The Riff
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The Riff

Future Funk and the Preservation of Purity

Album art for Stacy Lattisaw’s “Sneakin’ Out,” released in 1982.

What do we expect from child entertainers? Though fascination with youth talent has only grown to unhealthy levels with the advent of social media (you’ve seen the multi-millionaire toy reviewer by now), recognizing the work of youngsters has been of societal importance since the days of Frederic Chopin and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Prepubescent stars, the ones whose ages rival Jackson 5ive era Michael, aren’t sought after for their cultural influence. Rather, they are often the outgrowth of a get-rich-quick scheme on the part of whoever is in charge.

Even so, at ages when issuing consent is impossible and buying cigarettes is illegal, child entertainers are deemed capable of pursuing a career path and lifestyle that too often wreaks havoc on fully functioning adults, (see the 27 Club, or any of a myriad of stress-related suicides in Hollywood).

Theoretically, it’s the purity of a child star that enraptures audiences. The Disney Channel and Nickelodeon aside, child acts aren’t put on the market for an age-appropriate audience — producers would go bankrupt if they did. The ability to inspire a sense of wonder or joy in adults (the purchasing members of the audience), which ideally translates to sales and awards, is the measure of success for such performers. Honey Boo Boo’s TLC appearances didn’t spark up endless cameos on Disney or voice overs on Cartoon Network. They funneled back into TLC’s mission of capturing viewers in the channel’s target 25–54 year-old woman market. And it worked.

Though the novelty of child performers fades with time (duh), they are often remembered fondly even years after they age out of their original demographic. Remember when Miley Cyrus was Hannah Montana? Before she did unspeakable acts with Robin Thicke at the 2013 VMAs? There is a sense of innocence, fostered by an unbridled focus on their career, that follows child performers. Even after they grow up and make questionable choices, their original performances are venerated for years to come.

In July 1982, when the Cold War and Reaganomics were in full swing, Cotillion and Atlantic Records released Stacy Lattisaw’s fourth studio album, Sneakin’ Out. She was 15 at the time. The album spawned a pair of notable cuts, namely “Don’t Throw It All Away” and “Attack of the Name Game.” The former reached ninth on the R&B charts. The latter became the foundation for Mariah Carey’s 1999 chart-topper “Heartbreaker” (which was later remixed by DJ Clue, featuring rappers Da Brat, Missy Elliot, and incorporating lyrics from Snoop Dogg’s sexual anthem “Ain’t No Fun (If the Homies Can’t Have None).” Innocence preserved!)

Nestled between the intro and “Memories” however, is “Guys Like You (Give Love a Bad Name),” an easily forgotten gem that sees Lattisaw exploring why her heart palpitates synchronously with the temptations of a bad boy. It’s the plot line of Grease, dressed down to four minutes of girl talk backed by keyboards, synths and percussion. The song’s “so bad it’s good” vibe builds on the album’s motif (and cover art) — a girl, breaking the rules in hopes to have a time to remember.

The song tugs directly on the heartstrings of its listeners, prompting a call to action of remembering whimsical days and solid print shirts. We never really get the resolution of what happens with Stacy and this guy. Presumably their tryst fuels the rest of the album, including a potential break up (“Don’t Throw It All Away”) and a seasonal love affair (“I Could Love You so Devine”)

The song found a new life two decades after its initial release. Remixed into Matabei & Kattch’s “Feels Like Heaven,” Lattisaw is continuing to inspire snapshots of a carefree childhood in a new generation, its original R&B composition flipped into a danceable anthem that professes the values of one of the internets burgeoning music genres.

Matabei & Kattch’s track is one in a catalogue from a genre called future funk, an outgrowth of the 2010s nostalgia-tinged vaporwave which saw the repurposing of 1970s and 1980s pop songs into downtempo, lo-fidelity cuts serving as a backdrop for the boom — and eventual demise — of consumer culture. Vaporwave embodied the pastel tile flooring, fake palm trees and neon piping that coded design choices in Post-Vietnam America. Artists like Vektroid and Dan Mason are architects of comfort, creators of a world in which the presumed safety and economic boom of the nifty fifties and sixties never really ended.

Future funk dials that security up to 11. Rather than blatant nostalgia (there’s still plenty of that), the rhythms of Matabei & Kattch and their contemporaries are idyllic. They profess a world in which Japanese is ubiquitous — rather than the English samples of vaporwave, future funk cuts often resort to snipping anime sound bites and clips from Japanese City Pop for a foundation. Melancholic nostalgia is replaced by an insatiable zest for life. Future funk is a space age excitement for helpful robots, love in all the right places and a sense of inclusivity that was spurned by the genre’s older sibling.

When “Guys Like You,” an already buoyant ditty, is crossbred with Matabei & Kattch’s style, it becomes a champion of a previously unknown purity. Lattisaw’s original composition finds the songstress wrought with doubt the boy in question. “Feels Like Heaven” strips the doubt away, replacing her teenage unsureness by carefully curating the lyrics to skew towards positivity. “Oh it feels like heaven here alone with you/ but now that good for nothing is as good as gone,” Lattisaw’s remix vocals sing, omitting the devilish persuasion that left her in turmoil in the original track. What’s more is that the duo’s decision to pitch down Lattisaw’s vocals, originally that of a breathy 15-year-old, adds to the songs universality. The edit matures the singer’s perspective from one of a child into tenor, fully capable of recounting the joys of living in this Matabei & Kattch’s world.

The constant throughout both the original and remixed songs is the preservation of innocence, the former a result of Lattisaw’s relatively lacking life experience and the latter a hallmark of future funk’s brand. Neither parties shake with worry like the performers of Vaporwave might. The death of mall culture and social interaction which pervades vaporwave are distant fears in the future funk universe. Everything feels like heaven, so what is there to worry about?

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Brandon Johnson

Brandon Johnson

Forever hunting for my new favorite music sample. Founder of tripleot.com & abrandbox.com. 🌴🦩

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