Music News

Matt & Kim's Place Among Other Too-Happy Rockers

If you watch the music video for Matt & Kim's indie-dance hit "Daylight" but know nothing else about the band, here's exactly what you'll think:

"Good gracious. Those are very happy-looking people."

Frolicking through their Brooklyn 'hood, humorously crammed into refrigerators, dumpsters, and other uncomfortable spaces while — wait for it! — continuously playing their instruments, vocalist/keyboardist Matt Johnson and drummer Kim Schifino never stop beaming. Ever. They're like White Stripes on brain-zapping dosages of Zoloft — and quite possibly the happiest-looking band of their generation.

Happiness is a dubious thing when it comes to musicians. Often, the hard-earned rewards of contentment, prosperity, and sobriety precede inferior work in the studio (see: Tweedy, Jeff) or rudely trigger a Bizarro-world transformation that feels wholly at odds with the host's former persona (see: Stipe, Michael).

Of course, we don't know whether Matt & Kim are actually happy. They're happy-looking, which is its own thing, a style choice. And like a careless swipe of rouge, it can be overdone and unconvincing. Let's compare and contrast the dance-punk duo with other noted big-smilers:

Louis Armstrong: Unless he had a trumpet shoved in there, the "La Vie en Rose" crooner always had a smile on his gob. Coupled with the wistful and bittersweet themes of his music, Armstrong's indomitable good cheer had a sad, peculiar edge — the kind of consoling, world-weary happiness that a kindly uncle might evince while breaking tragic news. Hey, if you have to hear that your dog got sucked into a jet turbine, you might as well hear it from Satchmo.

Mick Jagger: Invariably, the Rolling Stones frontman seems very happy to be performing. But unlike Matt & Kim's brand of playful, non-threatening happiness, Jagger also projects arrogance, flamboyance, and raw, omnisexual menace. He's sexy-happy, in the manner of an all-powerful rock titan who would be doing you a favor by picking your date out of the crowd and giving 'er a nice slap-and-tickle backstage.

Ozzy Osbourne: Like fellow heavy-metal-frontman-turned-reality-TV-star Gene Simmons, Osbourne didn't just affect rock coolness on stage — he turned sadistic delight into a personal style accessory. With those wide, batshit-insane eyes and raptor grin, he was unmistakably happy — but mirthless, too. Call it evil-happy. (Interesting how both he and Simmons have found the same retirement garden — what a shtick!)

Post-Document R.E.M.: I will continue to believe that Michael Stipe's decision to come out of the closet and embrace his happy-gay essence is one of indie-rock's all-time great tragedies — he was so much more interesting and cool when he was a mumbling miserable. The worst part of it is, he encouraged the rest of R.E.M. to be happy-looking, too — an unforgivable act of mind control enshrined in the video for the band's execrable shit-anthem "Shiny Happy People." Stipe came off looking like a deranged cosmic swami: "Smile! Dance! Wear these white tennis shoes! Drink this Kool-Aid!" Scary.

Katrina and the Waves: Temperamentally, Matt & Kim have much in common with the '80s pop-rockers. It's telling that the bands' biggest hits ("Sunshine" and "Walking on Sunshine," respectively) share a strong lyrical similarity, but it goes beyond that. Like K&tW, Matt & Kim have aggressively branded themselves as always-positive, fun-loving personalities, from the endearingly hokey "Draw Matt & Kim" feature on their website to the fact that they're grinning in virtually every photograph released of them. Hence, they risk consigning themselves to a lightweight pop ghetto of their own making. But, hey, whatever makes them happy.

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Craig Outhier