Charting The Demise Of Rilo Kiley, One Inch Of Miniskirt Fabric At A Time

jennylewis.jpgRilo Kiley remains an all-time favorite band. But their latest album, Under the Blacklight, broke my spirit. Where was the bittersweet loneliness? Where were the trademark prickly-yet-vulnerable lyrics? All the essential elements of Rilo Kiley were absent. In my initial stages of grief, I just drove around listening to their first two albums, wallowing in the past. But then I got to thinking, what’s behind this woeful nosedive in quality? Could it have been the switch to a major label? Lack of creative focus? Finally I landed on an answer: pants. More specifically, the length of Jenny Lewis’s pants and skirts.

There may have been other factors involved, but I concluded that pants were indeed the major underlying cause. As a long-time fan I’ve witnessed several fashion phases of the band, the most prominent of which has been Jenny’s gravitation towards hot pants. At first this was badass: sexually confident, stylish in an ugly kind of way. As long as the music was good, I’d have accepted bright green leotards, leopard print halters, anything at all.

But as soon as Under the Blacklight soured their charm for me, I became suspicious of the hot pants. Logic tells me that if something bad happens at the same time change occurs, then this change is directly to blame. Therefore what defeated Rilo Kiley was not “stylistic evolution,” but rather an article of clothing. The following graph illustrates my point:


Keep in mind that this is a very general representation of the decline. In reality, 2002 to 2003 would be on level with, if not above 2001, but that’s a different post entirely. To further illustrate my point, here are samples of their music from each progression:

“Pictures of Success” from Take-Offs and Landings (2001):

“Capturing Moods” from The Execution of All Things (2002):

Side note: this is a great fan vid!

“Does He Love You?” from More Adventurous (2004):

“The Moneymaker” from Under the Blacklight (2007):

Clearly something has gone wrong. Whether pants are truly to blame is debatable. But you have to admit, the correlation is eerie.

  • Anonymous Communist

    Pardon my idiocy, but is that the girl from the Fred Savage-plays-Nintendo movie from back in the day?

  • Ned Raggett

    Kate: plz to pitch as EMP presentation. (Admittedly I’m not sure how it will work with the conflict/confrontation theme; also I admit to worrying that many persons would simply want to show up to see big video projections of Jenny L. in hotpants.)

  • Fraid

    @Anonymous Communist: yes yes yes.

  • ascot-revival

    More flow charts, please!

  • Rabi

    I blame Blake Soper. Oops! I mean Sennett.

  • erik

    That is the infographic I’ve been waiting for my whole life.

  • Anonymous

    My theory is Jenny wants to tank the band so she can just focus on her solo career. Rabbit Fur Coat was miles better than Under the Blacklight.

  • kristina

    Another strong music lady falls victim to the “Butterfly” effect.

  • Bob Loblaw

    Bonus points: their “bread and cheese” MTV promo.
    Minus bonus points: their “Blackberries take you out of the moment, maaaaan” promo.

  • El Zilcho!

    Sigh. “Under The Blacklight” didn’t hit me on the first few listens. Then I thought I was warming up to it. And then it started to feel flat. Bums me out, cause I really wanted to like it.

    That said, I don’t have a problem with Jenny Lewis wearing tiny tiny skirts. But if it truly affects the music, I beg you Jenny, put on some pants.

  • Moff

    While I think your hypothesis may have some validity to it, Kate, I have to say that as someone who was never interested in Rilo Kiley beyond thinking “Portions for Foxes” was a pretty good song (and I still feel this way, having now taken some time to explore the back catalog), Under the Blacklight is easily one of my favorite albums of the year. Poppy! Succinct! Reasonably thematically consistent!

    The reaction from the Rilo rank and file does not surprise me, however, having lived through the much bloodier Achtung Baby wars of ’91-’92.

  • Mike P.

    I think you’re really onto to something here, but I have one caveat. The Execution of All Things is far and away their best album, so the decline is not a straight line in my mind.

    The sound of Under the Blacklight doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the fact they claimed it was an album about L.A. seediness, and failed to do anything interesting with that topic. It’s a shopworn theme, to be sure, but there’s still potential life in it.

  • tigerpop

    “Moneymaker” just sounds so contrived. If they’d done this on their last album, they’d be superstars–Franz Ferdinand was pretty popular in 2004.

  • Kate Richardson

    @Mike P.: I agree. I was just too lazy to get that detailed on the graph.

  • Al Shipley

    @kristina: No, The Butterfly Effect was a project of a different Boy Meets World bully, Ethan Suplee, not Blake Soper.

  • Rilo-Andy

    Hilarious blog post Kate! Unfortunately I think I’m in the minority when I say I loved “Under the Blacklight”. I really think it’s got some great stuff on it. I think it stems from no matter what she does, Jenny Lewis’ voice haunts me in a good way. I’ve listened to “More Adventurous” a billion times, and it’s still my favorite with “Take Offs and Landings” right behind it. Does this make me weird?

  • cockfightbarmitzvah

    I’d like to see a similar info graphic on the artistic decline of Hall & Oates as it correlates to the gradual shortening of Oates’ mustache.

  • musicquizking

    Say what you will about the new album being uneven but “Dreamworld” is a stellar song. It’s like a lost gem from the “Rumours” era of Fleetwood Mac.

  • tigerpop

    @cockfightbarmitzvah: Not to mention it’s eventual dismissal–a colleague of mine posited in a recent and somewhat negative, H&O review that Oates’ entire mojo was contained within that moustache.

  • tigerpop

    @cockfightbarmitzvah: Not to mention its eventual dismissal–a colleague of mine posited in a recent and somewhat negative, H&O review that Oates’ entire mojo was contained within that moustache.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with the correlation but I believe you have it backwards!

  • TheMojoPin

    I knew he was a smut star:


    That’s clearly a well thought out name. It’s no “Michael J. Cox,” but then again, what could be?

  • TheMojoPin

    That dude in the last video is totally a porn star. Like, seriously. My friend saw him in one just the day, I swear.

  • silkyjumbo

    @grandmoffbastard: I’m with you. Rilo Kiley just kind of bored me before, but what I’ve heard from this recent record I really enjoy.