(6) omc, "how bizarre"
(8) chumbawamba, "tubthumping"
and will play for the championship thursday
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchfadness twitter poll. The polls closed at 9am Arizona time on 3/28.
analysis of the final 4 songs
Tubthumping: Twice now, Tubthumping has come from behind late in the night to win an unexpected victory. I would propose this is proof of a “deep state” rooted within the March Fadness bureacracy that is having its way, except, as I’ve noted, Chumbawamba was a collection of anarchist leftie goofballs, which no deep state could possibly support. Thus, I can only conclude that these results are the authentic voice of the American people, heard at last. Carry on, brave American voters!
How Bizarre: Somehow, maybe because I remembered it well enough to skip relistening to it until now, this song slipped past my laser-like focus on MarchFadness. I was going to write about how genuinely bizarre OMC seemed in the video, when I made the mistake of doing the one thing you should avoid if you’re going to thoughtlessly mock something: Read more about it. After Justin St. Germain’s essay, I find myself thinking that Pauly Fuemana, the man behind OMC, was a pretty cool guy and that this really is a pretty good song.
Prediction: Pauly beats Chumbawamba, and they all have a pint together in One-hit Heaven. —Reed Karaim
How Bizarre: How can you resist that chorus? How can you say the phrase: "how bizarre" and not somehow be in conversation with that song? I'm glad this song is in the final four.
Tubthumping: I do not believe people could be in a group setting, that song come on, and everyone in the entire room not sing along. Even if a person had never heard the song, they would be chiming in by the end. I think it could end up in the championship. —Aaron Smith
First, I'd like to acknowledge that OMC & I occupy a Final Four spot which rightfully belongs to the noble Sir Mix-a-Lot, and compete here in his honor.
I hesitate to say why I think these other three songs made it, lest I alienate more voters than my aspersions cast at "Walking in Memphis" apparently already have. (My apologies to the Cohnish loyalists; this is not a hill I want to die on.) And I probably don't need to point out the dominant hue of the other three finalists. And, while the other side of the bracket is a bit earnest for my taste, I have--for the first time in this tournament--nothing bad to say about our semifinal opponent. Any band of outspoken anarchists who told Nike to shove a million-dollar licensing offer is cool with me; I'm speculating here, but OMC would likely agree. And my counterpart's trenchant essay does a good song justice.
"Tubthumping" and "How Bizarre" seem to me kindred: both are catchy and energetic, were ubiquitous in the late '90s, polarize voters, and are darker and more complex, lyrically and contextually, than they get credit for. So vote your conscience, folks. It probably doesn't matter who wins: in either case, we'll be fighting an uphill battle against emo nostalgia in the final. (And let's be honest, nobody's beating "Torn," although I'd pay good money to see Fuemana vs. Imbruglia in an Australasian showdown.)
My picks: OMC over Chumbawamba, Imbruglia over Osborne. —Justin St Germain
JUSTIN ST. GERMAIN ON "HOW BIZARRE"
The other day, I went to the National Gallery for the first time. I don’t know anything about art. I come from poor people who didn’t have the money or time for it, and I went to schools that didn’t teach it much, where I also didn’t seek it out. But I like to look at art, and have stumbled into seeing a lot of it: on one list of the top art museums in the world, I’d been to eight of ten.
It’s a strange thing, to have seen so much art as an ignorant. It makes you wonder about aesthetics. The hired guides walking groups around the gallery seemed to evaluate art mostly by context: historical movements, influences, contemporaries, career stages. Some talked more about technique, composition, and color. I mostly just like to stare at it for a while, and see if I can see the genius. Some are obvious: the big Pollock, the O’Keefes. Others seemed more esoteric; I was the only one spending much time with George Bellows.
I don’t know anything about music, either. Can’t play an instrument or sing a lick, and am often told I have bad taste. But I listen to a lot of it, and that’s all you really need to formulate some aesthetics for pop, especially the songs in this tournament; Warhol and Lichtenstein might have wound up in the National Gallery, but none of these songs will.
