As anyone who's ever had a great idea knows, the good and the bad of the thing is that as the idea spreads — even within a small set of friends — it becomes increasingly difficult to assert ownership over the concept or control how it's used. If your peer group is a geographically disperse group of people who bond over a niche taste via publicly viewable online forums, well, you should understand this better than most.
But the progenitors of the seapunk aesthetic style — all yin-yangs, aquatic imagery, and 3-D renderings cribbed from '90s fashion and early web memes — appear for all the world to be deathly slighted anytime the mainstream jacks their flipper-fueled swagger. The seapunk story has two chapters so far: the Chicago Reader piece declaring the movement, and the Times article in which founder Zombelle called Lady Gaga out for biting.
Enter the third — or perhaps chapter 2.5 — in which Zombelle and other probably influential self-identifying style icons rise up against a twin assault on their proprietary rights to cheaply rendered goopy imagery by: A) pop star Rihanna, who went buckwild with the 3-D on Saturday Night Live over the weekend, and B) SPIN cover star Azealia Banks, whose brand new "Atlantis" video is a dolphin-lover's wet dream, um, so to speak.
Some select Zombelle tweets:
GUYS WE CHANGED POP CULTURE/NOW PERFORMERS LIKE @rihanna R SINGING ABOUT ENLIGHTENMENT/ LOVE HENCE SHIFTING MASS CONSCIOUSNESS W OUR IMAGERY— ∞SHANTASY☹ISLAND❤✌➫ (@ZOMBELLE_) November 12, 2012
JUST REALIZED I'VE BEEN CRINGING FOR THE PAST 15mins (that musta been @azaeliabanks 15 mins of fame glad that's over) RELEASE— ∞SHANTASY☹ISLAND❤✌➫ (@ZOMBELLE_) November 12, 2012
HOW MUCH DID AZAELIA BANKS GET ON BUDGET TO MAKE THE VIDEO FOR ATLANTIS? HOW MUCH DID SNL PAY RIHANNA TO ACT LIKE GRIMES ON A GREEN SCREEN?— ∞SHANTASY☹ISLAND❤✌➫ (@ZOMBELLE_) November 12, 2012
THE LONGER WE'RE ONLINE THE MORE SUSCEPTIBLE ARTISTS ARE TO THE RICH POACHING OUR CULTURE AND IDEAS AS WELL IDEALS USED AS MARKETING PLOYS— ∞SHANTASY☹ISLAND❤✌➫ (@ZOMBELLE_) November 12, 2012
Articles by BuzzFeed and even VH1 have focused on a tonally ambiguous quote from Jerome LOL of the pretty freaking awesome LOL Boys production crew. He's also a video artist, and his 2010 "123" clip has been held up as an example of the kind of visuals that both Banks and Riri are borrowing from. (Compare below.) But while that early Twitter comment of his could've been read as showing offense, later posts prove he's not mad.
U mad, JeromeLOL? Nah, bro:
Rihanna I See you— Jerome LOL (@JeromeLOL) November 11, 2012
No one Owns the 90s— Jerome LOL (@JeromeLOL) November 12, 2012
Internet is Culture's Playground it's the Best.Stay Posi.— Jerome LOL (@JeromeLOL) November 13, 2012
While 19-year-old model/blogger and seapunk defendaar Bebe Zeva continues to earnestly rage, via Twitter, about the injustice at hand, Jerome LOL seems to get the inevitability of the situation: You come up with something awesome; you share it on the Internet; and then URL becomes IRL, which seems to be part of the seapunk manifesto anyhow. There are reasonable discussions to be had here once you get past the bluster.
Assuming the rise of an inspired thought is an inevitable thing, and taking for granted that we understand the basic tenets of capitalism, the best case scenario is that monetarily backed performers are hiring real artists to create the imagery they'd like to co-opt. While it's unclear who provided art direction for Rihanna's SNL feature, Banks' video was directed by Fafi, a French graffiti writer who came up with Banksy in the early aughts.
As for the exact moment in Fafi's Tumblr history that she began to explore seapunk-type themes? It's irrelevant. Like Jerome LOL, she's an artist who works across a variety of mediums and styles. Her motivations are her own to know, but is genuine inspiration such a hard one to imagine? And for all we know, Riri's backdrop designer could be seapunk OG Lil Internet, who was hired to direct a video for Diplo and Dillon Francis last year.
It should be noted that Lil Internet has been totally chill on the subject:
So what have we learned? Banks might've summed it up best for both sides when she told SPIN back in July that, "Seapunk isn't real." In other words, it's tough to wrangle a definition of an amorphous aesthetic trend that was virtually birthed. And also: Banks might not have much respect for those who helped usher it into style, which is curious since she's taken others to task for borrowing imagery she alleged they had no right to use. The dance continues.
And now, at last, some of that seizure-inducing cheese-dipped eye candy: Watch the offending clips below, their legit seapunk counterparts after than, and then visit DIS for some amazing stills presented as a kinda brilliant gossip-mag-spoofing "Who Wore it Best."
Rihanna does "Diamonds" on Saturday Night Live:
Azealia Banks in her Fifi-directed "Atlantis" clip:
LOL Boys' Jerome LOL-directed video for "123":
Dillon Francis and Diplo team up for "Que Que," directed by Lil Internet: