Yesterday, while praising Miley Cyrus I paid homage to Alien Ant Farm and the great influence they had on my development as a music fan. My memories of childhood are hazy at best, but 4th grade holds a lot of weight in my brain. That year is my line of demarcation in life of being able to recall nearly all events. Now that's a glass half full outlook on 9/11 if I've ever seen one.
That 2001-2002 school year also included many other important moments in my development like:
When I posed the question "Was Alien Ant Farm a Victim of its Initial Success?" as the title of this blog it felt a little too academic for my liking, but I'm asking that based on a theory I've had since my early days of learning about One Hit Wonders (also in 4th grade).
Essentially it's the idea of it being difficult to follow up a gigantic first single. It's not impossible (or a super original thought), but it's much easier to follow up this type of success when you're already somewhat established in the music biz. Like if "Use Somebody" was Kings of Leon's first song would they have been One Hit Wonders?
I'm not the first person to think of this and I won't be the last.....but, in the case of One Hit Wonders or One Hit Wonder-adjacent artists; My brain-based research says those whose first hit falls into the novelty category have a the harder time following up it up than "regular" songs. I'd say a cover of Michael Jackson with constant references to him throughout the video falls into the novelty category.
I can first recall this with songs like "Mambo No. 5" and "Who Let the Dogs Out?". Even at an early age, I knew these were unlike anything else I've ever heard before. They were not The Backstreet Boys.
That same-ish logic is why in my late 20's I thought Lil Nas X was destined to join the likes of one hit wonderdum, but he did something I thought others should have been doing for generations; ride the wave of the lead singles' success. I'm not always right in my predictions. In high school I thought Katy Perry would be a One Hit Wonder after "I Kissed a Girl". Same with Ke$ha and "Don't Stop". I can still hang my hat on "Somebody That I Used to Know".
Between being perhaps the most famous cross-genre cover of all time AND the epic music video that accompanied it; it's clear the Alien Ant Farm struck gold (literally) with their debut single Smooth Criminal. It even made the Top 40 peaking at #21. But I mean how tf do you follow up this?
Those type of special FX will stick with you; especially when you weren't allowed to play violent video games. I already used the word mesmerized once in this post, but I cannot think of a better word without the help of a thesaurus that better describes the effects of the Smooth Criminal video on me as a 4th grade boy. I LOVED this song and frankly still do to this day. To their credit AAF (I always thought they should've had some affiliation with that league) followed up "Smooth Criminal" with another awesome video for their song "Movies".
Stumbling across that video on Youtube, semi-cross faded yesterday while waiting for the Last Dance may have been what truly inspired this whole post. I mean it's a valid question... Was Smooth Criminal too fucking awesome that it just caused people to assume AAF would be One Hit Wonders and not give them the time of day? Cause I'll tell you guys, "Movies" is a certified hit piece. It should've been more successful on its on merit.
I've always felt badly for artists whose biggest hit is a cover. That's an awfully complex legacy to have. I know it would fuck with my head. At least to AAF's credit they had success after "Smooth Criminal". They aren't the fucking Ataris. Despite peaking at #18 on the alternative charts "Movies" actually stayed on the charts five weeks longer than "Smooth Criminal". (h/t)
"Movies" was actually released before "Smooth Criminal", but after was re-shot after its success. It even features a cameo from Mr. Miyagi himself; Noriyuki "Pat" Morita.
In a video that has references to Ghostbusters, Willy Wonka, Karate Kid and Edward Scissorhands I'd say AAF did a solid job following up the cross-over hit that was "Smooth Criminal" and all the cool MJ stuff that I just showed a few scrolls ago in GIF form.
After "Movies", Alien Ant Farm's last notable video was "These Days" from their 2003 follow up album Truant. I don't want to speak for most people, but I feel safe in saying the These Days video has been forgotten by the masses with less than 8 million views in a decade. That's an absolute shame because it was performed atop the Hollywood Masonic Temple at the 2003 BET Awards. It should be in the daily consciousness of all human beings. If this happened in 2013 it'd be the positive-inverse in pop culture history of Kanye stealing Taylor Swift's shine at the 09 VMAs.
I think that about does it. Another weird, rainy day blog during quarantine. Do me a favor and please vote in this poll.