Filk Song

Dear Other Tropers, do you like this song?
I hope it's good and famous, you can sing along
Jus' rewrite the lyrics, keep the rhymes alive
There's a certain art, and it's called writing
A TV Tropes Filk Song
A TV Tropes Filk Song!

See this song was written by the Beatle Paul
You might see this done to anything at all
If it's Meat Loaf, folk songs, or a Broadway Hit
Just rewrite the words, then you're set to have a
TV Tropes Filk Song,
A TV Tropes Filk Song!

TV Tropes filk song, filk song, filk song...

There's a thousand filkers, name me one or two
Like you know Weird Al, Johnny Coulton too
It's an old tradition, old as song itself
It's a tricksy art when you wanna write a
TV Tropes Filk Song,
A TV Tropes Filk Song!

Self-demonstration aside, "filk" is best described as the music of science fiction fandom, or at least, the music of the filk community. Songs about SF books or movies, fandom in-jokes, or even just related topics such as computer geeky references are all common sources for filk. And, despite what the self-demonstration says, filk doesn't have to be new words to old music, or spoofs of the lyrics of original songs — many filk songs are originals. Filk can also be thought of a special genre of Folk Music.

The term originated as a typo in a proposed essay for an SF fanzine in The Fifties. The essay wasn't published at the time, but the editor liked the typo and spread it around, and it was applied to the nascent but already peculiar style of musicianship, weird humor, and camaraderie of fandom musicians. By the mid-60's, the term was widespread within fandom.

Filk has a few general styles: humorous, serious but positive, and depressing and angsty. The humor is often, but not always, parody (here defined broadly as "new lyrics," not only the ones referencing the originals — see Parody Satire Pastiche) — some filkers are specifically parodists, some do both parody and original, and many only do original work. Some even specialize in "refilking," parodying others' original filk songs.

Parody filk is sometimes seen on fanfic sites as an exclusively literary form — lyrics parodying a popular song, but not necessarily meant to be sung (and sometimes taking such liberties with the meter that it cannot be sung to the specified tune). The example seen to your right is a parody filk written to the tune of the Beatles' "Paperback Writer." Sing along at your discretion.

The angsty stuff is called "ose," as in, "it's ose, ose, and more-ose." Of course, like all things, especially fandom, there can be some overlap — there are terms such as "cheeri-ose," which is both cheery and depressing; "sucr-ose," sweet and sugary and depressing, and "verb-ose," long and drawn out...and depressing.

(Oh, and in case it isn't apparent already, a lot of filk songs have puns. Lots of puns.)

Most SF conventions nowadays have a room set aside for the filkers to sing in large bardic-style circles once the main panels end for the day — some even have concerts. Filk-specific conventions do exist, the biggest being the Ohio Valley Filk Fest, which includes the annual Pegasus Awards for best filk songs. Check it out for some examples of particularly well-regarded filk. For more examples of filk, there's also The Virtual Filksing, which bills itself as the oldest anthology of recorded filk music on the Internet.

Unfortunately, defining filk more concretely than "the music of fandom, or at least, the music of the filk community" can be tricky; even in fandom circles, filk is sort of a Red-Headed Stepchild that a lot of people don't like. That's probably because they've been exposed to one too many bad singers — filk has a performance aspect, and mangled music can put you off of the entire field. And Sturgeon's Law still applies, after all — it's just that, unlike fanfiction, filk will often be sung aloud, which makes it harder to avoid the bad stuff when you're looking for the good. The filk culture also used to be quite aggressive in getting general participation in the singing, and it still lives on.

Partially as a result of that, there are a number of artists — such as "Weird Al" Yankovic and Jonathan Coulton — whose work is frequently sung in filk circles, but who don't consider themselves filkers. Other filkers, especially ones more on the "funny and pun-filled" side, prefer the term "dementia," derived from the Dr Demento show, which has been playing comedy and novelty music since the '70s.

The examples will therefore be divided into "Filk," where the artist considers him- or herself a filker (or dementia artist; we're keeping it simple) and part of the community; "Found Filk," where the artist isn't a filker, but the music qualifies and has probably been sung in circles; and "Somewhere in Between," where it's not so clear.

