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December 05, 2019 - Image 9

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The Michigan Daily — michigandaily.com
Thursday, December 5, 2019 — 3B

Television shows can be immortalized in a number of ways.
Perhaps it’s a character like The Fonz from “Happy Days,” who
haunts our lives and Henry Winkler’s to this day. Or maybe it’s a
catchphrase like “You got it dude!” uttered in “Full House” by a
much-less-terrifying Olsen twin. Even a setting, like the Central Perk
coffee shop of “Friends,” can launch a TV show into everlasting fame.
But among these quirks and traits, there is one element of television
that is both wildly important and vastly underrated: the theme song.
Like the score to a movie but arguably much more important, a TV
show’s theme song sets the tone for the entire series. Take one of the
most famous, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name,” of “Cheers”
fame. The soft piano, banging chorus and melancholy lyrics perfectly
mirrors the escape from the brutality of life the show’s bar provides
its characters. Or the catchy rap of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”
that literally details the entire background to the series. How could
we possibly understand what was going on if we didn’t hear that Will
Smith got into one little fight and his mom got scared, so he had to
move in with his auntie and uncle in Bel-Air?
Theme songs are a unifying force among people
who love a show and those who hate it. Even if
the characters and plotlines of “Friends” send you
spiraling into a fit of rage, you’re still going to do the
four claps when called for. Does “Full House” make
you want to punch Bob Saget a little? Too bad, you’ll
be wondering whatever happened to predictability
everywhere you go.
Every theme song I’ve mentioned so far is just that
— a full-blown song. The themes of pre-21st century
were long and cheesy, featuring some band you haven’t
heard of singing vague references to the show. This
changed in the years approaching the 2000s. With
some exceptions, most contemporary shows rely on
an instrumental to define themselves; it’s a brilliant
display of sound association. What was before just
some dramatic orchestral music will have you thinking
of “The Simpsons” for the rest of your life. All one has
to do is look at the impact that “Law and Order”’s dun-
dun has had on society to understand this phenomena.
But some shows are more successful at this than
others, and some theme songs will fall from the
public’s mind while others will be associated with
their series forever. In the past decade, some of the

best theme songs of all time have kept us from clicking “Skip Intro”
on our streaming services. For the sake of options, I’ll be talking
about (not ranking) shows that may have started before 2010, but that
ended in this decade or are still airing today. So as much as it kills me
to have to leave out the absolute banger that is the “That ’70s Show”
theme, it won’t be included here. All of these themes are also solely
instrumental, so Zooey Deschanel will have to remain locked up in her
fairy castle for yet another day.
“Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Frolic” by Luciano Michelini
Leave it to Larry David to use a short and springy theme that
perfectly captures the mediocrity of life. “Curb Your Enthusiasm”’s
bouncy theme combines a tuba and a mandolin to accent the ridiculous
mishaps and embarrassments of David’s life. The way the tuba pomp
pomp pomps in before the strings take over is pure genius, capturing
a human emotion of absurdity that words cannot. The theme song has
taken on a life of its own, becoming a meme and the go-to music to
edit over any stupid event that occurs. The title of the theme, “Frolic,”
further embodies the essence of “Curb” as Larry David scampers
through life in yet another show about nothing.
“Bojack Horseman,” “Bojack’s Theme” by Patrick and Ralph
Similar to “Curb,” “Bojack” is a mildly depressing show that’s

