Tap dancers clicking their heels to the beat of “Bad Romance,” a sad clown singing “Royals,” an upright bass player plucking to “All About That Bass” — these are some of the most popular hits from Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, a prolific YouTube channel turned internationally touring variety show.
Bradlee, a jazz pianist who's been recording these vintage-style cover tracks from his basement apartment, takes today’s pop hits, puts them in a time machine, and sends them back to the present from the Golden Age of swing, jazz, and soul. You’ll recognize the lyrics, but the song itself is a whole new tune. Whether you've stumbled across his addictive YouTube channel or are intrigued by the twists Bradlee puts on your favorite radio hits, his unique set is worth checking out this Sunday at SunFest.
“This is going to be a trip back in time,” Bradlee says. “If you imagine back in the 1940s, the Golden Age of Hollywood and going to a New Year’s Eve party with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, that’s what our show is. It’s a variety show. We have multiple singers and emcees, a tap dancer, and incredible musicians.”
Though Bradlee doesn't want to spoil this Sunday's setlist and talent roster, he says we can expect contemporary songs like Meghan Trainor's “All About That Bass,” Justin Bieber's “Love Yourself,” as well as some classic '80s songs, like Guns N’ Roses' “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
Postmodern Jukebox started in Bradlee’s living room in Queens, where it has remained since 2013. As a kid, Bradlee was naturally drawn to older styles of music like jazz, swing, and Motown, but he didn’t have many peers who shared his interest. Since they were all listening to the pop tracks on the radio, he thought it'd be interesting to join that conversation by taking the contemporary songs they played on repeat, and transforming them into older styles to sound like the kind of music he loved.
“I realized this was a really good opportunity to keep these styles alive in a new framework, and I started going on YouTube and taking pop songs everybody knew and remaking them in different styles,” Bradlee says. “Before long, I started getting a lot of interest, and from there, the whole thing grew exponentially.”
When Bradlee first moved to New York City, he had difficulty getting enough gigs as a jazz pianist, but when his first Postmodern Jukebox video went viral – a cover of “Thrift Shop” by Von Smith — his career took off.
In its first few years, the Postmodern Jukebox channel collected 425 million views and 1.8 million subscribers. Now, it posts a new music video weekly and has traveled to four continents on world tours. The 2016 run will end in the U.S. at the end of May, but Bradlee says he's going to be announcing some big news and new tour dates soon.
“It started as me just doing what I love,” Bradlee says. “It’s been a nice byproduct that it’s also gotten a lot of people interested in this style of music. I found that there are a lot of people who had never listened to these older styles of music, and they didn’t know they liked it until they heard us put a spin on a song they already knew.”
Bradlee says Postmodern Jukebox has even inspired some fans to pursue professional careers as jazz musicians or singers.
“It’s been cool that this has reignited a love in these older styles, and people realize that they're not old styles that have died out; they are vibrant,” he said. “There is still music you can create in those genres, and that’s what has been so exciting about this.”
Bradlee enjoys taking a song and placing it in a different context. For example, the hit “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea might be compared to the decadent time of the 1920s. He says there are a lot of similarities between that time and ours. In the music video to the Postmodern Jukebox version, they lay the song over a Great Gatsby-type setting with flappers dancing to the 1920s jazz-style tune.
Another Jukebox hit, “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” is blues at its core, so when you strip the '80s rock away, that’s what you hear.
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Bradlee and his crew seek out new talent everywhere and anywhere. He’s found singers and musicians through YouTube, mutual friends, mailed-in audition tapes, and even American Idol. The channel has been described as “SNL for singers,” because it’s a way for new talent to become stars.
The YouTube videos give you a taste of the live experience since they're all recorded in one raw cut. But for now, Bradlee’s main focus is keeping Postmodern Jukebox playing around the world, so people can get the full live experience. He wants to take audiences back in time and make them feel like they're in another era.
“I think that people should come to SunFest and get ready to have fun,” Bradlee says. “It’s a high-energy show. We love having people get up and dance.”
Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox plays at 3 p.m. at the Tire Kingdom Stage on Sunday.