So I just got a ukulele for my birthday on Thursday (thank you, Twenty One Pilots and Grace for the inspiration), so I thought “what better a time to talk about the extreme popularity of ukes than now?”
Let’s dig in.
It all started in 2006, when Jake Shimabukuro went viral for his cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. He showed that the uke was a versatile instrument, usable for more than rhythm, and a valid, serious musical tool.
Then in 2011, Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun of TØP released the now classic uke song “House of Gold”.
HOG made a bold statement: the ukulele wasn’t just for cheerful, Hawaiian, happy-pappy music; it could also be used as a weapon of the emo, whether used ironically with sad vocals, or simply to enhance the music in later songs, such as “We Don’t Believe What’s On TV.”
Then we come to 2016, when the uke went beyond its newfound popularity, and EXPLODED into the mainstream. Used now by every other YouTube singer, and by more and more artists.
Hmmm…let’s think, who’s a ukulele player that got big in 2016?
Yeah, you guessed it: Grace.
Some may argue that Grace had little part in the extreme popularity of her signature instrument, but I argue that those people need to be more observant. If you watch AGT now, it seems half of the contestants use a ukulele, and if you check the “following” list of any YouTube ukulele-ist (is that a word?), Grace is there, staring at you through her red sunglasses.
So, it seems through the help of these three people: Grace VanderWaal, Tyler Joseph and Jake Shimabukuro, the uke is now one of the most used instruments of young people today.
Now let’s look at how Grace is innovating the item:
Not many people will notice, but there’s a ukulele in “Escape My Mind”. It runs through most of the song actually.
Go take a listen.
Did you hear it?
What Grace does here is show that the uke can be used in an indie-pop song with heavy reliance on big drums, loud vocals and bass. Not only that, but it doesn’t have to be the dominant instrument; it can be hidden in the background, adding the right amount of zip to the tune.
In “Moonlight” Grace used the ukulele to set a mysterious, ethereal, slightly mournful feel to the opening of the song, masterfully playing the perfect chords for just the right vibe.
For “A Better Life”, and her other AGT songs, she lets us know the instrument can be used as a very moving, melancholy, backing to a song, without it sounding to cheesy.
In “Talk Good”, the ukulele boasts that it can be used as a sassy, snappy, bluesy main instrument to a song.
And lastly, in “Gossip Girl”, we see that the Hawaiian invention can produce a heavy, rock-like sound, while also staying emotional and pretty at the same time. (If played right).
The fact that all these innovations are being made by a 14/13/12/11-year-old kid with only a few year of experience is mind-blowing to me. How is she doing this after all these years of the uke’s existence? She and a few others are doing what Izzy, Don Ho, and centuries of players failed to do: taking the ukulele beyond Hawaiian, joyful background and sing-along music.
I can’t wait to see what she does next with this surprisingly versatile tool of music.
(Also, Tyler Joseph, please have it in Trench, please?!)
This article was first posted on VanderVault’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Yfl9ID8F0g&lc=UgwD_6hPbGf-1HczHJR4AaABAg