Filk Song

aka: Filk
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:

    open/close all folders 

    Filk and Filk Artists of Note 
  • 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) 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.
      • 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 it now has its own TV Tropes page!
      • And as of A Singular Destiny it's an official part of the Star Trek Novelverse!
    • It was also created as a bit of fluffy filler to pad an album (the same one Hope Eyrie was originally in) 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.
    • 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.
  • Gavin Dunne. His The Escapist series called Miracle Of Sound consists of video game and movie filk songs (of any genre and any topic).
  • 'Helva' : 'For me and my luggage will never meet again on the bonnie bonnie floors of the Worldcon'.
  • 'Xenaclone' : A whole Highlander/Mikado filk cycle, several 'Firefly' filks and counting...
  • This ode to House Baratheon
  • Or this song about Ned Stark and his wacky family.
  • Kathy Mar is a long-time filker, street performer, and song-writer.
  • This parody of California Gurlz by Team Unicorn.
  • 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...
  • Tom Holt has been known to write filk, for instance "Numenorian", a The Lord of the Rings Patter Song, or "The Wild Canadian Boy" which is a friendly dig at John Clute and The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.
  • Just about everything under DFTBA Records, a record label basically devoted to this kind of thing, and which also includes the aforementioned Chameleon Circuit. Its founder, Hank Green, has made quite a few Filk songs himself, such as This Isn't Hogwarts and Accio Deathly Hallows, the latter of which made him (and his brother) famous and was probably responsible for the founding of DFTBA Records.
  • Not Literally, a female duo who mainly do Harry Potter filks but have also been known to do songs dedicated to ''The Hunger Games'' and ''Game of Thrones'' among others.
  • Bane Star: A parody of All Star, about Bane and CIA.

