Water, fire, air and dirt / Fuckin’ magnets, how do they work?
In 2010, the horrorcore rap duo Insane Clown Posse commemorated the three-disc “Nuclear Edition” of their album Bang! Pow! Boom! A blog post on their site at the time promised fans tons of special content and extras, including “TWO bangin’ music videos from the Insane Clown Posse! The first is the hot joint ‘In Yo’ Face’ which is that classic Insane Clown Posse wicked shit right there. You’ll also get to gander at the ‘Miracles’ music video!”
For Paul Andresen, a longtime collaborator and the director of both videos, “In Yo Face” had more potential as a single. It was classic ICP, with the kind of music and imagery that the group’s fans, the Juggalos, had come to love and expect. He told the group to put more money into “In Yo’ Face” because “Miracles,” the alternative, “was so odd. It was kind of ballad-y, it was sort of heartfelt.” But as it turned out, the audience for the release was broader than just ICP’s core audience, and they had other ideas.
When “Miracles” went live on April 6, 2010 — ten years ago this past Monday — it was met with a loud and enthusiastic “What?” by pretty much everyone who came across the clip. It immediately went viral. ICP had long been reviled and treated as something of a joke by the mainstream music industry since the 1990s, and now the two white rappers that performed in demonic clown makeup had made a trippy music video about the beauty of nature, the mysteries of the universe, and the unknowable truth of how magnets work. The website Videogum described it as “cramazing,” which is a maybe-ironic combo of “crazy” and “amazing.”
The song, as Andresen recalled, has its genesis in a story recounted in the lyrics. “I fed a fish to a pelican at Frisco bay / It tried to eat my cell phone, he ran away,” Violent J raps. From there, the song runs through other “miracles,” including hereditary genetics, the pyramids, giraffes, and rainbows. All of these things represent, as Shaggy 2 Dope puts it, “pure motherfuckin’ magic.”
“Miracles” was propelled online by the novelty of its visuals and its wide-eyed sincerity about the mundane, which its audience read ironically. “The reaction to that video was sort of insane,” Andresen said. “This was sort of the dawn of YouTube, I believe. It had like 15 million hits.” YouTube had been around for a few years at that point, and had plenty of viral hits, but “Miracles” was a sea change.
It was a watershed moment for internet culture, the sort of meme with real staying power even a decade later, and a precursor to music videos that rise to prominence by confounding and confusing their audience. Two years later, “Gangnam Style” would become the most-watched YouTube video, and music videos continue to leap-frog each other on their way up the YouTube ranks (“See You Again,” “Despacito,” and so on). Internet culture now chews up and spits out fodder at hyperspeed, but “Fuckin’ magnets, how do they work?” will persist forever.
When “Miracles” took off, it did so on an internet that was still insular, that had not yet fully been invaded by normies and locals yet. It’s easy to imagine the music video, were it to be released now, being celebrated by Facebook boomers and Upworthy-like media operations for its positive outlook. A music video about the simple wonders of the world might play a little differently in the spring of 2020 than it did a decade earlier. The jarring juxtaposition of aggro killer clowns with rainbows and flowers was tailor-made to confuse and delight.
In 2010 though, a time when Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s scientific pedantry was still cool, it was ridiculed at length: for its lack of scientific literacy, for its inane lyrics, and for its syrupy sweetness. At the same time, the music video and the song evoked a naive curiosity that is still prevalent all over the web, though in a more self-aware form, like Reddit’s r/ShowerThoughts, a database of faux-profound epiphanies that people had in the shower. (“If your shirt isn’t tucked into your pants, then your pants are tucked into your shirt.”)
“The music video is not merely dumb, but enthusiastically dumb, endorsing a ferocious breed of ignorance that can only be described as militant,” the vlogger Zinnia Jones said in a breakdown of “Miracles” shortly after it debuted.
“Maybe we were a little loose with the word, ’cause everyone seems to pick on the fact that a lot of the things we mention are not, in fact, miracles,” Violent J told Vulture shortly after the video blew up. “But they’re totally missing the point of the song: It’s just about appreciating those things.”
“Have you ever stood next to an elephant, my friend?” Violent J responded to Jones’s video in a fall 2010 profile in the Guardian. “A fucking elephant is a miracle. If people can’t see a fucking miracle in a fucking elephant, then life must suck for them, because an elephant is a fucking miracle. So is a giraffe.”
Online, users seem to regard Juggalos as a subculture much in the same way they regard furries. The Faygo-shooting rap-rock fans are viewed with mocking scorn from afar, but even those detractors can admit the strong community that Juggalos sustain. “Miracles” kickstarted a fascination with Juggalos that had already been percolating for years, including an obsession with the long-form infomercials that music label Psychopathic Records would put out every year for the Gathering of the Juggalos music festival.
The lineup videos were a fascination of Saturday Night Live writer Mike O’Brien, who lampooned the Juggalo affectation in multiple sketches and parodied “Miracles” on an April 17, 2010 episode hosted by Ryan Phillippe. Phillippe and cast member Bobby Moynihan performed “Magical Mysteries” as the “Thrilla Killa Klownz,” raising important questions like “Are children small, or just far away?” (In other SNL Juggalo videos, Moynihan plays a character named Ass Dan.)
“It’s been ten years?!” Moynihan said when reached by phone this week. “That’s the worst thing I’ve heard in a long time.”
“I think that ‘Magnets, how do they work?’ got passed around so much as just a weird thing to say that and it was very topical at the time, and Mike was super into them. So we got lucky enough to make that weird video,” Moynihan said, adding that Phillippe was in on the joke. “The hard part was we’re both rap fans, so we wanted to rap good. But then the whole point is, you know, it’s supposed to be funny.”
The influence of “Miracles” appeared again years later, during the climax of the Lonely Island’s 2016 mockumentary, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. In the song “Incredible Thoughts,” the trio review through mind-blowing concepts like “What if a garbage man was actually smart?” and “To a dog, dog food is just food.”
Ten years ago, “Miracles” was a unifying force on the internet. It hit a sweet spot where everyone could laugh at it and also acknowledge that they didn’t really know how magnets worked either (something with polarity, I think). It was an Earth-shifting hate-watch that could only have been pulled off by the Insane Clown Posse, a duo that had already taken its fair share of grief.
“Even though they’re sort of a very underground phenomena, I think they always sort of wanted to be part of the mainstream a little bit — just a little bit — to put their toe in it every now and then. So they were thrilled,” Andresen said. Long before mainstream artists realized the impact of a YouTube smash (and the Billboard charts started counting those streams in their chart tabulations) and before TikTok let anyone mix sincerity and irony with popular music, ICP did it first. Arguably, they did it best. “The entire music industry went into the shitter. And yet, here is the most reviled band in America, and they’re still standing.”