A more detailed history and examination of filk can be found in Tomorrow's Songs Today by Gary Mc Gath. Related genres, as far as themes, are Heavy Mithril, which almost by nature qualifies at least as "found filk," Nerdcore, and Wizard Rock. The music of the Society for Creative Anachronism has also many connections with filk and filkers.

Note there's a related phenomenon in the Second World, called "minstrel song" in Russia. It's also a phenomenon of the fandom, but it's derived from the Soviet tradition of bard song (which is itself derived from the early XX century Russian urban romance music). Basically, Three Chords and the Truth about various fandoms, mostly fantasy (and among fantasy, mostly J. R. R. Tolkien). Oh, and it almost never recycles melodies from older music.

Not to be confused with Flik of the Blue Lightning.

Those Who Filk:

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    Filk and Filk Artists of Note 
These artists specifically call their music filk and participate in the filk community at conventions and/or online.
  • Leslie Fish, whose name has been described as "practically synonymous with filk." She has what might be the two most famous filk songs of all time:
    • "Banned From Argo," an original song (and the old Trope Namer for what is now Persona Non Grata; see the lyrics here) describing what happened when the the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise went on shore leave on the planet of Argo, and the swath of destruction they left in their wake. The piece became so popular that Leslie eventually became sick of it, and many other filkers started to follow suit. (It was created as a bit of fluffy filler to pad an album out to length. The fact that what was intended as a throw-away song became as popular as a careful crafted and much cared for piece didn't sit too well.)
      • Worse, to Leslie's loud but (mostly) good-natured complaint, "Banned from Argo" has been refilked so much, about everything from other Star Trek series to other TV shows to SCA storytelling to just random puns, that there's an entire songbook, "The Bastard Children of Argo."
      • "Banned From Argo" is so insanely popular, it has shown up in fic. As an actual drinking song. The kicker? "Argo" recounts the exploits of the TOS crew, and the song showed up in an Enterprise fic.
      • And as of A Singular Destiny it's an official part of the Star Trek Novelverse!
    • Hope Eyrie, written about the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon (though it took a number of years to finish), is sometimes considered the "anthem of filk."
    • In addition to her original work, Leslie frequently sets Rudyard Kipling poetry to music; the resulting songs are called "Kipplefish."
  • Heather Alexander, and her "heir" Alexander James Adams (long story). The most famous song is probably the archetypal song of battle, March of Cambreadth.
  • Bill Sutton.
  • Julia Ecklar.
  • Duane Elms. Prolific filker, probably best known for "Dawson's Christian" — which has been parodied almost as many times as "Banned from Argo".
  • Tom Smith, one of the most famous funny filkers. Songs include "307 Ale" and the Barenaked Ladies parody about Babylon 5, "Five Years". Not that Tom is exclusively a comedian; his "A Boy and His Frog" is all but guaranteed to make you cry, and along with Rob Balder (of the FuMP, see below), he co-wrote another of the contenders for "filk anthem," "Rich Fantasy Lives".
  • The late, great Cynthia McQuillin wrote more than a thousand filks, ranging from romantic ballads ("Singer in the Shadow"), to bawdy humor ("Gilda and the Dragon"), and from dark fantasy ("Slay the Dead") to hard science fiction ("Fuel to Feed the Drive"), with occasional pit stops at the simply indescribable. ("The Worm Turns", a talking blues song about a fisherman who's bitten by a "wereworm".)
  • Frank Hayes has been in filk since the 1970s, and has written several classics of filk, including "Never Set the Cat on Fire" and "When I Was a Boy" (sung by Joe Bethancourt). But he's probably best known for forgetting his own lyrics, to the point that other filkers will, upon forgetting their lyrics, call out "Frank Hayes Disease!"
  • The Funny Music Project, or FuMP, is a collective of funny filkers and dementia artists, including the aforementioned Tom Smith, Rob Balder, and The Great Luke Ski.
  • Seanan McGuire, writer of the October Daye and (under the name 'Mira Grant') Newsflesh series, was a filker first, with several albums already and more coming. Example song: "Wicked Girls Saving Ourselves". (Seanan's the blonde. For the others, see the next two lines.)
  • Vixy and Tony, best known for the Firefly filk "Mal's Song". (They also work with Seanan a lot — see "Wicked Girls.")
  • S.J. "Sooj" Tucker, "Skinny White Chick". Example song: "I'm So Sorry." (Frequently works with Vixy and Tony, and therefore Seanan; she's on the drums on "Wicked Girls.")
  • The Bedlam Bards, primarily a Renaissance Faire duo until they got into Firefly fandom pretty heavily.
  • Bob Kanefsky, master refilker, specializes in mashing up two of another filker's songs, setting the story of one song to the tune of another. And he does it very, very well. Frequently, he gets the creator of one of the original songs to sing his version.
    • For example, Bob took one of Leslie Fish's Kipling tunes and wrote "They're Singing 'Banned From Argo,'" about how many veteran filkers have come to dislike the song from overexposure. One verse states that Leslie Fish has plugged her ears because she just doesn't want to hear it. And he got Leslie to perform it.
  • League of Legends is becoming quite a popular subject, thanks to Riot's Songs of the Summoned contests. Searching "League of Legends songs" on Youtube will get you about 9,500+ hits. There's even Brazilian LOL funk — more or less like Brazilian reggaeton with LOL lyrics.
  • Mercedes Lackey sings and writes filk (or used to), often working with Leslie Fish and Heather Alexander. Recordings are available at The Firebird Arts And Music Catalog.
    • Frequently, Fish or Alexander would, with Lackey's explicit encouragement, take the songs that appeared in the novels and set them to music.
    • In what can only be described as an auto-Shout-Out, Lackey named one of her minor characters Leslac, after the filkish term for a Leslie Fish-Mercedes Lackey collaboration. (Naturally, the character was a bard, albeit one who...didn't always get the story right.)
  • Eben Brooks has songs including "Hey There, Cthulhu" and "It's the End of the 'Verse as We Know It".
  • ElfQuest has an entire filk album.
  • Terence Chua specializes in Cthulhu filk.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has TONS of fan musicians. Examples include Eurobeat Brony, The Living Tombstone, MandoPony, WoodenToaster, SlyphStorm, Prince Whateverer, and Something Broke.
    • Another notable Filker is BeatleBrony, a YouTube channel that has remarkably skillful filks of various Beatles and later post-breakup solo songs.
  • Kathy Mar is a long-time filker, street performer, and song-writer.
  • 'Helva' : 'For me and my luggage will never meet again on the bonnie bonnie floors of the Worldcon'.
  • Jonathan Waite/Zander Nyrond is a UK filker known for "Sam's Song" and "Filksinger" among others.
    I know the words to every song, the chords to every tune,
    I sing of girls in cryosleep and miners on the moon,
    Of pagan midnight rituals and war among the stars,
    And at sf conventions they use me to clear the bars...
  • Ookla the Mok: A filk rock band, mostly about comic books.

