The manic spawn of mashup mayhem

How speed remixes and wacky mashups are taking over the music industry and forming a giant musical landfill.

Art by Tyler Farmer.

In 2023, entire songs are just raw material to be remixed. Everything is sped-up, slowed-down, laced with reverb, turned into pluggnb, mashed-up and messed with. This maniacal tweakage extends to artists’ nude a capella vocals, and now AI-generated fakes of vocals, which are plastered over fan beats and amass stupidly high views. Remixing has existed forever, of course, but not like this. The idea that a song should be a finished statement is fading. Instead, the ideal (profitable) song is one flexible enough to be remixed infinitely. This manic spawn of mashup mayhem has ushered in a new era of music-making and consumption. Odd genius and copy-paste crap are flooding the landscape in equal measure, and the definition of what a song can be is expanding in ways at once thrilling and disquieting.

The first thing that made me notice remix-brain taking over was the recent industry-ification of sped-up/slowed-down flips. Discovering these remixes are beloved on TikTok, labels and artists began pumping them out with the intensity of Mormon newlyweds procreating. One of the earliest to benefit from this shift was the sigilkore rapper Luci4. Nearly half of his catalog has officially-sanctioned speed edits. Remixes of his music made some sense, since his first shock 2020 TikTok hit “All Eyez On Me” was basically a nightcore (sped-up) remix — except it was the original song, not a fast edit. The gender-glitching gurgles entranced listeners, and it was obvious how every element of the song was custom-made for this speed.

Nowadays these remixes are a fixture of the late-stage streaming economy and the results are increasingly haphazard. An official sped-up Spotify playlist with over 1.6 million likes has coked-up-squirrel versions of tunes by everyone from Lana Del Rey to Panic! At the Disco. Spotify profiles have begun mutating into the musical equivalent of molecular cloning laboratories, where artists’ Top 10 Song Lists are just marginally different variants of the same song (see Lumi Athena’s diet-horrorcore club rap).

The flood of industry-sanctioned remixes has caused a backwash of backlash. Detractors have called out labels and musicians who’ve released entire EPs of single songs in an attempt to squeeze as much juice as possible out of a track. Sure, dance artists have released remix tapes of single songs for ages, but this feels creatively vacant. The “EPs” don’t contain proper remixes, just different speeds. It’s like they’re flinging remix-shit at the wall hoping some of it will Tik. The most extreme cases reveal no thought whatsoever—for instance, NLE Choppa’s recent album Cottonwood 2 was accompanied by full sped-up and slowed-down releases.

NLE Choppa’s Cottonwood 2 was released alongside official sped-up and slowed down versions.

One musician who’s regularly hired to create sped-up and slowed-down remixes for a major label painted a bleak picture of the edit epidemic behind the scenes. The artist told me they’ve made dozens of remixes without signing a contract, often receiving around $200 for each with no royalties deal. Multiple remixes have amassed millions of plays but nothing extra was given. The remixer described the process of being asked for edits as a Kafkaesque mess of siloes: they’ll hear from a friend at the label, who will sometimes send a link to a viral sped-up audio made by a kid on TikTok and ask for a perfect recreation so the label can claim monetization. After the musician sends a few versions, they won’t hear back unless the label wants it adjusted (feedback has included: “it doesn’t sound viral enough”). They aren’t even told if it goes live.

Theoretically, this remix development should help artists generate more revenue. Yet it’s easy to feel cynical about the standardization of processes like speeding or slowing a song. Where fads like nightcore are rooted in communal sensibilities and a shared devotion to certain audiovisual aesthetics, the official label releases are pure cash lure. Homespun styles, often featuring sonic imperfections that add to the amateurish charm of the production, are now being hollowed out into smooth templates. The remixer said it’s all about skipping hassle and cutting cost: by hiring people like her, labels can produce viral content without having to sign paperwork or attach a producer name. The ramifications for non-big name artists and fan editors are dismal. As musician and writer Damon Krukowski told The Guardian, labels can exploit the opportunity to divert resources away from discovering and developing new musicians and just farm money through remixing their preexisting catalog. Labels can also use these edits to copyright-claim homemade sped-up edits that went viral years ago on YouTube. 

