With the June release of The Lonely Island and Judd Apatow film Popstar: Never Stop Stopping, The Deadshirt crew decided to take some of our favorite fictional bands and artists and pit them head-to-head, college basketball style. There’s a wealth of great music that’s come out of characters from film and television, but there can only be one champion, and it’s up to our panel of Deadshirt writers—Julian Ames, Madie Coe, Dominic Griffin,Kayleigh Hearn, and Joe Stando—to determine the winner!
Judging a contest like this is complicated, as there are even more factors to consider here than when comparing real-life bands. Not only is there the artists’ catalogs and cultural impact to compare, but also the entertainment value the characters and source material. To make this job a little easier, we pared down our list to only artists with original songs. Sadly, this disqualified some popular faves such as The Blues Brothers, Wyld Stallyns, and The Soggy Bottom Boys, but among the sizeable talent pool are cultural icons, rising stars, classic cartoons, and a pack of perpetually stoned Muppets.
Make sure you place your bets and start your office pools now.
ROUND ONE, MATCH ONE
Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem (The Muppet Show)
Mystik Spyral (Daria)
Our first matchup pits the world’s most acclaimed band of hippie Muppets against a gang of adorable talent-starved grunge idiots. Both bands play a supporting role in their respective series, but neither show would be quite the same without them. Julian, what do you picture?
Julian: I never watched Daria as a kid, and have only seen a handful of episodes more recently, but upon listening to them for this poll, I can say they’re not bad. Musically, they’re dead-on pop grunge of their era, and the lyrics are pretty funny and approximate the depth of a typical high schooler. Still, I think The Electric Mayhem and their growly voiced frontman are just more fun in every way. Plus they’ve got Animal: case closed.
Kayleigh: Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem are groovier than the Grateful Dead dancing bears eating a pint of Wavy Gravy ice cream, but it’s Mystik Spiral for me. Okay, yes, I relate to Daria’s crush on Trent way too much, but Mystik Spiral also perfectly captures that feeling of being young and utterly idolizing the local garage bands that are so cool even if their lyrics are a little dopey.
Dom: If we’re judging purely on looks, Mystik Spiral is such a perfect approximation of a very nineties kind of band, but being relegated to a stand-in for the entire grunge era hurts them for me. Electric Mayhem has the Keith Moon of Muppets on the skins and that’s just too hard to top.
Madie: Mystik Spyral would have been well at home in a lineup with talent-starved grunge idiots like Butthole Surfers and Meat Puppets, but I think those Muppets clinch it for me with the deranged grunting of Animal over strains of funkalicious organ, or anything really.
Joe: I gotta give Dr. Teeth the edge here. Mystik Spyral is clever enough, but The Electric Mayhem have a surprising amount of versatility for a joke band, both musically and in terms of the characterizations of the members. They’re the gift that keeps on giving.
WINNER: Dr. Teeth & the Electric Mayhem
ROUND ONE, MATCH TWO
Sex Bob-Omb (Scott Pilgrim vs The World)
Pop! (Music and Lyrics)
In the red corner, we have a group that’s no stranger to battles of the bands, Scott Pilgrim’s lo-fi garage rock disaster Sex Bob-Omb. And in the blue corner, their polar opposite: the polished and produced WHAM! pastiche, Pop! This one’s a real apples vs. oranges match-up that I suspect will come down to personal taste. Ready? FIGHT!
Joe: Oooh, this one’s tough. Both are pitch-perfect parodies of their respective genres with surprisingly high levels of quality and listenability. This one really does come down to personal taste, and I gotta go with Sex Bob-Omb. I’m a lowkey Beck fan, and of all the bands in the bracket, I think this is the one with the most (maybe only) songs I actually just slide into regular playlists.
Julian: This is so unfair that these two should meet in the first round. I think these are legitimately my two favorite bands in this bracket. I’ve probably listened to several hours of both “Threshold” and “Pop Goes My Heart.” If I had to pick the better band, I’d have to go with Sex Bob-Omb just because of originality; Pop! Is a spot-on pastiche of Wham! (complete with “Careless Whisper” knock-off) but I think Sex Bob-Omb is a band that could make some legitimate waves if they were real.
Kayleigh: Pop! is perhaps too good of a Wham! pastiche, because while it’s a catchy earworm, I’d probably (sorry) lose my head if I had to listen to it on the radio with any frequency. Its deliberate soullessness holds it back. Sex Bob-Omb, on the other hand, is vibrantly alive and makes me want to dance, kick, and thrash around.
Dom: Everything about Sex Bob-Omb shouldn’t work on screen, if only because the band originated from a graphic novel and how many of their tunes did we all individually imagine in our heads before ever seeing this film? Against all odds, the real thing delivered something fierce. This isn’t even a fucking contest.
