"Somebody once told me..."

The song begins with that iconic opening line, but you know it from the first syllable, a half second lead singer Steve Harwell has to himself, singing with a slight rasp, a hint of a sneer, an elongated "o". The whole song rests on that syllable. When you hear it, you are wrestling with a set of values, deciding the proper response. Should you laugh? Sigh? Is your resistance a pose?

The song, of course, is Smash Mouth's 'All Star', which has become a sort of holy text for internet comedians and one of our great musical memes. In this version, assembled by DJ Grumbles, the song is multiplied. The first verse proceeds unabated, but once the pre-chorus arrives, the song begins again, layered on top of the first iteration. Now, there are two "All Stars" playing simultaneously, staggered a verse apart.

And so it goes, with DJ Grumbles performing a musical mitosis, dividing and multiplying until the remix is dense and nearly incomprehensible, an internet troll's symphony performed in the round. It is both grotesque and transfixing. So is the image attached to the YouTube video which contains the song. It is a popular meme called "Yao Ming Face," an illustration of Ming laughing during a press conference in 2010. The illustration is crudely drawn and it appears as if Ming is straining to laugh, making a sarcastic performance of it. The image is used in internet circles as a form of condescension, and it summarizes the internet's relationship to 'All Star', which has become the primary source material for satirical remixes.

In a technical sense, remixing is the essence of creativity. To write a song, you must hear, and be inspired by, other songs. To make a film, you must have seen other films. The act of creation requires prior creative acts which can be used as templates to be copied, tweaked, or subverted. This is the thesis put forth by Kirby Ferguson's short documentary, Everything is a Remix, which argues that romantic notions of creativity as a solitary, hermetic act of divine inspiration are flawed. Any act of creation is part of a lineage of creative acts which either directly or indirectly inspire it. Steve Jobs lifted the graphical user interface from Xerox, which was inspired by the organizational tools of office culture. Led Zeppelin adapted lyrics and melodies from blues artists like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.

As a codified, popular musical form, remixing began in Jamaica during the 1960s, where DJs like King Tubby and Lee "Scratch" Perry played instrumental versions of reggae songs in dance halls, adding sound effects, emphasizing drum and bass parts, and adding live vocals in an early precursor to rapping known as "toasting." Some of these DJs, like DJ Cool Herc, emigrated to New York, where they replaced reggae instrumentals with American soul and R&B records. At the same time, disco DJs were remixing the songs in their playlists, extending and repeating instrumental passages. What these early remixers were doing was applying the basic formulas of pop music in new contexts. We respond to songs we recognize but crave novelty. With the remix, DJs can satisfy both desires, creating a new song from the pieces of an old one. This practice became foundational for hip-hop and various forms of electronic music, where samples form the backbones of instrumental tracks.

As the center of American popular music shifted from rock toward hip-hop and dance music, sampling and remixing became entrenched in the aesthetic language of the mainstream. File-sharing sites like Napster and computer programs like Pro Tools and GarageBand made sampling and remixing more accessible than ever, which led to the blurring of traditional genre boundaries. If any song or sound could be found and disassembled with minutes, why play by old rules? Artists like The Avalanches, Danger Mouse, and Girl Talk took this question to heart, making songs that reflected the full spectrum of their personal tastes and finding resonances in surprising places.

No sample-based work could match the symbolic power of Danger Mouse's The Grey Album, released in 2004, which set the vocals from Jay-Z's The Black Album against instrumentals from The Beatles' White Album. The mixtape, which likely would have been considered blasphemous a decade prior, was met with widespread praise, ranking as the tenth-most critically acclaimed album of the year, according to The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop Critics Poll. In theory and practice, the mixtape embodies a spirit of curiosity while deconstructing old taste hierarchies. (It's significant that Jay-Z's voice is the one heard most frequently.) If there was a dominant innovation in American music during the first decade of the twenty-first century, it was the democratization of taste--the rejection of the idea that artists within a particular genre were categorically better or more interesting than those in any other genre.

As music experienced an aesthetic and cultural revolution, so did comedy, where aspiring comedians faced a lower barrier to entry due to sites like YouTube and Twitter. The internet's defining comedic genre became the meme, a single joke--or a series of them oriented around the same subject--expressed through a captioned photo, gif, or short video. Memes exploited the internet's ability to connect people with similar senses of humor with historic precision. Whether attempting to entertain an audience of ten or ten million, all one needed was a computer and internet access to find that audience.

As memes grew in popularity and stature, they began to spread beyond insular communities on Reddit and 4chan to more traditional sites like Facebook and CNN. Here, the meme became more than a haven for absurdist humor; it expanded into a vehicle for widespread connection. If it is often difficult to explain why memes are funny, that is part of their appeal: the special intimacy of the inside joke, expressed on a global scale. Take the "rickrolling" phenomenon, in which the video for Rick Astley's 'Never Gonna Give You Up' was used as a surprise destination to a link which claimed to lead elsewhere. There is no obvious reason to choose "Never Gonna Give You Up" as the foundation for this joke. But once the meme received enough exposure, it constructed its own logic. Now, no other song would make sense.

