Filk Song

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Dear Other Tropers, do you like this song?
I hope it's good and famous, you can sing along
Jus' rewrite the lyrics, keep the rhymes alive
There's a certain art, and it's called writing
An All The Tropes Filk Song
An All The Tropes Filk Song!
See this song was written by the Beatle Paul
You might see this done to anything at all
If it's Meatloaf, folk songs, or a Broadway Hit
Just rewrite the words, then you're set to have an
All The Tropes Filk Song,
An All The Tropes Filk Song!
All The Tropes filk song, filk song, filk song...
There's a thousand filkers, name me one or two
Like you know Weird Al and Tom Smith is too
It's an old tradition, old as song itself
It's a tricksy art when you wanna write an
All The Tropes Filk Song,
An All The Tropes Filk Song!


Self-demonstration aside, "filk" is best described as the music of fandom, or at least, the music of the filk community. Songs about SF books or movies, fandom in-jokes, or even just related topics such as computer geeky references are all common sources for filk. And, despite what the self-demonstration says, filk doesn't have to be new words to old music - that's To the Tune Of. (Nobody would call The Star-Spangled Banner filk, but the US national anthem uses the tune of To Anacreon in Heaven. The song sometimes considered the "anthem of filk," Hope Eyrie, has its own original music.)

The term is believed to have originated in the 1960s in an early SF fandom 'zine, where the editor didn't do enough copy editing, and typoed "Folk Music" as "Filk Music". The term stuck as a way to describe the peculiar style of musicianship, weird humor, and camaraderie of fandom musicians. (Some in the Society for Creative Anachronism claim it was actually their word first, and fandom got it from them; given the heavy overlap between SCAdians and fandom both then and now, it's probably a moot point.)

Filk has a few general styles: humorous, serious but positive, and depressing and angsty. The humor is often, but not always, parody (here defined broadly as "new lyrics," not only the ones referencing the originals —- see Satire, Parody, Pastiche) -- some filkers are specifically parodists, some do both parody and original, and many only do original work. Some even specialize in "refilking," parodying others' original filk songs.

Parody filk is sometimes seen on Fanfic sites as an exclusively literary form—lyrics parodying a popular song, but not necessarily meant to be sung (and sometimes taking such liberties with the meter that it cannot be sung to the specified tune).

The angsty stuff is called "ose," as in, "it's ose, ose, and more-ose." Of course, like all things, especially fandom, there can be some overlap—there are terms such as "cheeri-ose," which is both cheery and depressing; "sucr-ose," sweet and sugary and depressing, and "verb-ose," long and drawn out...and depressing.

(Oh, and in case it isn't apparent already, a lot of filk songs have puns. Lots of puns.)

Most SF conventions nowadays have a room set aside for the filkers to sing in large bardic-style circles once the main panels end for the day—some even have concerts. Filk-specific conventions do exist, the biggest being the Ohio Valley Filk Fest, which includes the annual Pegasus Awards for best filk songs. Check it out for some examples of particularly well-regarded filk. For more examples of filk, there's also The Virtual Filksing, which bills itself as the oldest anthology of recorded filk music on the Internet.

Unfortunately, defining filk more concretely than "the music of fandom, or at least, the music of the filk community" can be tricky; even in fandom circles, filk is sort of a Redheaded Stepchild that a lot of people don't like. That's probably because they've been exposed to one too many bad singers—filk has a performance aspect, and mangled music can put you off of the entire field. And Sturgeon's Law still applies, after all—it's just that, unlike fanfiction, filk will often be sung aloud, which makes it harder to avoid the bad stuff when you're looking for the good.

Partially as a result of that, there are a number of artists—such as "Weird Al" Yankovic and Jonathan Coulton—whose work is frequently sung in filk circles, but who don't consider themselves filkers. Other filkers, especially ones more on the "funny and pun-filled" side, prefer the term "dementia," derived from the Dr. Demento show, which has been playing comedy and novelty music since the '70s.

