In a recent New Yorker essay, Kyle Chayka poses a dread-inducing question: When was the last time you had fun on the internet?
For his example of pure online fun, he points to a retro Flash gaming site, but I have a more recent answer: The last time I had fun on the internet was about an hour ago, when I found this TikTok account that uses AI to make Homer Simpson sing ’90s and ’00s rock songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
I can’t understate the joy that this TikTok account has brought me. I woke up at 2 a.m. last night with a terrifying and unexplained allergic reaction, so I went ahead and canceled my afternoon calls due to the lingering consequences of having a human body on this mortal coil. But then the algorithm bestowed a gift upon me: I saw a low-fi Homer Simpson singing a Queens of the Stone Age song inside of a Minecraft castle while Optimus Prime and Shrek dance around in the crowd. It’s like non-drowsy Benadryl has been injected into my veins. In fact, these TikToks look like something my brain would come up with in an antihistamine-induced midday nap, but I know for a fact that this is not a very realistic fever dream (because, as I discovered last night, I regretfully do not have any Benadryl, which is kind of an issue given the circumstances!).
This is the ideal use of AI: It has tangibly improved my day, and it probably hasn’t caused any real harm in the process, assuming that the voice actor for Homer Simpson and Brandon Flowers can take a joke.
But, like many good things on the internet, the longer you think about Homer Simpson’s rock ’n’ roll cover band, the more you start to see the cracks form.
In a Discord server, I linked to a video of Homer Simpson singing “R U Mine?” by Arctic Monkeys and declared it my new favorite video on the internet. But when I think about my other all-time favorites, there’s something cut from the same cloth: Goofy singing Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life,” which was posted 9 years ago and racked up over 11 million YouTube views. Only in that video, the voice behind emo Goofy is a real person with real voice acting talent.
Can the joy of Homer Simpson singing Green Day compare to the joy of some guy on YouTube doing an extremely good Goofy impression while singing Evanescence?
Judging by @mememusic117’s work, Voicify AI has some pretty solid technology. Still, any product that’ll let you pay to manipulate an AI Taylor Swift or an AI Ariana Grande is going to raise red flags. Remember what happened when an AI-generated Drake ft. The Weeknd song went viral?
The Drake/Weeknd song blew up to such a degree that Universal Music Group, the publisher representing both of those artists, filed a slew of DMCA takedowns to try to scrub the synthetic work from the internet. But the song persists, because once something goes viral, it can never truly disappear.
Though some artists like YACHT will go out of their way to train an AI on their music to make new songs, artists like Drake and the Weeknd did not consent to having their copyrighted artworks manipulated in such a way. But, as we’ve discussed at length, copyright law is not adequately equipped to make definitive judgments on what derivative AI works are fair game, so it’s the Wild West out there.
When I see AI deepfakes of dead songwriters like John Lennon or Kurt Cobain singing contemporary songs, it’s not that exciting to me. So why is Homer Simpson covering Nirvana so euphoric? Perhaps it’s because Homer Simpson is not a real person, and we can delight in the silliness of it all without worrying about how deepfake technology is getting really, really, really good, and we still don’t know how to deal with it. But even so, there is a real person who serves as the voice actor for Homer Simpson, and real people who wrote, drew and conceptualized him.
Neither Voicify AI nor @mememusic117 responded to requests for comment. But I remained fascinated by this anonymous @mememusic117 character, who has been posting on TikTok since 2020, mostly as a faceless meme aggregator. Now the account is nearing 40,000 followers for its Homer Simpson covers, but every video has a text overlay crediting Voicify AI. The user could just be giving credit where it’s due, but I have considered the possibility that this might be a meme account run by the company itself, even if I don’t have concrete evidence.
In the hyper-capitalist hellscape of the internet, where nearly everything we touch is stained with the fingerprints of mega corporations or venture-funded startups, I’m almost going out of the way to ruin my own fun.
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