Postmodern Jukebox seeks to break barriers between time periods, culture and music. By creating old-fashioned covers of modern songs, PMJ demonstrates how genres are more complex than they might originally seem.
Started in 2011 by Scott Bradlee, an out-of-work jazz pianist in New York, Postmodern Jukebox crosses all genres to create something interesting and new. The endeavor started in Bradlee’s basement, and his work has evolved to find acclaim in a variety of musical circles. Using YouTube to post the creations of him and his friends, Bradlee eventually found work making musical content online.
Bradlee notes that PMJ is not intended to mimic or copy the sound of the artists they cover. In fact, the music seeks to create as much distance between the original artist’s sound and the cover’s new feel.
With a roster of over 50 rotating performers, there is no shortage of talent within this group. Each performer brings a different expertise to the group, whether it be in a particular instrument or genre.
Although there is no limit to their style choices, PMJ is famous for their swing, blues and jazz covers. From their masterfully raspy jazz version of Radiohead’s “Creep” to a Beach Boys-styled interpretation of “Barbie Girl,” no decade or musical genre is off-limits. Many of the genres that Bradlee uses to reinterpret modern sounds are thought to be long dead. By using Motown and doo-wop sounds, PMJ’s work serves as an introduction to many older styles of music.
Each song fits perfectly into its new genre, even if it seems out of place at first glance. Who knew the Jonas Brothers would sound good in disco or that Billie Eilish would flower in tango? To reimagine these tunes, Bradlee says he looks at the music and the original style of the song to see what it is trying to convey and chooses a genre that would fit that style or message well.
Postmodern Jukebox shows audiences that genre categorization is an active choice — just because a song isn’t part of a genre you love doesn’t mean that it is inherently bad. The lyrics might still be relevant, and the tune might be catchy, even if the style is not for you. Often, people make sweeping judgements about music that cuts them off from many styles and artists they could eventually find interesting.
Many modern songs lend themselves to classic interpretations, which conveys that modern music is not any worse at its roots — it’s simply arranged differently. Rap might not be your style, but this 1920s version of “Gangsta’s Paradise” or a klezmer styled “Talk Dirty” with Yiddish rap could be perfect for you. PMJ’s relentless pursuit of interesting and out-of-the-box music showcases that each genre has something to add to the music scene.
Many believe that the golden era of music has passed and that modern music fails to live up to the high standards set by previous musicians. The nostalgia factor involved with PMJ is interesting and compelling for many listeners, but talent is what truly drives the group.
Although Postmodern Jukebox makes a strong argument for modern pop and rock music, it also demonstrates the enduring nature of some genres that have fallen by the wayside. By bringing soul, jazz and big band styles into a popular context, PMJ invites audiences to further explore these genres.
Younger audiences are not always exposed to older musical styles, but Bradlee and his musicians bring these sounds straight to their phones and into their earbuds. For older listeners, PMJ provides a look back into the music they enjoyed throughout their childhood.
With more than 4 million subscribers on YouTube and over a billion views, the group’s popularity and influence has been increasingly growing. With world tours, merchandise and a consistent stream of albums, Postmodern Jukebox has been making their mark since their inception. Some of the group’s more famous alumni, like Hayley Reinhart and Morgan James, have even made names for themselves in the music industry outside of PMJ.
Whether you are into country, rap, pop or rock, there is likely something on the Postmodern Jukebox YouTube channel that will appeal to you. With 350 videos to chose from to date and a new upload each week, PMJ covers an incredible amount of content. Several of their albums have even made a splash on the jazz and independent album charts, which very few cover groups manage to achieve.
Whatever is next for the group is likely to be big, as their fanbase continues to grow. Whether the future consists of more tours or more famous collaborations, PMJ seems to have every intention of staying true to their original goal: to make high quality music with outstanding talent.