Monday, June 24, 2013

Marilyn Manson, "The Beautiful People"

Like David Bowie and Madonna, Kanye West is a brilliant consumer and interpreter of pop and underground music.  From alt-rap to synthpop, West has earned his stardom in part by re-imagining cutting edge music as something that frat boys and sorority girls could get down to. The industrial-tinged scream-rap on Yeezus has called attention to iconoclastic artists like Death Grips and Saul Williams, both of whom have self-released their music without record labels and rarely get much respect from anyone who has never written for a music blog. Hopefully that will change with the acceptance of Yeezus.

However, one Yeezus influence that people apparently aren't listening to is Marilyn Manson. Last week, a widely-shared mixtape entitled Yeezus: The Samples became internet famous for compiling all of Yeezus' samples, Manson's "The Beautiful People" included, in one stream. The problem being, that had anyone who actually listened to Marilyn Manson had anything to do with Yeezus: The Samples, they could tell that there are no Manson samples anywhere on Yeezus.

Yet it's easy to forgive listeners for assuming that "Black Skinhead" samples Marilyn Manson, who still holds the high standard for the kind of industrial pop that West is dabbling in. Nine Inch Nails is rightfully credited for bringing industrial music to the mainstream, but what Manson did in his prime was both poppier and more metallic. The guitars and choruses are simple, loud and catchy, unable to be disguised by any amount of artsy production and music videos.

Before I had ever heard a note of Manson's music, I was familiar with him through a few interviews and the cover of Smells Like Children. I had never seen a creepier rock star, an image that was enhanced by his deadpan interview delivery--he didn't seem like he was trying to shock people at all. The first song of his that I heard was "The Beautiful People," on a DC-area rock station. Even though I'd missed the DJ's intro, I could tell who the artist was within seconds. The attitude was all there.

Like Kanye, Manson was terrific at adapting underground music for mainstream listeners. Hints of Ministry, Killing Joke and Bauhaus are all in "The Beautiful People", simplified and produced with Interscope Records and MTV in mind. Antichrist Superstar was purposefully written to make Marilyn Manson an iconic outsider, the most controversial rock star on the planet, and somehow it worked. To this day, it sounds audacious--will anything this Satanic ever play the MTV VMAs ever again?

That audacity wouldn't last. Cynics will say that all shock rockers have short shelf lives, but comparing "The Beautiful People" to Manson's subsequent, less popular albums, it sounds like he lost interest in the mainstream long before the mainstream lost interest in him. If his songs were still this infectious, he'd still be selling out arenas. But Manson doesn't need to build on his legacy anymore. Kanye's got that covered.

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