I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but one of my favorite electronic groups of all time is Daft Punk. When the duo suddenly broke up in 2021, I was crushed. They made music on their own terms, made releases count, and had those amazing robot helmets (plus, I never got to see them live). An immediate void was created as they exited the incomparable musical partnership together. But a recent interview with co-founder Thomas Bangalter said when asked about why the duo broke up. He said, “As much as I love this character, the last thing I would want to be, in the world we live in, in 2023, is a robot.”
You could put that with several Black Mirror-esque warnings about a future already here. (that we don’t heed). But all these Sci-Fi references are a window to see when completely surrender things that need human experience and emotions to run. Artistry. Creative endeavors. Each has a personal touch that makes mediums like songs so enduring. Why are some of us eager to hand the keys to a computer program that acts like a voice-modulated Fortnite skin?
This is not saying I’m a curmudgeon holding on to every strand of old technology I have (I swear I don’t have any CD players. Never letting go of my iPod, though). I’m aware that technology when used correctly, can enhance the creative process – ranging from Pro Tools to Abelon. However, there’s a difference between helping and engaging in artist cosplay. For example, this Drake/The Weeknd AI-generated song is the equivalent of the NBA players who lost their talent when the Monstars took it in Space Jam. Soulless and lacks the zest and swagger of a previous collaboration of theirs, “Crew Love.”
There’s a difference between making a song based on what you think an artist might say and that same artist going into their creative bag. No matter how authentic the voice is, you can’t duplicate the soul from which it came. You can carry inspiration from an influence to make it your own, but to steal the voice in which it came is egregious. When I recite a Jay-Z verse from memory, I resonate with how he does it – the pocket, the vocabulary, and how he paints a picture is why he’s one of the greatest today.
I looked up a random Eminem AI-generated song on Youtube, and there’s a part when the program says, “I’m still colder than snow season/when it’s 20 below freezing.” If you catch it, this line is taken from Eminem’s 1999 song, “Just Don’t Give A,” and even takes away the context of the great second verse he spits. It’s a mix-up of previous things he’s said under the guise of “getting back to his roots.” This man just turned 50 not too long ago – of course, he’s not going to look at the same things through the eyes of a late 20-year-old.
Now it seems like anybody can put up a filter and pretend to make a song like an artist they idolize. There’s an obvious ethics question in play and the eerie undercurrent where people would instead take that misguided admiration a step further in a world where people impersonate others on social media accounts. I watched the Little Richard: I Am Everything documentary the other day, and one of the main themes was how Black artists had been erased from discussions about the birth of the rock and roll genre.
I can’t help to notice that most of these AI ventures have primarily been geared to copy the hip-hop genre. Now, that’s not to say there won’t be copies of pop and rock music that come (there’s a dreadful example of an AI-generated Nirvana song), but many people have been actively partaking in ways to strip the guts out of hip-hop culture and give nothing back. AI is another way that could be done, which is troubling, considering you are stripping away the creator who made it what it is. But I’m sure in a society where people grow combative with knowledgeable doctors and lawyers – they’ll chomp at the bit to remove people responsible for the culture away from it.
Nick Cage wrote a spirited response about Chat GPT in his newsletter, “ChatGPT has no inner being, it has been nowhere, it has endured nothing, it has not had the audacity to reach beyond its limitations, and hence it doesn’t have the capacity for a shared transcendent experience, as it has no limitations from which to transcend.”
There were a collection of humans behind every favorite song that gets stuck in your head or transports you back to a particular time. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to give that honor away to a game of computer Mad Libs.