Welcome to another Bloomsday!
In 2013 Rachel Bloom released her first album, made up of seven previously released songs, three new songs, and three skits. Those seven previously released songs were covered in the first entry in this series (including the Hugo Award-nominated “Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury”), and so I’ll be skipping those for the most part.
“Thug Stroke (feat. Zach Sherwin & Jack Dolgen)”
We begin not with a song, but a skit about music. Rachel stumbles across a young man stuck spitting a loop of hip-hop pre-rap grunts, the titular “Thug Stroke,” and proceeds to enlist a series of passerby to build a song in an attempt to revive him. It’s a very Robot Chicken style sketch about building a rap track piece by piece – percussion, sample, female chorus, vocals – that ends suddenly and violently, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were a rejected sketch. (After watching all those videos for the previous installment of this series, I half expected a little burst of static at the end.) The highlights of the piece can all be found in the brief introductions, like the beatboxing man’s heroic “step aside, ma’am” before his reassurance that he’s “certified in beatboxing,” or the relieved way Rachel announces the arrival of the “ambulance full of bitches.”
“Historically Accurate Disney Princess Song (When Will I Find My Prince?)”
This is not the only music video Rachel Bloom made for Cracked.com, but it’s the only one that she features on the “Music Video” section of her website and YouTube page, which I’ll explore a little in another installment.
Like a lot of Cracked content, “Historically Accurate Disney Princess Song (When Will I Find My Prince?)” uses criticism as humor, in this case juxtaposing the sanitized cheerfulness of Disney cartoons with the ugly realities of “a long time ago.” There are possibilities for insightful jokes, but the biggest problem with this approach is the propensity to nitpick – overanalyzing insignificant details and calling out necessary storytelling conventions. Bloom manages to avoid that particular pitfall, in part because she’s created an original world to deconstruct.
However, the primary reason the song succeeds is because of the protagonist, Princess Rachel (not named in the song, but listed that way on imdb). Bloom nails the bright and bubbly Disney Princess voice, but she also picks up on an interesting, often overlooked commonality: despite a certain naiveté, most of the princesses aren’t particularly sheltered. They’re mostly hopeless romantics, but very few are blind to reality, and Princess Rachel knows all about the horrors of everyday life. I’ve mentioned before that Bloom has a great talent for finding the funniest words to express an idea, and that’s on full display here, made even funnier by the chipper delivery of some truly horrific descriptions. (The height of this is probably “There goes the Blacksmith with his daughter-wife, eight years old and pregnant with her brother-son,” though my favorite line in the song is Princess Rachel’s exacerbated “When, Hand Jesus?” near the end).
Musically, the song borrows a lot from the Alan Menken style of Disney movie musicals, leaning most heavily on “Bonjour!” from Beauty and the Beast, though there are unmistakable strains of “When Will My Life Begin (Reprise 2)” from Tangled, especially in the ending.
Another skit, this one about Bloom debriefing the various “negative voices in [her] head” in a mental press conference. It’s another great example of Bloom turning her comedy inward (literally here), and one of the strongest indicators of what is to come with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, in particular the Christmas Carol-riffing episode “Josh Has No Idea Where I Am!” It’s interesting to note that, both here and there, Bloom likes to make these metaphysical concepts working professionals. All of the voices in “Press Conference” represent hilariously-named newspapers, and Dream Ghost is a unionized job in “Josh Has No Idea Where I Am!” albeit one that has really poor health care coverage. (It doesn’t cover dental, which Rebecca is surprised and confused by)
Not a lot to discuss here, except that having a chicken say “You’re a whore” is the funniest button to sketch I’ve heard in a long time.
It should come as no surprise that Rachel Bloom is a big fan of musicals; what is surprising is that it took her this long to put out a Broadway parody. (“NOBODY WILL WATCH THE F*CKING TONY AWARDS WITH ME!”, despite begin covered first, came out a year after this video.) “Jazz Fever” is a dead-on Fosse parody, drawing most of its inspiration from Chicago (especially with the Roaring ’20s vibe) and Cabaret, and it’s interesting to see how much overlap there is between a Fosse and Bloom protagonist. They both favor the self-destructive, and now that I think about it, “Die When I’m Young” has a staggering amount in common with All That Jazz.
In this case, the young flapper of “Jazz Fever” (unnamed, but probably another “Rachel” [IMDb says “yup!”]) refuses to believe her doctor’s diagnosis of syphilis, insisting with absolutely certainty that she’s just got a case of the titular Jazz Fever. That loss of hearing just comes from the loud music, that swelling in her feet is because she’s dancing so hard, and the sores on her back… well, she can’t explain that one. It’s a great jazzy Broadway tune, and Bloom absolutely sells the brassy, affected voice of a street-smart, fast-living gal from the Roaring Twenties.
