Rambling Dispatches: Coulton v. “Glee”


Every week in Rambling Dispatches, resident malcontent Quinn McGee rants about whatever he damn well pleases.

So there has been a story circling around the internet that I have been following for a couple weeks. It revolves around the musician/badass know as Jonathan Coulton, and the show that everyone loves to hate, Glee. (People love to hate The Big Bang Theory as well for some reason and I still don’t understand that one.) For those with no background knowledge, let me set the stage. Jonathan Coulton (Beloved creator of the music in the Portal games) came out with a cover version of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” in 2005, and it is pretty fantastic. I had personally never heard of it, because the internet is a big scary place and all roads lead to kittens so some things get left behind. Anyways, the “musical writers” over at Glee did a cover of “Baby Got Back” for an episode that came out about a week ago. The funny thing is that it was musically similar (some, with working ears, may even call it the same damn thing) to the version released by Jonathan Coulton.

For those who want to listen to the similarities yourself, SoundCloud user alacrion did a mash up of the two pieces with Glee in the right ear and Coulton in the left.

It’s a Tale of Two Covers, if you will, but you would think this whole controversy would die down with the usual “Fuck you, Glee” response courtesy of the loudest members of the internet whenever a new episode releases, and then the subsequent backpedaling and backhanded apology by Fox for getting caught. I mean, I expected that kind of response and I think most other did.

Only part of that came true. There was the expected reaction from the group of haters that I think just spend their existence frowning all the time and knocking the ice cream cones from the hands of small children while showing no outward expression because it’s scary to feel something toward anything that doesn’t have a lit-up screen and keys. But what was unexpected was the massive amount of attention that elevated Coulton from simple music creator and all-around cool guy to the latest key figure in the fight for protection of artistic rights. (I imagine it a lot like any scene from a movie that has “We’re Not Gonna Take It” playing in the background. Actually the scene from Rock of Ages comes to mind.) I completely agree with this, and the cause has absolute validation due to Fox coming out and saying the very thing that pushed me to write this piece.

Fox did the exact opposite of what I thought they were going to do, because they made the stereotypical big corporation move and went the least moral and logical route. Instead of Fox coming out and “apologizing” like everyone else for getting caught infringing the creative property rights of people on YouTube, they came out and told Coulton that he should be happy for the exposure he was getting over the whole thing and that they were in their legal rights to do what they were doing. They then released the episode containing the song with no changes. It’s an argument that the jock in every 90s rom-com uses when he sleeps with the virgin and leaves her, saying that she is so much more popular now because of it. Hey, we used you, but you would be nothing without us. Sure, nothing but the creator of the songs in two of the most popular games released by Steam, a developer that has one of the most devoted fanbases on the planet. Fox messed with the wrong musician when looking for material for Glee.

The worse part of Fox’s response was that they were responsible for the exposure that Coulton got because they DID NOT GIVE ANY CREDIT TO HIM IN THE FIRST PLACE, thus creating this whole scandal. Sure, if they included in the iTunes release or show credits that it was inspired by Coulton, or maybe even paid him for the work they obviously stole, then maybe they could take ownership for the huge bump to the Jonathan Coulton name that has happened because of this. You know what made him popular? It’s the way he handled the situation. He hired a lawyer and tried to start talks about what happened. But when Fox showed their true colors, Coulton made what might go down as one of the best responses in history.

If you go on Amazon or iTunes, and I highly recommend you do, you can find a song called “Baby Got Back (In the Style of Glee)” by Jonathan Coulton, which is the exact same version of the song he released in 2005. He has also come out and said that he will donate all money that he would make off the sales of this track to charity to help benefit music programs. You know what the result of this whole response was? His version of the song outsold the Glee version.

Now before you just say that I am a Glee hater or something, I have a confession. I spent the morning writing this and listening to Glee covers on YouTube. I did this to try to find a reason to hate the music, but honestly, I love the shit out of covers and I think they do some decent ones every now and then. That excludes the Ricky Martin version of “Sexy and I Know It,” but oddly includes the Gwyneth Paltrow version of “Forget You.” I don’t understand the hate toward Glee’s music. The real issue is Fox and its blatant disregard for the rights of others. I don’t think they can be sued for what they did, but I know for damn sure that the internet is going to make its voice as loud as it can be, with good reason.

Also, this. You don’t want one of the people responsible for this to be left in the dust, do you?