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The Brilliantly Metafictional Use of Blue's Traveler's 'Hook' in the 'Poker Face' Finale

By Dustin Rowles | TV | March 10, 2023 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | March 10, 2023 |


When people ask me what my all-time favorite song is, I’m not the guy who says, “Oh, there’s too many to choose from. I can’t possibly pick!” My answer is always, “Hook,” by Blues Traveler, not because it’s the best-sounding song in the world (although, it’s great) or because I have some great emotional attachment to it. I love “Hook” because I think it’s the smartest song that has ever been written. I’ve written about it before, and spoken about it on the podcast, as well.

All of which is to say: You have no idea how gleeful I was when Benjamin Bratt’s character in Poker Face worked the lyrics to “Hook” (also the name of the episode) into a monologue in the season finale. I do wonder, however, whether Rian Johnson and Co. really understand what the song is about, because its use in the episode — to try and create a tone that is “funny, but it’s also frightening,” according to co-showrunner Lilla Zuckerman — is not exactly in keeping with the message of the song.

Creator Rian Johnson, who wrote the finale, had a different explanation for the use of the song. “The whole episode is kinda about the format of the show, and the addictive little hooks in life that pull us into situations,” Johnson explained to THR via email. “These catchy little tunes, hip three-minute ditties — that also describes each episode of Poker Face … So, using the episode to look at the format of the show and the actual effects on Charlie’s life being caught in that seemed interesting.”

That’s more in line with John Popper’s original meaning, but not quite. The song is about selling out. Specifically, it’s about selling out to a kind of algorithm. It’s not about making something good or important, it’s about mindlessly giving the audience what it wants based on what the audience’s mind has been conditioned to love. It’s literally Pachelbell’s “Canon,” and the greatest genius of “Hook” is that the song itself is a sell-out. Popper is telling the listener that his song is crap, that he’s only giving us what we want to hear, and that we’re too dumb to tell the difference.

It doesn’t matter what I say
So long as I sing with inflection
That makes you feel I’ll convey
Some inner truth or vast reflection
But I’ve said nothing so far
And I can keep it up for as long as it takes

He’s saying he could spew a bunch of nonsense words, and it wouldn’t matter what he said, because it’s the hook — the jingle, the pop ditty — that will catch in your mind and stay for days. He doesn’t even mean what he’s saying:

I am being insincere
In fact I don’t mean any of this

Popper has written the perfect algorithmic pop song and he knows that MTV will play it, even though he’s using it to mock the kind of sh*t that MTV was playing at the time:

What you’re doing to me, this MTV is not for free
It’s so PC it’s killing me

This is not about craft or creativity. There is no luck involved. It’s cynical kowtowing to the algorithm.

And when I’m feeling stuck and need a buck
I don’t rely on luck because
The hook brings you back

It’s the greatest fuck-you metafictional song in the history of music — I wanna bust all your balloons I wanna burn all your cities to the ground — it’s the close-up magic of songs — suck it in suck it in suck it in — and he’s Babe Ruth telling us he’s going to hit a home run. He is snowing us, telling us that you will love this song, that it will get stuck in your head for days, that you are powerless to stop it.

Because that hook brings you back
I ain’t tellin’ you no lie
The hook brings you back
On that you can rely

It’s brilliant, but the real relationship it has to Rian Johnson and Poker Face is that the series — brilliant as it is — is packaged and sold to us by combining ingredients that are proven to work: The murder, the high-concept, the resolution, only instead of being set to “Pachelbel” it’s set to an equally effective work: “Columbo.” He doesn’t need “luck.” Rian Johnson is giving us exactly what we want — 55-minute murder-mystery ditties — and he’s getting paid a f**king fortune to do it.