The Gorillaz are easily one of the most iconic groups to come out of the 2000s. The fact that they are the first virtual artist alone makes them one of the most unique acts of the 2000s. It really is pretty crazy that we all bought into the story of this groups that is only visible on a screen. The way the stories of the band members have been crafted is sort of like an anime, and ironically these virtual characters have more interesting “lives” than a lot of real celebrities or musicians. But the prowess of the Gorillaz goes way beyond these virtual characters. The diversity of their music catalog is the coolest thing to me about the Gorillaz. They have been able to blend genres constantly from song to song throughout their whole existence, with every project having the familiar Gorillaz vibe but every album having a completely different theme. Every album they make is a true concept album, for every project tells a new section of the story that is the Gorillaz. There really are so many reasons that the Gorillaz are great, and I think they will definitely be one of the biggest and most important artists to come out of this time.
The Gorillaz was started in the the year 2000, with the idea being conceived by Jamie Hewlett, the illustrator responsible for the comic Tank Girl, and the musician Damon Albarns, of Blur fame. They decided they wanted to make a virtual supergroup, with computer generated artists with full backstories and personalities. These characters, created by Hewlett, are singer Stuart “2D” Pot, Murdoc Niccals on bass, Noodle on the guitar, and Russell Hobbs on drums. 2D is the most vibrant personality of the group, and he is often aloof and spacy. Noodle is a ten year old guitar prodigy who is also a black belt in multiple martial arts. Murdoc is the creepy and Satanic bassist, thought of as the brains and the group and the one within the band that “writes” the music. Russell Hobbs is the drummer and best friends with 2D, and says he is inspired by Chakka Khan and Farrahkhan; Russell Hobbs also becomes possessed by FunkyPhantoms at times when performing, ripping into demonic rap verses. Damon Albarn has said these characters are a commentary on pop culture and stations like MTV. He said they were watching MTV one day and were amazed at how vapid and meaningless a lot of the content we consume is. Through the Gorillaz they have been able to highlight the best and worst things about that culture.
The music of the Gorillaz is primarily made by Damon Albarns, who became a superstar in the 90s with his grunge pop rock band Blur. He is technically the only person creating the music, but he views the Gorillaz as a super group, so every album has had different great guests featured throughout the record. Early in the Gorillaz discography, most of the FunkyPhantoms rap verses were handled by Del the Funky Homosapien. In recent years his rap verses have been done by multiple different rappers. The Gorillaz music stylistically is very diverse. They have made straight up rap songs, alternative rock tracks, electro pop tracks, soul songs, etc. They have really dabbled in most types of music in their discography. Every album adds to the story of the characters, and their “moods” affects what the songs sound like. There are not too many artists that can make so many different types of music like they do.
The Gorillaz have been international stars since their debut self titled album in 2001. This album produced one of their biggest songs to date, the iconic “Clint Eastwood.” This song serves as a good example of the diversity of the sound the Gorillaz produce. The instrumental is a weird electronic fusion of funky rock and hip hop, with the chorus sung by 2D and versus rapped by a blue funky phantom. The Phantom switches between rapping directly at and about the audience and Russell; it is a really interesting back and forth, showing his crazy the Phantom is. Another song on this record that I love is 19-2000(Soulchild Remix). This cut is another electronic fusion, this time between soul music and pop. The song features 2D singing about wanting and needing next big material thing. The song is essentially making fun of consumerism.
The next full-length record the Gorillaz dropped, after a series of B-sides and remixes, is the iconic Demon Days. This record came out in 2005, and is considered their best by a lot of music listeners. A lot of the imagery typically associated with the Gorillaz came from this era of the group as well. Typically when people think of the Gorillaz(visually), they think about the music videos and interactive live performance videos that were associated with this record. Demon Days produced what is probably the most popular song by the Gorillaz, “Feel Good Inc.” Lyrically, this song is about 2D falling in love with a girl on Noodle’s Windmill Island, and being afraid of the totalitarian regime taking over the world the Gorillaz reside in. This track also features the rap group De La Soul rapping as funky phantoms through Russell. Sonically, it is a funky pop track with an almost creepy and dystopian vibe. Another iconic single from this record is ”Dirty Harry.” This song sounds like a funk song straight out of the 70s, and actually features the San Fernando Youth Chorus. The song is kind of makes fun of the problems of our society. In this track the Gorillaz make not of the irony of using weapons like guns to keep us safe(because they unsafe by nature). My favorite track on this record is DARE. This song has an upbeat electro funk groove that is so infectious it always makes me want to dance. This is one of those cuts I always throw on when I have the aux and people always want to know what song it is.
