tabloid. (We live in a world where InStyle has a SoundCloud account.) She ticked every tick-off: knocked-up kids, reality TV, AutoTune, synth presets, social class the bottom half of the Internet deemed beneath them, all those proclaimed contaminants to real music, or society, or whatever. Enter, on cue, snark and guffaw — then exeunt. Why? Maybe it was exhaustion; none of those other terrible songs ever stuck, after all. The hate-listeners were all hatered out, and the follow-up posts dwindled as their pageviews did, so gone was the meme. But maybe it was the song not, in fact, being terrible. “It kind of sounds like what would happen if Salem remixed ‘Deceptacon,'” Maura wrote, and it does: synth riff like a monster truck, percussion like cherry bombs (play it loud), vocals like a despairing droid, flapping its arms and crying hollow YOLO. None of this goes anywhere, and there’s neither structure nor ending, but it’s immensely listenable. How “listenable” became “SECRETLY BRILLIANT!” in critics’ retelling is something else entirely: a mix of (from least cynical to most) genuine appreciation, contrarianism, recognizing that there’s still trend in Abraham’s topic and that outraged comments still produce hits, an Emperor’s Project Runway episode. Whatever it is, it prompts questions. Is Abraham exempt from serious consideration? No. (If you’re still reading, you know this.) Can something be outsider art without being or wanting to be obscure? Up for debate — and newsworthiness and mp3s are deceptively ephemeral. Is it hurting Abraham? Not really, though it’s not helping her enough to stop her moonlighting as a Twitter affiliate marketer. Is the song really that great? I mean….

Jonathan Bogart: The most obvious comparisons that come to mind are Paris Hilton’s “Drunk Text” and Bai Ling’s “Rehab”, two other bottom-feeding expressions of id from former reality stars let loose on some flanged presets, drum patterns, and voice manipulation software. But both Hilton and Bai are professional celebrities, people who were of some public interest before their reality stints, and they understand image management in their bones. Neither of them would be associated with anything so hard to parse as this; successful branding requires message coherence and dies at confusing your audience. Which maybe just means that Farrah is as inept at managing her brand as she is a musician; but critical contrariness being critical contrariness, of course that just means I like her more. “Rock Bottom” is too short and lumpen to dance to, and too obscured by digital noise to be easy fodder for mockery; so she gets to skip right over being a meme and become the unlikely cause célèbre of a bunch of critical wiseacres. I hope she never finds out.

Ian Mathers: I’m not arrogant enough to assume that Abraham doesn’t realize what “Finally Getting Up from Rock Bottom” sounds like in the context of 2012’s pop music, nor that she’s some sort of brilliantly avant-garde provocateur. The first time you hear the song, yeah, it’s incredibly abrasive in some ways and weirdly out of step in others. But our minds love music — you can listen to nearly anything a couple of times and start getting into it. I don’t know if I’d call it “catchy,” but “Finally Getting Up from Rock Bottom” doesn’t need very much time at all to become compelling, even kind of anthemic in places. Nearly everything I’ve read about Abraham this year has gone too far in one direction or another (there are exceptions), but this isn’t actually music that demands a heavy theoretical framework or pronouncements of cultural import. It wasn’t made by an idiot, or a genius (or an idiot savant). It’s interesting, but it’s not deathless.

Jonathan Bradley: Listen to that vocal: human speech undergoing spaghettification as it’s swallowed into an abyss. Abraham’s Doppler-warped screams shriek about highway traffic and mumble about happiness like she’s forgotten what it is. A gurgle insists it can “enjoy the moments while I’m in them,” but it sounds like it’s trapped in those moments eternally. Around the turn of the century, provocateurs like Kid606 would turn contemporary pop hellish by transforming it into digital noise until only trace amounts of the original radio hit remained. It worked because there was a recognition that pop could be as avant-garde as any laptop experiment and because cacophony is improved by a catchy melody. “Finally Getting Up from Rock Bottom” is like this process in reverse: a pop tune that arrives in finished form already damaged beyond recognition.

