What the Filk? Music for Every Fandom

Posted by Hanna Fogel

(Image via flickr)

Filk? What is filk, you ask? In a nutshell, filk is a musical genre inspired by fandom…but as with many fannish things, it’s a lot bigger on the inside. Filk is what happens when music and geekdom join hands and frolic off into the sunset, or more appropriately, collide at lightspeed and zoom through the galaxy.

The music’s sound is usually folk-esque, and the lyrics typically have a sci-fi and/or fantasy twist. Many times (though not always), the songs are outright parodies—the tune is recognizable, whether it’s from a traditional folk song, a current Top 40 hit, or a Broadway showstopper, but the lyrics are entirely original.

Think of your favorite fandom, and there have likely been songs written about it. Take Firefly for instance, that wonderful space-western odyssey that was on for one season a decade ago, and whose loss is still bemoaned by Browncoats everywhere. Filkers extraordinaire Vixy & Tony took the show’s theme song and made it the chorus to their own song about the show’s main character Mal Reynolds, aptly named Mal’s Song:

Of course, as with all matters of fandom, we can’t forget Harry Potter. There are almost too many wizard rock (or “wrock”) artists to count. Many of these bands (take Harry and the Potters, for example) really had their heyday a few years ago, but by no means have they disappeared. (A moment of silence, however, for the now-defunct harrypotterfilks.com, which among other wondrous parodies included entirely-filked versions of Beatles albums and Broadway musicals). Even Hank Green (brother to author John Green and co-founder of Nerdfighteria) has a strong connection to wrock–the video of his song “Accio Deathly Hallows” is really what launched the Vlogbrothers’ YouTube careers.

Everyone loves a good twisted fairytale, and filkers are no exception. Even Sara Bareilles got in on the action (though probably not entirely on purpose) with her song “Fairytale.” Author Seanan McGuire, well-known for her October Daye urban fantasy series, is also famous in the filk world. Many of her songs tweak classic stories; the lyrics for “Wicked Girls” are a prime example of this change in perspective.

The story of Alice in Wonderland is a favorite of filkers everywhere, especially as a tale that can be turned on its head–they take the madness already inherent in the story and kick it up a notch. SJ Tucker’s “Cheshire Kitten (We’re All Mad Here)” is written from the point of view of (who else?) the Cheshire Cat, while “The Girl That’s Never Been” by Escape Key (the former band of Michelle Dockrey aka Vixy from Vixy and Tony) is about Alice, all grown up.

Every story has its good old character archetypes, so naturally filks have been written about them too. From the army captain to the siren and the zombie, if it has a place in myth it’ll find its way into filk. Mary Crowell’s “Captain of the Guard” is about the short but glorious life of the king’s best friend. Other examples, however, deliver a more humorous take on their subjects. For instance, Vixy & Tony’s “Siren Song” is about a siren whose greatest dream is to become a world-famous singer–if you know the classic Greek myth, you know what the problem with that is. Finally, Jonathan Coulton’s “Re: Your Brains” is exactly what it sounds like–an office memo from a zombie who only wants a delicious next meal.

This list, while a good start, is not nearly exhaustive. There are so many other great filkers out there who deserve a mention, like Wild Mercy, whose concept album Dream of a Far Light uses the melodies of traditional Irish tunes but lyrically depicts a post-apocalyptic future where Earth’s inhabitants are forced to venture into outer space. And this doesn’t even begin to cover all the Doctor Who– and Star Trek-specific artists, either! Pick your fandom, and you’re sure to find a place in filk that’s right for you.