Weird of the Day: Tessa Makes Love, “Spente Le Stelle”

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Remember when American news show Inside Edition got a New York-based Russian musician named Tessa Lena to explain Little Big’s “Skibidi” video? Well, it turns out Tessa is a pretty great weird artist in her own right. She releases music under the name Tessa Makes Love, including a 2013 song called “Spente Le Stelle,” subtitled “Sexual Objectification Is Very Boring.” The accompanying video has racked up over a million views on YouTube — I’d like to believe because it’s a great, groovy track and Tessa’s operatic vocals are amazing, but I suspect her equally amazing body paint had something to do with it, too. “The jury is still out on how many people realized that the video was a satire making fun of sexual objectification,” Tessa admits on her website. Unfortunately, satire is usually lost on the folks who are doing the objectifying.

More recently, Tessa has released a full-length album called Tessa Fights Robots, a bizarre and brilliant mix of glitchy synth-pop and Tiger Lillies-like punk cabaret that explores the dehumanizing effects of technology on our increasingly data-driven times. She also a blog, also called Tessa Fights Robots, in which she shares her thoughts on everything from rape culture to Americans’ peculiar love of cultural stereotypes to the way political ideologies have taken on the rigidity of religious dogma. It’s heady stuff and well worth checking out — especially if you actually picked up on the fact that “Spente Le Stelle” is satire.

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Little Big’s “Skibidi” video explained by … Inside Edition?

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When we first wrote about Little Big’s “Skibidi” video and its accompanying dance — a cross between the Chicken, the Macarena and a splay-legged, fist-thrusting walk I’m gonna propose we call the Funky Stormtrooper — we suggested it had the potential to achieve “Harlem Shake” and “Gangnam Style” heights of dank memeness. And I think we were right; just three weeks since its release, the “Skibidi” video has racked up over 38 million YouTube views and thousands of video responses to the group’s #SkibidiChallenge (here’s a sample).

It’s also beginning to generate some interest outside of LB’s home country of Russia. So far most Western media, understandably, aren’t quite sure what to make of the whole thing. Mixmag, for example, just posted the “Skibidi” video to their Facebook page with the note, “WTF just happened?” (Here’s what happened, Mixmag: You got skibididdled. You got skibididdled so hard. Also, I just Googled “skibididdled” and this is officially the first online use of that word — so you’re welcome, internet.)

For Anglo audiences still bewildered by the sight of all these Russians jerk-stepping through the streets to bad techno, help has arrived in the form of an explanatory video from, of all places, Inside Edition, the long-running American “newsmagazine” show that I thought was mainly in the business of digging up celebrity scandals and hard-hitting investigative reports like “How Dirty Is Your Gym Bag?” Turns out they also have a segment called “Inside Edition Explains” in which they get experts to break down various pop culture phenomena whose appeal might otherwise elude the average Inside Edition viewer. Usually they set their sights on more mainstream fare, like Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” video and New York Fashion Week. But not even the primetime ratings-chasing folks at Inside Edition could resist the siren call (or is that a chicken call?) of “Skibidi.”

Full disclosure: An Inside Edition producer actually reached out to me at one point to see if I’d serve as their “Skibidi” expert, and I totally blew it and didn’t get back to them in time. But I’m kind of glad I didn’t, because never in a million years could I have explained “Skibidi” as well as the expert they did get, New York-based Russian musician Tessa Lena of Tessa Fights Robots. Tessa seems to be new to Little Big, so I guess I could’ve given a little more context for who Little Big are and their place in the growing global canon of artists who filter a mishmash of EDM, hip-hop and Western pop music through their own cultural touchpoints to surreal effect (keep that in mind for next time, Inside Edition!). But I was clueless about some of the video’s specifically Russian in-jokes, like turning the traditionally dour cashier of a Soviet-style grocery store into a grinning, “Sikibidi” strutting fool, and the dance’s resemblance to the chicken dance, which has apparently been very popular in Russia going back to the Soviet days and is probably at least partially responsible for the peculiarly spastic way Russian lager louts dance to techno (which, in turn, has clearly inspired many of Little Big’s videos, like this one).

Anyway, here’s Tessa Lena dropping some “Skibidi” knowledge. Spoiler alert: She confirms my suspicion that “‘Skibidi’ in Russian means absolutely nothing” — it’s just a made-up word, which kind of makes me love the song even more. I’ve heard that The Clash’s Joe Strummer, when asked what the greatest rock lyric of all time was, replied, “Awopbopaloobop alopbamboom.” OK, so maybe “Skibidi wa-pa-pa” isn’t quite that inspired, but it’s in the same ballpark.