A good way to evaluate a one-hit wonder is by how well it defines a moment. Quick: what does “How Bizarre” remind you of? Whatever you just remembered happened twenty years ago this summer, when the song played half a million times on the radio, the biggest reach platform in the US. It had already been a worldwide hit for a year by then, which means, for a few weeks in July and August of 1997, it was possibly the most-heard song in the world. If you were alive and sentient then, you remember doing something while “How Bizarre” played in the background. I’ve asked a few people my age, and it reminded them of what teenagers do while listening to the radio: working shitty jobs, riding in cars, drugs.
For me it’s the former. I turned sixteen that July, procured a pickup truck, and had to figure out a way to pay for gas. A family friend owned a restaurant in my hometown. The friend, whom I’ll call Rick, was a froglike guy with a bullhorn voice who drank Tanqueray for lunch and imported furniture from Mexico. Employees figured the restaurant was a drug front, which seemed like the only explanation for a place staffed by bunch as motley as we, ex-cons and dropouts and your correspondent, then a lanky sophomore virgin in JNCOs.
I had to work my way inside the restaurant; I started in the employee lot out back. Rick got a wild hair to grow the restaurant’s tomatoes himself, in an atavistic patch of crabgrass that had been a garden back when the restaurant had been a house. He needed someone to replace its dirt with soil from a garden across the street, behind a house whose owner Rick claimed to have permission from, but which sure seemed pretty vacant.
So I became a soil thief. I spent most of an Arizona summer in a hat and a bandanna, sunburnt and salty, scooping dirt, listening to a staticky pop radio station from Tucson on a boombox I’d stolen from the dishwashers. (Aqua’s “Barbie Girl,” which was mercifully left out of March Fadness, still makes me want to stab myself with a shovel.)
I worked at that restaurant for about a year, a period more or less parallel to OMC’s abrupt success. When I think of that time now, I remember it in moments: my dismay at scraping pork into scrap buckets for Rick’s friend, the pig farmer; cooks chopping rails of crank on the lid of the employee toilet; hearing during a dinner rush that Princess Diana had just died, prompting months of Elton John; picking a cockroach out of the hot line and wondering if this was all just some story to tell later, or if it would be my life, like it was for some of the others. Those moments have a soundtrack, and “How Bizarre” is on it, right after the Spice Girls and Hanson, before Puff Daddy and Usher and “Return of the Mack.” (So is White Town's "Your Woman," which would have been our second-round opponent, if there were any justice in the world.)
Of those songs, “How Bizarre” defines that time the best, at least for me. Forget the video—we just don’t have time—and listen to the song itself. Acoustic guitar, a trumpet, an accordion, what might be a drum machine. A catchy hook, a few talk-sung verses, a duet chorus. It apes hip-hop, acoustic rock, and mariachi, at least, but can only properly be called a pop song. The lyrics don’t make sense, nobody involved seems talented, but it’s just so goddamned catchy. You can hear how it became the worldwide sound of a summer—why, if you were alive twenty years ago, you still know at least some of “How Bizarre” by heart.
If you prefer your one-hit wonders to have a story, this one’s a humdinger. There may have never been a less likely pop star than Pauly Fuemana, who pretty much comprised OMC. Pauly was twenty-five when he recorded “How Bizarre,” the son of a Maori mother and a father from Niue, which if it were a fully independent country would be the second smallest in the world. A former gang member raised by grandparents and the system, Pauly lived in a musical hinterland that prided itself on producing one of the guys from Crowded House, and he wasn’t much of a musician: he couldn’t play any instrument well or sing in tune consistently. He probably never wrote an entire song himself, and he danced like me, which is to say poorly, and primarily with his face and forearms.
Pauly started off as part of Otara Millionaires Club, the forerunner of OMC, a hip-hop outfit named ironically after the poor Auckland suburb it came from, known for carrying machetes onstage. The band made two songs before splitting up. On one of them, “We R the OMC,” you can hear Pauly before the industry got hold of him: brash and angry, all bluster and snarl, a wannabe Tupac of the South Pacific. His lone verse is hostile, insipid, and homophobic, and the song didn’t even chart in New Zealand. But it did intrigue the owner of a local nightclub where Pauly had worked as a doorman, who fronted him five grand for studio time. A year later, he released the most successful pop song in the history of his country.
