Anyone who can pirate a software recording program and steal their uncle’s old Yamaha keyboard can make quality music now, which has lead to the world being inundated with more music than it has ever known. And with all of this music readily accessible on pirating sites, or even available for free by the artist, we have the opportunity to listen to it all of it. There used to be a reason to listen to music and to spend time with it; listening to music was once ritualistic. You’d have to go out of your way to go to a store and buy a physical copy (CD, tape, or vinyl), then go home where you’d feel obligated to listen to that music until you loved it. Now with tens of thousands of intangible sonic concepts ready to listen to at the click of a button, it’s hard to really give musiche attention it deserves. You listen to a song, get a minute into it, and find yourself thinking this song is pretty good, but I’m sure there’s one I like more in my library, and then you click the skip button. With music, and media in general, being so accessible it becomes disposable, less cherished, and easier to ignore. Musicians are forced to find a way to stand out and get people to listen to their music, and the aesthetic state of modern music is a direct reaction to this psychological phenomenon. The one artist in particular that has been exceptionally successful in having the spirit of the distracted youth manifest itself in his music is Skrillex with his brand of dubstep.
Skrillex is able to capture the attention of his listeners in a few ways. His songs tend to have very noticeable and bombastic “drops” that serve as compositional chapter markers for his songs. These drops give the listener something to anticipate and make their navigation of the song more palatable. Even though the listener knows what to expect, it’s invigorating every time. His music is also very sporadic and polarized in energy and atmosphere. It quickly switches between mild and melodic to cacophonous and grotesque, with no intermediates. At some points in his songs, he’ll switch up the atmosphere of the song every few seconds, a true testament to the diminished attention span of his generation of listeners. Skrillex’s music is not only appealing to the mindset of the digital generation, but is a structural manifestation and musical representation of such. His songs are works of art that constantly straddles the line between accessibility and avant-garde nonsense. Music that would once be challenging to the average person now seems to be the only thing we can really digest.
If Skrillex’s music can be seen as the musical reaction to the modern tendency to dispose of media, Spring Breakers can be seen as the cinematic one. All of the modern circumstances of the music industry and the way that people make music are mirrored in the world of cinema; they have just taken a longer time to react to it in the way that artists like Skrillex have. We have 100s of movies on our Netflix queues and even more in uTorrent queues. If we don’t like the first 10 minutes of a movie, there’s no reason we shouldn’t change it. However, filmmakers are still making movies for the theatres, where you paid for a ticket, and don’t have the option of changing the film. Because of this, the primitive artistic ideas and narrative functions have persisted in modern films. Sure there have been good movies in the past 5 years, but none of them have captured the spirit of the modern generation or addressed its needs, until Spring Breakers.
Spring Breakers, just like Skrillex's music, is a reaction to the mentality of disposability that the modern generation has developed through excessive exposure to media. The easiest way to demonstrate this parellel is to compare the film to the structure of Skrillex's song "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites", which is found in the film's soundtrack. As far as we knew before we actually saw the movie, the movie was a bunch of Disney Stars starring in a movie about spring break with James Franco. That’s the first 40 seconds of the song. The context of the movie, what director Harmony Korine wanted people to expect of the movie, not the movie itself, is the equivalent of the 40 seconds of beauty, harmony, and ambiance of “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites”. The context in which the movie was made is a crucial part to the understanding of the film itself, which totally breaks conventions of traditional filmmaking. Korine uses his art to mirror the society its made in and part of just as Skrillex does in his music. Then we get to the theatre, and there’s a brief moment of limbo where we don’t know what to expect, in the song that’s “Oh My God!” sample. Then the of course, the infamous “drop”. The drop in the song is ugly and violent; it’s pure adrenaline, yet strangely infectious. It’s just like a bunch of college girls robbing a diner, doing drugs, getting arrested, and getting involved in drug trade. Spring Breakers thrives on intense contrast, just like Skrillex’s music. No movie has ever captured the spirit of the generation it’s made for in a way that is as cerebral, unexpected, and genius as Spring Breakers has. People who think it’s all hedonism and shock value, and people who complain about it being sexist or racist don’t get it, but their not getting it is part of the appeal of the movie. The haters (yes haters) are just as much characters in the movie as Alien (James Franco) is or any of the four girls. A film being problematic does not take away from its artistic merit. Of course Spring Breakers is problematic, but the world we live in is problematic, and Spring Breakers is a movie allegory for the world we live in and the generation that is starting to take it over.
Kevin O’Brien is a New Jersey native who is studying film production at Emerson College. He is a Pitchfork Historian, accomplished musician, and aspiring Internet celebrity. Girls love him, boys want to be him, you’re just jealous because he’s famous. @kevinobrien_