Jonathan Coulton (born December 1, 1970) is a primarily internet-based musician who writes songs on all sorts of stuff, though his more popular songs tend to cater to the nerd or pop-culture crowd. You probably know him best as the writer of Portal's ending song, "Still Alive". He also gained fame before that for his "Thing-A-Week" series of albums, wherein he challenged himself to write and record one song a week for an entire year, and actually did it.
Notable for being one of the first musicians to fully embrace the online model of earning money for his songs - most of his songs are available free on his website, if you want to dig through his blog, but they're also all for sale through a variety of media. He also uses the Internet to gauge where to perform - if enough fans petition him, he'll plan a concert for you.
He often performs with Paul and Storm, and has done collaborations with MC Frontalot. He has been involved in several RiffTrax, including playing some songs before the live Plan 9 from Outer Space. He's the resident musician on the NPR game show Ask Me Another. He is also the "Official Contributing Troubadour" of Popular Science magazine, and sang the opening theme for their podcast. He also has a handful of songs featured in Rock Band. As mentioned above, he wrote the credits song for Portal, "Still Alive", as well as the sequel's, "Want You Gone". He's also long-time friends with John Hodgman, has written songs for Hodgman's book tours (which he often participates in), and has appeared on all three audiobooks for Hodgman's Complete World Knowledge series. Lately, he's done the recap songs for BrainDead (2016). Basically, he's popular, is what we're getting at.
In other media, Coulton worked with Comic Book writer Greg Pak on a comic miniseries/graphic novel based on the characters from many of his songs, named Code Monkey Save World. The Kickstarter project finished with 872% of its goal.
You can go here to vote for his best songs.
- Smoking Monkey (2003)
- Where Tradition Meets Tomorrow (2004)
- Our Bodies, Ourselves, Our Cybernetic Arms (2005)
- Thing A Week One (2006)
- Thing A Week Two (2006)
- Thing A Week Three (2006)
- Thing A Week Four (2006)
- Artificial Heart (2011)
- One Christmas At a Time (2012; with John Roderick)
- Solid State (2017)
- JoCo Looks Back (2008)
- Jonathan Coulton's Greatest Hit (Plus 13 Other Songs) (2012)
Cover Albums:Some Guys (2019)
Tropes Related to this Musician Include:
- Accidentally Accurate: As he found out in 2007, Joe Jackson really was bitter about being overshadowed by "the great Elvis Costello".
- Affably Evil:
- Bob the zombie from "Re: Your Brains", who spends the whole song politely trying to convince Tom to open the door so he can eat his brains.
- The scientist who lives in Skullcrusher Mountain is downright friendly to his kidnapped "girlfriend", he just has no idea how to go about it. Scarface is likewise "a sweetheart".
- Affectionate Parody: His song "Big Dick Farts a Polka" is one for/of his longtime touring partners Paul and Storm. They returned the favor with "Live", which riffs off Coulton's common "Mad Scientist In Love" theme.
- And Now You Must Marry Me: "The Future Soon".
- Anti-Christmas Song: "Chiron Beta Prime", framed as a Christmas family letter... after humanity lost a Robot War and the narrator's family has been banished to an asteroid mining colony named Chiron Beta Prime.
- Anti-Love Song: A staple. Many of Coulton's songs ("Skullcrusher Mountain", "Code Monkey", "The Future Soon" "Till The Money Comes", "Want You Gone", and others) are essentially love songs with varying levels of complete and utter dysfunctionality. And then there's "Someone Is Crazy"."The world's against you so you think or maybe wish it was
And at least that way someone would care but baby no one does
Not even you
Baby someone is crazy and it's you."
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The eponymous Creepy Doll's crimes against the narrator include sleeping in the narrator's bed, moving around when the narrator isn't looking, and ... asking if he really needs that much honey in his tea.
- Artistic License History: Played with in "Ikea": the narrator thinks Sweden was founded by Thor, and that Ikea was one of the first things to be created in the country, along with Vikings and longboats.
- Audience Participation Song: Parts of the chorus for "Re: Your Brains." To be sung as zombies.
- Blatant Lies: "Not About You", basically a Break-Up Song for the hopelessly-in-denial.
- Body Horror:
- "Better" is about a man who breaks up with his heavily cyberneticized girlfriend because of her hideous appearance. The woman is thirteen feet tall with infrared cameras for eyes, gills, wings, and built-in weapons.
