Net­flix made you a ter­ri­ble new song for your birth­day

Now that it’s in pub­lic do­main, the worst tune ever writ­ten will be even more in­escapable

Toronto Star - - ENTERTAINMENT - Vi­nay Menon

“Happy Birth­day” is not a tune so much as forced mis­ery.

The most pop­u­lar song in the English lan­guage is also the worst song in the English lan­guage. As melodic as the sound of an ex­plod­ing wa­ter bal­loon and with a repet­i­tive lyri­cal qua­train that sounds more threat­en­ing than cel­e­bra­tory — HAPPY BIRTH­DAY TO YOU! — this is a song any­one can sing and no­body can make sound good. This “song” is to mu­sic as a rick­shaw is to space travel.

I don’t know how many times I’ve belted out “Happy Birth­day” as a friend or fam­ily mem­ber stared sheep­ishly at the flick­er­ing can­dles on a cake. But what I do know is this au­ral atroc­ity never feels fes­tive, per­sonal, ten­der, thought­ful, fun or nat­u­ral. It feels lazy. It feels like go­ing through the mo­tions.

As a cul­tural tra­di­tion, we sing “Happy Birth­day” for the same rea­son we say, “God bless you” af­ter some­one sneezes: it is ex­pected and there is no al­ter­na­tive.

Well, it’s time we change this be­cause “Happy Birth­day” is now a clear and present dan­ger to civ­i­liza­tion. Af­ter a le­gal bat­tle, the song en­tered the pub­lic do­main last year and now it’s not just a sonic hor­ror you must en­dure in pri­vate with loved ones. “Happy Birth­day” has stormed into TV, film, com­mer­cials and every other bub­bling crook of pop cul­ture where any fool in a pa­per hat can sing it as many times as he or she likes with­out the fear of copyright in­fringe­ment.

Re­mem­ber when put-upon res­tau­rant servers would gather around a flam­ing cup­cake at your ta­ble and ei­ther clap out a bizarre chant or har­mo­nize a de­ranged ditty they in­vented in-house for cus­tomer birth­days be­cause they weren’t al­lowed to sing the real song? It was al­ways a jar­ring ex­pe­ri­ence: “It’s your birth­day to­day, hur­ray! / It’s your birth­day to­day, no way! / Jupiter pre­serve your soul and for this cup­cake we pay — yay!”

What we didn’t re­al­ize at the time was those made-up songs at least re­quired orig­i­nal thought, as did the hasty work­arounds Hol­ly­wood was forced to de­ploy when­ever a char­ac­ter cel­e­brated a mile­stone. The re­stric­tions on “Happy Birth­day” cre­ated safe­guards we took for granted.

“Happy Birth­day” was tol­er­a­ble be­cause it was con­trolled.

But af­ter this week, in which Net­flix de­cided it wanted in on the “Happy Birth­day” crimes against hu­man­ity, all I can say is buy some noise-can­celling head­phones and dive un­der the bed be­cause we are pretty much doomed. Un­der the guise of help­ing par­ents plan a kid­die birth­day party, Net­flix com­mis­sioned a global sur­vey and then re­leased 15 “Birth­day On-De­mand” videos. In these two-minute shorts, char­ac­ters from pop­u­lar fran­chises — in­clud­ing Bar­bie, My Lit­tle Pony, Troll­hunters, Poke­mon and Beat Bugs — ser­e­nade your child and as­sem­bled party guests with this wretched song, cre­at­ing the il­lu­sion it was “made just for them,” as op­posed to “made by Satan.”

Net­flix, how is this help­ing? The foun­da­tion is buck­ling un­der the ram­bunc­tious force of tween spirits hopped up on sugar and your idea of “tak­ing cel­e­bra­tions to the next level” is to of­fer 15 new ver­sions of a song that al­ready makes me want to dive off the Bloor Street Viaduct? What’s next? Are you go­ing to help pay for my kids’ braces by kick­ing me in the teeth?

Are you go­ing to help my daugh­ters sleep through the night by beam­ing scenes from the new sea­son of Stranger Things onto their closet doors?

If you re­ally want to chip in with birth­day par­ties, dis­patch an emis­sary who can help chap­er­one the lit­tle hel­lions to the tram­po­line pit or pot­tery work­shop, or what­ever off-site des­ti­na­tion my wife se­lected pre­cisely be­cause it had noth­ing to do with watch­ing a screen.

This is a gen­er­a­tional con­cern, Net­flix. But it’s real. Our kids were born into a world of screens and it can be a chal­lenge to keep them in­ter­ested in the world be­yond those screens.

This is why “turn that off” is the new “eat your veg­eta­bles.”

This is es­pe­cially true for birth­day par­ties, which Net­flix’s own re­search should have un­cov­ered.

In­stead of ask­ing par­ents if plan­ning a birth­day party is “stress­ful” — 67 per cent of re­spon­dents said it was — why didn’t Net­flix ask these same peo­ple if they’d en­joy a 30minute loop of “Happy Birth­day” at­tacks on eyes and ears?

An­swer: be­cause 100 per cent of re­spon­dents would have hung up, driven to Net­flix head­quar­ters and burned the place to the ground.

I’m not say­ing Net­flix is evil. I’m just say­ing no good can come from stream­ing more ver­sions of “Happy Birth­day” into a world that is no longer pro­tected from the worst song ever writ­ten.

NET­FLIX

Char­ac­ters singing “Happy Birth­day” is a bad idea, Vi­nay Menon writes.

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