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 TWO, MATCH FIVE
Josie & the Pussycats
Stillwater (Almost Famous)
Intro: Leaping from the pages of Archie Comics, to Saturday morning cartoons, to the big screen and back, it’s Josie and the Pussycats, here to challenge Cameron Crowe’s Allman Brothers pastiche.
Kayleigh: Josie and the Pussycats is early 2000s pop punk given physical form by a witch’s spell. Discmans! Total Request Live! Crop tops and flared jeans! Even the lyrics “punk rock prom queen” are like a prophecy foretelling the onslaught of Avril Lavigne and Ashlee Simpson. Kay Hanley’s glittery vocals are perfect. I’m not going to pretend that nostalgia doesn’t play a role in some of my picks, but it’s not like Almost Famous isn’t driven by Cameron Crowe’s own nostalgia for the 1970s rock scene. Stillwater is perfectly fine, but it’s not my scene.
Dom: I have to agree with Kayleigh here. The TRL throwback vibe and the attention to turn of the millennium detail is too hard to pass up, no matter how adorable Jason Lee looks lip synching “Fever Dog.”
Madie: I was OBSESSED with Josie and the Pussycats in the sixth grade. I died my hair red and the movie informed my fashion sense for a while (this might explain some things). I literally watched this movie once a week. Stillwater legit rocks and they do a phenomenal job of echoing the zeitgeist of their era, but JosieandthePussycatsisthebestbandever. Subliminal messaging? Maybe, but their pure pop rock perfection is the candy I want to eat until my teeth rot.
Joe: We’re hitting a point with a lot of powerhouses, and Josie and the Pussycats is one of them. They’re a fictional band that’s sort of defined how fictional bands should work, and how appealing they can be. Not having a ton of affection for Stillwater to begin with, Josie is an easy pick for me.
Julian: The coolest thing about Josie and the Pussycats is that you have two different time periods and styles of music to choose from; you’ve got the groovy rock from the early ’70s tv show, and the pop-punk from the early 2000s movie. Both are great, I especially love their theme song from the old show. Instead of feeling like a band created to sound like bands of a bygone era, they sound like a band (or bands) that are very much from their own time, and they kick ass. That’s why I pick Josie and the Pussycats over Stillwater.
Winner: Josie & the Pussycats
ROUND TWO, MATCH SIX
Dewey Cox (Walk Hard)
The Beets (Doug)
Intro: With a career spanning five decades, Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly) conquered the worlds of country, folk, and rock. But can even a composite of Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Brian Wilson, Jim Morrison, and Neil Young defeat the cartoon phenomenon that is The Beets?
Julian: The Beets are a fun one (or two)-off joke, and their songs are quick catchy little nuggets, but Dewey Cox is a whole rotisserie. He’s got the songs, the insane, decades-long biography, and the drug habit to make him one of the best fictional musicians on this list.
Kayleigh: How ridiculously talented is John C. Reilly? There’s a moment in “Walk Hard” where he transforms his voice into an uncanny impersonation of Roy Orbison, and it gave me chills. A cute one-song band from a ’90s cartoon can’t really compare. If this were a machete fight, The Beets would be cut in half.
Dom: I am probably the lone person siding with The Beets on this one. Walk Hard is a legit great comedy, but, c’mon, “I Need More Allowance!” That’s a fucking jam.
Madie: I already knew John C. Reilly could sing, first seeing him in more serious roles like in Chicago, but even if he can’t smell, Dewey Cox gets my vote. The range and cleverness of the pastiche of each era just gets me, my favorite being the June Carter/Johnny Cash parody gone wrong “Let’s Duet”.
Joe: As enjoyable as The Beets are, Dewey Cox gets my vote without question. Walk Hard has an incredible knack for parodying every element of star musicians’ careers, from various reinventions (the disco version of “Walk Hard” he sings while hosting his variety show slays me) to a late resurgence from being sampled by a new artist. It’s hilarious and cutting, while still showing plenty of affection. Dewey Cox forever.
Winner: Dewey Cox
ROUND TWO, MATCH SEVEN
Jem & The Holograms (Jem and the Holograms)
Mitch & Mickey (A Mighty Wind)
Intro: Another total genre mismatch, twee folkies Mitch & Mickey must now confront the flashy, sci-fi pop stylings of Jem & The Holograms! Like Josie & the Pussycats, they’re stars across three media and have a devoted cult following, making them strong favorites going into this match.
