An SNL Digital Short, “The Shooting AKA Dear Sister”
To say, “It all began here” would be inaccurate. It actually began here, when Marissa Cooper shot Trey Atwood in order to save her boyfriend (Trey’s brother Ryan) from being killed in the second season finale of The O.C, the bullet triggering the “Whatcha say?” middle eight of “Hide and Seek.” And yet, the Saturday Night Live sketch is where it all began. “Hide and Seek”’s placement in that episode’s climax was no different than any other musical placement on the show. In fact, “Hide and Seek” had already appeared earlier in the same episode. Furthermore, the “The Shooting AKA Dear Sister” works even without the reference. The joke is simple – each gunshot starts the song and a melodramatic death sequence – and played up to absurdity. The sketch came at an interesting time; the Digital Shorts were still a novel feature to Saturday Night Live, an interesting way to break up the string of live sketches. Additionally, during 2007, the Digital Shorts team of Andy Sandberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone were focused more on basic, low-budget premises that were a far cry from later, large-scale productions of The Lonely Island such as “I’m On a Boat” or “I Just Had Sex.” Given this, it’s not surprising that “Dear Sister” worked so well for its time.
The joke soon became a meme, and participating was about as easy as making an image macro today: simply splice the portion of “Hide and Seek” onto a death scene, and you’re done. This was one of my first experiences with a viral sensation, and in the early days of YouTube, I felt like a kid in a candy store. I believe the Lion King version made me laugh the hardest. Though the meme is harder to track down today (many videos were probably removed, when YouTube was more stringent about copyright issues and the fair use doctrine was still a new concept), there are several iterations of the meme, all involving that small portion of “Hide and Seek” that would become recognizable enough to later be sampled.
Last year, Billboard and Nielsen caused controversy when they announced that YouTube streams would count toward Hot 100 rankings. On first blush, this made sense; the rise of Vevo and single releases via audio- or lyric-video meant that people were beginning to consume music differently. The controversy arose from the timing of the methodological shift, which coincided with the “Harlem Shake” virus. Thanks to the new rules, Bauuer’s woozy trap song spent five consecutive weeks atop the Hot 100, even though what was pushing it there were videos that only featured thirty seconds of the song. The brief flurry over “Harlem Shake”’s reign and the new rules broached important issues regarding how we see the Hot 100 and its implications, the tension between viewing No. 1 status as a mere statistic (“This is the most consumed song in the country this week”) or as a trophy (“This is the best song in the country this week”).
Though perhaps its exposure was on a smaller scale (given YouTube’s nascency at the time), I wonder how “Hide and Seek” would have benefited from the new system. Also, because (like the “Harlem Shake” videos), only a fraction of the song was used, I wonder whether its hypothetical success on the charts would have caused the same stir that “Harlem Shake” did. Most importantly, how would it have affected Imogen’s career? The “Dear Sister” meme, like most memes, had simultaneously positive and negative effects. The positive, obviously, was that a whole new audience was hearing “Hide and Seek” for the first time. The negative was that the “Whatcha say?” verse became a punchline, an overly self-serious moment that had little function other than the comedic effect of its discord with a clip of Mufasa being thrown off Pride Rock. The sobering reality of memes is that they don’t care either way what they do for songs like “Hide and Seek” – they’re only in it for the LOLs.
Luckily, there would be another way for Imogen to benefit from this sudden windfall.
In 2009, American artist Jason Derulo released his first single, a J.R. Rotem vehicle titled “Whatcha Say” that sampled the “Dear Sister”-famed portion of “Hide and Seek.” An inoffensive slice of Autotune-heavy R&B, the song finds Derulo pleading his ex to come back. Imogen does not play the role of that ex; she’s more like a Greek chorus, echoing Derulo’s aches: “What did she say?” It’s an appropriate use of the original, since both songs attack their subject in those lines, demanding an answer for a wrongdoing. “Whatcha Say” hit the top of the Hot 100 and was certified three times platinum in the US, Derulo’s most successful song until “Talk Dirty” began its radio takeover this year.
So what does Imogen have to say about all this? She approves! An unfortunately common reaction to a pop musician’s sampling of a more underground song is that the sampler has sullied or ruined or destroyed the song’s reputation. And while I don’t care for “Whatcha Say,” Imogen’s attitude toward her music – that once it’s out in the open, it’s free for anyone to use and interpret as they like – is refreshing, both from a business standpoint (I’m sure she doesn’t mind the royalties) and a creative standpoint. Another notable line from Imogen’s linked interview is that she finds the use of “Hide and Seek” in “Whatcha Say” much more creative than those “rubbish house remixes, like ‘untz, untz’ all the way through it.” My question is: what remix could she be referring to? My guess is Tiësto’s.