The examples will therefore be divided into "Filk," where the artist considers him- or herself a filker (or dementia artist; we're keeping it simple) and part of the community; "Found Filk," where the artist isn't a filker, but the music qualifies and has probably been sung in circles; and "Somewhere in Between," where it's not so clear.

See also Heavy Mithril, which almost by nature qualifies at least as "found filk," and Nerd Core.

Note there's a related phenomenon in the Second World, called "minstrel song" in Russia. It's also a phenomenon of the fandom, but it's derived from the Soviet tradition of bard song (which is itself derived from the early XX century Russian urban romance music). Basically, Three Chords and the Truth about various fandoms, mostly fantasy (and among fantasy, mostly JRR Tolkien). Oh, and it almost never recycles melodies from older music.

Not to be confused with Flik of the Blue Lightning.

Examples of Filk Song include:

Filk and Filk Artists of Note

  • Leslie Fish, whose name has been described as "practically synonymous with filk." She has what might be the two most famous filk songs of all time:
    • "Banned From Argo," an original song (and the old Trope Namer for what is now Persona Non Grata) describing what happened when the the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise went on shore leave on the planet of Argo, and the swath of destruction they left in their wake. The piece became so popular that Leslie eventually became sick of it, and many other filkers started to follow suit.
      • Worse, to Leslie's loud but (mostly) good-natured complaint, "Banned from Argo" has been refilked so much, about everything from other Star Trek series to other TV shows to SCA storytelling to just random puns, that there's an entire songbook, "The Bastard Children of Argo."
      • "Banned From Argo" is so insanely popular, it has shown up in fic. As an actual drinking song. The kicker? "Argo" recounts the exploits of the TOS crew, and the song showed up in an Enterprise fic.
    • Hope Eyrie, written about the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon (though it took a number of years to finish), is sometimes considered the "anthem of filk."
    • In addition to her original work, Leslie frequently sets Rudyard Kipling poetry to music; the resulting songs are called "Kipplefish."
  • Heather Alexander, and her "heir" Alexander James Adams (long story). The most famous song is probably the archetypal song of battle, March of Cambreadth.
  • Bill Sutton.
  • Julia Ecklar.
  • Tom Smith, one of the most famous funny filkers. Songs include "307 Ale" and the Barenaked Ladies parody about Babylon 5, "Five Years".
  • The late, great Cynthia McQuillin wrote more than a thousand filks, ranging from romantic ballads ("Singer in the Shadow"), to bawdy humor ("Gilda and the Dragon"), and from dark fantasy ("Slay the Dead") to hard science fiction ("Fuel to Feed the Drive"), with occasional pit stops at the simply indescribable. ("The Worm Turns", a talking blues song about a fisherman who's bitten by a "wereworm".)
  • Frank Hayes has been in filk since the 1970s, and has written several classics of filk, including "Never Set the Cat on Fire" and "When I Was a Boy" (sung by Joe Bethancourt). But he's probably best known for forgetting his own lyrics, to the point that other filkers will, upon forgetting their lyrics, call out "Frank Hayes Disease!"
