Little Dark Age: Mapping the Evolution of a Meme
When an artist, or a media company, releases a piece of content into the wider world, it can mutate into something out of all recognition. These transformations can range from the boundlessly inventive to the deeply problematic, and often take place within the kinds of online space that sit beyond the purview of traditional monitoring.
That’s precisely what happened to the MGMT song ‘Little Dark Age’.
Were you radicalized by Little Dark Age edits? pic.twitter.com/fZh3KshmQM
— Spinachbrah 🥗 (@Spinachbrah) July 27, 2022
Hip-hop helped establish the idea of a song as a malleable source material, rather than an ultimate endpoint. However, the explosion in instances of songs soundtracking short videos on social media, particularly on TikTok, has ushered in a new period of mass re-contextualisation, in which pieces of music are shorn of original intent in favor of new interpretation, Bella Poarch’s mime-a-long to “M to the B” being a notable example.
By 2017 MGMT, onetime purveyors of acid blasted beach rock in “Time to Pretend” and “Kids”, had released a trio of albums, each of which had place respectably in the Billboard charts without threatening to become a runaway hit. In that year, however, they released ‘Little Dark Age’. Having prompted online engagement from a number of indie or hipster online communities, the song lay dormant in the popular consciousness before seeing an enormous surge in online interest in 2020.
What was behind this?
Utilising Pulsar TRAC, we examined the conversation around the song across Twitter and Reddit from 2020 to 2022, and learned that the song’s popularity could be understood by mapping which communities engaged with it.
By 2020, a number of such communities had decided that the song’s catchy discordance and evocative lyrics made it a perfect fit for fan-generated videos around pre-existing IP, largely anime-based.
Sorry i can't talk right now i'm listening to the slowed down and reverbed version of little dark age with an anime boy doing something in a looping gif rn
— k (@wuooods) December 30, 2020
This helped to amplify the lingering popularity the song still enjoyed across regions as diverse as Germany, Iran and Brazil.
TikTok’s escalating popularity around this time also meant that it became the natural destination for many such videos. But the platform also played host to another, tangential trend, in which the ‘Little Dark Age’ cited in the lyrics was no long associated with a challenge or difficulty experienced by a fictional character, but rather used to refer to the ‘decline’ of western civilisation in the face of ‘woke’ ideals.
This was made all the more ironic by MGMT’s own revelation that the song was written to embody their own feelings of confusion and displacement around President Trump’s victory in the 2017 election.
The 2021-2022 shift in audiences engaging in discourse around the song, or more specifically it’s numerous ‘edits’, reflected this change.
Little Dark Age edits, Sabaton edits, Fashwaves and similars
All these Internet subcultures are a major sign that the current generation feels the decay the most
And no, at the current point it already goes beyond niches
Even the normies see it, even if they disagree on approach
— قردك المفضل 🇧🇷 (@DerLionHeart) July 22, 2022
Charles Leclerc x Sebastian Vettel – Little Dark Age… pic.twitter.com/2HbuQMR9QJ
— Muammer Kahraman (@Thekahraman24) July 25, 2022
At first I thought the little dark age edits and christian edits were pretty cringey and also kind of inappropriate and irreverent to our Lord and saviour and that may be true. But the message and power behind them makes up for it and the intentions are sound.
— Australian (@_Australian_) July 21, 2022
Hyundai has effectively made the vehicular equivalent of the MGMT song “Little Dark Age”. I will not be taking questions. pic.twitter.com/IX75T0Dy3x
— Pontiacs are for the queers (@DezTheOpossum) July 17, 2022
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