Joe: This one is sorta rough because while I’m inclined toward Mitch & Mickey again, I really think Jem deserves a fair shake. It’s not a series I was into as a kid, but looking at pop cultural influence and importance, Jem & the Holograms has undeniable heft. Ultimately I have to go with them, as a fuller, more developed band across a wide array of media.
Julian: I never watched Jem as a kid, and was basically unaware of her, her show, and her music until well into adulthood. In fact, this tournament is the first time I’ve listened to it at all. It’s pretty good, got an ’80s disco vibe; some of it sounds kind of same-y, but I guess that will happen when you have to write close to 150 original songs. It definitely got my toes tapping more than Mitch & Mickey’s saccharine folk – don’t get me wrong, it’s very good, but kind of boring. Also, Jem’s clothes and look are all caused by holograms? How cool is that!
Kayleigh: There’s only one truly, truly outrageous band here, and it’s not the one with the star of American Pie Presents Beta House. Catchy, colorful, and completely bizarre, Jem’s music videos are always a delight to watch–if you didn’t crack a smile over Jem falling off a unicorn and into Rio’s arms on a lifeboat, I don’t know what to say. The Holograms are a pretty fun example of ’80s pop, and the fact that they had at least one new song per episode makes them one of the most prolific fake bands on our list. If any of the cartoon bands have the power to take it all home, it’s Jem and The Holograms.
Dom: By this point, I’d like to think my borderline frightening fandom for all things Jem would be taken as a given, There’s a massive 100+ song playlist on YouTube of every little track from the series’ three seasons and the bulk of the gems are from The Holograms themselves. Songs like “The Real Me” and “Who Is He Kissing?” might only be like 90 seconds long, but they’re microcosms of glam pop extravagance. Strong, catchy songwriting matched with Britta Philips’s powerhouse vocals. Even her supporting cast rival bands trounce some of the acts in this tournament! So yeah, Jem. All the way.
Madie: I never watched Jem and the Holograms, so the nostalgia factor just isn’t there for me. Also, I feel guilty for not voting for Mitch and Mickey in the first round. The sweet folk duet gets my vote.
Winner: Jem & The Holograms
ROUND TWO, MATCH EIGHT
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Hedwig and the Angry Inch)
Infant Sorrow (Get Him To The Greek/Forgetting Sarah Marshall)
Intro: Infant Sorrow was a late addition to the bracket, but they have fought their way to this pivotal matchup against stage and screen icons Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The musical styles may be compatible, but their source works are drastically different in tone. How will that affect the resulting matchup?
Madie: Ugh, this is another matchup where I feel bad voting either contestant off. If we were comparing the source material rather than just the bands, I think it would be a different story. Both are raunchy and both rock, but I think Hedwig and the Angry Inch has just a little more heart. Alternately, anyone up for a threesome?
Joe: I’m impressed that Infant Sorrow has made it this far, but Hedwig is the victor for me. Like Madie said, there’s more heart, and at this stage of listening to these songs, that’s getting pretty important to me. Aldous Snow had a good run, but we were hitting diminishing returns with him anyway.
Julian: It’s fitting that these two would meet, since they do very similar things, and admittedly I can’t always decide who does them better. I guess it has to come down to sincerity, and Hedwig has that in spades – Aldous Snow and Infant Sorrow are meant to be rockstar caricatures, so the songs boil down to just innuendo. I think they’ve gotten this far mostly because of poor competition, but also on the strength of their music. Put some more sincere lyrics behind those songs, and Infant Sorrow would be giving The Strokes swirlies behind the Governor’s Ball main stage. Anyway, Hedwig & the Angry Inch gets my vote; “Angry Inch” is punk as hell.
Kayleigh: I can’t believe I’ve written three paragraphs about Russell Brand’s fake band now. I think I’ve said everything I can about Infant Sorrow already, and Brand caterwauling “Furry Walls” doesn’t sway me. Madie said Hedwig has more “heart,” and I agree–Hedwig sings with real emotion and sincerity, which hopefully will take her far when a lot of the irony in these fake bands is wearing thin.
Dom: I’ve seen Hedwig exactly 0.5 times, but I will side with anyone, including but not limited to John Cameron Mitchell, if it means I don’t have to write another word about Russell Brand in the next round of this feature. Infant Sorrow put up a good little fight, but its time has passed.
Winner: Hedwig and the Angry Inch