Naturally, internet comedians began creating musical memes, making remixes designed to mock popular songs through manipulations or humorous juxtapositions. Remixes reinterpret the fundamental components (lyrics, melody, harmony, production, arrangements) of a song, with the remixer bringing a specific temperament and set of aesthetic preferences to the original song's ideas. In spirit, the remix often functions as a tribute to the song's ability to resonate with the remixer. The basic intent of the satirical remix is to poke fun at a song and the fact of its popularity. But rather than pin a song down, the satirical remix asks a question: Why? Why, exactly, is this song bad? Why would one who hates it find it compelling? The satirical remix is a probe into a song's essence; it is a mode of criticism.

Satirical remixes take many forms, most of which fall into one of three categories: the unexpected mash-up, in which a song is set against another to highlight the contrasts between them (Nine Inch Nails' 'Head Like a Hole' and Carly Rae Jepsen's 'Call Me Maybe', for example); the ironic cover, in which an artist performs a song in a different style than the original (such as Niykee Heaton's acoustic cover of Chief Keef's 'Love Sosa'); and the deconstruction, in which the original song is altered or taken apart (like Nick Pittsinger's remix of Justin Bieber's 'U Smile', which is slowed down and extended to eight times its original length). Satirical remixers often train their sights on artists and songs which are popular and highly divisive, and whose popularity mystifies their haters. (Bieber, Skrillex, Barenaked Ladies' 'One Week', and Santana's 'Smooth' are among the most popular targets.) But one song sits firmly at the center of this trend, having confused and compelled more internet comedians than any other: 'All Star'.

No matter your age, you have heard 'All Star', because it is one of those songs--like 'Don't Stop Believin'' or the 'Macarena'--that sticks to the firmament of American popular music like dried gum. It is the sort of thing that feels timeless and inevitable, as if it were plucked from our collective consciousness fully formed. The song's remixers are often unable to explain their fascination with it, but I have a theory: 'All Star' is the least cool song in modern history. It is not just uncool, but a perfect inversion of coolness. If the band did not so thoroughly embrace the song and its commercial success, one could read it as a parody of the overwrought, performative masculinity of some 1990s alternative rock.

But it is not a parody. Responding to the recent influx of satirical remixes, Harwell gave his earnest take on the song's appeal to The Verge, "The feel of the song initially is super fun and poppy," he said, "and the lyrics, although sung in a fun way, actually delivers important messages people can relate to." As written, the song is a pile of clichés, stacked neatly and with such frequency that they're a little endearing, as if Harwell believed them fully. But as performed, the song loses its sweetness. Harwell's vocal is a perfect storm of tone, timbre, and inflection, both the natural qualities of his voice and his interpretation of the lyrics conspiring to create an air of condescension. A song which is nominally about transcending social norms in the name of self-expression becomes an act of spiteful defiance, performed with the tact of a moody adolescent. That tension, between content and interpretation, is compelling, as is the song's enduring popularity and the open pleasure the band takes in its licensing potential. ("We were going, 'Gatorade, football, baseball, basketball--this song's going to be everywhere,'" Harwell told Rolling Stone of his initial reaction to the song.)

This attitude is the sort of thing that has made Smash Mouth a perfect target for internet-fueled ridicule. But in experiencing a rebirth as a social media phenomenon, the band has revealed its true genius: evasion. Nearly every interview the band has conducted in the previous five years attempts to goad its members into expressing frustration toward their status as a punchline, but they never take the bait.

The band has been shockingly good natured about the trolling which has spurred its miniature renaissance, going so far as to participate in it. In 2011, writer Jon Hendren noticed Smash Mouth's verified Twitter account was nearly bare, followed only by the small intersection of people who embrace both aging rock bands and interactive social media. In response to his discovery, Hendren tweeted to the account, ".@smashmouth can i pay the lead guy to eat like 2 dozen eggs for $20. will meet u in SJ. please reply back if so, i am completely serious." Other users followed, offering to donate money to charity if Harwell accepted the task, until a causes.com page was arranged to ensure the legitimacy of the charitable donations. The band issued a challenge of its own: If $10,000 were raised for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, Harwell would eat two dozen eggs. A few days later, the money was raised and the event was arranged, with Guy Fieri serving as chef and master of ceremonies.