    Found Filk 

    Somewhere in Between 
  • Tom Lehrer. If Tom had gotten into fandom in the '60s, he'd surely have been a filker proper.
    • Oh, surely not. Lehrer was an old-school piano-bar singer-songwriter of comic and satirical songs, a professional who wrote songs for himself to sing for money. His tunes were mainly original unless he was specifically making fun of some specific thing, and his arrangements are HARD; try playing and singing Vatican Rag or Poisoning Pigeons In The Park if you don't believe it.
    • Also, Lehrer had (or at least professed to have) little respect for the folk music scene, or its style of performance. That said, his music is a regular staple of filksinging circles.
      • Flanders and Swann were nearer in the sense that their material was mainly quite easy to sing along to but again, professional performers with no interest in amateur preformance
  • Ditto Allan Sherman.
  • Voltaire has his Star Trek songs, including the entire album "Banned on Vulcan," as well as the song "Cantina" on Ookie Spooky. (Warning: This is a filthy song. You'll never see Star Wars the same way again.) Voltaire's presence at events such as Dragon* Con put him in this category.
    • Since then he's released the album "Bitrektual", collecting new versions of all Star Trek and Star Wars songs (and a couple of new songs too, like the one that gives its name to the album).
    • There's also "Dead of The Dead: Adventure Quest Worlds Version" which is done by him for the game, and is a parody of his own song.
  • Blue Oyster Cult did "Black Blade" about Elric of Melnibone. Hawkwind did an entire album about him, The Chronicle of the Black Sword. This is a step above your average found filk because writer Michael Moorcock was directly involved with both bands, even occasionally performing with Hawkwind.
    • And don't forget BOC's Godzilla from Spectres, though that was probably more about the guitar solo...
    • Plus, Hawkwind also did "Needle Gun," which about Moorcock's other notable character Jerry Cornelius (on "Chronicles FWIW"), as well as several songs based on the works of Roger Zelazny.
  • Actor Robert Picardo has written a fair number of songs about Star Trek: Voyager — which makes sense given that he was part of the main cast.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade had an entire gothic/industrial album with a song for each of the thirteen vampire clans.
  • Radio Free Cybertron has aired several of Túrin's Transformers Song Parodies.
  • Guyz Nite wrote a song about Die Hard, that was even included in the fourth movie DVD.
  • Touhou fandom has created an extensive catalog of work that, at least, seems to border on filk: take ZUN's original (instrumental) BGMs and boss themes and add lyrics about the games and the characters. Of course, these songs end up as the breeding ground for certain creative interpretations of said characters. One notable example (particularly when it comes to Alternate Character Interpretation) is IOSYS's interpretations of Alice Margatroid's various stage and boss themes, which explore her feelings for Marisa Kirisame.
  • The HP Lovecraft Historical Society have done two albums of reworked Christmas carols. This includes such classics as "It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Fishmen" and "Carol of the Old Ones".
  • There's a World of Warcraft Filk Song for pallies going around, sung to the tune of "I'm a little teapot."
    I'm a little pally, short and stout, here is my mallet, here is my mount; when I get scared I scream and shout! I pull out my bubble and hearth right out.
  • There was a filk song written about the Game FA Qs message board Life, The Universe and Everything done to the tune of Piano Man by Billy Joel. Here is an attempt to sing it.
  • A whole album of music for the Deadlands roleplaying game exists, produced by the people who published the game. It's not songs, but instrumentals intended to help set the mood for an evening's session.
  • The British "Time Lord Rock" band Chameleon Circuit focuses on "Doctor Who"-themed music, but performs gigs outside of the usual filk venues.
  • The Guilds "Do You Wanna Date My Avatar" and "Game On".
  • Spider Robinson, as part of a Robert A. Heinlein tribute essay called "Rah, Rah, R.A.H.", wrote his own filk song, "Ol' Man Heinlein" (to the tune of "Ol' Man River" by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein). It can be found in Robinson's anthology Time Travelers Strictly Cash.
  • Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is pretty much an entire filk musical. Then there are the auditions for the Evil League of Evil, many of which contain filks made up by the people auditioning.
  • "Even Gods Cry" by The Turtlenecks, written about the God of War games from Kratos' point of view. It seems rather out of place on an album mostly populated with grunge-metal tributes, although it's clear from the lyrics that it's at least somewhat parodic.
  • Abney Park
  • "What Would Buffy Do?"
  • Web Comics Narbonic and Skin Horse have attracted the attention of Ed Gedeon (author of Everyday Heroes), who posts almost daily parodies related to that day's strip. Others have started to follow Ed's lead; check the comments sections below the strips.
  • Nerd Core, pretty much as a genre. For example, mc chris, professional nerdcore artist and voice actor best known for his work with [adult swim], has Fett's Vette, a hip-hop ballad about everyone's favorite Star Wars Memetic Badass.
  • Horslips were an Irish band, and generally regarded as the inventors of Celtic Metal. "Dearg Doom" is a part of a concept album based on The Táin, and somehow manages to kick even more ass than the original legend. They're a difficult one to call, though. There were costumes, electric mandolin solos, Heavy Metal renditions of Traditional Irish Folk tunes and their lyrics embraced Celtic Mythology in the same way many Filkers embrace LotR. But then again, it 'was'' the 1970s.
  • Rapper Richie Branson will be releasing a Mobile Suit Gundam Wing-themed mix tape.
  • Regular, if sparse, filking somewhat stuck to Forgotten Realms community, starting with the authors. From what is known... Elaine Cunningham wrote a Bawdy Song or handful for her bard character, realmsified random tunes just for fun and made up a few unrelated ones. Steven Schend invented apocryphical "I Am the Very Model of a Drow of Menzoberranzan" just to drive Bob Salvatore mad. Fans need little provocatioon to come up with something filky, like the comment on that awful first print cover of Tangled Webs.
  • Entire genres have come about from fans. Known as 'Wrock' and 'Trock' (short for 'Wizard Rock' and 'Time Lord Rock' respectively), fans make songs, bands, even CDs and music festivals to show their love of the series.
  • Several musical episodes fit here, particularly "Once More With Feeling" and the first Xena musical episode.
  • Bonnie, one of the players on The Quest wrote two songs during the show, one about the world the were in, the other about their drill instructor Ansgar. Word of God is that she did it all on her own.
  • For Leonard Bernstein's 70th birthday, Stephen Sondheim wrote "The Saga of Lenny," to the tune of "The Saga of Jenny" from Lady in the Dark.
  • Woody Guthrie's "Tom Joad, Part 1 & 2" from Dust Bowl Ballads basically tell the plot of The Grapes of Wrath.
  • John Zorn recorded entire albums and tracks that are homages to certain artists, like his Concept Album Spillane, built around the novels of Mickey Spillane.

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 INSPACE: 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.

Alternative Title(s):