At this point, it’s well-established that Twitter is the worst—a swamp of unsolicited harassment, cartoon frogs, and no good things. And yet, millions of media professionals, celebrities, and armchair pundits still turn to the site as a means to keep up with the madness, and sometimes, to find an escape from it all. Smash Mouth understands this.
The Shrek koozie of late ‘90s and early-aughts alt-rock hasn’t charted on Billboard’s Hot 100 since 2001’s cover of “I’m A Believer,” but don’t remind them on Twitter—they’ll probably respond. Smash Mouth has recently been making headlines for their bizarre Twitter antics, which include self-obsessed celebrity death tributes, one-sided feuds with Bay Area athletes, and their surprising accessibility. It’s all a bit reminiscent of another infamous account that can’t always handle the heat, albeit with some more time on their hands (and more cosigns of sexual reciprocity).
But perhaps comparing them to Donald Trump isn’t entirely fair to either party; Smash Mouth boasts a small fraction of ratings machine DJT’s following (38.6 thousand to his 19.4 million), with an even smaller fraction of his responsibility to behave like a dignified public figure. If frontman Steve Harwell, or any other Smash Mouther (they all use the account), tell some random Twitter user to piss off, there’s very little on the line beyond their own reputation. The stakes are about as low as, well, “All Star.”
Given their recent notoriety, it’s surprising that Smash Mouth hasn’t built up more of a following. Maybe they’re just the account that you retweet when they pop up in your feed, but that you don’t commit to following. After all, the best memes always find you—not the other way around.
Last month, Smash Mouth tested its limits as a meme, through their unconventional approach to honoring the dead. Near the beginning of December, the band posted an image for the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks, which included their band logo patterned in the background. They’ve since deleted the post, but luckily Death and Taxes snagged a preemptive screengrab, just in case the backlash got to them. And to close out the year, they quite literally put their stamp on the tragic doubleheader of George Michael and Carrie Fisher’s deaths. Their nod to Michael was rushed online with multiple misspellings—including the late singer’s name—but Fisher’s dedication was tasteless from a more conventional branding standpoint. Most recently, they chose to honor California Governor Jerry Brown’s dog with “Rest Peacefully Sutter.”
Throughout this run of unorthodox tributes, I hoped that Smash Mouth would reveal them to be a self-aware ruse, playing some elaborate riff on performative social media grieving, in the vein of Anthony Jeselnik’s Thoughts and Prayers. But they aren’t. Deleting the tweets should have tipped off their intentions, but bassist Paul Delisle confirmed the band’s earnest, if misguided, approach in a recent interview with Inverse. “I will just say the idea was to honor the deceased the best way we knew how,” Delisle said. “Those posts were not meant to gain attention from someone’s death. Our logo is our Stamp of Approval. But of course we got destroyed and maybe will do it differently moving forward.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the band who picks fights with the official Oakland A’s account and Draymond Green is winging it. Smash Mouth has seized Twitter, a place where measured trial and error goes to die, as an opportunity to overwhelm us with relatability. But they’re not aiming for the strained appeal of tripping on the red carpet or freaking the fuck out when another A-lister surprises you during an interview. That’s partly because they’re not A-listers anymore. If Smash Mouth is “all of us,” it’s because they’re just fumbling through life like the rest of us—we’re not always exuding the endearing, charming projection that we want the world to see.
The Smash Mouth Twitter account behaves as something of an equalizer, replying to anyone—sportswriters, fans, haters—with complete abandon, and it creates a dynamic rarely seen on the site. Multi-platinum artists just don’t respond to fans with this frequency or candor, and this isn’t lost on Smash Mouth’s followers. Aside from the occasional “follow me back” tweet, you don’t see many starstruck interactions between fans and the band—more so hastily fired-off barroom bickering about the Golden State Warriors and their own legacy.
Smash Mouth specialize in nostalgia, in the moments that they (but not necessarily everyone else) wish they could get back. Usually, this is through their warm embrace of the Shrek franchise. The band takes offense when any user suggests that the films propelled them to stardom (“All Star” and “Walkin’ on the Sun” both charted before 2001, thank you very much), but they frequently incorporate Shrek and Donkey into their distinct graphic design work. Smash Mouth still releases new music—they’re currently crowdsourcing an acoustic re-recording of their debut album, Fush Yu Mang—but they also seem comfortable with being a nostalgia act. Sometimes, they’ll post multiple #FBF photos on the same day, and other memories presented without context throughout the week.
They’re caught in the same place where we all eventually end up: a bit insecure, torn between the urge to relive our glory days and paddling against the current to keep up with the times. Since Smash Mouth is comfortable with the meme-ifying of their Shrek association and Harwell’s resemblance to Guy Fieri, they seem to be in on the joke. They’ve adjusted as well as anyone to this postmodern blur of irony and sincerity, but you can’t shake the feeling that Smash Mouth wouldn’t mind returning to the days of cargo shorts, Mike Myers topping the box office, and Hit Clips.
Maybe these concerns were right there from the beginning, plainspoken, in their most enduring song: “Well, the years start coming and they don’t stop coming.”