“Instead of calling a song a rock song, or a hip-hop song, or a pop song, songs just are. And whatever you choose to do with them is up to you…”
In this statement, pianist Scott Bradlee sums up what should be the mindset of every musician. According to Bradlee, a musician is not doing their job if they are only willing to accommodate a narrow audience. Similarly, a music connoisseur is not genuine unless they can appreciate a wide array of music outside cultural and historical contexts, whether it be Top 50 or Classical Romantic.
Bradlee’s band and Youtube sensation Postmodern Jukebox gives popular radio songs a vintage makeover. In this TEDx Talk, they perform three renditions of Kesha’s “Die Young:” the first a Wild West saloon tune, then a Viennese waltz, and finally a Broadway showpiece, with the Wild West version making it onto their album, Twist Is the New Twerk (2014). At its foundation, the stylistic variation is artfully executed via a simple change in tempo.
Postmodern Jukebox aims to eradicate genre barriers in their music so that it can be accessible to all listeners. Bradlee’s waltz version of “Die Young” is something his grandmother would enjoy listening to, unlike the original version, which she would probably not relate to very well. Postmodern Jukebox’s ability to perform a song with the words twerk and fo sho in the lyrics for an elder audience, without satirical motivation, is definitely notable. But this gift works the other way as well, exposing young viewers to older styles of music they otherwise would not be readily familiar with such as 1920s swing jazz or 1950s doo wop.
Postmodern Jukebox gained fame on YouTube in 2013 after their release of a 1950s doo-wop cover of Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop.” That was the same year in which Bradlee solidified the formation of the group. Bradlee had previously worked in the New York City jazz scene and would often rework pop music as a musical exercise, starting off by incorporating 1980s pop with rag-time style piano. Bradlee collaborated with local musicians to release A Motown Tribute to Nickelback in 2012. The following year, he formed Postmodern Jukebox, a big band with a rotating set of musicians. They often have guest musicians, but several of them appear more or less regularly such as vocalist Robyn Adele Anderson — a group favorite, her smooth, skilled vocals have become a distinct feature of their sound.
Like a music museum, Postmodern Jukebox educates viewers and preserves vintage forms of music. Along with bridging generation gaps, they succeed in establishing the point that music is universal. Postmodern Jukebox’s unusual moniker is quite befitting for this reason: they perform pop tunes as if they were cranking out of a jukebox. To them, there is no such thing as an esoteric song meant for a select audience.
The band is currently on tour in Europe and will commence their North American tour in Boston on April 30 in support of their latest Selfies on Kodachrome, which does not include their most recent cover of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” (video below).
Article by Angelica Zocchi