  • The Funny Music Project, or FuMP, is a collective of funny filkers and dementia artists, including the aforementioned Tom Smith, Rob Balder, and The Great Luke Ski.
  • Seanan McGuire, writer of the October Daye and (under the name 'Mira Grant') Newsflesh series, was a filker first, with several albums already and more coming. Example song: "Wicked Girls Saving Ourselves". (Seanan's the blonde. For the others, see the next two lines.)
  • Vixy and Tony, best known for the Firefly filk "Mal's Song". (They also work with Seanan a lot—see "Wicked Girls.")
  • S.J. "Sooj" Tucker, "Skinny White Chick". Example song: "I'm So Sorry." (Frequently works with Vixy and Tony, and therefore Seanan; she's on the drums on "Wicked Girls.")
  • The Bedlam Bards, primarily a Renaissance Faire duo until they got into Firefly fandom pretty heavily.
  • Bob Kanefsky, master refilker, specializes in mashing up two of another filker's songs, setting the story of one song to the tune of another. And he does it very, very well. Frequently, he gets the creator of one of the original songs to sing his version.
    • For example, Bob took one of Leslie Fish's Kipling tunes and wrote "They're Singing 'Banned From Argo,'" about how many veteran filkers have come to dislike the song from overexposure. One verse states that Leslie Fish has plugged her ears because she just doesn't want to hear it. And he got Leslie to perform it.
  • League of Legends is becoming quite a popular subject, thanks to Riot's Songs of the Summoned contests. Searching "League of Legends songs" on Youtube will get you about 9,500+ hits
  • Mercedes Lackey sings and writes filk (or used to), often working with Leslie Fish and Heather Alexander. Recordings are available at The Firebird Arts And Music Catalog.
    • Frequently, Fish or Alexander would, with Lackey's explicit encouragement, take the songs that appeared in her novels and set them to music.
    • In what can only be described as an auto-Shout-Out, Lackey named one of her minor characters Leslac, after the filkish term for a Leslie Fish-Mercedes Lackey collaboration. (Naturally, the character was a bard, albeit one who...didn't always get the story right.)
  • Eben Brooks has songs including "Hey There, Cthulhu" and "It's the End of the 'Verse as We Know It".
  • Elf Quest has an entire filk album.
  • Terence Chua specializes in Cthulhu filk.
  • BeatleBrony is a YouTube channel that has remarkably skillful filks of various Beatles and later post-breakup solo songs for My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic.
  • Gavin Dunne. His The Escapist series called Miracle Of Sound consists of video game filk songs (of any genre and any topic).
  • 'Helva' : 'For me and my luggage will never meet again on the bonnie bonnie floors of the Worldcon'.
  • 'Xenaclone' : A whole Highlander/Mikado filk cycle, several 'Firefly' filks and counting...
  • There's Honorverse filk. Including Honor-ified Banned from Argo and almost inevitable I Am the Bleekin' Model of a Treecat Telempathical. See the results of a filk fest in alt.books.david-weber here. There's a lot of other filk (of varying quality) scattered around Weber's own forum.
    • Three known songs from Echo's Children: No Quarter, Riding a Tiger, Fair Was The Blossom
  • Echo's Children filk a lot. Aside of Honorverse songs, they have Babylon 5 songs (Annie's Luck, Bested), Vorkosigan Saga songs (Butterbug Blues, How It Is Applied, Two Falls Out Of Three) and generally SF&F themed (spaceships, werewolves, etc).