- The half-pony, half-monkey monster from "Skullcrusher Mountain". The only descriptions we get of it are "I used too many monkeys" and "I ruined a pony", and judging by the fact that the unnamed love interest won't stop screaming, it's probably exactly as horrific as it sounds.
- Break-Up Song: "Not About You" and "Always the Moon" among several others.
- Captain Oblivious: In "Betty and Me", the narrator misses the obvious signs of his wife cheating on him.
- Celebrity Is Overrated: "Tom Cruise Crazy".
- Comically Missing the Point:
- Could Say It, But...: In "The Presidents":"And I don't like to make political statements
[remains silent for the last line of the song]"
- The Cover Changes the Gender: His cover of Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know" surprisingly averts this, lending an interesting twist to the song.
- The Cover Changes the Meaning: His cover of Sir-Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back".
- Cover Version: He's done a lot, from the aforementioned "You Oughta Know" and "Baby Got Back", to "We Will Rock You" and "We Are The Champions", and ultimately an entire cover album entitled Some Guys, where he takes on a series of 70's AOR classics from the likes of The Bee Gees, America, and The Eagles among others.
- Creepy Doll: The doll in "Creepy Doll" always follows you, has a ruined eye that's always open, and has a pretty mouth to swallow you whole.
- Crossover: In his ending theme for LEGO Dimensions, GLaDOS mentions that she's met Batman, who is "kind of a big deal".
- Cybernetics Eat Your Soul:
- "Future Soon" is about a nerdy kid day-dreaming about replacing his body with cybernetics so he won't be "weak and strange" any more. His hypothetical future girlfriend also has bionic eyes.
- "Better" is about a man breaking up with his girlfriend who's modified herself into a 13-foot tall abomination.
- "Todd the T-1000" has the singer get a "smasher, like the trunk of a tree" and a saw implanted to intimidate his malfunctioning android butler into respecting him
- Dancing Royalty: ''Dance Soterios Johnson Dance" is about a local newscaster who lives a double life as one of these.
- Damsel out of Distress: The princess in "The Princess Who Saved Herself". She overpowers a dragon who attacks, then makes friends with him and they end up in a band together.
- Department of Redundancy Department: From "Future Soon": "building inventions in my space lab in space."
- Designer Baby: "Betty and Me" is about a loutish husband who (at least thinks) his son will be one (it's pretty clear that his wife's cheating on him with the geneticist).
- Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?: "The Princess Who Saved Herself" single-handedly defeats a dragon — and then she offers him tea, and he comes over to visit her weekly, and when the princess forms a band, the dragon plays bass.
- Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: "The Princess Who Saved Herself" single-handedly defeats a dragon by tying his tail to a tree, tells him off to his face, makes him cry, and gets him to apologize!
- Dogged Nice Guy: "Soft Rocked By Me".
- Don't You Like It?: The Evil Overlord narrating "Skullcrusher Mountain" is trying so hard to please his captive love interest, but doesn't quite understand that she wouldn't like a half-pony, half-monkey monster.
- Driven to Suicide: The vampire in "Blue Sunny Day".
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: "My Monkey", "Code Monkey", "Monkey Shines"...
- Evil Overlord: "Skullcrusher Mountain" sung from the perspective of one in love.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: From "I Feel Fantastic": "All I know is that the steak tastes better when I take my steak-tastes-better pill."
- Faux Affably Evil: The scientist in "Skullcrusher Mountain" has his affable facade slip when he reminds the girl that "this mountain is covered with wolves".
- Foe Romance Subtext: "Nemeses"."Could it be that you need me
To keep you out, to run you faster
Promise me you'll let me be
The one, the worst of all your enemies
Pretending you're a friend to me
Say that we'll be nemeses."
- Gadgeteer Genius: "The Future Soon".
- Gold Digger:
- "Millionaire Girlfriend" has an average guy daydreaming about having one.
- "Till the Money Comes" is about a guy who hates his wife but decides to hang around until she comes into money so that he can divorce her and take half of it.
- Gratuitous French: Je Suis Rick Springfield is written entirely in poor French. In his live shows, Coulton insists that it's the character's bad French, and not his. The bridge, presumably from the viewpoint of the people "Rick" is talking to, hangs a lampshade:"Je ne comprends pas cet idiotnote
Quelque chose sur un très bon chien?"note
- Greatest Hits Album:
- JoCo Looks Back collects the best of his Thing A Week project.
