"The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist."
This past weekend, Mumford & Sons released a new music video for their song "Hopeless Wanderer" from their album Babel. In said video, four comedians—Jason Sudeikis, Ed Helms, Jason Bateman, and Will Forte—dress up like hobo folk singers draped in banjos, acoustic guitars, and drum kits and, for the lack of a better description, rock the fuck out. At one point, Bateman plays the banjo like a finger picking fiend and smashes it like he's in Spinal Tap. Sudeikis has a mental breakdown and falls to his knees while soloing with a drum strapped to his back. All four sit and play their instruments on a boat in the middle of a lake. Forte starts to cry (and Bateman tastes his tears). Forte and Sudeikis also make out.
The video itself is, of course, very funny. And why wouldn't it be? These four dudes are some of the funniest working comedians today, and watching them rock out in an over-the-top manner is guaranteed to be hilarious. Will Forte's beard is just fake enough. Helms' tears are just real enough. The lighting is just Valencia-y enough. The video presents a self-aware and ironic portrait of Mumford & Sons, and it shows that these guys get it. They know that Marcus Mumford looks like a clerk in the Oregon Trail games and that banjos are inherently goofy and vests are "quirky," which in this case is kind of a stand-in for "stupid" and their folk-stompy style has become so common that it's practically a cliché. They understand! Get it?! Do we get that they get it?
The answer is, yes, we get it. Everyone gets it. And the fact that we get it is the reason that this is the worst music video of all time, and another example of why Mumford & Sons are a terrible, terrible, terrible band.
Outside of this stupid music video, the music Mumford & Sons makes is very bad. It's overtly sincere folk rock. It's more earnest than a sophomore in college who discovered Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass for the first time and quotes it regularly. It's more pretentious than tattooing "live, laugh, love" on your leg. It's more precious than a youth pastor wearing a corduroy jacket with patches on the elbow and a fedora. It's so calculated that there's absolutely nothing unexpected, organic, or progressive that comes from the music. The sound is so bland and average that it's offensive.
What's more is that folk has a rich history of storytelling in music form. This is something that Mumford & Sons—the most popular folk act in the world—cannot do. There is no lyric that doesn't make me cringe or straight up laugh. Here, since we're talking about it, let's take a look at "Hopeless Wanderer."
So when your hope's on fire
But you know your desire
Don't hold a glass over the flame
Don't let your heart grow cold
I will call you by name
I will share your road
But hold me fast, hold me fast
'Cause I'm a hopeless wanderer
And hold me fast, hold me fast
'Cause I'm a hopeless wanderer
Did you guys see how Marcus rhymed fire and desire? Did you see how he doesn't want your heart to grow cold? Did you see how he will call you by name? Did you see that he will share your road? But hold on to him! Please! He's a hopeless wanderer!
Look, poking fun at Mumford & Sons is pretty easy, and so easy that, as I stated, it's become pretty much a cliché to do so. So part of me wants to give the band credit for being self-aware enough to have a bunch of funny comedians illustrate that the band is in on the joke and understands that what they do might be considered obnoxious. But then after I think about that for a minute, my brain realizes that is bullshit. I'm a kid who grew up loving folk music. I still will argue that Bob Dylan is the greatest songwriter of our time, and that Self-Portrait is his best record and incredibly underrated. I'll argue that folk music can tap into a side of humanity that we all must appreciate and engage with in order to learn about ourselves, about why we think the way we do, and about what that all means. So are we really going to allow a band that has bastardized this genre and makes shitty music and makes a lot of money bastardizing the genre and making shitty music off the hook simply because they showed a little self-awareness? No. This is something that we should not do.
This music video, like the band's music, was—no question—calculated down to the amount of hay bales in the barn in which the band performed. Each one of these comedians gets the automatic stamp of approval from Important Pop Culture Taste Making Websites. Yesterday, after the video went viral, Vulture had already run a post of it in "in 5 GIFs." I had smart, critically minded friends posting the video to various social media sites with statements like, "Oh, I guess I like Mumford & Sons now!" and "Ha ha! These guys are funny!" The response to the video is such that it seems like the critical world thinks it is so funny and great that these guys have the balls to make fun of themselves. Somebody get these guys an award, because they have courage, right?
Friends, enemies, and the rest of the world, please, for the love of god, listen to me: You should not like Mumford & Sons now. Self-awareness can only carry the candle so far, because at the end of the day, this is bad music, and this is a band that's making a lot of money while creating bad music. And you know what is most obnoxious about all of this obnoxiousness? What is actually more problematic than the fact that these guys create bad music? Because now, they've illustrated to the world that they know they make bad music. And for some reason, we're giving them credit for that.
Eric Sundermann is an Assistant Editor at Noisey. He's on Twitter — @ericsundy