Postmodern Jukebox is a great example of an artist that has successfully opted out of the traditional music industry and proof that one can remain successful when doing so. The group cleverly recreates popular music in a vintage style which typically contrast greatly with the original but almost strangely also illustrate parallels to the original.
Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox is a popular, YouTube based musical group founded in 2011. Each week, the group uploads a video to YouTube in which they rearrange a modern pop song into a different genre, such as ragtime, Motown, 1920’s jazz, klezmer, and almost every other vintage style.
Bradlee started his group with the idea of “classing up” pop music, a way to spend time with friends, and as an escape from thinking about student loan debt. (Bradlee, 2016) The group, consisting of Chris Anderson on bass, Ben Golder-Novick on saxophone, Brandee Younger on harp, and Emma Walker on vocals, first prepared and uploaded their rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” intending to start a YouTube series.
Alternatively, the group could gave sought out a recording company, record label, and producer, following the traditional route to fame in the music industry. Instead, they opted out of the standard industry and created Postmodern Jukebox. Bradlee picked this name because “postmodern” to show how the group aimed to break down walls between genres, and “jukebox” because they focused on recreating pop songs. (Bradlee, 2016) Bradlee also chooses to arrange the music himself, where he starts by writing down chord progressions, riffs, and rhythms he plans to use, and the experiments to find the right sound to conform the songs to the particular genre he has chosen.
(mother jones) With this deconstruction and reimagining songs, Bradlee can create complex and interesting music which is able to be enjoyed by a wider audience range: From here, the group created their first viral hit with the release of “A Motown tribute to Nickelback”, but were later vaulted into stardom with their 1930’s jazz rendition of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop”, released in 2013. This video received 100,000 views overnight and was the group’s first to receive one million views. From here, Postmodern Jukebox would gather more than millions of subscribers and hundreds of millions of views on YouTube, proving that a group or artist can still vault themselves to fame while defying the traditional music industry. Through YouTube and their blog, Postmodern Jukebox can better easily connect with fans to maintain and grow their audience. Bradlee wishes viewers “to feel like they’re sitting on the couch watching us”, aiming to provide and intimate feel to the viewers. (Suebsaeng, 2014) Now featuring over fifty rotating artists, as well as commonly inviting guest musicians and vocalists, Postmodern Jukebox continues to produce weekly uploads to YouTube, perform concerts worldwide, sells CDs, digital downloads, apparel, and other merchandise on their website.
The creation of Postmodern Jukebox’s unique covers poses a challenge for Scott Bradlee. After picking a song, how can one change rhythms, chord progressions, riffs, and instrumentation to fit the sound? Bradlee does this by writing down chord progressions and experimenting with the sound to determine what matches well to the desired time period. (mother jones) In doing so, he is able to develop an arraignment that manages to create a quality song that sounds very different from the original tune. Their version draws many parallels to the original while managing to sound very different. For instance, Bradlee changes the key of “Shake It Off” from G major to F major to better suit the warmer feel that his Motown version is recreating. In Postmodern Jukebox’s version, the lyrical rhythms are mostly kept the same as the original because they integrated well into the Motown feel. However, for the bass line, the rhythm was changed slightly to be less busy, but the chord progressions were translated through the change of key to keep a similar sound to the original. In their ragtime cover of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop”, Postmodern Jukebox is able to create an entirely different feeling song, maintaining only the rhythms and progressions from the lyrical part of the song. In the bass and piano, standard ragtime progressions are used to make the ragtime feel. In Postmodern Jukebox’s take on Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty”, performed with traditional klezmer instrumentation, they replace the saxophone with a violin to match the klezmer style while sounding fairly similar to the original song, with piano to accompany this. The accordion, string bass, clarinet, and singing style provide most of the klezmer sound to the recreation. To further connect the song to the genre, the 2 Chainz rap from the original song is performed in Yiddish. All of these examples illustrate how effective Postmodern Jukebox is at performing pop songs in a wildly different genre. The excellent musicianship, arrangements, and laid-back feel to the music videos are what make this band so popular. The great singing and playing attracts older generations and anyone who appreciates the older styles, and the name and lyrics of the pop song being covered attracts fans of the original songs. Without the excellent quality of music, including recreation of vintage genres and clever arrangements, it is unlikely that this group would have as popular as they have.
While there are other bands that recreate modern songs in a unique creative way, such as Hurra Torpedo and Pomplamoose, Postmodern Jukebox remains the most popular group covering modern songs in an older style of music. They are a notable example of how popular and famous one can be simply by posting quality content somewhere on the internet. Some bands have been able to have success covering songs the same way Postmodern Jukebox has, but usually they are a one-off song, and no groups were to be found that paralleled Postmodern Jukebox’s style. The type of recreations Postmodern Jukebox does are repeatable by others, but they band’s large following is almost insurmountable for new artists who aim to produce similar music. If anyone wanted to make music the same way Postmodern Jukebox does, they would probably end up joining the lengthy list of performers on postmodernjukebox.com. This way, other musicians could make creative covers and be well recognized for their talents without trying to gain popularity all by themselves. However, if someone desired to create or expand upon Postmodern Jukebox by, for example, covering old songs with modern styles, YouTube is still a great option for many people to share their creations. Bradlee’s music and similar styles have been able to thrive on the website because there’s no manager or record label to interfere or restrict what music is put out, but the songs can’t get too weird because it is framed on music that is already popular. Couple this with the great fan interaction that is possible through comments and the newer community section, Postmodern Jukebox can continue to put out quality and entertaining videos and evolve with the fanbase. This could increase the longevity of the group’s relevance and popularity. Additionally, with the considerable number of rotating musicians, large number of vintage styles, and ever-increasing number of pop songs, Postmodern Jukebox could exist for as long as Bradlee desir