The next full length album in the Gorillaz discography, released in 2010, is Plastic Beach. This one is probably my personal favorite record by the Gorillaz. This project has a few of the most unique songs in the Gorillaz discography, such as the crazy and futuristic ”Stylo.” This song features a very strange future-funky hip hop groove, and features vocals from rapper Mos Def and singer Bobby Womack. Another one of the most popular songs on this record is ”Rhinestone Eyes.” This one is just as strange sounding as ”Stylo, ” with a very robotic hip hop instrumental. It has creepy riff to go along with a beat that almost sound like multiple beeping buttons. 2D sings about a woman he loves on this track, stating ”Your rhinestone eyes are like factories far away.” My favorite song on this record, and maybe my favorite Gorillaz song overall, is “On Melancholy Hill.” This song has more of an upbeat and positive/happy sounding pop instrumental, which kind of comes in contrast with the lyrics. 2D and his lady are sitting on melancholy hill, where had states “you can’t get what you want but you can get me.” He seems to be saying that the world we live in may not be so beautiful or great all the time, but at least we are going through it together. It’s a super cute message.
After taking a 7 year hiatus, the Gorillaz were sort of ushered into a new era, releasing Humans in 2017 and an album of B-sides called The Now Now in 2018. Humans brought along the most change in the actual virtual band members to this point. The physical drawings of the characters changed dramatically, with the characters looking way more humanoid than they ever have, in the past looking more like monkeys. The time in between Humans and The Now Now saw a temporary change in the make up of the band as well, with Murdoc going to prison and being replaced by Ace, a villain in the Powerpuff Girls tv show. Humans has the largest amount of features on a Gorillaz album to date, with contributions from Snoop Dogg, Pusha T, DRAM, Vince Staples, Mavis Staples, George Benson, and many more. It is probably their most commercial sounding record, but still has the typical characteristics that make the Gorillaz great. My favorite song of this record is “Ascension, ” featuring Vince Staples. This song is a fast-paced R&B song with super eccentric and political rapping from Vince. The Now Now is probably the most low key record in the discography of the Gorillaz. Damon Albarn has started this record was sort of a transition album to give him more new material to perform live. My favorite song of the album is “Humility.” It is a sunny-sounding chill electro r&b track with George Benson on guitar and features Jack Black hanging out on Venice Beach with 2D.
The Gorillaz have always been ahead of the curve with their music, and also with the way they promote the group. Back when Humans came out in 2017, they had local parks in big cities around the country set up virtual videos and shows, with people walking around the parks in a similar fashion to Pokemon Go! This was one of the coolest listening experience I have had. No other music group has created videos that only pop up on your phone when you enter a physical location. It forced people to go outside to the parks so they could follow the story. I remember the first time I saw one of the “members” interviewed live on tv. It was during the Video Music Awards way back in 2005, and they had an MTV VJ interviewing 2D about the video for “Feel Good Inc.” Without the Gorillaz trying things like this, there would be be virtual Instagram stars like Lil Mikaela, who is becoming one of the biggest stars on the site. It’s like Damon and Jamie predicted this world of virtual celebrities.
The Gorillaz are one of the most interesting and diverse artists to come out of the 2000s, or really any era. The fact they are a virtual group with real and complicated backstories is cool enough, and the fact their music is so vibrant and genre bending is an awesome added bonus. Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett are creative geniuses, and easily two of the most important artists of this time. To listen to some of the Gorillaz music, click the Spotify link below!
Sources – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorillaz
Photo credit – https://www.pinterest.com/TheWitchBanana/gorillaz/