thematically centered around the mundanity of life. The theme
song’s psychedelic synths are drowned out by horns as the colors
of Bojack’s life flash behind him while he stares, emotionless. The
theme embodies the confusion that Bojack faces as he tries to turn
his life around, bouncing back and forth between who he once was
and who he is now. The theme is slightly mournful, rounding out an
artistic commentary unexpected from a show in which people and
animals coexist, have sex and use drugs.
“30 Rock,” “Theme from ‘30 Rock’” by Jeff Richmond
Comedy theme songs love their horns, and “30 Rock” is no
exception. The theme to this “SNL”-based sitcom is rushed and
upbeat, as though New York City has been turned into sheet music.
The unmistakable rise and fall of the baritone sax works its way
through the hectic background of the drums. Anyone that’s ever
walked outside 30 Rockefeller Plaza or worked in entertainment
knows exactly the sentiment being conveyed: Everything is chaotic
and a disaster, but hey, at least we’re having fun.
“Game of Thrones,” “‘Game of Thrones’ Theme” by Ramin
Yes, the show is overrated, but the music definitely isn’t. The
intense orchestral intro to “GOT” sounds both modern yet fitting to
the medieval setting to the series. The battling of string instruments
that start low and eventually crescendo is able to
represent many aspects of the show without saying a
word. The listener can feel the battle raging between
dark and light, good and evil. There is a sense of
urgency to the sound that brings the viewer through
a journey before the first scene. If you’re not about the
gore and assault that this show is rooted in, at least
watch the first two minutes for some good music.
“Mad Men,” “A Beautiful Mine” by RJD2
Just as comedies love horns, dramas love strings.
Set in the ’60s, “Mad Men” could have easily picked
a jazzy piece from the era, but they went a different
way. While Beck was originally contracted to make
a theme, the singer dropped out due to little faith in
the success of the show. After hearing this RJD2 song
on NPR, show creator Matthew Weiner scratched the
words and edited the instrumentals to get the theme
song for his showpiece. The suspenseful strings in
the beginning suggest danger is near, and when the
drums come in it’s as if someone’s running to get
away. The song is sexy, polished and mildly unsettling
— everything you would get if you took starring actors
Jon Hamm and John Slattery and turned them into a

Lyricless theme songs, featuring orchestras ... also horns

Senior Arts Editor



Canadian-born violinist Lara St. John made
headlines this past July when The Philadelphia
Inquirer published a 5,000 word exposé detailing
St. John’s allegations of sexual abuse against former
Curtis School of Music faculty member Jascha
Brodsky. The article also contained allegations that St.
John had told Curtis administrators of this abuse, first
in 1986 and more recently in a letter she wrote to the
school’s president in 2013.
The Daily spoke to St. John by telephone about the
#MeToo movement, classical music, her allegations of
abuse and others that have rocked this industry.
The Daily: How do you think the #MeToo
movement has affected classical music as a whole?
St. John: I think pretty strongly in the past two
and a half years. It started with Levine and then there
were some other conductors like (Charles Dutoit) and
then William Preucil in Cleveland. I came out with my
allegations against my teacher in Curtis. I don’t think
I would ever have been listened to back then. And I
probably would have been blacklisted … I’m sure it still
happens but hopefully those would-be perpetrators
are shaking in their boots at this point.
TMD: Your allegations spoke to institutional
culpability that extended a lot beyond one person.
How has the structure of the industry
at large dealt with this?
St. John: I don’t think the
institutions have been dealing well
with it. I think every school is hoping
that this will just go away, that
we’ll just forget about it. It’s like the
anonymous commenters that are just
like, “Get on with it. Go on with your
life.” And it’s just like, “No!”
TMD: How have people who
don’t have an institutional tie and
don’t have a reason to be scared been
responding to you?
St. John: I sort of became a hotline
this past summer. I heard from a lot of
people for a couple of months. People
are afraid because it’s their livelihood
and if they do come out with their
name, it’s still possible that presenters
or orchestral representatives will
blacklist them. People will say to me,
“Look I’ll talk to you but it has to be
off the record.” Of course I won’t ever
out them but it’s really upsetting. It
shouldn’t have to be that way. That’s
what I want to change and that’s what
hasn’t ever changed.
If you look at Placido Domingo, for
example, who was one of the latest
who was accused of harassment
— everyone’s known that. It was
an open secret. But only two of the
many women came out with their
own name. It was something like 10
percent of (the women) came out with
their name and it hurt the other 90
The Daily: You came forward so
publicly with this allegation and you
refused to stop speaking about it. How
has your role in the industry evolved?
St. John: People talk to me a lot,

