The other cousin to remixes and mashups is the alpha trend known as a tribute, which can share elements of both a remix and mashup but is specifically designed to pay homage to (or negatively comment on) a specific person or work using editorial commentary, satire, or parody of the source.
Tributes are created for every subject; music, actors, pets, films, but specifically they reference a special or coveted iconic subject or subjects, rather than a simple topical "me-to" contribution—say for example uploading your own version of your cat riding a Roomba. Even if it's an amazing cat on Roomba video such as Cat In A Shark Costume Chases A Duck While Riding A Roomba you'd still fall short of being defined as a tribute to Roomba riding cats. If your video is truly amazing in some way such as the example above, you might become a YouTube meme and the subject of a tribute—for example Cat on roomba Star Wars edition that celebrates the original Cat In A Shark Costume Chases A Duck While Riding A Roomba. In addition to specific tributes, more general, genre-based tributes comment on broader, topical genres such as Heavy Metal Cats! Key of Awesome #1 that brilliantly comments on the wider YouTube cat video obsession in general.
In the YouTube world, tributes typically begin with a kernel of inspiration that spread like a creative virus through the community of YouTubian contributors, such elemental source videos often spawn movements defined as memes.
As I've detailed on the Taxonomy page, the term meme is based on the Greek word mimeme (to mimic), and, when used as a popular culture reference, it represents an element of cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that transmits from one individual to another through behavior rather than genetics, such as the popular language example “Yo, dude!” uttered by both English and non–English speaking dudes all across the planet. Tributes often follow this same pattern and are frequently subject to multiple variations and interpretations.
Gary Brolsma and the pure unconstrained joy of his Numa Numa performance, the Japanese TV show Hello! Morning and its Dramatic Chipmunk, which at last count had over 61,000 permutations on a YouTube keyword search and Tay Zonday with his hit Chocolate Rain, Chris Crocker of Leave Britney Alone fame, and countless other YouTubians unknowingly became the subjects of innumerable imitators and mixologists who have compiled derivative and transformational works that, in many cases, outshined the originals.
You can pretty much assume that any original concept video that has millions of views will get imitated almost immediately, or if the subject is remarkable in someway, video tributes will explode and even surpass the original in popularity, perhaps even spawning new sub-genres and immitations.
I’ve seen a few art exhibitions of collected paint-by-number canvases, showcasing the forms that were introduced in the 1950s by Max Klein, who designed the kits for the Palmer Paint Company. In 1992, Michael O’Donoghue and Trey Speegle organized and mounted an exhibition of a collection of paint-by-number works at the Bridgewater/Lustberg Gallery in New York City. The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History also exhibited many key pieces from O’Donoghue’s collection.
In 2008, a private collector acquired more than 6,000 paint-by-number works from eBay and bought other complete collections to create the Paint by Number Museum, the world’s largest online archive of paint-by-number works.
The thing I find most interesting in seeing collections of side-by-side paint-by-number canvases are the inevitable variations and personal styles that the individual artists have knowingly or unknowingly incorporated into their versions of Cat with Big Eyes or Hawaiian Sunset. While the whole point of the paint-by-numbers exercise was supposedly to reproduce the intended canvas exactly, most artists just couldn’t resist adding and embellishing color and even introducing new subject matter, unless its Flaming Squirrel, which seems perfect just as it is.
So go the digital media memes that spawn tens, hundreds, or thousands of variations for each iconic YouTube kernel. Once the crowd identifies an inspirational seed concept, the crowd responds with innumerable variations and transformations that create a genre or school of work that popularizes a concept, technique, treatment, or imitation and transforms it into a YouTube meme. The intentional or unintentional meme makers that spawn these creative avalanches are referred to as the YouTube stars.
These YouTube celebrities have been a subject of note on South Park, The Simpsons, and other forms of sanitized mainstream entertainment, including the song/video titled Shoes by Liam Sullivan (known as “Kelly”) winning a 2008 CBS Primetime People’s Choice Award in the User Generated category. Last count has approximately 180,000 YouTube results for Kelly's Shoes, with 17,600 specifically designated as tributes.
In its current form, YouTube increasingly offers mass-media content, as well as the primary fare of user-generated content (UGC). An anthropological peek at the “you” behind YouTube reveals a cluster of early iconic UGC videos that, like snowflakes, organically grew in form and variation from single points in time and space and that ultimately inspired the many diverse YouTubian schools of creative study. For simplicity, we will exclude the narrative and pure-play examples and focus on the miximal memes that illustrate the phenomenon.
Elements of the YouTube periodic table.
Tracing the influences of remix, mashup, and tribute culture to the root of YouTube's periodic table is a cultural forensic wonderland of mimetic geekdom. Key forks exist in the core evolutionary paths, such as the introduction of music fragments from Daft Punk, Kraftwerk, Skrillex or Rick Astley, which have inexplicably found a role as major influencers between two or more meme channels. Mixologists working off a Kraftwerk beat track or a “We are Sparta!” sound bite from the movie 300 find a wealth of referential nonlinear meme channels that tie together—say, as Numa Numa meets Chocolate Rain meets Chipmunk meets the infamous Britney vs. Kelly mash-up Gimme More Shoes by Titus Jones.
As transformational and derivative works proliferate, one sees new amalgams and alloys being created from these raw elements, new schools emerging—a practice in which the layering of remixes of other remixes of mashups on top of tributes produce something that meets theorist Sergei Eisenstein’s definition of montage: The elemental artifacts disappear, and an idea is born in a completely new way. Behold the layered montage mega-mixes.
When mega-mixes work, they are truly brilliant. They explode in a shower of deliciousness like some alien name-that-tune game on “good” acid. When they fail (which is quite often), they fail spectacularly! You’ll need to look in a mirror to convince yourself that blood is not actually dripping from your eyes and ears.
But now we've evolved beyond simple tributes and into mega-meme mixes that can only be described as their own genre; supercuts.