I’ll never forget the look on my housemate’s face when I played him the first track from the new Korn album — a pathetic blend of shock, wonder and extreme horror. But, considering our music choice of the evening, who could blame the guy? What erupted from my computer’s speakers wasn’t normal music: It was a clunky blend of deafening noises — bleating vocals, frenzied nu-metal static and a corny dubstep bassline in the background. (Korn is now a dubstep band — surprise!)
But it wasn’t even the music itself (no matter how offensive) that twisted his features so violently: The real rub was that Korn was releasing another album, just when we thought it took its “freak on a leash” act and faded away from musical relevance forever. After all, the members had already granted us the golden gift of 10 forgettable LPs, one of which was a special “unplugged” addition that featured acoustic guitars and nasally vocals. Why couldn’t they just let it go? How did they convince artists like Skrillex to indulge their confusing dubstep route? And who thought this would be a good idea?
Korn hasn’t been the only band that refused to be smudged from existence, though. There have been hordes of other musicians that, despite rapidly diminishing relevance, seemed like they would never go away.
Take R.E.M. before their split in 2011. The band was respectable enough for a decade (or three) — in fact, I remember listening to “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” on my toy tape recorder nonstop at the age of four. But times changed; people moved on. And yet, even after releasing nothing but live albums and mild disappointments for 10 years, R.E.M. put out yet another LP last summer. There was nothing special about this comeback, nothing to make people want to listen to the band’s new music any more than its overplayed hits, which still pop up on alternative-rock stations. While there was nothing intrinsically wrong with the band or its sound, no amount of new material could cover the truth: R.E.M. didn’t matter anymore.
Speaking of washed-up bands with parasitic grips, how many times will the Hanson brothers try to reinvent themselves before they call it quits? The baby-faced trio (despite nearing their thirties) has released five entire albums since their “MMMBop” days of 1997, one of which even came with a second volume. But none of their over-eager efforts caught on and, despite changing up their haircuts (is that a side-part, Taylor?) and making a seriously weird music video with synchronized dance moves and a lot of clapping, their importance has persistently dwindled away.
Even with their laughable shots at born-again fame (seriously, have you seen that music video?), Hanson refuses to disappear. The group is currently touring the state of Oklahoma and is even hosting its own Hanson Day celebration performance on May 13. But don’t get your hopes up, because it’s for fan-club members only.
Someone should have barred these guys from entering the new millennium.
But not every musical comeback slaps listeners as an unwanted flash-from-the-past — we’ve witnessed countless stars sink from their glimmering places of fame only to rise once again.
Enrique Iglesias, for instance, makes himself seem important by piggybacking on things that already are: His four-year hiatus from album releases ended smoothly in 2007 when he re-introduced himself to the public with Imsomniac and appearances on shows like “America’s Next Top Model” and “Two and a Half Men.” He even teamed up with the “Jersey Shore” crew in 2010 for his “I Like It” video because — like it or not — little mattered more two years ago than our orange-faced friends. Well played, Iglesias.
Then there’s Christina Aguilera, who has made more than one splash after long periods without. Her method? The art of self-reinvention. From the darkly scandalous “Dirrty” kick in 2002 to her more recent old Hollywood glamour spiel, Aguilera’s leaps back into stardom have been fueled by creating new images for herself that catch public and — more importantly — tabloid attention. We are drawn to the entertainer and her new, ever-developing viewpoints, even when she goes five or so years without actually entertaining.
It’s not that these musicians have defied any special laws of success, but that they simply played their cards right: They’ve made their re-emergences into pop culture fresh and exciting, sparking mass interest instead of boredom or confusion. We want to hear more from Aguilera and Iglesias because, unlike R.E.M.’s slew of one-note albums or Korn’s awkward dubstep phase, their presence in the music world still makes sense.
Making a comeback is an art form, and musicians should either take notes from success stories or, in the case of Hanson, quit while they’re ahead. Because, let’s face it, not even Skrillex can make me listen to Korn again.