“We Don’t Need A Man (feat. Shaina Taub)”
As I said at the top of this article, Please Love Me features a lot of songs that had previously premiered on Bloom’s YouTube channel (and various other platforms) and were thus covered in the first entry in this series, including this song. However, I’m revisiting it here because there’s a significant difference between the video and the album track – specifically in the ending.
The video version ends with Rachel interrupting the song to call out the artifice of that kind of two-dimensional female empowerment anthem and remind her friend Shaina that she had once called the man who dumped her the love of her life – a reminder that sends Shaina bursting into tears, followed by Rachel turning to the dummy made out of her ex-boyfriend’s socks that she’s dancing with and announcing that she’s pregnant. Obviously, that’s the kind of visual gag that doesn’t translate to an album track, and so naturally Bloom rewrote the ending.
And once again, Bloom chooses to go inward, having Rachel totally implode at the end of the track. Instead of bringing Shaina down and disappearing into her own delusions (sorry, Pregnant By Sock Man, fans, that joke is gone), Rachel starts making pleas for Rob to take her back, announcing that she’s willing to do anything to salvage the relationship. Among other things she promises to change her hair and “not be crazy anymore,” which not only highlights the fact that Rob was probably an asshole, but that Rachel internalized all of his verbal abuse. It’s such a minor change, not having her turn on Shaina, but it alters the mood significantly. This isn’t just a silly parody anymore, it’s a darkly comic character study, and one of the clearest examples of Bloom’s evolution as a writer.
“Mary Poppins Is Efficient (feat Rebekka Johnson & Kimmy Gatewood)”
Welcome to our last skit of the album, and another venture in one of Bloom’s favorite subjects: Disney! It began life as a Cracked.com video, but Bloom completely re-recorded it for the record.
Like “Thug Stroke,” it’s also a skit that has a musical component, in this case the seeming beginning of an epic, cheerful Mary Poppins morality song about the importance of hard work or responsibility or what have you that takes a hard left turn into Shaken Baby Syndrome. It might be the single darkest track on the album, thanks in large part to the music. The opening to Mary’s song is slow and drawn out, a very clear wind up that immediately brings to mind the delightful “A Spoonful of Sugar,” setting up a transition into a minor key, when it suddenly crashes headlong into a series of staccato bursts. It’s violent, jerky music that reflects the violence of Mary’s actions, evoking the infamous shower music from Psycho, except that there’s still a sense of whimsy in the instrumentation. It’s all MIDIs – big, fake instruments that gives the cheerful music a demented quality, especially with Poppins’ abrupt exit. What makes it worse, though, is the stark plausibility of it all. Part of what makes “A Spoonful of Sugar” so delightful is finding fun in a necessary task, which gets twisted here into putting a happy face on frustration and anger. It’s absolutely monstrous, made all the worse by Mary’s refusal to acknowledge it. Jane and Michael, like the listener, and left in stunned silence. As I said before, it might be the darkest track on the album, and this is an album that features three audible death, descriptions of medieval horrors, several sociopaths, and clinical depression.
This song fascinates me, because it’s such a wild outlier in Bloom’s work. I know I said the same thing about “Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury,” with its general positivity, but that still trafficked in thematic staples of Bloom’s work, including the intersection of adolescence and adulthood and the complex relationship between feminism and sexuality. But “Ghost Snake” is a strange, really fun outlier, and a peculiar choice for a closing track. It doesn’t follow any of Bloom’s usual themes, it doesn’t appear to be a parody… it almost feels like an inside joke that Bloom turned into a song.
Maybe it’s supposed to be a pallet cleanser after the bitterly dark “Mary Poppins Is Very Efficient.” That skit is a tough act to follow with anything too pointed, so maybe the thought process was to end on an incredibly goofy note, with Bloom giving cartoonish voice to the supernatural serpent. It’s got a really great, almost tribal drumbeat that is immensely danceable, and if I had to guess at it being a parody of anything it would be the weird appropriation of Native American culture that happens at music festivals like Coachella, with the ghost snake being a “spirit animal,” albeit one that represents negative emotions, being made partially out of screams and broken dreams.
Or maybe, as Freud once said, sometimes a ghost snake is just a motherfuckin’ ghost snake. (Incidentally, the way Bloom chants “Hissssss Boo!” was ever in my mind when I saw Thomasin plaint peek-a-boo with the infant baby in The VVitch.)
That wraps up Rachel Bloom’s first album, Please Love Me! Join us next time when I cover her follow up album Suck It, Christmas!!! (A Chanukah Album)