- Jonathan Coulton's Greatest Hit (Plus 13 Other Songs)
- Heel Realization: Bob the zombie in "RE: Your Brains". Not that it changes anything.Bob: I'm not a monster, Tom... Well, technically I am... I guess I am!
- Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: "Just As Long As Me"- a folksy song about a Huge Guy who is tired of Tiny Girls and wants a woman of his size for once.
- Hulk Speak: "Code Monkey", although it's a reference to B.A.S.I.C. programming (Code_Monkey get: up/get: coffee Code_Monkey goto: job...).
- I Do Not Like Green Eggs and Ham: The narrator of "Ikea" is dismissive of the title store at first, but by the third verse he's singing praises about what a great deal it is.
- "I Hate" Song: "I Hate California" doesn't exactly hide its point — though it makes it clear that he's not blaming anyone in particular for the feeling, and the main problem may be that the object of his affection is there when he isn't.
- I Have You Now, My Pretty: "Skullcrusher Mountain" is basically an extended (relatively polite but deeply insane) statement of the trope.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: That poor giant squid in "I Crush Everything" wants nothing more than to live a normal life. Too bad he's a giant squid.
- I Want My Jetpack: "The Future Soon".
- Intercourse with You:
- Subverted in "First of May", we think....
- Played straight in "Soft Rocked by Me".
- In the Style of...: Changed the iTunes listing of his "Baby Got Back" cover to a sarcastic "...(In The Style Of Glee)" after they essentially used his arrangement without his permission and told him he should be thankful for the publicity. However, he's donating all proceeds from the sale of the song to the It Gets Better Foundation and VH1 Save The Music as a result.
- Location Song: "I Hate California", about his hatred for California.
- Love Martyr: The narrator of "Betty and Me." Betty repeatedly cheats on him and insults him and he's conned out of money by the other man. He still shows devotion to Betty. While he is honestly too stupid to realize that Betty is cheating on him, he just kind of accepts the insults.
- Lyrical Dissonance:
- "I Feel Fantastic" is a subversion. The guy with a different pill for every single occasion of his day is perfectly happy being drugged up to the max, even if we, the listener, are aware of how terrible it is.
- "Shop Vac" has an aggressively peppy beat, but is about the depressing, empty life of a man who obviously cares nothing about his wife anymore, spending all the time he can away from her, with the titular shop vac on to drown out any calls from her upstairs. Plus, a barely-heard news broadcast implies he snaps and then starts shooting people with a shotgun.
- "Blue Sunny Day" has a very upbeat tune, as the vampire character talks about the lovely things you see on a nice sunny day. Except he can't, being a vampire, and is thus really depressed. It gets to the point he decides on suicide by sunlight, with at least then being able to see a sunny day once more.
- Machine Worship: "The Future Soon".
- Mad Scientist: "Skullcrusher Mountain" is probably the best known, though "The Future Soon" and other songs contain similar themes.
- The Man Is Sticking It to the Man: "Sticking It To Myself".
- Manly Tears: "Soft Rocked by Me" has:"Have you ever been in love with a man who's sensitive?
Have you ever spent the night with a man who cries?
Well that's me, I'm sensitive
And I cry, I'm crying right now
In a manly way."
- Mix-and-Match Critters: The half pony, half monkey monster from "Skullcrusher Mountain".
- Motor Mouth: "I Feel Fantastic," a song about a guy with a pill for every occasion. Literally.
- My Friends... and Zoidberg: His Greatest Hits album is an inversion - Jonathan Coulton's Greatest Hit (Plus 13 Other Songs).
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Scarface.
- Newscaster Cameo: Soterios Johnson of WNYC Radio's NPR Morning Edition, the subject of ''Dance Soterios Johnson Dance".
- No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: The general premise of "Skullcrusher Mountain".
- Non-Indicative Title:
- "You Ruined Everything" is not a Break-Up Song; it's actually a very happy and loving song. The full line is, "You ruined everything in the nicest way."
- On the other side of the coin, "Pictures of Cats" is not a cheerful song about cats (or really about cats at all).
- Noodle Incident: "He brings it up again; the famous apple fritter incident of 2010."
- Non-Residential Residence: In "Re: Your Brains", it's implied that Tom has barricaded himself inside a mall during the Zombie Apocalypse.
