What do you know about the members of the Gorillaz? Not their human overseers, multi-instrumentalist Damon Albarn and animator Jamie Hewlett, but the band they've spent 17 years bringing to life? Even the most dedicated fans would likely have difficulty introducing the various members beyond a one-line descriptor: 2D, the nerdy lead; Russel, the lovable drummer that got possessed that one time; Noodle, the mysterious super soldier; Murdoc, the rock star Satanist.
This skeletal picture is not a failure of the concept, but merely proof Albarn and Hewlett haven't found the right medium to build out the critique their band has been aiming to deliver for the past 17 years. Yet, that may not be the case for much longer. Ahead of their forthcoming album, Humanz, out April 28, Hewlett gave an interview to Q Magazine in which he revealed some of the big plans he's been working on for the release: tour merchandise, a clothing line, "other things he never imagined when the Gorillaz was born" and a — virtual drum roll please — animated TV show.
Former middle schoolers who grew up diligently learning the raps to "Clint Eastwood" on basement couches, now trapped within responsible adult bodies, are screaming across the internet right now. As they should be. This is the future the Gorillaz have been waiting for, the step that will finally bring the band and all its mythology to a logical head.
A brief history of the virtual band
The concept of the virtual band has origins dating way back to before Albarn became a thinking, breathing human.
Alvin and the Chipmunks from the Alvin Show were the first animated band. The show's creator, Ross Bagdasarian, recorded his voice and sped it up to create the classic chipmunk squeak. He won two Grammys for his work in 1959. The Archies, a garage band spinoff from The Archie Show, were the next big virtual band, topping the Billboard Hot 100 in 1989 with "Sugar Sugar" in 1969.
Both of these bands were TV characters first and bands second. They brought their audiences' sympathy and love for the characters into the music. It gave it a more little sentimental warmth and a more enduring place in people's minds and playlists.
The Gorillaz have long danced around establishing this relationship. But its character has always felt mutable, incidental. They've never found a way to actually give the band much of an identity outside of the place where Albarn releases his hip-hop-leaning music. There's a lot of missed potential in that.
The Gorillaz' founding principle
The idea for the Gorillaz originally came from the television's blue void. "If you watch MTV for too long, it's a bit like hell — there's nothing of substance there," Albarn once told Wired of the band's origins. "So we got this idea for a cartoon band, something that would be a comment on that." The ways that critique surfaces in the Gorillaz music isn't entirely easy to see. And instead, audiences have had to turn to other projects that have been more forthcoming with their desire to package that satire for the mainstream.
Adult Swim and its barrage of anti-TV — Tim & Eric, Eric Andre and Aqua Teen Hunger Force — have painted this hellish reality of substanceless media in high contrast by building out characters, evoking and brutally dismembering familiar TV tropes. The Gorillaz have an opportunity to do this with their TV show, while finding a way to unite their band's 17 years of releases around a series of character traits and easily digestible principles. The possibilities are terrifyingly endless.
The digital storybooks the band has released during the lead-up to Humanz have been testament to that fact. Each "book" gave the fullest picture of the Gorillaz story and the zany, violent world where their music feels, in many ways, the last remaining truth. They've given the album a colorful foundation for it to build its "dark fantasy," as Albarn described it for BBC Radio One. More specifically, it's "like the album's a party for the end of world ," as Albarn phrased if for Fact Magazine, a close read of the "like if [Donald Trump] were to win."
Imagine a TV show that set that stage for its viewers, that authored cartoon avatars of Popcaan, Vince Staples and Danny Brown, illustrating the stories they'd eventually tell in verse. However the show's twisted dramatizations of post-Brexit Britain and post-Trump America would fit with the inevitable music, its narratives would make the Gorillaz' flippant, cartoonish madness that much more real for audiences on this side of the screen.
It's coming, and the world needs the reality check it will likely provide as soon as possible.
More Gorillaz news and updates
Mic has ongoing coverage of Albarn and Hewlett's animated band. Read a rundown of the band's past influence on hip-hop and music visuals, along with a recap of all the rumors surrounding their upcoming album. Check out details about the album's collaborators and release date here and a review of their "Hallelujah Money" music video. We included Humanz on our most highly anticipated albums of 2017.