Gorillaz is a British band formed in 1998 by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett. The band's popularity stems from being considered a "virtual band," where the core group is animated. This unique concept has garnered a strong following among listeners. The project encompasses an extensive fictional universe featuring four animated characters: 2D (lead vocalist), Murdoc (bass guitarist), Noodle (guitarist), and Russel (drummer). Their musical universe extends across various virtual platforms, including the official website, music videos, short cartoons, books, and video games. These media contribute to the characters' biographies and collectively tell a cohesive story. In this work, I aim to uncover the mystery of this created universe, explore why the Gorillaz band stands out as one of the primary transmedial musical phenomena in modern art, and demonstrate how their interwoven narratives convince people of the reality within the virtual world.
Beginning of the universe
One of the most intriguing aspects of the band is its surreal narrative. The group has crafted a virtual history that sheds light on new details about their universe, including how the band members met and their real names. Their "Rise of the Ogre" biography delves into these aspects.
The band's fictional story begins with Stuart Pot, an amateur keyboard player working at a record store (Gorillaz, n.d.). One fateful day, the criminal Murdoc Niccals decides to rob the store to steal a keyboard for his music band. He crashes his car through the shop window, colliding with Stuart. Murdoc is sentenced to community service, while Stuart is in a coma. However, they become acquainted during this time. Later, Stuart sustains another injury by flying through the windshield of a car. Murdoc hires him as the band's keyboardist, giving him the nickname 2D (2-Dents).
One fateful day, the criminal Murdoc Niccals decides to rob the store to steal a keyboard for his music band
A year later, Murdoc purchases Kong Studios, a haunted studio with a dark history, situated atop a hill amid an abandoned cemetery and garbage in Essex. Murdoc then discovers a drummer for the band, Russell Hobbs. Having lost all his friends in a tragic street shootout, Russell becomes a vessel for the spirits of his deceased comrades.
All that remains is to find a guitarist. One day, a FedEx container arrives at Kong Studios, and an eight-year-old girl emerges with a guitar in her hands. She only knows a single word in English, "Noodle," and promptly adopts it as her name. Since she doesn't remember her name, they continue to call her by that moniker (Gorillaz, n.d.).
The band's chronology can also be traced through various music videos released at different periods, such as "Feel Good Inc.," "El Mañana," "Stylo," and "On Melancholy Hill" (Wight, 2019). These music videos incorporate characters, locations, and storylines contributing to the overarching narrative.
According to Schröter and his concept of "Four types of intermediality," transmedial intermediality refers to a narrative that can span across multiple media, where the same story can be told through different mediums, creating a unified storyworld (Schröter, 2011). The virtual group Gorillaz possesses its own story, with the characters developing their personalities and destinies. The band's presence on various music platforms initiated a new trend in music and art and turned Gorillaz into a vast hub of information and artistic elements spread across multiple platforms. Thus, they serve as an exemplary case of transmedial intermediality in modern art.
Upon the formation of the band, an official website was launched, serving as a virtual version of Kong Studios, which functioned as both a studio and a home for the fictional characters. The website allowed visitors to explore each band member's room, witness their recording process, and even navigate through the corridors and toilets. Moreover, each room offered unique bonuses or games, such as a remix machine in the hall or a message board in the dining room. Each band member had their own personal computer, which visitors could access. These computers contained images, samples used in various band tracks, lists of favorite websites, and even email accounts (which became inundated with messages and were eventually hacked after the release of the first single).
In 2002, the band released their first multimedia work of art titled "Phase One: Celebrity Takedown" (2002), which included a DVD and a CD-ROM. The contents of this release encompassed:
- A tracklist consisting of 32 songs
- All music videos released between 2000 and 2002
- An interview with one of the virtual band members, 2D
- A video tour of the official Gorillaz website
- A short video featuring Murdoc's van on the Moon
- Various illustrations and screensavers
Additionally, the DVD contained two custom-made games, "Noodle Fight" and "Geep Sim," where players assumed the role of a police officer tasked with protecting Kong Studios.
In 2006, the band released the follow-up DVD "Phase Two: Slowboat to Hades." This DVD also allowed users to explore the corridors and rooms of the characters' studio, recreated in 3D graphics. The accompanying CD-ROM included at least 16 games centred around the band's music universe.
As mentioned earlier, the official website and both released DVDs are characterized by their multimedia nature. Multimedia is an app or website incorporating video, audio, text, and simulations (Jenkins, 2016). Thus, the aforementioned spaces can be considered multimedia platforms as they feature video clips, various games, music, and other elements that, when combined, present a comprehensive depiction of the fictional universe.