Pauly relied almost entirely on an Elvisish charisma, a vestige of his background: the confidence of having survived something, a smolder borne of his hip hop origins. The best surviving illustration of what I mean is a brief clip from Top of the Pops, filmed in August 1998. Pauly had been on two weeks before and bombed; he couldn't afford to do it again. And so, in the most important moment of his career, what did Pauly Fuemana do? This:
Maybe not a great performance, musically; the dude really couldn't sing. But he came onstage, in the country that colonized his, with a chain and a rope around his neck, and stopped just short of telling that whole island to fuck off. In three minutes, he made himself a star.
Popularity is an admittedly poor metric for art, and “How Bizarre” wasn’t released as a single in the US, making its success harder to gauge. But OMC’s only album sold roughly as many copies here as Beyonce’s Lemonade. The song hit #1 in five countries, including America, becoming the first song from New Zealand ever to do so. “How Bizarre” was such a phenomenon in its homeland that the ministry of history devotes a website page to it.
We all know what’s coming, so I’ll skip ahead. If you have three minutes, you can hear Pauly’s career end. Go find OMC’s last major-label song, “I Love L.A.,” recorded that same summer of 1997, while “How Bizarre” was climbing the American charts. By then, Pauly was rich and fame-drunk and rootless, obsessed with becoming a rock star, even though the dental surgery he’d had to fix his teeth had ruined his trademark choked-off voice. OMC needed a second American single, and his label didn’t like any of the album’s other tracks. For some mystifying reason, they asked Pauly to cover a song about loving a city he’d never even seen until the year before. It gets worse. The song was for a soundtrack; the movie was Bean. And they didn’t use it—the original plays instead. That’s right: OMC’s last single was so bad it got cut from the Mr. Bean movie and replaced by Randy Newman.
Pauly’s attempts at another hit—including sessions with White Town, where they spent their studio time smoking weed—failed, and Polygram dropped him after he assaulted one of its employees. He returned to Auckland and sank into debt. His reunion with the producer of “How Bizarre” was a disaster. (At one point, Pauly thought his next hit would be a song called “Planet Phat,” in which he called an overweight lover “my hippopotamus.”)
OMC released one more song, a duet with fellow Kiwi Lucy Lawless—aka Xena the Warrior Princess—called “4 All of Us.” A treacly ballad about unity, it was a one-off single for a human rights charity; Pauly, dead broke by then, still did the song for free. The accompanying video, in which he gauntly whispers lyrics about leaving, prompted concerns about his health. His behavior grew erratic, he fell out of touch with friends, and in 2010 the news broke: Pauly Fuemana had died at 40 of a rare neurological disease.
So OMC wins on popularity and pathos. But maybe the best measure of art is how it ages. So, if you’re still debating how to vote, I’ll leave you with this: “How Bizarre” begins with a cop pulling over a car full of dark-skinned people who’ve done nothing wrong, followed by an incoherent circus which prominently involves the press and military, until soon everyone wants to escape. The rest of the song repeats a chorus in which an unspeakable evil makes the singer insane. Every time I look around, it’s in my face.
Twenty years after its release, can you imagine a song more relevant now?
(Note: much of the information here is from a book by Simon Grigg, How Bizarre: Pauly Fuemana and the Song that Stormed the World. )
Justin St. Germain is the author of the memoir Son of a Gun. His essays have recently appeared in Barrelhouse and Territory, and are forthcoming in DIAGRAM and Tin House. He grew up in Tombstone, Arizona, and now lives in Oregon.