What makes it difficult is that it’s hard to deny the wild thrill of tempo-twisted remixes, and it’s cool to see them gain wider appreciation. The appeal of shifting the speed up is the way it gives a song a pleasurably tickly feeling, or injects the vocalist with a burst of frantic energy. Lowering it can give music a dirge-like melancholy and a cinematic main-character tint. Add reverb to the slowness and you have a perfect recipe for vaporous psychedelia. At best, these remixes are helping explode the genre conventions that prevail in radio-ready music. Popular indie country is being remade into gloriously deranged flutters of squeaks; Mainstream R&B and pop are combusting into inhuman blazes of twitchy yearning. Even as the remixer chafes at the way she’s being used as a cog in the major label machine, she says she’s really enjoyed listening to the edits she’s made.

At the end of the day, the remixer’s big issue, they said, is whether artists are getting paid well for edits of their music. There’s strong doubt: “I’m sure a lot of them are in shitty deals.”

The second moment that awoke me to rampant remixing was a popular mashup of PinkPantheress and Ice Spice’s sugar-bop “Boy’s a liar pt. 2” with the murky paranoia of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes.” This bizarrely perfect vibe-mash highlighted the unease lurking under the former’s veneer of sweetness. “Boy’s a liar pt. 2” has spawned a host of other versions, including avant-jazz, hard dance, house, and jersey club remixes, some of which trump the original chart-smash aesthetically. 

Over the last few years, an onslaught of otherweirdly mashups have gone viral on TikTok. They satisfy cravings you didn’t know you had: Destroy Lonely’s radiantly pixelated “NOSTYLIST” flashing into Crystal Castles’ strobing “CRIMEWAVE.” Playboi Carti mixed with Five Nights at Freddy’s FX. The biggest mashup of 2023 is an antic alloy of Timbaland’s slinky “Give It To Me” with a Bulgarian artist scatting “Skibidi bop dop yes yes,” which some have declared the first Gen Alpha meme. Listening to this music brings to mind SoundClown, an early to mid 2010s fad that involved combining oddball songs like the Super Smash Bros. theme or “Gangnam Style” with rap and pop. It made a radioactive gumbo of familiar jingles. Though SoundClown doesn’t really exist as a tangible scene of associated producers anymore, it feels like the wacky subgenre’s spirit has seeped into the culture in a wider, generation-defining way.

The 2023 remixing spirit extends even further to unlicensed fan-songs, where producers layer popular vocalists’ a capellas over custom beats. The most popular ones use Playboi Carti, Yeat, and Travis Scott vocals. Many deploy climactic, orchestral samples and seem to imagine new sonic futures for the artists: what if, instead of choosing menacing rage beats on Whole Lotta Red, Carti elevated his Die Lit dreaminess to a regal opulence? These bootlegs have garnered tens of millions of plays, and a fanmade pluggnb remix of a Lil Uzi Vert song bounded up the Billboard chart last year. With a capellas easily available on YouTube, musicians’ recorded voices are more like public property than ever. It’s difficult to discern whether a song online is fanmade or official. And if the black market is better than the original, does it even matter?

Comment on the Playboi Cart fan edit “immortal” by cash carti.

The skyrocketing spread of all these styles — speed remixes, SoundClown-esque mashups, fanmade bootlegs — reflects a generation who grew up with abundant customization options. Choosing between different song-edits is a similar freedom to being able to modify every pixel of your Bitmoji or design real-life Nikes with hyperspecific HEX color codes. If you like Sexyy Red’s lewd “Pound Town” but are curious what she’d sound like if she collaborated with Siouxsie & the Banshees, yep, that’s been done. If you wanna cosplay as a Swifite or a k-pop stan but your brain hungers for internet rap, there’s plenty of bass-soaked pluggnb remixes for you. All your favorite tunes are available in a patchwork of hues: footwork, drum n’ bass, house. The fervent remix culture feels partly tied to the resurgence of dance styles like Jersey club and UK garage. DJs flipping songs and firing off live edits has long been an inextricable part of scenes like rave.

