‘Virtual Insanity’: Why Jamiroquai’s technophobic jam is our quarantine anthem
The message of “Virtual Insanity” was always prescient but during quarantine, it takes on a whole new meaning.
By Will Pankey
As ever with the internet, the desire to look back at pop culture ephemera from years past and connect it to our current moment is more appealing than ever. It’s an age-old internet custom, the source of approximately 50 percent of the internet’s collective conversations, give or take. It’s why every few months you see something that “The Simpsons” “predicted” years ago or how the film “Contagion” bears a newfound resonance (to put it lightly) today.
Greyed music fans of the ‘90s were reminded of this tradition a few weeks ago as a video of Jay Kay flaunting his legs on Facebook made the rounds. You remember Jay Kay. The de facto leader of nu-disco cum funk cum jazz-pop outfit and furry stovepipe hat enthusiasts Jamiroquai. Like most people, you probably recall Jamiroquai from their one stateside hit “Virtual Insanity.” More memorable is the video where Jay Kay dance-dodges couches and sings about how mothers can change the color of their babies.
In the video posted on Defected Records’ Facebook, Jay Kay sits behind a desk and sings David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” Towards the end of the video, the camera pans down to reveal that the singer isn’t wearing any pants. Instead Jay sports just a pair of high heels that he clacks with glee. It’s a slice of internet absurdity that checks several boxes: a double dose of nostalgia; a non-sequitur piece of media that, upon further examination, bears no meaning; shock value and a payoff while chiefly solving the mystery of what the dude from Jamiroquai was up to during quarantine.
But while the irony is too delicious that the guy who made “Virtual Insanity” has and is participating in our new norm of *sigh* virtual insanity, the single remains, admittedly poignant. As quarantine inevitably creeps into the summer, with everyone living their lives out on screen and social media, virtual life isn’t so much insane as it is a necessity. “Virtual Insanity” speaks about “twisting” technologies into unnecessary trifles but in a pivot, what components made social media platforms a luxury and inessential intrusion into daily life has surprisingly proven to be a lifeline during a time of crisis. Virtual DJ sets have brought together thousands of people for one night of digital connectivity. The music community has banded together, performing sets for charity, and raising money for unsung workers who rely on the operation of the industry for their livelihood.
Of course, quarantine has not been without its f*ckery. There is such a thing as screen fatigue. Some people probably shouldn’t have social media. How far can we go? What really is our tolerance for boredom? How many more Zoom happy hours and gatherings can we really endure? How many more of our waking hours can we spend looking at screens before the deafening howls of rage and inner disappointment destroy any shreds of humanity we have left? We don’t know, we’re a ticketing company.
But perhaps virtual insanity operates on a spectrum, the lower end reverting social media into an actual network that maintains some semblance of social ties and then, on the other end, oblivion. Or, in Jay Kay’s case, singing David Bowie in high heels. Either way, Jamiroquai’s’ “Virtual Insanity” remains a jazz-funk technophobic anthem that grows in prominence as the years roll on, its message sparking us to dance-dodge our worst digital impulses, at least for a little bit.