Earlier this week Mumford & Sons released the music video for ‘Hopeless Wanderer’ in which a quartet of comedians (Jason Sudeikis, Ed Helms, Jason Bateman, and Will Forte) impersonate the folk musicians, playing the buhjeezus out of their quaint instruments in a variety of settings. Almost everyone will agree the video is funny, but its deeper meaning has created a chasm between music fans, pitting loyal Mumford & Sons listeners against critical thinkers like Noisey’s Eric Sundermann. This is where shit gets heavy, via Noisey:
The video presents a self-aware and ironic portrait of Mumford & Sons, and it shows that these guys get it. They know that Marcus Mumford looks like a clerk in the Oregon Trail games and that banjos are inherently goofy and vests are “quirky,” which in this case is kind of a stand-in for “stupid” and their folk-stompy style has become so common that it’s practically a cliché. They understand! Get it?! Do we get that they get it?
The answer is, yes, we get it. Everyone gets it. And the fact that we get it is the reason that this is the worst music video of all time, and another example of why Mumford & Sons are a terrible, terrible, terrible band.
This did not sit well with a horde of pop-culture consumers that have spent the last few years gorging on Mumford & Sons’ brand of folk music. And don’t get me wrong, I have consumed my fair share of Mumford & Sons. The first year I attended the Sasquatch Music Festival Mumford & Sons were a big name on the bill, and again this past summer we all returned to the Gorge to do it all over again. The problem was that absolutely nothing had changed since I first saw them perform live. The songs were all the same sappy “uplifting” tunes I had heard three years earlier, the only catch was they had different titles. This is where Mumford & Sons stand now, comfortably at the forefront of folk popularity, churning out the same song(s) sung a variety of different ways.
I defer back to Sundermann:
Outside of this stupid music video, the music Mumford & Sons makes is very bad. It’s overtly sincere folk rock. It’s more earnest than a sophomore in college who discovered Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass for the first time and quotes it regularly. It’s more pretentious than tattooing “live, laugh, love” on your leg. It’s more precious than a youth pastor wearing a corduroy jacket with patches on the elbow and a fedora. It’s so calculated that there’s absolutely nothing unexpected, organic, or progressive that comes from the music. The sound is so bland and average that it’s offensive.
Mumford & Sons continue to make the same music for the same people, and let me tell you, those people DO NOT LIKE IT when others critically assess their favourite folk darlings. It’s bad enough the Sons themselves can’t tell the difference between their own songs and those of American Idol winner Phillip Phillips, who saw his opportunity to cash in on the folk music binge going on lately.
“The only thing that makes me a bit sad about it is that if people think that’s a good commercial move,” Mumford & Sons’ Ben Lovett said. “I think that’s just stupid. Because it’s not about the setup. It’s about the songs, how we’re expressing our songs with this kind of accidental selection of instruments. That’s not, like, a formula to go and sell records.”
The problem is not that people think making ‘Home’ was a good commercial move for Phillips, the real problem is that making ‘Home’ was about the easiest and most lucrative commercial move a musician could make. Fans had been indiscriminately scarfing down Mumford & Sons’ material for years when Phillip Phillips hopped on the bandwagon, so he decided to offer up the same thing for the masses, and they ate it up. ‘Home’ has 21-million views on Vevo at time of writing, which validates the song a massive commercial success. For context Mumford & Sons’ first single ‘Lover Of The Light’ from their latest album Babel only has 7-million plus views.
Which brings me back to our folk darlings, who seem to have acknowledged the absurdity of this copycat phase in their video for ‘Hopeless Wanderer’. Like Robin Thicke and ‘Blurred Lines’, Mumford & Sons are taking advantage of a buzz cycle fuelled by consumers that have no idea how to critically engage the material. Instead of assessing Mumford & Sons on their musical merits consumers have become so attached to the formula-folk quartet that criticism could be considered mean to those who call themselves fans, and I for one couldn’t care less.
So go ahead, gorge on another sample of the same old song-and-dance that elevated Mumford & Sons to stardom in the first place. But understand that their latest music video is not a self-deprecating piece of comedic genius, but rather a tragic reflection of a fanbase that forgot how to say “no” a long time ago.