Found Filk

  • As mentioned, pretty much everything by "Weird Al" Yankovic. Al has stated outright that he doesn't consider himself a filker, but he certainly gets sung enough at filk circles...

"His buddy Bubba was a shrimp lovin' man
His friend with no legs he called Lt. Dan
His girlfriend Jenny was kind of a slut
He went to the White House; showed LBJ his butt"


Somewhere in Between

  • Tom Lehrer. If Tom had gotten into fandom in the '60s, he'd surely have been a filker proper.
    • Oh, surely not. Lehrer was an old-school piano-bar singer-songwriter of comic and satirical songs, a professional who wrote songs for himself to sing for money. His tunes were mainly original unless he was specifically making fun of some specific thing, and his arrangements are HARD; try playing and singing "Vatican Rag" or "Poisoning Pigeons In The Park" if you don't believe it.
    • Also, Lehrer had (or at least professed to have) little respect for the folk music scene, or its style of performance. That said, his music is a regular staple of filksinging circles.
      • Flanders and Swann were nearer in the sense that their material was mainly quite easy to sing along to but again, professional performers with no interest in amateur performance.
  • Ditto Allan Sherman.
  • Voltaire has his Star Trek songs, including the entire album "Banned on Vulcan," as well as the song "Cantina" on Ookie Spooky. (Warning: This is a filthy song. You'll never see Star Wars the same way again.) Voltaire's presence at events such as Dragon* Con put him in this category.
    • There's also "Dead of The Dead: Adventure Quest Worlds Version" which is done by him for the game, and is a parody of his own song.
  • Blue Oyster Cult did "Black Blade" about Elric of Melnibone. Hawkwind did an entire album about the White-Haired Pretty Boy, The Chronicle of the Black Sword. This is a step above your average found filk because writer Michael Moorcock was directly involved with both bands, even occasionally performing with Hawkwind.
    • And don't forget BOC's Godzilla, though that was probably more about the guitar solo...
    • Plus, Hawkwind also did "Needle Gun," which about Moorcock's other notable character Jerry Cornelius (on "Chronicles FWIW"), as well as several songs based on the works of Roger Zelazny.
  • Actor Robert Picardo has written a fair number of songs about Star Trek: Voyager—which makes sense given that he was part of the main cast.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade had an entire gothic/industrial album with a song for each of the thirteen vampire clans.
  • Radio Free Cybertron has aired several of Túrin's Transformers Song Parodies.
  • Guyz Nite wrote a song about Die Hard, that was even included in the fourth movie DVD.
  • Touhou Project fandom has created an extensive catalog of work that, at least, seems to border on filk: take ZUN's original (instrumental) BGMs and boss themes and add lyrics about the games and the characters. Of course, these songs end up as the breeding ground for certain creative interpretations of said characters. One notable example (particularly when it comes to Alternate Character Interpretation) is IOSYS's interpretations of Alice Margatroid's various stage and boss themes, which explore her feelings for Marisa Kirisame.
  • The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society have done two albums of reworked Christmas carols. This includes such classics as "It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Fishmen" and "Carol of the Old Ones".
  • There's a WoW Filk Song for pallies going around, sung to the tune of "I'm a little teapot."

I'm a little pally, short and stout, here is my mallet, here is my mount; when I get scared I scream and shout! I pull out my bubble and hearth right out.


Russian/Post-Soviet Minstrels

The military tradition of Bawdy Song versions of common tunes, informal "bard song" concert tradition and fantasy eventually began to merge in various proportions.

  • "Niennah" (Natalia Vassilieva). Renowned in the post-Soviet Tolkien fandom as a minstrel, though most well known as the author of the Black Book Of Arda, a big Silmarillion fanfic from Melkor's POV that was formally published as a book (yes, Russian copyright law is quite lax). At very least, have pulled a lot of people into discussion.
  • "Allkorr" (Svetlana Nikiforova). Many history and/or war themed songs, among the others. Throws in Rashomon Style "sequels"/"answers", if available. Also wrote fanfics to J. R. R. Tolkien's books and Star Wars among the other things.
    • Most known songs she perform are Raid that has at least 6 follow-ups.
    • The Star Wars cycle most known for Krupp's response to Revan and Malak - another author's answer in the discussion of her song "I am Revan!". Then Storyteller (who occasionally had private concerts together with her) gone one step further with a song mocking "stupid descendants" who prefer to swing sticks at each other "like monkeys" from PoV of a savage advanced enough to use a bow from cover.
    • "Technology" cycle ("...we won't leave the caves at all") starts with "military technologies" as a bit of Scylla and Charybdis thing. Which another author modified for "agrarian technologies" ("If the mammoths were fatter..."), that in turn led to "...we'd still find what to divide" response from Storyteller and a mix with "Raid" from another author.
  • Yevgeny Lukin. Though he has songs like e.g. a parody of Easterns, most are around history/politics/philosophy (don't those end up tangled anyway?) both to famous tunes in parody/reference and his own. Well known in fan circles, but much more known as a SF&F author (over two dozens of various awards), and much less as a translator (at least two of Barbara Hambly's books published on Russian).
  • In the fandom there are, of course, minstrels with pseudonyms from J. R. R. Tolkien's books and occasionally The Witcher Saga, and even a few groups with such names as "Voluntary Orchestra of the Hemulen", "Bregan D'aerthe" or "Kendermore".
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