Gorillaz—Deconstructing Genre (Screenshot: YouTube)

In 1998, Blur singer Damon Albarn and comics artist Jamie Hewlett, dissatisfied with the so-called MTV generation, decided to form a new kind of band. There was too much emphasis on image over music, they felt, and, worse yet, young kids were being conditioned to focus on just a few genres at the expense of all others. Albarn and Hewlett’s ambitious solution was to create a “virtual band” called Gorillaz, consisting of four cartoon characters representing various archetypes. Instead of traditional music videos, Gorillaz appeared in lovingly animated short films.

The band’s music encompassed a variety of genres, often bouncing from one style to another within the same track. Somehow this all caught on with the public and garnered critical acclaim and industry recognition as well—one of the little miracles of pop history. Along the way, Gorillaz collaborated with Bobby Womack, Lou Reed, Snoop Dogg, and more. Appreciative fan and video essayist Kristian Williams has created a brief documentary about this bold musical and artistic experiment entitled “Gorillaz—Deconstructing Genre.”

There were cartoon-based bands before Gorillaz, the video points out, including Alvin And The Chipmunks and The Archies, but those acts were meant to be a part of the pop landscape; Gorillaz wanted to subvert it entirely, blow it up and make something better out of the rubble. Its target audience consisted of young kids whose musical tastes had not yet been calcified. Williams was one of those kids. In the video essay, he says that he grew up listening to Gorillaz, and it had a profound effect on him. Listening to the band’s albums taught him that there’s no need for all music to fit into predetermined categories. It made him a more adventurous listener, prone to seek out different types of music from various artists and eras. That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment, seeing as how Gorillaz never actually existed in the strictest sense of the word.

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[via Laughing Squid]