Alfred Soto: From apt title to fat bottom, this isn’t tragedy writ large — it’s comedy that doesn’t rise to farce. However fetching it is to imagine Britney triumphing with this track, it’s closer to the truth to imagine her rejecting it as undercooked.

Will Adams: “I never want to hear this again,” I said to myself as a final explosion closed My Teenage Dream Ended. The album’s last track, “Finally Getting Up From Rock Bottom,” is one of the highlights, sporting a stadium stomp and an admittedly decent synth line. That wasn’t enough, though, to convince me that I hadn’t just wasted the past thirty minutes of my life. The more I tried to understand it — a second listen, a third listen, thinkpieces — the more conscious I became about the lost time. All I took away was that this album was meant to be a substitute for her tell-all memoir. “Finally,” along with the rest of the album, is built on cheap production, incomprehensible and arrhythmic AutoBlather, and a lack of forward progression, so it completely fails at this task. End of story. I have no interest in investigating whether this is trollgaze or outsider art or pure ineptitude. All I have are my ears saying that it is completely useless to me.

Zach Lyon: I don’t know. My first instinct is to defend outsider art that is, in fact, created by someone who started off existing outside of “art” and probably didn’t plan on this album achieving any critical velocity with anyone, including us. My second instinct is to admire belated-teen angst. My third instinct is to give this a higher score than I should because I know I can love it eventually. My fourth instinct is to give it even a higher score because I want DCM to game the Controversy Index, and we should all strive to do what’s right. My fifth instinct is to support people younger than me self-expressing with lo-fi EDM….ish music rather than Livejournals or Tumblrs; it might be the perfect expression of angst-in-excess to build an autobiography around the most extreme interpretation of modern pop music I’ve heard. My sixth instinct is to talk about authorship and intent, in a way that doesn’t exactly defend or criticize either way, but this blurb is already sounding enough like a Tumblr entry and I don’t wanna stop now. I really don’t know. Would this music exist without the reality show or tabloids that made a name out of her? I’m not sure, but I’d nonetheless like to celebrate that she had some control over its creation.

Brad Shoup: Great album, good song. See you next year.

13 Responses to “AMNESTY 2012: Farrah Abraham – Finally Getting Up from Rock Bottom”


  2. I should have gone with “On My Own,” I guess. But a fitting modest whimper to the end of the 2012 Controversy Index. It’s been a pleasure! I’ll wait until after Amnesty Fortnight to post the controversy results, as there have already been three new entries.

  3. I was kind of hoping that finding a controversial song was a pleasant by-product. This was a good enough choice. Also: “Drunk Text” was awesome, y’all.

  4. I had nothing to say about this song, but “After Prom” is my jam.

    Don’t tell don’t tell don’t tell don’t tell don’t let it get out.


  6. “Drunk Text” features on my Horsefart Singles of the Year mix:


    Farrah Abraham does not qualify as horsefart. I have listened to “My Teenage Dream Ended” over 100 times, fwiw.

  7. In almost a thousand songs reviewed in 2012, the only results that astonished me as deeply as the acclaim for “Silver Linings Playbook.”

  8. Really? This did about what I thought it would, given the “Friday” scrum. A couple folks went a little higher than I would’ve guessed.

  9. I really expected more controversy. And for the score to be a tad lower.

  10. Well, Farrah had a whole album, and a bunch of folks got to spend time with it. So this song benefitted from a little context. I mean, if you dislike this as a song or document or whatever, ok. But if you were a little intrigued, there was more to explore.

  11. “Silver Linings” doesn’t sound like astonishing critical results at all! This one, though, is pretty weird. I’m pretty sure it’s the only album, maybe ever, that has united Lex with people who likely give Ariel Pink the time of day.

  12. “Silver Linings Playbook” was a romantic comedy in which all the actors were required to act, due to the central conceit, and since it was well cast, transcended its genre as an accidental side effect. It would have been better if the Jennifer Lawrence character had recorded Farrah Abraham’s album instead of [plot stuff], which is actually very easy to imagine.

  13. Moving beyond the miracles of taste, I am eagerly awaiting an answer to something David brought up: who produced this? A lot falls into place with that answer.