Madie: This is a battle of tacky musical addictions for me… garage rock and eighties synthpop. I’m basically a bag lady when it comes to musical tastes. But in this case, the gritty distorted sounds of Sex Bob-omb (as imagined by Beck) has been a band I have long wished would materialize IRL and put out some more music. I’m not even embarrassed to admit they were basically my summer 2011 soundtrack. Pop! Fits seamlessly into its respective genre and era, but I don’t feel like Alex Fletcher and his crew of Wham! Wannabes produced a sound that was anything special or more than an imitation. I just like to think about death and get sad and stuff, I guess. K.O.!
WINNER: Sex Bob-Omb
ROUND ONE, MATCH THREE
Eddie & the Cruisers (Eddie & the Cruisers)
Otis “Bad” Blake (Crazy Heart)
Welcome to the Old White Man Invitational, where Fake Bruce Springsteen will take on Fake Hank Thompson in a battle for relevance! Eddie & the Cruisers are a blatant but stunningly accurate imitation of mid-70s Bruce and the subject of a camp classic indie flop, while Jeff Bridges won Best Actor for his portrayal of burnt-out songsmith “Bad” Blake in the acclaimed Crazy Heart. In-universe hit “The Weary Kind” also took home a real-world Oscar. Madie, which of these won your attention?
Madie: To be honest, I had never heard of either one coming into this (although I do remember Crazy Heart cleaning up big during that award season), but I’ve got to say “The Weary Kind” clearly deserved both it’s fictional and actual acclaim. I got chills, man. Ryan Bingham’s voice is so emotive and the pared down arrangement is immaculate. Campy can be fun, but it’s got nothing on a song that makes you feel some kind of way.
Joe: Not being either a Thompson guy or a Springsteen guy, I don’t have a ton of affection of frame of reference for these two going in. I actually liked both a lot, but yeah, “Bad” Blake definitely has the edge here. It feels very real, in a way not a lot of fictional artists do.
Julian: It’s funny, both these songs could be heard as Bruce Springsteen pastiches of different eras; both Ryan Bingham and Jeff Bridges sing with the accent and affectation that The Boss has developed in more recent years. Sure, “The Weary Kind” is an Oscar winning, deeply emotional folk-y song, but I’m going to vote for the anthemic rocker “On The Dark Side” and the type Springsteen music that I actually like.
Kayleigh: “On The Dark Side” is the only song in round one to have been a number #1 hit, interestingly enough. The Springsteen influence is definitely anachronistic for the film’s 1960s setting, but I don’t think it’s campy at all; the combination of the great guitar hook and brooding lyrics (“She walks like a dream/makes me feel crazy/makes me feel so mean’) give it weight and meaning. “The Weary Kind” is powerful, but “On The Dark Side” is what I’d pick on the jukebox.
Dom: There was an interview with Aaron Eckhart some years ago where he explained why Jeff Bridges was his favorite actor. His reason was Bridges’ innate ability to express sincerity. He’s an actor who you believe in any role because he imbues every characterization with honesty. This genuine quality gives Otis an inner life and a gravitas few other fictional musicians possess. Sorry, Cruisers.
WINNER: Otis “Bad” Blake
ROUND ONE, MATCH FOUR
Brian Slade (Velvet Goldmine)
Shallow Gravy (The Venture Bros.)
This round, we get our glam on in a contest between the Bowie-inspired Brian Slade (who comes complete with a Ziggy Stardust-style alter ego in the form of Maxwell Demon) and Shallow Gravy, the intensely stupid garage band consisting of two maladjusted adventurers and their very helpful robot.
Dom: Brian Slade is essentially a Ziggy stand-in if someone extracted every last drop of queerness from the Bowie mythos and injected its spirit into marginally gifted actor Jonathan Rhys-Myers. To Velvet Goldmine’s credit, Slade’s music stands on its own two feet, even divorced from the context of the film.
Madie: I haven’t thought about Velvet Goldmine since I was first discovering LGBT media as a youth and damn the music from that movie was great. Shallow Gravy is fun and silly, but it’s definitely not something I would listen to IRL. And “The Ballad of Maxwell Demon” is just mesmerizing. Yes, please.
Joe: This one is a pretty good example of the contrast between how I like these fictional bands. On a musical level, Brian Slade has a lot more to offer, but the perfection of Shallow Gravy, a couple kids making idiotic musical scratchings and thinking it’s changing the face of rock, earns my vote.
Julian: The name Shallow Gravy is a pretty decent pun band name, and I gotta admit, their song “Jacket” is about something near and dear to my heart: jackets. I will, however, be voting for Brian Slade. The not-so-subtle David Bowie stand-in character is given a not-so-subtle David Bowie stand-in song to perform; and boy, not only does it hit the mark, it also is just a stand-alone good song.
Kayleigh: Brian Slade is glam rock personified, and “The Ballad of Maxwell Demon” nails the important details like the androgyny, the science fiction-infused lyrics, and the slick vocals. Shallow Gravy is a one-joke band, and I already voted for an intentionally bad cartoon garage rock band in this round, so kiss your sons and your daughters goodbye.
WINNER: Brian Slade
Come back next week for the second half of the first round, featuring a pack of preternaturally talented pre-teens, Evil(er?) Justin Bieber, Homer Simpson, and more!