At this point, it appeared as if Harwell would have to settle for a partial victory, directing the internet's attempt to embarrass him toward a noble cause while suffering the indignity of eating twenty four eggs in public. But a funny thing happened: Harwell treated the challenge not like an act of public humiliation, but as a charitable event, going so far as to lightly tease Hendren before bringing him on stage and thanking him for being the catalyst for a good cause. In videos of the event, Hendren is shy and a little embarrassed, taken aback by Harwell's good-natured charisma, and from here, Harwell takes control. While Fieri cooks the eggs, Harwell entertains the audience, telling stories of his and Fieri's friendship while predicting the fate of his digestive system. In a post-event interview conducted by internet personality Chloe Dykstra, Harwell manages to deflect questions designed to irritate him ("Has anyone ever told you the world was going to roll you?") until Dykstra cuts the interview short, claiming her subsequent questions were "too mean" for the relentlessly positive Harwell. (It may also have something to do with Harwell's insistent and creepy attempts at flirting with Dykstra.) But Harwell's masterful performance did not end the mockery, it simply moved it back to the internet and refocused the attention toward "All Star." In the years since, the song has received every possible variation on the satirical remix, but a few stand out.

Jon Sudano created a YouTube channel built around a single, ingenious, premise: singing the lyrics and melody of 'All Star' over the instrumental tracks of other popular songs, such as Adele's 'Hello' and Papa Roach's 'Last Resort'. Each video is filmed from a nearly identical angle--about a foot below and slightly to the left of Sudano's chin. The effect is to give Sudano, who remains stoic throughout each video, a slightly regal air. His singing adds to the effect: his tone, volume, and cadence are somber and unwavering, as if 'All Star' were a sacred hymn. The scope (the project now spans thirty-four videos) and consistency (Sudano continues to record at least one video per week, more than five months after his first) of the project is nearly Sisyphean: Each cover Sudano produces only creates the potential for more covers, more angles from which to consider his source text.

That same curiosity makes its way through James Nielssen's remixes, but rather than use repetition, Nielssen breaks the song open and puts it back together in asymmetric forms. In one remix, each word is replaced with "somebody." In another, the song becomes fifteen-percent faster each time "the" is sung. The best, though, derives from a simple premise: as the song progresses, the vocals move higher in pitch while the instruments move lower, creating a rift between the two. The song, which is precise and orderly in its original form, sounds as if it is melting while being pulled apart like a string of Silly Putty. Eventually, the bass frequencies rumble with such force as to drown out their melodic qualities, while Harwell's voice sounds as if his lungs are full of helium. In aggregate, Nielssen creates a kind of satirical kaleidoscope in which the song is turned, twisted, and rearranged into new shapes. The idea is: How many new songs can you make from a single song?

Neil Cicierega blends both approaches in his 2014 mash-up mixtape, Mouth Sounds. The mixtape is the product of Cicierega's experiments with vocal and instrumental stems from the video game Rock Band, during which he placed songs together at random until he found a harmony between them. 'All Star' is the most featured song on the mixtape, paired with everyone from John Lennon ('Imagine') and Modest Mouse ('Float On') to Enya ('Orinoco Flow') and classical composer Modest Mussorgsky ('Promenade (Pictures at an Exhibition')). Throughout the mixtape, Cicierega takes a deconstructionist approach to 'All Star', isolating and repeating certain words and phrases until the song becomes a recurring theme. While the song combinations sometimes seem chosen to offend, there is an unmistakable consonance in many of them. Beyond shock value is intense fascination, removing and rearranging parts of a song into a different environment in the hope of discovering something new in it.

The final song on the mixtape, 'Smooth Flow', does just that. It begins by pairing Enya's 'Orinoco Flow' and Santana's 'Smooth', with each song's opening instrumental melody acting in counterpoint against the other. Soon, Enya is harmonizing behind Rob Thomas and once the chorus hits, Thomas' vocal takes on a new urgency. In its original form, Thomas sounds strained and a little sleazy; there are hints of physical discomfort in his voice. But here, there is something at stake. The two songs are so temperamentally opposed that when they are thrust together, the friction is combustible. It is as if you mixed oil and water, lit the mixture on fire, and it exploded and collapsed simultaneously.

The song ends with another transformation: the bridge from 'All Star', whistled rather than played on a synthesizer, and here, too, the song takes on a new emotional dimension. It is suddenly wistful, as if remembering lost innocence, or a time when a song could just be a song, before it was submitted to instant hot takes and reimaginings and deconstructions. On their surface, satirical remixes appear to merely insult the songs they reinterpret, but the best ones, like 'Smooth Flow', are revelatory, even poignant. They are acts of liberation and communion, a tribute to the idea that there is a common thread that runs through all culture, high and low. If their intent is to poke fun, the end result is different. We find harmony in places we would never imagine. We take things we don't like and make things we do like, that are surprising and silly and oddly satisfying. This is the miracle of the satirical remix: Hatred and spite are replaced by the shock of novelty and discovery, and history is rewritten.