The year was 1998, the music world was hopping, reeling out platinum debuts from the likes of Third Eye Blind, Matchbox 20, Fastball, and Savage Garden; filling the dance floors with “ghetto superstar” and “ray of light”; sending off graduates to “bittersweet symphony”; shutting down bars to “closing time”, filling every teen girl’s compact disc player with The Backstreet Boys, N’Sync, and Hanson and every teen boy’s disc player with The Barenaked Ladies, “sex and candy”, and Korn. Artists like Sarah McLachlan, Sister Hazel, Natalie Merchant, Garbage, and The Chemical Brothers filled in the gaps of a robust season of music. It was a time of possibility; a time when anyone could be happy with the state of their genre and look ahead to a future that it seemed could only get brighter.

The airwaves were a joyous place, and, with the internet still in its early days, the world was still a communal place where “sharing music” meant sharing headphones with a friend. It was not a time desperate for something original to grab its attention. This was no musical wasteland. Rather it was a time of abundance; and with this abundance came an openness, a sense of why not? Let’s hear it! It was in such an environment that something completely novel crept onto the scene.

It might more accurately be said that they bounced onto the scene; for such was the nature of the absurdly catchy one hit wonder and a half Italian electronic act Eiffel 65. In no time every hip hop, pop, rock, and alternative station was peddling “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” to every listening ear in the nation. Soon everyone was bopping their heads and mumbling “Dabadeedabadi” like a bunch of infants learning how their mouths worked. We all did it and we all loved it. There was something so intoxicatingly ephemeral about Eiffel 65, for when you really got down to it they were an act based almost exclusively on gimmicks: the pitch corrector and auto tuner. With these the lead singer essentially became an anonymous garble of electronic stuff. Suddenly we had in front of us a vocalist whose vocals were beyond criticism and praise; they simply were, just as a snare drum is.

As was expected, this ultra-catchy electronic act was a one trick pony. We soon forgot them, leaving their distinct sound entrenched as distinctly late 90’s, bringing a smile to our faces whenever it managed to wiggle its way back onto the airwaves for a cameo. What we didn’t realize at the time was that this fleeting, quirky, gimmicky song and its accompanying album had laid the groundwork to change music history forever. Decades from now Eiffel 65 may be judged quite differently than they have been in our minds. One day they may be seen as true pioneers. This one trick pony may just be recognized for what it truly was, the most significant insignificant band in the history of music.

How could one make such a claim you may ask? Allow me to set the scene. As the new millennium came to be a unique dilemma arose: two genres- the primarily female driven R&B and the primarily male driven Hip Hop- had long desired to wed, to connect musically as they always had demographically. The R&B artists sang and the Hip Hop artists rapped. To unite the two one could alternate between rapping and singing (i.e. “Ghetto Superstar”). But if this was to be the full extent of the genres’ coming together then it was limited and easily exhausted. So how to solve the problem? The obvious answer was for the males to sing when the song warranted singing. This seemed reasonable enough, but there was a fatal problem. Rappers were generally self-conscious, insecure people, hence all the talk about the big rims, big guns, big cribs, and endless supplies of ladies. And at some level to sing was to make oneself vulnerable. In singing one had to offer himself to the audience in a way that rapping never came close to. Rapping was protective and aggressive, singing was inviting and exposing. Plus, most of the rappers couldn’t sing anyway.

So here they stood, pouring over lyric combinations, background beats, anything they could think of to make the union work. And finally the Hip Hop community found the key: Eiffel 65. In a flash they could sing with the best of them, all auto-tuned and pitch corrected, they were anonymous and beyond criticism . . . it was a device, not their voice. Since this discovery of just how pioneering Eiffel 65’s work truly was the Hip Hop genre has been absolutely flooded with auto-tuning. It may be safe to say that there is no longer a Hip Hop artist in music bold enough to sing without an auto-tuned voice. It has gotten bad, it has gotten sloppy, it has become pure schlock. And for those of us who have been along for the whole ride, we may truly begin to ask ourselves, given the information we now possess, would it have been better if Eiffel 65 had never existed? All those memories of “Dabadee’ing” . . . gone. The dancing, being “the blue guy from the Eiffel 65 song” for Halloween? Gone. Even with all of that ephemeral joy, that year of bounciness and babbling on like infants, I must answer in the definitive. It would have been better if the band Eiffel 65 had never existed.

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