One afternoon, my college friends and I were on vacation, driving through Central Florida. The year was 2010, just three years removed from a monumental event in our culture, the cancellation of the generation-defining television show The O.C. It was, I believe, the last day of our trip, and we were all fighting about something stupid and petty that I can no longer remember. You know how vacations go. The argument had been so intense that someone had felt the need to turn off the radio, and so when it was over a silence fell over the car. It felt heavy, final. Maybe this was it, I thought. Maybe none of us will be friends anymore. And then, out of nowhere, the heavens parted and the car filled with a beautiful, prismatic sound:
We all burst into laughter. My friend Drew grinned sheepishly in the driver’s seat, iPod in his lap. He got us — we were unable to stay mad at each other for another second, such were the absolving powers of this song. We drove into the sunset, or maybe just to a Wendy’s, but the point is our friendship had been saved. To this day, we are all still incredibly close, and we owe it to a phenomenon I call Hide-and-Seeking.
As in, ambushing someone during a tense silence with Imogen Heap’s 2005 vocoder ballad “Hide and Seek,” played at comically punishing volume.
“Hide and Seek” became famous when it served as the soundtrack for maybe the most notorious scene from The O.C., the ending of the second-season finale, when Marissa Cooper shoots the dastardly Trey Atwood in order to save her true love (and Trey’s brother!), Ryan Atwood. It is arguably the most absurd and melodramatic shooting scene in the history of televisual media. It unfolds in the slowest of slow motion, which means it takes Trey about seven minutes to hit the ground. His blood pools glacially, beautifully. It is stupid and ridiculous and somehow (largely due to the song) genuinely, deeply moving. The whole thing was parodied to great effect in the SNL digital short “Dear Sister,” in which Shia LaBeouf, Kristen Wiig, Andy Samberg, Fred Armisen, Jason Sudeikis, and Bill Hader all shoot each other to the mournful tones of — what else? — “Hide and Seek.”
Imogen Heap has been on my mind this week, because quite a few songs on the new Bon Iver album 22, A Million are very reminiscent of “Hide and Seek” (the a cappella vocoder track “715 CrEEKs” in particular). And though a lot of critics have lauded Bon Iver’s brand of glitchy, distorted-vocal folk, Imogen Heap hasn’t gotten nearly enough credit for doing something similar a few years prior, and thus reintroducing the same sorts of sounds into the modern pop song. (And the modern hip-hop song: Kanye West has used Justin Vernon’s Imogen Heap–like vocoder wails to great effect ever since 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and earlier this year Chance the Rapper bathed Jeremih’s voice in a similar effect on “Summer Friends.”) Sure, Imogen Heap herself is deeply indebted to Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman,” and Daft Punk’s vocoder-heavy 2001 album Discovery repopularized this effect in early-aughts dance music. But Imogen Heap rarely gets credit for the ripple effects that “Hide and Seek” sent through the pop mainstream. Ariana Grande has frequently cited her as her favorite singer, and Taylor Swift collaborated with Heap on “Clean,” the closing song on her blockbuster record 1989. And of course, Jason Derulo sampled “Hide and Seek” on his breakout 2010 hit “Whatcha Say.”
It is hard to imagine any of these things happening if Marissa Cooper had not shot Trey Atwood, and in such dramatic fashion.
Hide-and-Seeking was briefly a thing among my friends, roughly around the time we’d all gotten tired of Rickrolling each other. We briefly dabbled in David Caruso–ing people, which meant always having the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” cued up to 7:44 — the exact moment when Roger Daltrey goes “YEEEEEAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!” — on iTunes and playing it at top volume whenever someone said something awesome. This was fun, but it didn’t feel like it was enough. We were millennials, after all. We wanted to change the world.
I don’t remember when we first came up with Hide-and-Seeking, but it wasn’t until that car ride in Florida that its full power became manifest: It is a joyous and bulletproof way to end an argument.
Picture this: You’re having a fight with the person you’re dating, and a tense silence has fallen over the room. Then you press a button on your phone and “MMMM WHATCHA SAY” fills the air, and suddenly you’re laughing that the pettiness and stupidity of whatever you were arguing about. You are now happily married and you have two beautiful children. Thanks, Imogen Heap!
Another scenario: You’re at a family dinner and — oh, no — somebody brings up politics. “Damn right, Mexico is paying for that wall!” your grandfather intones, pounding his fist on the table, sending the cutlery flying. A mean-spirited, yet totally progressive retort is on the tip of your tongue, but instead you grab the stereo remote and MMMMMMM WHATCHA SAYYYYYYYY — smash cut to you and your grandfather hugging it out, and then Gary Johnson materializes out of nowhere and taps you on the shoulder to ask if he can join in the hug too. Of course he can. Trey Atwood wasn’t wounded in vain!
Imagine: Drake invites Meek Mill into the studio, tells him very sincerely that he wants to put this whole beef behind them and collaborate on a track together. Meek is skeptical, but for the purpose of this anecdote not that skeptical, because he goes and meets Drake anyway. “Wait till you hear this track 40 came up with, shit is next level,” Drake says, hitting play:
“Man, you got me!” Meek Mill grins. He and Drake hug. An unprecedentedly gorgeous rainbow appears simultaneously in the skies over both Philly and Toronto, and for the rest of the day similar and remarkably uncreative pictures of it flood your Instagram feed.
There are no rules to Hide-and-Seeking. You can start anywhere in the song. You can play it through any device. A savvy Silicon Valley entrepreneur is probably developing an app right now that allows you to cue the song with your mind.
You know how Donald Trump says he has a secret plan to defeat ISIS, but he won’t tell anybody what it is? Well … I think I know …
… if you know what I mean.
Look, Rickrolling had its moment, but it feels like ancient history by now, and it’s a shame we never really found its replacement. The Rickroll also seems light-hearted by today’s standards, because these are dark, divided times — which means we need a music-cue-related prank that can bring us together rather, than drive us further apart.
Which is why I am telling you this right now. Be the change you wish to see in the world. The dust has only just begun to form crop circles in the carpet, my friends. Go forth and Hide-and-Seek.