Mashup mania is so widespread that nothing is safe from being rewired anymore. The zaniest edit I found recently was a baile funk flip starring the TikToker Pinkydoll, who blew up with “NPC livestreams,” where she lets viewers donate to control her gibberish utterances: “Ice cream, gang gang, yes, yes.” This eerie “remix” has no original mix—just ghostly echoes of a soon-to-be-forgotten digital moment. There’s an empty, formulaic quality to some of these mashups, where they feel like bait engineered for viral traction. I can see a future where labels hire mashup makers to produce in-house SoundClowns. In fact, it’s probably already happening.

The idea that silliness rules and fans can dream up alternate futures is thrilling—I’m down for the uncannily pretty BabyTron/Pantheress remakes and remixes layering Carti’s vocals over a Laotian mouth organ. But it seems also likely this recreating will be both trivial and parasitic on actual creativity. So many mashups are low-effort, and the heap of fast/slow remixes and other online styles (like those “you’re in an empty mall” edits) forms something like a giant musical landfill, the cultural equivalent of a black hole, into which we’re pouring all our attention and killed time. The remixer said they felt like their work was an extension of the major label’s marketing team rather than genuine artistry. They described the way labels are inundating the landscape with speed edits as an act of “psychological devaluation” of music as a whole. What happens when it becomes even easier for labels and fans to make mashups—will we drown in a SoundClown sea flooded with industry-made detritus? Robo-remixes of Obama, Biden, and Ice Spice posse cuts, posthumous AI albums, mood-optimized song-smoothies, and tragedy-of-the-Cartis a capella clonery

Despite all the dross, this era of mashup-madness has generated enough gems of mischief to make it worth it. We’re living in a moment subsumed in sterility; it’s never been easier to click a few buttons and auto-generate a palatable but ultimately soulless sound. The surplus of remix-bullshit makes the remix-brilliance so much more refreshing, Sometimes you find a mashup or a sped-up flip so startling and sonically inventive you completely forget about the original material. The shock of strange hits like a joyous jumpscare.

2 thoughts on “The manic spawn of mashup mayhem”

  1. Great piece, this piece gets at a few things to me. So much of this sounds unlistenable to me but part of that I’m just guessing is just taste since I’ve been listening to club music and funky edits like this since the 00s, so a lot of the novelty here feels really thin. The scale at which these thing exist is probably the more notable thing to me at this point but I guess that’s also hard for me to quantify when so much of this exists on TikTok and the outer realms of YouTube until it breaks through. I will say just for a bit of historical context I’d say people should check out some of early 00s mashups or even find some 80s radio shows cause a lot of this type of stuff isn’t new but the ease of accessibility to me is what makes it more notable and the fact labels are so brazen in encouraging it and also ready monetize is what’s a bummer to me in the end, since yeah labels, IP holders, are more than fine keeping people locked into a limited range of music as long as they keep getting paid or it and don’t need to invest further in artists. Labels truly as just buildings filled with lawyers on speed dial without a single recording booth in the building, cause why do that anymore.

  2. Good piece but let me play devil’s advocate for the labels for a minute: it was not an executive’s grand plan to make sped up and slowed down versions of everything or make mashups to maximize catalog value, that’s just how kids want to listen to music now. The labels are merely trying to put out their own versions first before someone else uploads their bootleg sped up version to one of the many sketchy distributors and gets a million streams on Spotify. They don’t need sped up versions to copyright claim UGC on YouTube/TikTok etc. The only reason they’d need an exact copy for TikTok is because TikTok won’t give a bootleg sound back to the label without one. As usual, a tech company is doing something wrong and the labels are getting blamed for it.