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