- Our Zombies Are Different: "Re: Your Brains" features a very talkative, charismatic one who tries to talk a man into opening the door so he and the other zombies can eat his brains. You can almost imagine it working, he's that good.
- Powersuit Monkey: "Code Monkey" describes a monkey working as a programmer (or maybe just a monkey-like human programmer) who sings in Hulk Speak.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: His live album "Best. Concert. Ever."
- Red Shirt: The official theme song of the novel by John Scalzi.
- Robot Maid: "Todd the T1000" is about a guy who feels threatened by his robot butler.
- Robot War:
- "Chiron-Beta Prime" is set in the aftermath of one; with the POV character and his family "Toiling in a mine for our Robot Overlords-Did I say 'Overlords?' I meant 'Protectors!'"
- "Todd the T-1000" is a one-man robot war, with the POV character trying to reclaim his life from his evil android butler.
- "The Future Soon" has the narrator talk about starting one by creating a warrior robot race. The events of the war are unrevealed except that it led to Laura losing her eyes.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: "The Princess Who Saved Herself." She does. Twice. And then she forms a band with the dragon and the witch she saved herself from.
- Rule of Three: He wrote the ending themes to both Portal games, both sung by GLaDOS. So of course, he also wrote a song for her appearance in LEGO Dimensions!
- Self-Deprecation: His Greatest Hits album is titled Jonathan Coulton's Greatest Hit (Plus 13 Other Songs).
- Shaped Like Itself:
- "Shop Vac" includes the line "I like that Starbucks here, it's better than the other one / 'Cause the other one's not as good." The bland, hollow, circular reasoning fits well with the song's theme of the bland, hollow, circular life the protagonists are leading.
- In "Betty and Me", Dr. Martin's method of making a Designer Baby is described as "legal in the states where it wasn't banned".
- In "Kenesaw Mountain Landis", the title character will "always be remembered as Kenesaw Mountain Landis".
- Shout-Out: Manages to shout-out to himself on the Portal soundtrack— towards the end of "Still Alive", GLaDOS sings "I feel fantastic and I'm still alive..."
- Siamese Twin Songs: On "JoCo Looks Back", "Creepy Doll" does this... and leads into "Mr. Fancy Pants".
- Stalker with a Crush: Very common theme.
- Stealth Insult: The chorus to "Betty and Me" becomes this when it becomes clear that Betty is cheating on the narrator, basically saying that the baby won't be as short, stupid, and all around inferior to the narrator with Dr. Martin fathering it than if the narrator had fathered it himself.
- Stepford Suburbia:
- "Brookline" portrays the title town in such a manner, from the point of view of one of the people who still has enough self-awareness to notice its unsettling nature.
- "Shop Vac" also has shades of this.
- Strange-Syntax Speaker: Code Monkey mimics the B.A.S.I.C. programming language (ie, 10subject → task → goto → 20 etc.)
- Stupid Statement Dance Mix: He's done a few, such as "Beds Hurt My Booty".
- Stylistic Suck: The final chorus of "Re: Your Brains" is sung by a chorus of moaning, groaning zombies.
- Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: Unusually, "First of May" ends its chorus with a line more obscene than the one the rhyme scheme leads the viewer to expect.
- Suicide by Sunlight: "Blue Sunny Day".
- Third-Person Person: The titular Code Monkey of "Code Monkey" only ever refers to Code Monkey as such.
- Toilet Humor: "Big Dick Farts a Polka".
- Unreliable Narrator: Implied in "Creepy Doll", when the last verse reveals that "the bag of big-city money" is still sitting in the house. Was the narrator actually plagued by a creepy talking doll, or was he just nuts?
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: "Kenesaw Mountain Landis", tells the story of the first Commissioner of Baseball and how he dealt with the Black Sox scandal. It has some relation to the actual events.
- "World of Cardboard" Speech: "I Crush Everything" is one of these in song form. The reason the giant squid hates himself is because while he just wants to make friends with the dolphins and play with the pretty white ships, he can't do it without breaking them.
- You Are Not Alone: "I'm Your Moon". Even if Pluto is no longer one of the planets, its moon Charon is still there for it.
- Your Cheating Heart: Betty of "Betty and Me" cheats on her husband with Dr. Martin, though the poor sap is completely oblivious.
- You Keep Using That Word: The zombie in "Re: Your Brains" keeps asking the guy to "compromise" with the zombies outside, but this involves just letting them in to eat his brains.
- Zombie Apocalypse: "Re: Your Brains".