In a 1994 episode of The Simpsons, Lisa deadpans that “by next week, we’ll be back to where we started from, ready for another wacky adventure.” Two decades later, the current season of South Park has been subverting this TV-comedy cliché, making clear that characters’ actions, no matter how ridiculous, will have consequences for the next episode. The kids’ selfish behavior in the season opener forces them to stage an elaborate party the following week, culminating in a supposed performance by Lorde that’s obviously an impersonation by Stan’s dad, Randy Marsh. Partway into last night’s episode, it becomes clear that the Lorde goof wasn’t a one-off, either.
The details are a bit complicated, and this has probably already been a spoiler for any South Park diehards who were watching American Horror Story: Freak Show instead last night. Essentially, while that wasn’t a teenager from New Zealand in last week’s episode, it was Lorde. The gist is that Marsh has been creating the Pure Heroine singer’s work all along. See, it all started when he dressed up in drag to use the women’s restroom, which led to him making up his own songs, which when he adds beats and puts them through Auto-Tune sound like, yes, Lorde. Did I mention it’s complicated?
Marsh even claims to have written Lorde’s new Hunger Games song, “Yellow Flicker Beat,” which recently had the best Alternative Songs chart debut since 1995. Before it’s all over, Sharon Marsh, Randy’s wife, gives a powerful speech praising Lorde. “If I could talk to Lorde right now, you know what I’d tell her?” she asks. “I’d tell her not to let people change who she is. I’d tell her that if people are making fun of her, it’s probably because they’ve lost touch with being human. I’d tell her to keep on doing what she does, because when someone’s not allowed to express who they are inside, then we all lose.”
Music journalism gets its comeuppance, as well. That’s in the form of a man who introduces himself as “Brandon Carlile, reporter, SPIN Magazine” (a print publication that sadly no longer exists, and for whose website I, full disclosure, covered news from 2011 until this summer). He’s the classic old-school reporter trope, complete with a hat including a card that reads “press.” Absurdly in the current media business environment, this hard-hitting journalist is on location in South Park, Colorado, knocking on doors in an investigative quest to find the true Lorde. “You don’t understand,” he tells Kyle’s dad, Gerald Broflovski. “We deal with a lot of fake stories at SPIN.” In the end, I’d like to note in the defense of my profession, the episode suggests that journalists are human, too.