Treadmills on the Titanic
The apocalyptic charm of OK Go
“Everyone in the band seems to think that I have that savoir-fare, je ne sais quoi that they can’t seem to touch when it comes to lip-synching to a dance routine,” boasted Tim Nordwind, the mutton chop-sporting, bespectacled bass player of pop-rock quartet OK Go. As designated faux frontman (Damian Kulash actually does the singing) in the band’s high-concept, low-budget videos for “A Million Ways” and “Here It Goes Again,” Nordwind leads Kulash, drummer Dan Konopka and guitarist Andy Ross in a series of synchronized dance steps.
According to Nordwind, the video for “A Million Ways,” a catchy dance-rock song about a nightclub vixen, never was intended for public consumption. In fact, the execs at Capitol Records already had chosen another song to be the first single.
“We originally choreographed that routine to do at the end of our live shows—just to throw down our instruments and confuse our audience—and we ended up taping a rehearsal of ourselves doing it,” explained Nordwind. Shot in Kulash’s backyard, the video features the boys twirling and sashaying to a choreographed routine that is as ridiculous as it is enjoyable. Once the video made its way online, it became an Internet phenomenon, spawning dance-happy copycats worldwide.
Along with earning them the adoration of fans around the globe, the videos—the second of which features the boys navigating eight moving treadmills with flair—also have raised criticism from those who view the band as a novelty act producing mediocre music. Nordwind isn’t too concerned with whether or not the videos detract from the music. “I feel like whatever you can do to get people to hear your music, you should do it,” he said. “I think that if we sat around worrying about that stuff, we’d never be very productive.”
Back in 2002, the band released its self-titled debut album, toured relentlessly and attracted a devoted fan base, but it was their videos that generated the real buzz. Earlier this year, the band performed the “treadmill dance” live without a hitch at the MTV Video Music Awards, a feat that undoubtedly will result in increased record sales and concert attendance.
“A Million Ways” and “Here it Goes Again” both hail from the band’s sophomore album, Oh No, which is populated with apocalyptic lyrics disguised as hyper-charged pop songs. Written around the time of the 2004 presidential election, the album reflects the shrinking optimism the foursome felt as the country turned increasingly red. Their disillusionment is most evident on “The House Wins,” on which Damian sings, “If evil were a lesser breed than justice, after all these years, the righteous would have freed the world of sin. / The house wins. Oh, the house always wins. / You don’t have to be alone to be lonely. You may as well give in.”
“A Good Idea at the Time,” a line-by-line response to the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” suggests that we humans don’t need the devil’s assistance to fuck up the world—we’ve got that one covered all on our own. “It’s a Disaster,” the song that sets the tone for the entire album, may sound saccharin sweet, but lyrics like, “Get out your pestilence and vice and pass them around. / We’ll blow this town, blow this town, blow this town. / Jump off the ship before the shit just runs aground,” signal impending doom.
“It’s sort of about having a party while the ship goes down,” explained Nordwind. “The lyrics can be just as dark as can be, but the music can be really party-full and fun.” This push and pull was a conscious decision for the band, which has described the album as “Hindenburg party rock” and “Titanic dance music.”
Only time will tell if OK Go is merely a gimmick band. In the meantime, the boys plan to ride the wave, enjoying the view until the ship hits an iceberg.