Filk 101: An Introduction

What is Filk? In lieu of trying to effectively explain it myself, I will shamelessly steal from the guy who literally wrote his thesis on this:

What is filk? Hard question.

Easy answer: the folk music of the science fiction fandom.

Thing is, it doesn’t always sound like folk music, and it’s not even close to all about science fiction. We’ve got singers and rappers, guitarists and accordion players, keyboardists and bodhran-wielders. We’ll take sad songs about space and ballads from the back pages of Mercedes Lackey novels, songs that are strings of innuendo based on Star Trek, songs about gaming, politics, Shakespeare, Kipling, cats, escapism. Songs to the tune of one song, referencing three more songs, making jokes about a sci-fi convention that happened back in the 60’s and speculating about the future of space travel. It’s music fit for Dothraki; it takes what it likes and goes where it will–but it has also become the bardic historian of fandom, and it’s one of the most inclusive and accepting musical traditions of Western civilization. We want you, your three banjo chords, and your truth. And by “truth,” I mean excess emotions about comic books.

On that note, I tried to make a single introductory playlist full of filk classics to educate the uninitiated.

I failed.

The genre is just too diverse to fit on a single mix. So, instead, have four playlists that attempt to introduce this wonderfully weirdass genre. They’re vaguely sorted by theme. I’ve included a mix of old and new filk on each; some “classic” songs that have endured from fandom days of yore, and some more recent music that I think will end up becoming classics for the filkers of the future. 

I’d like to emphasize that these mixes are by no means comprehensive; there’s lots of stuff I wanted to include but just couldn’t fit. I highly encourage people to go explore more after listening.

Here are the sections [full track lists are under a cut, because otherwise this post would be WAY too long]

Unit 1: Parody Everything

Parody is a central theme of filk. There’s a piece of media we like? We make fun of it. There’s a song we like? We make fun of that. There’s a filk song we like? We write yet another filk song to make fun of that.

Unit 2: SPACE!

Filk is obsessed with space travel both fictional and real. Some of the saddest filk songs (referred to as “ose,” derived from the pun “ose, ose, and morose”) are songs set in space. As well as some of the funniest songs. For whatever reason, there are far fewer songs that fall between those categories, so I apologize in advance for any emotional whiplash. I tried my best.

Unit 3: This Is What Happens When You Let Fantasy Novelists Write Music

This tradition began with Mercedes Lackey, who published songs in the backs of many of her novels. A lot of filk is rooted in the fantasy genre, and a bunch of songs are short stories in their own right.

Unit 4: Revenge of the Fairytale Princesses

From the beginning, filk has had a strong feminist bent. One way it manifests is in songs reinterpreting classic female characters or archetypes.

Track lists under the cut…

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