REED KARAIM ON "TUBTHUMPING"
The first time I heard “Tubthumping” on the radio, I thought: Cool! Drunken British soccer hooligans have a catchy new party anthem! I pictured lots of shaved-headed guys in greasy working-class pubs sloshing pints as they raised them in the air to the triumphant chorus: “I get knocked down, I get back up again. Nothing’s going to keep me down!” Yeah, go Chelsea! Or Liverpool, or other semi-obscure British town that would eventually vote to leave Europe!
The song, which felt like one of those anthems meant to be shouted hoarsely after your team has scored, or you have crushed a beer can against your head just for the hell of it, seemed a natural for the U.S., too. After all, we have sports teams we’re insane about, we almost certainly lead the world in smashing beer cans against our heads, and, more than any other country, we specialize in a kind of boastful defiance against the deeply buried insecurity that we’re not quite as great as we think. USA! USA! Nothing’s going to keep us down!
I had hopes “Tubthumping” might supplant “We Will Rock You" by Queen as the song Americans stomped in rhythm to on football bleachers across America. “We Will Rock You” is a truly great song, but it’s 40 years old.  After all, if we’re really going to make America great again, shouldn’t we start by stealing a newer British song as our mindless party/sports anthem?
Alas, that never happened, for several reasons. First, “Tubthumping” came out in 1997, before we had been informed we needed to make America great again. Second, the beat is a little too fast to stomp your feet to and, unfortunately, you have to be able to sing, at least a bit, to pull off the chorus. But the most significant reason the song never quite made it into the pantheon, and that Chumbawamba, the band that released it, were one-hit wonders in the United States, is that it was never the song we—or at least I—thought it was.
Let’s start with the band. Chumbawamba sounds like: A. The name of a Star Wars character (probably a Wookie); B. A cute little Australian mammal distantly related to the koala bear; or C. Something a British soccer hooligan mumbles just before he falls off his stool. But what it actually was, was an anarchist-punk collective band that was a lot more interesting than any of those things.
Chumbawamba (the name remains purposefully obscure. The band gave multiple explanations of how they came up with it, and freely confessed that all of them were lies) burned with a kind of anti-capitalist, anti-power-structure, leftist working-class ire that is largely unknown in the U.S., where working-class ire most often takes a Fox News inspired rightward turn. The band had a caustic sense of humor, but they were the real-deal when it came to their politics. They reportedly turned down $1.5 million from Nike to license “Tubthumping” for an ad campaign during a World Cup. They did accept $100,000 from General Motors for use of the song “Pass It along,” but gave the money to the activist group CorpWatch and the Independent Media Center, which used it for an environmentally-based campaign against GM.
TubThumper, the album that included “Tubthumping” is considered their most user-friendly, mainstream work, even a bit of a sell-out among the take-no-prisoners part of their fan base, but it includes songs that address the Liverpool dock worker’s strike, homelessness and consumerism, all from a leftist, anarchist viewpoint that could easily tip over into tiresome demagoguery if they weren’t redeemed by their tunefulness and Chumbawamba’s always present sense of irreverence. They seem to be having fun, even when raising a middle finger toward everything from Tony Blair to the status obsessed British middle class (perhaps the same thing, I admit). Still, these lads and lasses were serious enough about their politics that they even did an album with Noam Chomsky for God’s sake, which, since it means surrendering any chance anyone will actually listen to your album, has to count as taking a genuine stand for your principles. 
They had another minor hit in the U.K. and released quite a few albums that evidently did all right. But “Tubthumping” was really Chumbawamba’s fifteen minutes of fame. When they finally gave up the ghost in 2012, they went out with one of the more charming farewell notes in pop/rock history: “That's it then, it's the end. With neither a whimper, a bang or a reunion. Thirty years of ideas and melodies, endless meetings and European tours, press releases, sing-along choruses and Dada sound poetry, finally at an end . . . Thirty years of being snotty, eclectic, funny, contrary and just plain weird. What a privilege, and what a good time we've had." 
