Beck’s hit single, Loser, is the unlikely song that launched him into stardom. The 90s anthem struck a chord with burnouts and Billboard chart-toppers alike.
But was this Grammy Award-winning artist actually referring to himself?
In this deep dive, we’ll get to the bottom of who Beck’s Loser really is.
Let’s get into it!
Who Originally Wrote Loser?
Born Bek David Campbell, Beck comes from a long line of artists and musicians. His mother was a musician, actor, and Andy Warhol protege, and his father was a composer. They lived in low-income, predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles and often struggled to make ends meet.
Beck dropped out of high school after his junior year and worked a string of menial jobs. He started playing guitar at 16 and bounced between New York City, Los Angeles, and his grandmother’s home in Kansas.
In 1991, Beck returned to LA after a rough period of homelessness in NYC. He began playing music as frequently as possible. He often improvised absurd lyrics or broke into dance to keep his audience’s attention.
This tactic proved successful when producer Tom Rothrock took notice. Rothrock introduced Beck to Carl Stephenson (also known as Karl Stephenson). Stephenson was a producer with Rap-A-Lot Records and worked with hip-hop artists like the Ghetto Boys and MC Skat Kat. He was also a founding member of the trip-hop band Forest for the Trees.
Beck and Stephenson soon began collaborating. One of these sessions would give rise to Beck’s now-famous original hit, Loser.
Was Beck Referencing Himself in Loser?
While writing and recording with Stephenson, Beck played a few songs in his unique, folky hip-hop style. While Stephenson was impressed with Beck’s talent and alt-rock flair, he was no fan of the artist’s attempt at rapping.
Embarrassed by this hip-hop flop, Beck belted out his iconic lyrics, “I’m a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me.”
The rap gaff inspired Beck to finally write a song that had bounced around in his head for years. Stephenson looped an existing slide guitar riff of Beck’s, layered it with a drum beat, and tied it together with his sitar sample.
Beck wrote the lyrics as a poem, and the song came together in about six hours.
Speculation has swirled around the deeper meaning behind Loser. Some believe it’s a nod to the slacker culture of Generation X. Others see it as self-deprecating indulgence. But Beck maintains that the song is nothing more than a jab at his own abysmal rap skills.
Did Beck Make a Music Video for Loser?
The music video for Loser is just as bizarre as the song’s lyrics. Steve Hanft produced the video and initially requested a mere $300 budget from Bong Load Records.
They filmed throughout California, shooting footage such as a stop-motion coffin, a pair of teenagers dancing in a graveyard, and a grim reaper washing a car windshield with blood.
In a 1994 interview with Option, Beck stated, “We weren’t making anything slick – it was deliberately crude. You know?”
The footage sat untouched for months while Beck negotiated a new deal. Eventually, he left Bong Load for Geffen Records. This afforded the team an additional $14,000 to remaster the video.
Who Has Covered Loser?
Beck and Stephenson never predicted how massively popular Loser would become. Dozens of artists would go on to cover the song, and we’ve picked a few of our favorites to show you.
SKAndalous All-Stars recorded an upbeat version of Loser on their 1997 album ‘Hit Me.’
This rendition brings an air of levity to the song. Spoken-word vocals replace Beck’s mock-rap delivery. While the joyful background of trumpets and trombones belie the sulky lyrics.
Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine
In 2002, Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine released their swing-style cover. Piano riffs and Cheese’s smooth, sultry voice make this lounge music version nearly unrecognizable.
Some followers of Richard Cheese tout this version as “far superior” to the original. However, we think it’s tough to compare the two as their styles are so wildly different.
Self-proclaimed “Country Trash Punk Rock” band, The BossHoss, released their cover in 2005. Twangy vocals and electric guitar make this German group’s American cowboy aesthetic nearly palpable.
This is a fun take on the original song. But the quick tempo, complex instrumentals, and Euro-Southern parody accents make this rendition a bit hard to process.
If you’ve never heard the original version, this one might leave you thinking, “Wait, is this song about termites?”
What is Beck Doing Now?
In recent years, Beck has been as prolific as ever.
He released a collaborative album, Hyperspace, with fellow Grammy Award winner Pharrell Williams in 2019. The two had repeatedly crossed paths over the years. Each time, Williams would suggest collaborating.
In an interview with The Sun, Beck described feeling intimidated by working with such a notable artist, saying, “For a lot of years, I didn’t know if I could pull it off”.
Eventually, the two joined forces. The result was a nod to the new cultural landscape brought about by technology.
Beck is set to wrap up the last leg of his current tour in April 2023. He’ll play three shows throughout Australia, followed by a final performance at the High Water Festival in South Carolina.
Who is Really the Loser Here?
Beck has come a long way from his humble roots in the barrios of Los Angeles. Ironically, his hit, Loser, marked the turning point in his life from teenage burnout to world-renowned artist.
Ultimately, we think the sample used in Loser’s break was prophetic for Beck: “I’m a driver, I’m a winner. Things are gonna change, I can feel it.”