which is why I am working on a documentary about
this. I feel like people will speak to me long before
they will speak to some interviewer like you or Katie
Couric or one of those people. It’s an understanding
that I have that maybe the average person doesn’t
I have yet to see what’s going to happen. It’s
totally probable that there’s going to be some dude
in Kentucky that doesn’t want to hire me because I
said this or that, but in that case I don’t want to work
with someone who won’t work with me because I was
raped as a child.
The Daily: Right.
St. John: (Laughing) And I shouldn’t have said
Kentucky! I mean any place, of course.
The Daily: If you look back ten years and then
come back to the present, what has changed over the
past ten years? Do you think institutions have made
St. John: There’s no question that these institutions
wouldn’t have changed without the pressure of the press
… Without sunlight as the disinfectant nothing would
have changed. They would keep trying to pretend that
nothing happened. And I think that people are less and
less willing to allow that to happen.
And this is not to say that only women are abused
by their teachers, but women have had a lot more
recognition in the past ten years. And as women get more
chances these things start to change. You see a lot more
women composers being recorded,
being performed. Women conductors
are (becoming more common) as well.
It’s not great but it’s a start. And it’s
much, much better than it was ten years
The Daily: And here we’ve had the
allegations against David Daniels and
Stephen Shipps and we’re in the same
state as Larry Nassar. How do you think
education has been affected by this too?
St. John: I know when I was a kid
there was this mentality, especially
in music, that your teacher is God. I
think it’s changing now, especially
because a lot more teachers are women,
especially in the violin world. If you
look at Curtis right now, for example,
(many) of the teachers are women. And
none of the teachers think “in order
to teach you I need to break you down
I’m hoping that, given what’s come
out in the past two years, it will scare
potential perpetrators from doing these
things. And windows in doors — I mean
how hard is it to put windows in doors?
These are simple steps that need to be
The Daily: And what do you see
going forward? If this movement were
to continue to evolve, how do you hope it
St. John: In music … we start so young.
It’s all one-on-one and it’s so intense and
it’s so much practice from such a young
age. It’s so ripe for abuse. I just hope we
can keep future 14-year-olds from having
this happen to them. And if it does happen
— when it does happen — they won’t be
ignored, and mocked, for what someone
did to them. I want people to be listened
to and I want people to be believed.

The evolution of #MeToo

Daily Arts Writer

Hip hop is the most popular genre in the country
right now (when lumped together with sister genre
R&B). YouTube data geek Data Is Beautiful shows
hip hop and R&B becoming most popular around
’08 or ’09 by measure of record sales; Nielsen
places its ascendancy at 2017, with hip hop and
R&B dominating in sales, charting and Grammy
nominations. Either way, by most measures, hip
hop has become the genre of the nation in the 2010s
— and the decade’s ruling rapper has never been
The meteoric rise of a decade-defining rapper
Even though he got his beginnings in ’04 under
the moniker K-Dot, Compton-based Kendrick
Lamar wasn’t on anybody’s radar until Overly
Dedicated in 2010. The little-known mixtape earned
Kendrick a spot in XXL’s 2011 Freshman Class, an
accolade that meant a lot more back then than it
does now. His first independent album Section.80,
like Overly Dedicated, remained low-key outside of
Los Angeles and hip-hop circles. Still, Section.80
was acclaimed for its dark and thought-provoking
lyricism. While others, inspired by West Coast
legends like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, wore their
Compton background like a brand of toughness,
Kendrick used his experience to develop a socially
aware message.
At the end of 2012, good kid, m.A.A.d. city was a
hurricane in hip hop. Kendrick’s debut studio album
sparked heated online arguments about the concept
of an “instant” or “modern” classic. Storytelling was
already Kendrick’s greatest strength, but he amped
it up to the max for one of hip hop’s most cinematic
albums of all time. Every music journalist made it
their mission to explain what a “concept” album
was and why GKMC was the greatest one of all
time. By the time To Pimp A Butterfly dropped in
2015, Kendrick was one of rap’s most universally
acclaimed emcees, the holy hip-hop prophet.
Few albums have combined so much artistic
experimentation and conscious, clever songwriting
while remaining smooth and accessible. President
Obama himself deemed “How Much A Dollar Cost”
his favorite song of 2015.
Since then, Kendrick has been eating Grammy
awards and Platinum certifications like candy.
Somehow untitled unmastered., a compilation album
of TPAB demos, sounds better than most records
from 2016, even without any unifying theme or
message. DAMN. in 2017 was a little more divisive
among hip-hop superfans, but critics and the
mainstream rallied behind it for album of the year. It
even won a Pulitzer Prize. Masterminding the hype
of Black Panther: The Album in 2018 was just icing
on the cake of Kendrick’s decade of domination. He
didn’t need to release another album in 2019; there
was no rapper who could do anything in 2019 to
make a difference to the record. If Kendrick hadn’t
sealed the deal halfway through the decade with
TPAB, then DAMN. put the nail in the coffin.
What makes for a “decade-defining” rapper?
My gut instinct is to say that when you think of hip
hop in the 2010s, the recording artist that naturally
comes to mind is the one who defines that decade.
But that’s who defines your decade in hip hop. Who
defines the decade? Some point at the numbers:
Kendrick has numerous awards and sales accolades
and chart positions, all the stuff that only kind of

