This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day saw the release of New York-based indie rock band Great Caesar’s long-anticipated music video for “Don’t Ask Me Why,” the result of a Kickstarter project created with the intent of disseminating a pro-sexual equality message.
Although the band describes the video as “bold and courageous,” “Don’t Ask Me Why” finds itself comfortably at home in a music industry marked by similarly self-declared sexual equality anthems such as Macklemore’s “Same Love.” The video features a number of artistic and pro-LGBTQ heavyweights such as Kimberly Graham and Wade Davis, Jr. supporting its cause, as well a montage of socially challenged romantic relationships from both past and present. This includes an
interracial couple from the 1960s as well as both gay and lesbian pairs depicted in a more modern setting.
Great Caesar, featuring Tom Sikes ’11, has performed at the College, most recently in January 2011. A Record review of their music described their previous effort as “brassy jazz with a hard rock edge” (“Great caesar draws on late Bodner’s influence,” 2012). However, this version of Great Caesar no longer exists, as far as their promotional material is concerned. The band’s website, Facebook and iTunes pages have discarded this historical Great Caesar contribution and do not feature any music that preceded “Don’t Ask Me Why.” Here at WCFM, we were able to find a CD of some of the band’s early songs in our library, and it is a pretty standard, though not unpleasant, collection of jam band tracks.
As the pop music industry has shifted, however, so too has Great Caesar. The group has been born again, in this iteration a LGBTQ rights-heavy, impressively Kickstarted band. Gone are the vivid but questionable opening lines like “Pretty girl with the juicy butt, she/gets around but she’s not a slut she/just likes/sex” in “Sweet Banana.” Their charmingly messy, brassy sound has been replaced by an aesthetic one, supersaturated with bokeh blurs and sans-serif fonts (far more fit to be shared and retweeted in a social media landscape dominated by sites like Upworthy and Tumblr than their previous efforts were).
Despite its bold claims, “Don’t Ask Me Why” fails to contribute much creative substance to either the music world or the sexual equality movement. Its “strong … civil rights message” is by all means admirable, but the final product fails to distinguish itself from the myriad other Upworthy links that are endlessly shared but only occasionally actually viewed. The entire video is ephemerally generic – its Kickstarter origins are identical to every similar, well-intentioned project that has been and will be created from 2011 to 2015 or so.
More bizarre are some of the goals that the project’s grandiose Kickstarter sets off to achieve. The page itself is nauseatingly hyperbolic; it implores readers to “consider jumping on board with this project that will change the world” and to support “the timeless piece of art.” It seems hard to believe something dripping in such extravagant language is anything but a parody of empty blogging culture, yet, to the group’s credit, they were able to accumulate over $50,000 worth of donations from the crowd-funding site.
If Great Caesar wants to continue attempting to do “what [they] do best: [tell] a story that will stir hearts, start conversations, and open minds,” they should consider reorienting the production of their most recent project. By rebranding itself as a musical group that is entirely defined by their social message, Great Caesar has ironically restricted their audience to the very people whom their message has already reached. It is a self-defeating transformation, the product of which seems boring and hollow, especially when its $50,000 budget is taken into account.
The project aside, the song is actually a decently fun folk rock ballad in the vein of Of Monsters and Men. There is a sweet boy/girl duet, a quiet bridge that leads into an impressive build-up culminating in an a cappella breakdown and prominent trumpet usage interspersed throughout. But after the first minute or so, the visuals and lyrics desynchronize, and the song itself feels totally unrelated to the video.
Great Caesar ought to be commended for condemning contemporary social discrimination of same-sex couples. However, by framing its markedly uninspired depiction of the “forbidden love” archetype as revolutionary, the group erodes its own credibility and shifts the viewer’s reaction from an eyebrow-raise to an eyeroll.