Why Batman Is Better Than Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week”

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In which we unravel the greatest mystery of 1998.

Ah, 1998, how we miss thee. Batman experienced possibly his most…challenging time with Batman and Robin released in cinemas to audiences unaware of the horror they were to be subjected to. But, in this harrowing time, at least we had fun pop-rock in the form of the jaunty “One Week” by the Barenaked Ladies.

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This is the single cover. Remember the fish, it may be important later.

Does anyone remember this song? I seem to remember it being very popular at the time. Some of you may be too young to remember it (if you don’t, stop reading this now, you’re too young to be corrupted by the foul language that’s sure to follow below. For example: butts.) It reached #1 in the Billboard Hot 100 (for those too young to understand, music used to sell well enough to be ranked in popularity by how well it sold) for, appropriately enough, one week. It is by far Barenaked Ladies most popular track, with 20,000,000 plays on Spotify, as opposed to their most popular track which has only 3,000,000. (If you’re too young and this entire paragraph confused you, “music” is a thing young people used to listen to as entertainment before Youtube was invented.)

(SIDENOTE: I’ll bring up at this point that as I type this first draft out, I have “One Week” on repeat until I finish. On my fourth listen so far. It’s a catchy chorus, I suppose.)

Writer of the song Ed Robertson points out that the song deals with a protagonist who has done something wrong and is now trying to save face in the aftermath of the argument. What caused the argument, however, is never discussed in the song, merely the events that followed. Think about it: what is the inciting incident in the song “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies?

It seems to me in order to really uncover what happened here, we’re gonna have to look at the clues listed in the song and unravel the mystery fully. Seems to me we’re gonna need a master detective to get to the bottom of this. A master detective known only as…

SHERLOCK HOLMES.

“Why, there’s a recorded music disc below this magnifying glass!”

Wait. I mean…

BATMAN.

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“Alfred! Prepare the Bat-speaker-system!”

(On my sixth listen now. Defences are starting to break.)

If we mere normal humans can solve what happened to the protagonist of “One Week”, logically it should follow that Batman could too? That would put us, and therefore him, better than the song. JUST SO WE’RE CLEAR: the premise of this article is that if we can solve this then Batman is better than the One Week. Cool? Cool.

If you want to follow along with this, watch the video on Youtube, or to make things more challenging, find it on a lyrics site that doesn’t also attempt to sell you the polyphonic ringtone version!

The first clue we must consider is a lyric found in the first verse:

“Hold it now and watch the hoodwink
As I make you stop, think
You think you’re lookin’ at Aquaman”

-Steven Page, 1998

It would be easy to dismiss this as a simple pop culture reference, but there’s more to it than that. Elsewhere in the song, the lyrics reference LeAnn Rhimes, Bert Kaempfert, Sting, Harrison Ford and Akira Kurosawa – all real people. The lyrics also reference X-Files and Sailor Moon, but they are specifically mentioned as fictional, watched by the protagonist. This pattern suggests that in this song, Aquaman is a real person, and not a moody beardy man played by Jason Mamoa. I put it to you that the protagonist of One Week lives in the DC universe.

Further inspection of the lyrics suggest a character with a happy-go-lucky attitude, with references to lots of smiling and fun times in this dire situation where they refuse to apologise:

“How can I help it if I think you’re funny when you’re mad
Trying hard not to smile though I feel bad
I’m the kind of guy who laughs at a funeral”

– Steven Page, 1998

Could it be that our hero is that clown prince of crime…the Joker?!?!

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Half of the rapping does sound like the ramblings of a madman.

This seems the immediate choice, but I think not. The premise of the song is about someone looking for approval and forgiveness following “the incident”, and Joker is unlikely to care about hurting someone’s feelings. No, I think this song is from someone else’s perspective. Someone eager to please, someone in the DC universe, someone who smiles and jokes a lot: Harley Quinn.

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I can exclusively confirm that the pianist and double bass player ARE in fact Barenaked Ladies.

Harley Quinn was created for Batman: The Animated Series in 1992 essentially as a “sidekick” for Joker, and has since gone on to be one of the most popular Batman characters – I’d argue the most popular character to not yet be featured in a film…for now. Although the last lyric of One Week mentions “Birchmount Stadium, home of the Robbie”. Now, I know nothing about sports, but this seems like a clear reference to Margot Robbie, who will be playing Harley in her first on screen appearance in next year’s Suicide Squad.

Also the music video for One Week features these ladies dressed in red and black with white faces. If that doesn’t make it clear this song is about Harley Quinn then I don’t know what does.

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I don’t know why I expected a 17 year old music video to be in decent quality on Youtube.

(Eleven listens in now. Before this, I would have had no opinion on this song. Now I would describe my feelings as “intense dislike”.)

But what caused Harley to sing this song to Joker? Chorus one states that:

“It’s been one week since you looked at me
Cocked your head to the side and said “I’m angry””

-Steven Page, 1998

and chorus two states:

“It’s been one week since you looked at me
Threw your arms in the air
and said “You’re crazy””

-Steven Page, 1998

It’s clear that Harley did something to piss Joker off, but what? I think the key is found in verse one, in which Harley “summons the fish to the dish”. I believe this is a reference to two classic Batman stories: The Laughing Fish and Mad Love.

The Laughing Fish is a story from Detective Comics #475, in which Joker poisons Gotham’s fish to give them a hideous smile, and then tries to copyright the fish as they are based on his image. This story was then later adapted for a Batman: The Animated Series episode, although Harley is featured in neither.

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Which is the Joker and which is the fish? I CAN’T TELL!

Mad Love originated as an Animated Series episode, and was later adapted to a comic. It is best known as telling Harley Quinn’s origin story in flashback form, although the present day story involves Harley catching Batman and almost feeding him to a tank of piranhas, in order to impress the Joker.

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I’ll spoil the ending for you: Batman escapes from this.

It’s clear to me that this is where the argument between the two started: following the Joker’s failed first fish caper, Harley attempted to make up for it by killing Batman wish another fish-based plan. Joker is infuriated by this, and the two are at odds: Joker feels insulted by Harley taking initiative, and Harley refuses to apologise as she was just trying to help.

(Fifteen listens now. Every time I hear the singer open with “It’s been-” I want to punch him a thousand times. Perhaps this is what drove the Joker crazy in the first place?)

Eventually the two make up though, as Joker apologises in the final chorus, to which Harley laughs and tells him “You just did just what I thought you were gonna do”. This is typical of their relationship, Harley forgives Joker for his psychotic nature often. Is this a happy ending? It’s a status quo reset typical of superhero stories, at any rate.

We’ve gotten to the bottom of this tale though, there can be no doubt. How could the dysfunctional relationship described in this song be anyone BUT the Joker and Harley Quinn? The mystery is solved, and we have proven Batman’s superiority once again. Or something. What was the point of this again? I’m eighteen listens though this damn song and I think my brain might be broken.

Why did David B Cooper do this to himself? You should tell him on Twitter and Facebook.

Also check out why Batman is better than The Beatles, Buzzfeed and Time!

One thought on “Why Batman Is Better Than Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week”

  1. BNL’s stunt album (besides this song) is actually really good. A lot of dark-ass lyrics hiding behind chipper, but catchy pop music give it a listen!

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