The Fatherly Turntable

30 Years Ago, The Best Slacker Anthem Changed Pop Music Forever

You can't imagine your life without Beck's "Loser."

WEST HOLLYWOOD- APRIL 19: Beck performs at the Troubadour at the end of the Mellow Gold tour on Apri...
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Thirty years ago, slackers everywhere were given the best do-nothing anthem of all time. On March 8, 1993, the ultimate Gen-X song dropped: “Loser” by Beck. Today, you can’t imagine a self-indulgent, tongue-in-cheek song like this getting made, much less, rocketing into the top 10 on the Billboard charts. But the ‘90s were weird; a time that we both remember really well, and are already forgetting about. This was the moment when the generation who would become the elder millennials of today, were in grade school. So, if you’re a young Gen-Xer (or an older millennial) there’s a good chance that “Loser” changed your life in small, imperceivable ways.

Today, when we think of Beck, it’s tempting to classify him in his own category of slick pop-rock Beck-ish sound, exemplified by the direction he took in the early 2000s. This odd subgenre is almost exclusive to Beck himself and could possibly be described as Prince if he was white and way less talented. The best example of this is probably the 2005 hit “Girl,” which represents the dancier Beck that dominated the first decade of the 21st Century, and arguably, continues to this day. For example, you can’t get much Beck-ier than his 2021 collaboration with Paul McCartney, “Find My Way.” And yet, for those of us who love mopey dad rock, there’s also his excellent song “Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime” from the 2002 film soundtrack for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. So, which is the real Beck?

The short answer is one that is tough to admit: Despite any perception we might have that Beck is possibly a phony (this seems to be the biggest problem people have with him) the truth is, he’s a very versatile artist, capable of not just inventing odd subgenres, but also, avoiding getting tethered to one kind of music. In 1994, Rolling Stone labeled him a “Hip-Hop Folk Rocker” a phrase that is both accurate and horrifying. Imagine the guy from your local bar telling you he’s in a “hip-hop folk” band — you’d probably never go to that bar again. And yet, somehow Beck turned being uncool into being cool. Or perhaps more specifically, he turned uncool music into music you couldn’t stop listening to.

This brings us to patient zero of the Back phenomenon: “Loser,” the most unserious 1990s hit, which many of us took way too seriously. In 2012, Beck made it clear that in 1993, “Loser” was totally a big goofy joke, saying: “I just thought it’s really interesting that you could actually come up with a song in a few hours...a corny song you’d leave on your friend’s answering machine.” If you remember the days of leaving really long weird messages on your friends’ answering machines, this comment will make sense. If you don’t, it sounds like Beck is nuts. And honestly, both things are true. Who has time to record an entire song about a guy crooning about being a “Loser” to an unseen second person?

Obviously, it feels unhealthy to be obsessed with a song in which the chorus ends with the words “so why don’t you k*ll me?” But, hyperbole was the name of the game in the ‘90s, and Beck captured the edge of grunge, while oddly predicting the twee aesthetics of the early aughts. It’s not that he looks exactly like Wes Anderson in the video for “Loser,” nor does the low-budget romp have anything to do with the director. And yet, if you were really wasted and someone told you that “Loser” was on the soundtrack to Anderson’s debut film, Bottle Rocket (1996), you’d believe them. Beck fits into whatever was going on with angsty ‘90s kids, especially if those kids grew-up to want to be artists or DJs.

Essentially, every compliment you have to pay “Loser” is a backhanded one. It’s an absurdly bad song that is somehow a very good song. It’s a song that hasn’t aged well, and yet, is so fun to listen to now. Beck feels irrelevant now, and yet, how could the ‘90s and early 2000s have existed without him? “Loser” fulfilled a need in our lives in 1993, the same way we needed a can of Pringles next to a Sega Genesis. It wasn’t good for us. Its lyrical content was utterly pointless. We weren’t sure we liked it. But, as soon as it was over, we wanted to listen to it again.

The 1993 song “Loser” appears on Mellow Gold, which was released a year later, in 1994.