What AI can't do – parody – and why not.

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I was wondering what bothers me so much about the Suno and Udio case. My pride as a musician? Erm, no. Fear of AI? Copy-pasting Dad's lyrics, uh, not really. No, it's something else…

Completely unrelated to the story over the past months I have found myself listening to musical theater parodies. Shamigadon! (the now-cancelled Apple TV+ show) (not to mention another excellent source of parody, South Park: Big Long Cut).

Let's take an obvious case – Shamigadon! The authors arguably do exactly what creative AI is doing, at least on the surface. So in Season 1 of the TV show, you get “Tribulation” – a parody of “Ya Got Trouble.” The Music Man It's close enough to bring in lawyers:

Here is the original. This is a particularly difficult parody due to the Original It was already a parody – it's on the sometimes stilted language of the 1957 musical and the musical trappings of its 1912 fictional setting, and the number itself is a con man – meaning the song is taking place on two levels. (Apparently, it's also partly a self-parody, as Meredith Wilson struggled with some of the long dialogue before turning it into a famous song.)

Let's see, parody:

Not loud trash with their tomorrowot flap doodles.
Clapping-Swinging Jakadi-Pokri.
While you are waiting for it to set, stir the cream.
Like a worm in a root cellar, a fly in buttermilk

And the original:

Not a healthy trotton race, no!
But a race where he sat on a horse!
Love to see some stuck up jockey boy.
Dean sitting on the patch? Boil your blood?

Well, I suppose you could actually melt down your server farm and create a text like this LLM and – if they don't catch fire, you might think the AI ​​is going bad. But there we are.

Schmigadoon!'s The writers effectively just repeat the joke – so you could argue that they're doing what the AI ​​is doing, linking references to past work rather than creating something original. Adding to the effect, various elements of costuming and choreography and the smallest details of orchestration are reproduced. It is even shot with a single running shot. (Kristen Chenoweth added extra touches to the staging, such as playing with finger gestures, another reference to the original.)

But wait – why is it so satisfying to watch? Why doesn't it look like it's ripping off the original?

For that matter, why do we put up with so much? over and over again A parody of this song? It is also inside. The Simpsons:

Singing also appears everywhere. Eli McBeal To Electric Company. Often times a “parody” simply repeats a song verbatim.

So what's going on? And why is this satisfactory while the AI ​​doing the same thing is a bug?

Okay, let's go back Shamigadon! And let's assume there, and The SimpsonsYou have two audiences – audiences who, erm, remember 1950s Broadway musicals (cool!), and audiences who don't. (This is a trick. Sesame Street often uses with his audience – tell a joke that works for the kids but also for their parents at the same time on another level, making both groups feel included.)

So even if you've never seen the original number, you'll still get the song. It is more than the ridiculous repetition of words and deliberate crowd reactions: these elements belong to something universal, the absurdity of a crowd that quickly falls for something obvious. (Bart's quote is literally The Simpsons (No., which works as comedy because of Bart's paradoxical simultaneous innocence and self-awareness.) This is already a level of layered interrelationships of meaning that neural nets absorb without human intervention. are not able.

But on another level, there is the drama between the parody and the audience, for those who know the numbers, the writers playing with how close they can get to the original while preserving the joke. “Monorail” is just a funny word that keeps repeating itself. “Trouble” is getting crazy with finding synonyms for “trouble” while maintaining the rhyming meter of the original.

But that same parody also drives the narrative details of each song. “Monorail” uses the original to talk about the failure of public works. “Trouble” accidentally leaves out the word “mistake,” which just sounds like more stupidity—unless you know what corruption means, which is a derogatory reference to interracial marriage.

Ah – there it is. Writers have something to say, and they make choices. In the case of “Trouble”, the number is actually not just an innocent comment on an artist in action. Here, the message in the parody is something deeper, the way this town (and America's society) limits racial and heterosexual couples. To talk about white supremacy and fascism is taking on the lightness of the original. But in a fun way. (Welp… it's not the first time a musical has tried this.)

All of these require that the author not just refer to some stock music based on keywords or style, but also tell a story that is context-specific. intention The work itself. Just like the stock loop libraries and common music beds before them, these generative apps create music (and lyrics) in a vacuum. Every song is a template, even if you try to make it something else.

And wait – AI is not in on any pranks, can't be in on any pranks. Your gesture can say something, but the AI ​​can't. In the case of AI startups, who are the men when we have caught up? Parodies are funny because you know the author knows you know what they're copying. These startups hoped we wouldn't notice – that Toto wouldn't pull back the curtain and reveal that the wizard was a fraud.

I expect that in legal arguments with the RIAA, startups will use just such parodies to defend their use of AI training sets. But the parody machine is an indictment, not a free pass. AI is not aware of what is real and what is not; It lacks morality or meaning.

I The Music Man, the main character is eventually exposed as his “thought system” was always a lie to teach Town Music. But redemption comes in making music in humans.

I expect that whatever AI eventually comes up with, humans are likely to do the same. But whoever is taking our money and treating our own music as some kind of “artificial general intelligence” machine invention, we should probably just run them out of town.

It's not that AI copies and steals, because humans do. It's that AI has nothing to say, and its creators are pretending it's nothing.

And since you've read this far, as a treat, here are some. South Parkwhich is a parody of both. Miss And every musical theater begins with Act 1. Western story Doing a medley of every number in the act to get to the top.

Wow No resistancehuman being

And apologies to Apple; I don't know why making an entire TV show about musical theater didn't prove sustainable. Back to … (checks notes) … well totally obscure experimental music, then.

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