    Found Filk 
These artists don't really consider themselves part of the filk community at all—if they've even heard the word—but the music has been picked up by the filkers.

    Somewhere in Between 
These artists might have heard the word filk, but aren't part of the community. (Not yet, anyway; if they want, there's always an open seat in the circle.)

Tropes They Filk About:

  • Audience Participation Song. Filk has historically placed a premium of audience participation and jamming.
  • Cats and cat tropes, like Never Set the Cat on Fire.
  • Nerds, or more exactly the experience of being a nerd and considered different from one's peers. Some examples are:
    • The Wind from Rainbow's End by Bill Roper
    • We Are Who We Are by Michelle Dockrey
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: Many parody filk songs simply move the original song into the space or other science fiction setting. Examples of songs are Rebel Pilot's Lament, Centauri Fair, and The Outer Space Marines.
  • The Final Frontier: Space and space exploration has been important since the beginning. Some of the most enduring songs on this are:
    • Fire in the Sky by Jordin Kare
    • Hope Eyrie by Leslie Fish

Non-filk Works Of Importance to Filk:

  • Discworld also includes song fragments and references to songs. Nowadays there exist several versions of A Wizard's Staff Has a Knob on the End and The Hedgehog Can Never Be Buggered At All.
  • Fallen Angels by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Michael Flynn includes several existing filk songs, and tuckerizations of several filkers (and other science fiction fans).
  • Robert A. Heinlein's story The Green Hills of Earth contains numerous song fragments and references to songs. Many of them have been completed into full songs by filkers.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series was the media that inspired many filkers in the mid-60's, and helped rally the first expansion of filk a few years later. Star Trek has continued to be an big inspiration to filk since then.

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