Proving that everything new can be old again, pianist Scott Bradlee has become a viral pop sensation after creating a series of clips for YouTube that finds him and his ad hoc group Postmodern Jukebox reworking 21st century pop hits in a variety of vintage styles — transforming Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” into a ’50s-style doo wop number, giving Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” a ’20s jazz accent, crossing Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” with Irish folk music, and showing how Ke$ha’s “Die Young” would work as a classic country tune.
Long Island-born Scott Bradlee grew up with a taste for jazz and classic standards, and he rose to a successful career playing supper clubs and night spots in New York City. By his own admission, Bradlee regarded most pop and rock tunes as unrefined, but, as he himself put it, “As a relentless devil’s advocate, I then found that by simply altering the context of such songs, I could find quite a bit of artistic merit inside of them.” In 2009, Bradlee released a digital single, “Hello My Ragtime ’80s,” in which he grafted familiar lines from 20 pop hits of the ’80s into a medley played in traditional ragtime style. Bradlee then began experimenting with live mashups; during his weekly appearances at Robert Restaurant in the Big Apple’s Columbus Circle, he would perform numbers that interpolated elements from popular tunes both past and present, and recordings of these experiments were compiled into a digital album, Mashups by Candlelight.
The performances were popular enough that Bradlee released a second Mashups by Candlelight collection, but he enjoyed his greatest popular success when he began using his ideas as the basis for a series of YouTube videos. In 2012, Bradlee got his first taste of viral success when he released A Motown Tribute to Nickelback, in which he and a handful of musicians and vocalists reworked a handful of tunes by the Canadian hard rock act into ’60s influenced R&B arrangements. Becoming more ambitious, Bradlee began working with a rotating group of musicians dubbed Postmodern Jukebox (often featuring vocalist Robyn Adele Anderson) who tackled Bradlee’s arrangements which cast current pop songs in radically different styles, usually in live sessions filmed with a single camera in Bradlee’s home.
As Bradlee wrote on his website, “My goal with Postmodern Jukebox is to get my audience to think of songs not as rigid, ephemeral objects, but like malleable globs of Silly Putty. Songs can be twisted, shaped, and altered without losing their identities — just as we grow, age, and expire without losing ours.” After Postmodern Jukebox’s cover of “We Can’t Stop” racked up over 4 million views on YouTube, Bradlee and his crew became official internet stars, appearing on the TV chat show “Good Morning America” and being interviewed on National Public Radio.