Going deep into intermediality
In 2009, Gorillaz released their documentary film, "Bananaz," which provides fans with a behind-the-scenes look at the band. The film delves into the creation of the music universe, the process of drawing music videos, and the invention of the characters (Gorillaz, n.d.).
In 2010, the band unveiled their third studio album, "Plastic Beach." To promote the album, they released a 3D video called "Journey to Plastic Beach," where Murdoc embarks on a quest to find the lost spirits of the other band members. Following the video, an online treasure hunt took place on various platforms, challenging participants to find 12 characters from the Gorillaz universe (Brown, 2018).
Returning to the characters, it's important to note their significant role in shaping the transmediality of the group. These characters possess qualities akin to real people, as if they were actual musicians. They behave authentically, even commenting on their video clips. Each character develops their narrative and as they "grow," the band evolves. They exhibit unique traits, behaviors, and destinies.
This musical universe is a captivating transmedial world with its own philosophy, rules, and reality
An intriguing story related to transmediality is worth mentioning. It revolves around an event called "Free Murdoc," several years ago. During this event, fans could chat with the imprisoned character Murdoc Niccals through a specially created chatbot. The objective was to assist him in escaping from prison and rejoining the band.
But the story doesn't end there. When Murdoc could not participate in the band's projects due to his incarceration, a replacement emerged in a new video (Humility), much to the listeners' confusion. This sparked intense discussions on Twitter, with fans meticulously analyzing every aspect of the video to comprehend the unfolding situation and anticipate future developments.
This musical universe is not merely a creation to build a fan base; it is a captivating transmedial world with its own philosophy, rules, and reality. Consequently, fans find themselves pondering over the blurred boundaries between the real stories of real people and the artificially constructed narratives. This gives rise to numerous theories suggesting that the fictional world of Gorillaz transcends mere imagination and becomes more than real.
Do you believe it?
The unique aspect of virtual groups, including Gorillaz, is that much of the information about the group members is purely fictional since the members are fictional characters. Typically, a virtual group has two narratives: a virtual storyline revolving around fictional characters created by the group's creators and the real story of how actual people formed the group. However, with Gorillaz, things are not so straightforward.
Gorillaz is not just a virtual band; it is an expansive virtual music universe encompassing numerous virtual spaces, making it transmedial. Within this universe, multiple narratives intertwine, incorporating factual and distorted elements from the band members' biographies. These narratives are woven into the lyrics, and the character story arcs span across various platforms, allowing fans to construct intricate character profiles. The band has explored print media, browser games, mobile apps, figurines, and social media to expand their universe. New stories have consistently complemented the existing story and canon over time rather than relying on recycled material (Brown, 2018).
Much of the information about the group members is purely fictional since the members are fictional characters
As a result, fans have become somewhat perplexed about the true creators of the band and which aspects of the band's lore are grounded in reality. This confusion has given rise to numerous theories regarding the real members of the band. For instance, one theory suggests that Murdoc's imprisonment storyline reflects the real experiences of one of the band's founding members, as it coincided with a hiatus the band took in their career. Other theories speculate that the injuries endured by 2D hold some truth in real life, as this particular band member has long concealed their true identity.
The ambiguity surrounding Gorillaz's narrative's real and fictional elements has sparked intriguing debates among fans, further blurring the line between the creators and the created.
In conclusion, it is truly remarkable to witness the creation of a transmedial world revolving around a musical group or artist, and Gorillaz stands as a shining example of this phenomenon. It surpasses the plethora of animated characters that have become prevalent in the music industry today. Instead, Gorillaz presents a unique, transmedial, and multimedia universe that pulsates with life, growth, and self-development.
Gorillaz has managed to capture the imagination of audiences worldwide, offering a captivating narrative that extends far beyond traditional music experiences. The band's ability to intertwine various forms of media, including music, animation, videos, games, and more, has resulted in a rich and immersive artistic landscape. This intricate web of creativity has solidified Gorillaz as a groundbreaking transmedial force, pushing the boundaries of what is possible in music and visual storytelling.
Furthermore, Gorillaz has crafted an air of intrigue and mystery surrounding its story. Countless questions persist about its origins, the identities of its creators, the blurred lines between reality and fiction, and the trajectory of the beloved characters. These enigmas have ignited endless discussions and theories among fans, further deepening the engagement with the band's narrative.
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Dailyrecord.Co.Uk. (2010, April 30). Animated group Gorillaz show their real faces for the first time during live show. Daily Record.
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Jenkins, H. (2016, November 15), Transmedia what? Medium
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Wight, J. K. (2019, November 7). Gorillaz: Multi-Platform Music Maestros. Transmedia Blueprint