August 12, 2005

What is a Dechievement?

The concept of the dechievement is simple: in the struggle to "make it" as an artist, rising above the competition is not the only way of garnering attention. Essentially, if you are trying to stretch the boundaries of what's been done before, it's possible to undercut what already exists, rather than trying to hold yourself to a higher standard. Achieving greater heights is one way of making a name for yourself; dechieving is much easier, and is often more effective.

A dechievement is also sometimes referred to as a New Low.

Let's use a mountain as an analogy for quality here. In this case your average artist starts off as middle-of-the-road, or in this case, middle-of-the-mountain. Now to achieve greatness through quality you'd have to get to the top of the mountain and plant your flag. This would require complicated planning of unprecedented routes up the North face, and tenacious navigation of the steepest slopes. It'd be much easier for you to get down the mountain via established and well-traveled routes, and then leave your mark there. But you can't just stop at base camp and hang out with all the other hopefuls; no, to separate yourself from the pack you'd have to go lower, and plant your flag in a riverbed down in the valley, where there are no other flags. At this low altitude, your flag might actually be noticed. Every year only a few flags get planted at the summit, and only a few get planted deep in the canyon; the rest are all in the middle of the mountain, and no one remembers those.

The key to dechieving is to drastically undercut existing works to the point where what you've done is clearly intentional, so there can be no mistaking you as merely mediocre. Reaching New Lows is also an effective way of avoiding people's instinctual ability to separate the wheat from the chaff; works that achieve New Lows separate themselves from the average and below-average by either being so bad they're good, or by being so bad that they deserve their own category of bad. If you can manage to successfully lower the bar in this respect, you have achieved New Lows.


For recent examples you can look to rap music for the (least) shining examples of this trend: at the time of this writing (July 2005), the dechievement championship belt is currently held by the Ying Yang Twins, with their song "Wait (the Whisper Song)." A couple years ago Khia held the title, with her song "My Neck, My Back." Before that it went to Eminem for any number of his early tracks. Although Eminem was also a talented lyricist (and white, which also helped his popularity), he decided to use his abilities to achieve New Lows.

Here are some examples from the aforementioned songs. Remember that the above became popular not by really doing anything entirely new, but by being more violent, more explicit, more misogynistic, or just plain dirtier than anything that had come before. Caution, uncensored:

Eminem - Just Don't Give a Fuck / Still Don't Give a Fuck
The Slim Shady LP, 1999

Impulsive thinker, compulsive drinker, addict
Half animal, half man
Dumpin your dead body inside of a fuckin trash can
With more holes than an Afghan

I walked into a gunfight with a knife to kill you
And cut you so fast when your blood spilled it was still blue
I'll hang you til you dangle and chain you at both ankles
And pull you apart from both angles
I wanna crush your skull til your brains leak out of your veins
And bust open like broken water mains (psscchhhh)

Khia - My Neck, My Back (Lick it)
Thug Misses, 2002

Lick it good, suck this pussy just like you should
Right now, lick it good
Suck this pussy just like you should
My neck, my back
Lick my pussy AND my crack

Then, you roll your tongue
From the, crack back to the front
Then ya, suck it all 'til I shake and cum nigga
Make sure I keep bustin nuts nigga
All over yo face and stuff

Ying Yang Twins - Wait (The Whisper Song)
United State of Atlanta, 2005

We need to make our way to the bed
You can start usin' ya head
Ya like to fuck, have ya legs open all in the buck
Do it up, slappin' ass, girl the sex get rough

Hey bitch
Wait 'til you see my dick
Wait 'til you see my dick
Hey bitch
Wait 'til you see my dick
Imma beat that pussy up
Beat the pussy up, beat the pussy up
Beat the pussy up, beat the pussy up
Beat the pussy up, beat the pussy up
Beat the pussy up, beat the pussy up

That was educational.

Thanks to the Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive for these transcriptions.


I chose the latter two songs because, with a little bit of censoring, they both got significant radio airplay. Much like the censoring of another New Lows candidate--Nine Inch Nails' 1994 hit "Closer"--the censorship employed on these songs wasn't going to fool anyone. The chorus to the album version of "Closer" was "I wanna fuck you like an animal," wheras the censored version was changed to "I wanna f_ck you like an animal." What could f_ck possibly mean?! I don't know, and neither do the kids. It's a complete f_cking mystery.

The problem with changing a couple words in a song is that it does nothing to change the meaning of what is being said. And if we're really worried about corrupting our youth (which I can't say I am, although these are some rather egregious offenses), what a song is saying should be more important than the number of bad words it uses. For the radio version of the Whisper Song, "Wait 'til you see my dick" was changed to "Wait 'til I show you this," which I'm fairly certain invokes the same imagery. But I do have a solution here. Instead of using the music video as a piece of promotion for the artist and album, you could use it to change the meaning of the song itself:

Wait 'til I show you this (the Ying Yang Twins present their collection of impressionist paintings)

Wait 'til I show you this (they show off a chalkboard full of advanced calculus theorems)

Wait 'til I show you this (in their backyard, they reveal a bocce court)


Now I'm not categorically decrying the achievement of New Lows, because what most people do not admit is that achieving such depths of badness often requires a certain amount of intelligence. It is often a pragmatic decision made by the artist--or some controlling party behind the artist--to essentially not go for it. So this is not a declaration of the dechievement as a crime against the art form, or a lamentation of particular dechievements for corrupting our youth. Indeed, reaching New Lows is a sometimes-successful career move, and no one can blame someone for wanting to be successful.

But it certainly doesn't take nearly as much intelligence to achieve New Lows as it does to try to create something new. New Lows can be a pragmatic decision, yes; but daring, no. As the author Mary McCarty was recently quoted as saying, "If someone tells you he is going to make 'a realistic decision,' you immediately understand that he is going to do something bad." Or, in this case, superbad. Decomplishing New Lows is "realistic" simply because it is a career-oriented decision, and not at all risky. And this is the larger problem in our arts today: lack of risk-taking.


So here's the conundrum. If you decide to try to create something new, you run the risk of no one understanding it. If no one understands it then you might have a deluge of negative reviews (if you get reviewed at all), and you might be written off as a failure. If you decide to go for New Lows and fail, however, you weren't really trying anyway, so it's no skin off your back; you wanted to create something bad, and you did (just not bad enough). And while you may not have made your mark, you'll probably succeed in achieving New Lows the next time around, since it's not particularly difficult (just lower the bar further). More importantly, you didn't have to stick your neck out and risk having your head cut off like the guy who tried something new. So despite all the bad language, striving for New Lows is not at all dangerous--in fact you could call it a "pussy" move, artistically.

While dechievement in music often entails talking about genitalia, striving to do something that hasn't been done before is what really takes balls. New Lows never last, because someone will always come along and achieve Lower Lows. But having balls? That's worth remembering.

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1 Comment

Well put. I kind of blame Marcel Duchamp.

September 27, 2009 at 9:24PM, Edited September 4, 7:22AM