matters. But that has little to do with his dominance.
Not much of Kendrick’s work has shown direct
influence in terms of the type of music that’s coming
out. That’s something we’ll probably see in the next
10 or 20 years. But there is something to be said for
the way every move Kendrick makes creates an
earthquake in hip hop. Like when his aggressive
throne-claiming verse on Big Sean’s “Control”
sparked an enormous backlash. Or when his
chorus, “We gon’ be alright,” was adopted by police
brutality protesters to show solidarity in the Black
What really made Kendrick the king of the ’10s
is simple: Prolificity, consistency and quality. In
10 years he’s had two masterpieces and four other
amazing albums. His versatility has led to songs
that are dense, layered works of art while remaining
accessible in the mainstream (see “Swimming
Pools”). And his writing is some of the most thought-
provoking across all genres of music, whether it’s
intricate metaphorical storytelling or gripping lines
that could be broken down and analyzed for days on
end. My personal favorite: “If a flower bloomed in a
dark room, would you trust it?”
No real competition
The strongest defense for Kendrick as the rapper
of the decade really comes in just two words: Who
Looking specifically at the 2010s, the competition
immediately slims down. Kanye West and Lil
Wayne have arguments for the 2000s, but not the
2010s. Many rappers that started to gain traction
in the beginning of the decade haven’t been as
consistent or maintained their relevance, like Big
Sean or A$AP Rocky. So who does that leave? Who
first started to pick up steam in 2010, and has had
an enormous impact going into 2020?
Tyler, the Creator is one of the first to come to
mind, especially in terms of influence. His work
with Odd Future has already done so much for hip
hop — there’s no BROCKHAMPTON without Odd
Future. I don’t think his pre-Flower Boy material is
near good enough for him to qualify, though.
One of the few artists who has enjoyed as much
mainstream popularity over the decade as Kendrick
Lamar is J. Cole. He’s also similarly celebrated by
his peers. That’s where the argument for Cole ends,
though. Among hip-hop fans, his fame has always
been divisive — so divisive that it wouldn’t be fair
to consider him.
That only leaves one real competitor. Someone
who first rose to prominence this decade and stuck
in the popular consciousness ever since. Whose
influence on hip hop can be seen far and wide. A
pop culture icon of the decade: Drake.
This is the closest call to make, and the only real
threat to Kendrick’s title. Drake came up in the 2010s,
he has popularity and influence that transcends
Kendrick Lamar, he is easily the best-selling rapper
of the decade and has numerous awards and records.
But there is one thing that really holds him back.
When you stack the best Drake album — If You’re
Reading This It’s Too Late or Take Care — against the
worst Kendrick Lamar album — DAMN. or Black
Panther: The Album — there’s a very fair argument
to be made that Kendrick’s worst is better than
Drake’s best. I think about what will stand the test
of time. What will be a celebrated classic, and what
will become a relic. I don’t know if Drake will be a
relic or a celebrated classic of the 2010s. Kendrick
Lamar though — he will never be a relic, and he will
certainly be a celebrated classic.

A case for King Kendrick

Daily Arts Writer


The Daily
spoke to
St. John by
about the
music, her
of abuse
and others
that have
rocked this

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