16 Comments

  1. I think of that time as the height of when the hippest young people found some value in bestowing the label “ironic” a lot. There’s no way that “happy, shiny” life could be sincerely admired or desired.

  2. .. in the world view of 90s REM and their fans.

    I think “shiny” is quite positive in 2020 technerd AND fashionista cultures.

  3. Well, an upbeat-sounding song is an upbeat-sounding song regardless of whether its writer was going for irony 30-odd years ago.

  4. I would have been one of those young people, though I can’t speak as to how hip I was; I didn’t take it ironically. (Also remember that most of my cohorts didn’t even know what irony was, e.g. Alanis supposedly writing a whole song about it…)

  5. Okay. I certainly don’t want to begrudge anybody the cheer or comfort they take from this song, or any work of art.

    The young people in the 90s I’m thinking of included a disproportionate number of the depressives, isolates, self-harmers, and resentful antisocials, so when they seemed to recommend especially REM, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and Chicago’s own [The] Smashing Pumpkins, I absorbed the idea that this was meant to sneer at the shallowness of people who could act like everything is great and they can achieve happy shininess.

    BTW, I know the band is not responsible for the video, but what do you make of those odd scenes with the pipe-smoking codger on a stationary bike and the girl who brings him a refreshment? I’m still tempted to read at least the initial scene as somewhat “Matrix”-like (anachronism here as the movie was at the end of the decade). The middle and final shots of them seem more positive but the first one was a little creepy for me — as though he had to keep pedaling to power the other side of the wall and keep the happy stuff going.

  6. REM hated this song (and also Stand, another big Top 40 hit) to the point of refusing to play it in concert and keeping it off their Greatest Hits album.

  7. Blinky the Wonder Wombat, I read that too. And it always bothers me when a band slaps their fans in the face by saying “Hey, you know that song we wrote a couple years ago that so many of you loved? Well we hate it.”. The Beastie Boys “You Gotta Fight” and Radiohead “Creep” are other examples of songs the groups wouldn’t play at concerts. If you write and publish a song, own it.

  8. Many famous works of art were hated by their creators for becoming far more popular than they ought to have been. Ravel’s Bolero. Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C Sharp Minor (although that one was largely because he didn’t get any royalties, Soviet copyright laws being what they were). Thayer’s poem “Casey at the Bat.”

  9. And Gelett Burgess famously later penned:

    Ah, yes, I wrote “The Purple Cow,”
    I’m sorry now I wrote it!
    But I can tell you anyhow
    I’ll kill you if you quote it.

  10. How much could they have hated it if they went on Sesame Street to sing it (albeit with different lyrics)?

  11. REM’s hatred for this song would probably seem a lot more sincere if they refused to cash the royalty cheques.

    There are a few “out there” types that I figure are just going to do whatever they’re going to do and when you go to a concert it’s to see what that is, not to hear the songs you know and love. I saw Neil Young playing a concert with only two songs you’d ever have heard of (Cinnamon Girl, Southern Man), but that’s just him being him. It’s to be expected. I don’t consider REM in that league of experimenters. YMMV.

    I do sympathize with Beastie Boys, though. They say “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” was an ironic stab at party-bro anthems and, being a little too spot on, was a hit with party bros. But, you know, that can happen. If you’re an artist and you manage to create something that connects with people on an emotional level, that’s great. It’s an achievement for the ages. And if it is paying your bills and feeding you, show some respect for the people who put you there. You don’t have to pander and try to make everything sound the same (looking at you, Nickelback), but who do you think you are, antagonizing the people who are the reason you’re not working a day job?

    Let me repeat (I’m sure I’ve told it somewhere here before) a story about Warren Zevon and Werewolves of London. It was his only Top 20 hit and rather different from the rest of his body of work. For a time, he used to tour and play concerts and not play that song. Well, the story he told (and I heard the tape my friend made when he interviewed Mr. Zevon, so this is not a rumour), when my friend asked how he felt about playing the song went something like this:

    One night we went out to the [tour]bus and there was a note on the windshield and it said “We came all this way and you didn’t play ‘Werewolves'”.

    I thought, “Yeah, they came all this way and we didn’t play ‘Werewolves’. Maybe it’s the only song of mine they like. Maybe it’s the only song of mine they know.” If I don’t want to play it f**k me! I should stay home.

    Later on, he’d play it in his sets. He might take some liberties, change the lyrics to suit the local town or something else, but he gave the fans some respect.

  12. [ Looking back at this tune in 2016, Stipe told Mojo: “I don’t regret that song. We made a lot of money off that song. That’s not why we wrote it. We wrote it because we were challenging ourselves. I grew up a child of the ’60s listening to The Monkees and the Archies and The Banana Splits. The guys threw me the stupidest song that sounded so buoyant and weird and I was like, OK, I accept the challenge. So it was bubblegum music made for kids. Don’t hate it. But I don’t want to sing it.” ]

    https://www.songfacts.com/facts/rem/shiny-happy-people

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