During last night's episode of Mad Men, a 90-second animated commercial aired touting the "wonderfilled" nature of Oreo cookies. The storyline of the commercial was straight out of Laura Numeroff and Felicio Bond's classic 1985 children's book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and the series it launched. The music — bouncy, whispery synth pop with glockenspiel or xylophone — sounded like the Postal Service and the Boy Least Likely To if both of those beloved, sweetness-inclined groups were as cartoonishly cutesy as their detractors must imagine.
The artist, of course, was Adam Young, better known as Owl City, better known as "that guy whose song sounds like the Postal Service." Now, look, Oreo cookies are delicious, and a fair amount of the negativity toward Owl City's "Fireflies" always came across as elitist condescension — it's unfair to blame someone for popularizing a style that plenty of critics underrated in the first place. But Young singing, in an affectedly dainty voice, about what would happen if you gave various fairytale beings an Oreo — backed by a gross caricature of whimsical early- to mid-'00s indie pop? It's like (Mad Men spoiler) Don Draper has our youth and innocence locked in a hotel room and he's having his way with them.
Music can be cute without being cloying. That's part of what the twee-pop movement was about, and it's an idea Grimes touched on in her SPIN interview late last year, when she discussed "the Japanese archetype of a female protagonist who is very small and very cute and very physically powerful." American culture has historically been more hostile to recognizing the possible role of cuteness in pop culture, and that's partly because it can so easily get taken too far — "adorkable" was good marketing for Zooey Deschanel, but rightly or wrongly, that might not make it easier to embrace She & Him's music. Groups like Japan-based Lullatone will probably always remain comparatively obscure, but they view cuteness as its own shade of beauty, no less polarizing and no less valid than dissonance or lo-fi fuzz.
In fact, while cultural critics are more attuned to mainstream embrace of self-consciously edgy styles, a similar trend in recent years has been the annexation of twee-leaning pop by marketers. It's still astonishing to hear the opening of Los Campesinos!' "You! Me! Dancing!" in Budweiser commercials. And good for them.
But what's remarkable about Owl City's jingle isn't that it exists. It's that it's so terrible, and keeps getting more terrible as it goes along. The Big Bad Wolf bringing the Three Little Pigs "cool stuff / To decorate the deck" is one thing, even if accompanied visually by (of course) Polaroids. Still, it gets worse: Young sings that "Creme does wondrous things / Inside a chocolate sandwich dream," and then imagines great white sharks sharing the cookies with baby seals.
Oreos are a tasty treat, but Mad Men's great fictional ads are always rooted in Draper's real-life emotions or experience. We've never dunked an Oreo and pictured a hug from a cartoon squid.
For possibly the first time in our lives, the thought of a cookie just made us throw up in our mouths a little.