Listened to in the context of the band’s expressed ideology and other work, “Tubthumping” becomes something more and less than it seems. The upbeat chorus, which could be taken as a simple chant of working class defiance, is balanced against a second gentler refrain, in which female band member Lou Watts sings about “pissing the night away.” The melancholy tone of the line, sung in a sweet pure soprano, undercuts the song’s bravado, as if to acknowledge that the rest could be just an empty boast. Yes, we talk about taking a stand, but at the end of the day, we’re just as likely to end up getting pissed in a pub as we are to actually do anything. There’s a kind of quiet understanding and acceptance of human nature in that single line that puts “Tubthumping” up there with “Born in the USA” as one of the more misinterpreted rock anthems of all time.  It also explains why Chumbawamba never followed it up with something in the same vein. They were always more complicated than their one big hit appears on the surface.
I have no idea how “Tubthumping” was viewed in England, but in America it faced an uphill struggle to ever connect in a larger socio-political sense. Is it possible for an upbeat-sounding, tub-thumping song actually named “Tubthumping” to carry a political message in the ruthlessly commoditized market of American pop? Can most any pop song manage that feat without being almost instantly subverted by its own success in the marketplace? Yes, Beyoncé pulls off the balancing act, selling millions of records while releasing songs that combine the personal and political in a way (partly through their video presentation) that conveys an ideological message, which resonates with a large audience. Numerous Rap and Hip-hop artists have also managed the feat. But Beyoncé simply defies all the rules, and Rap and Hip-hop have protest written into their very American DNA. If they have crossed over into commercial success, they still carry those roots with them and will until America is a very different country.
But most American pop goes pop! and is gone. If it has even a bit more substance or staying power, it’s quickly remade as just one more gear in the great consumerist machine. We live in a capitalist system that took the Beatles song “All You Need Is Love,” originally written for a special worldwide BBC broadcast to celebrate the unity of all humankind, and turned it into an advertisement for disposable diapers: “All You Need is Luvs.” 
Even if “Tubthumping” had come with Cliff Notes explaining the band’s politics and the history of British working class struggle, along with an addendum on the context of the melancholy secondary refrain, I’m not sure it would have made any difference. There’s something self-aware about this pop anthem that seems more distinctly British than American. We may be pissing the night – and the day – away in America, but we’re too busy shouting loudly at everyone around us that it isn’t the case, or if it is, it’s the fault of urban elites, immigrants, or someone else, to acknowledge our own self-defeating instincts. There has never been much room for a secondary, introspective refrain in America, and there is even less today.
On the album, “Tubthumping” begins with a brief snippet of dialogue from a British movie, Brassed Off, which dealt with the closing of coal mines in England through the lens of a company band at one mine. The line is spoken by the band director, who has been obsessed with the band above all else until near the end. He says, “I thought that music mattered. But does it? Bollocks! Not compared to how people matter.” I can’t remember ever hearing that snippet on American radio, but I wish I had. But then again, “Tubthumping” aside, Chumbawamba was never really our kind of band.
 If you doubt the persistence of “We Will Rock You,” here’s what is these days considered an unimpeachable source, a random page I found on the internet: http://www.complex.com/sports/2013/10/greatest-stadium-anthems-all-time/.
 No, I haven’t listened to it either, but the tracks on side one are all Chomsky and the first three have these titles: “Destroying American Industrial Unionism,” “Corporations: Unaccountable Private Tyrannies,” and “The Business Press Explains.” These do not seem like danceable tracks, although number six, “Tyranny is Pure Freedom,” does sound like it has possibilities as a heavy metal tune if turned over to Megadeth.
 That is only the start and finish of a longer goodbye note that manages to make the case for the band’s philosophy and approach without sounding either pretentious or somber. You can find it here: http://www.chumba.com/
 My once-upon-a-time punk younger brother refused to listen to Springsteen for decades because he mistakenly connected “Born in the USA” with Reagan-era celebrations of American military might and strutting stupidity. Now entering his 50s, he has come to a belated re-appraisal and appreciation. Pretty much the same thing happened to me with Jane Austen.
 Yes, this really happened. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X79emCApQX4.)
Reed Karaim is a writer and journalist living in Tucson. He is the author most recently, of the novel, The Winter in Anna, published by W. W. Norton & Co.