Right around the time it really seemed like something different needed to happen to cut through the typical awards show monotony of the Academy Awards last night, Tegan & Sara and The Lonely Island came out to sing “Everything is Awesome” from The Lego Movie. It was a completely bonkers moment. There were dancers dressed up like Lego construction workers ala Chris Pratt’s character in the film, guys in cowboy costumes went into the crowd to hand out Lego Oscars to people like Oprah and Emma Stone, at one point there was a dancing Awesome Possum, and Will Arnett showed up to sing two lines from his Batman song. Now, it’s a day later, and I still can’t get “Everything Is Awesome” out of my head. Thanks a lot, Awesome Possum.
It is an insanely catchy song which is just as insanely popular, with the music video viewed on YouTube over 30 million times. It was many people’s pick to win Best Original Song, and even though it ended up losing to Common and John Legend’s “Glory” from Selma everything is pretty much still awesome.
Here’s the thing, though: Isn’t this the same song that is actually used in The Lego Movie as an ironic ode to conformity?
Much as directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have had fun with spoofing the idea of franchise filmmaking and buddy comedies in their 21 Jump Street films, they made The Lego Movie as a re-affirmation parody of Hollywood blockbuster storytelling, with Emmet (Chris Pratt) as Neo and Wyldstyle as Trinity (Elizabeth Banks) from The Matrix. Except, of course, in The Matrix Neo always knew something was wrong with the world whereas Emmet is completely clueless and mostly goes along with everything because Wyldstyle is so amazing. “Everything Is Awesome” is simply a rather blunt way of emphasizing the conformity of the society Emmet holds so dear. The film uses the song as well as inane reality TV programs as signifiers of a pacified people, with lyrics meant to stamp out individuality, “Everything is better when we stick together/Side by side, you and I gonna win forever, let’s party forever/We’re the same, I’m like you, you’re like me, we’re all working in harmony.” The fact that Emmet loves the song and Wyldstyle does not (or at least says she doesn’t) is used as evidence for why he would seem to be unworthy of being the hallowed chosen one.
The song, to me, is no less blunt in its message than the way Lord and Miller have Nick Offerman’s police chief character repeatedly state throughout 22 Jump Street “Exactly the same as before” to basically straight-up tell the viewer, “All you really want from this sequel is exactly the same thing as you got in the first one, right?” For Lord and Miller, sometimes the joke is in just how transparent they’re being. I imagine that no one asked, “Is having the song everyone likes in our dictator-ruled society called ‘Everything Is Awesome’ perhaps a bit too on the nose?” because that actually makes it seem even funnier.
However, The Lego Movie is a kids movie, and these type of films are supposed to teach kids lessons. The Lego Movie has it both ways by actually teaching both adults and little kids lessons. Through the live action section with Will Ferrell, adults are reminded that they should play with their kids, and let them express their creativity, even if that means watching them color outside the lines sometimes. For kids, “Everything is Awesome” is like a techno version of any number of innocuous songs from children’s programs, like Wonder Pets, which try to teach the viewers the importance of teamwork. For example, when my nephew was younger his parents would sometimes prompt him to pick up his toys by starting to sing one such teamwork song, and sure enough he’d walk around the room cleaning up the mess and chanting, “Teamwork, teamwork, Everything’s better with teamwork.” Now, I could imagine him doing that same thing and singing, “Everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of team.” That teamwork attitude, in fact, proves crucial to Emmet’s fight against Lord Business in the last act.
For as much credit as I have given to Phil Lord and Chris Miller, I should point out that they didn’t actually write “Everything Is Awesome.” They did direct The Lego Movie and write the screenplay, but the song comes from Shawn Patterson, who meant for the lyrics to be dripping with sarcasm. Everything was most definitely not awesome for him at the time since he was going through a divorce from his wife and mother of his three children, and the breakup did influence the song.
It’s for many of the reasons I stated above that I would have been happy to see “Everything Is Awesome” win Best Original Song. It serves such an interesting role in the actual film much as fellow nominee (and loser) “Lost Stars” did for Begin Again. Outside of the context of The Lego Movie, though, I do wonder what to make of people jumping around and singing along to “Everything Is Awesome.” Then again, pop music is littered with deceptively dark songs which have placated the masses because sometimes, dangit, we just want something to dance to. Plus, at several points during “Everything Is Awesome” The Lonely Island quite literally just start naming things which they think are awesome. So, why am I taking this song that seriously?