The Death Waltz… was NOT the Death Waltz.
This debacle was one of the dumbest things to ever come into internet lore. One of my favorite examples of the stupid viral memetics of our fast-paced culture over the past ten years.
Have you heard of the Tragedy of Flandre Scarlet the Wise?
It’s a story the mainstream media wouldn’t tell you… mostly because it’s really stupid.
But your decadal guide Thedude3445 shall tell it to you.
First, it started with weird Japanese shit.
Death Waltz: The Japanese Shit
See, there’s this series of shoot’em-up PC games made by one Japanese guy ZUN, called the Touhou Project. It was really niche for a long time, but in Japanese internet circles it REALLY exploded in the mid-2000s for reasons we won’t get into. Basically the entire setup is, cute anime girls (and ONLY girls) shoot each other with magic beams and, uh, that’s it. The fans make up the rest.
It was a REALLY big fandom back in the day. Animations like this were very popular and very common:
(You are going to be so confused by this and what it has to do with Death Waltz, so just try to follow along and accept it all at face value.)
One of the most popular characters is Flandre Scarlet. She’s a crazy vampire girl who is the sister to the villain of the sixth game. A secret super tough boss. And she’s got a really good theme song:
For some reason it’s titled “U.N. Owen Was Her?,” but nobody knows why. Just… accept it.
One of the best parts of Touhou is the music. The wacky character designs are cool, and the games are fun, but the MUSIC? It’s so good! It was so good that the music itself became a source of memery.
And, if you remember anything about 00s memes, you’ll know that they got… Well…
I miss these times, kind of. But also I hate them.
The Impossible Song
Thanks to the music and the memes, Touhou started to seep into Western internet culture, too. 4chan, the gateway between Japan and the West, spread it very far and very quickly. Soon, this McDonald’s Ran Ran Ru video became a gigantic hit completely even independently of Touhou itself.
About this time, the “piano roll” meme had also become popular. People would upload impossible-to-play songs into automatic piano playing software, then the MIDI track would go automatically. Perfect for Youtube, because you could create really complex songs and visually show just how crazy it was. People even used the MIDI overload to create brand new musical styles, where the multi-layered sounds would create an interesting laser-like effect.
Here’s one song that does exactly that:
People really liked this stuff! And people also tried playing these types of “impossible” songs, adapted, on actual pianos as well. So many Youtube channels were based around insane piano covers!
Then, in 2010, something stupid happened.
In March 2010, according to Know Your Meme at least (the original was deleted), an unassuming video popped up, titled “John Stump Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz.”
It’s very impressive that this person could play the song at such high speeds apparently without even any sheet music.
This, as you may recall from a second ago, is EXTREMELY similar to “UN Owen Was Her?” on piano. This ain’t no Death Waltz.
So… What the hell is “Death Waltz?”
Well, “Death Waltz” is actually a completely different song altogether. It’s actually an older joke, a piece of sheet music that’s absolutely impossible to play. Luckily, that sheet music has been scanned and put in a piano roll for us to hear:
A completely different song!
The person who made this video mislabeled it for reasons unknown, and the popularity sent misinformation SKYROCKETING.
Let me trace you through the steps:
How We Got to Death Waltz:
First, start with “UN Owen Was Her?” and go from there. Ignore Ronald McDonald.
Well, like all Touhou songs, it got a billion remixes, such as this one:
It’s a LITTLE different from the original, but still overall the same thing.
Then, a piano MIDI version of this song was made in that “impossible piano song” craze. Here is a newer version of the same MIDI:
The uploader of the live piano playing, the Death Waltz one, did a real-life cover of this MIDI version of the remix of “UN Owen Was Her?” but mislabeled it.
Because the songs sounded slightly differently, though, people wondered if it was just a coincidence. It speaks to musical illiteracy that people wondered this, but I digress. The songs were just different enough that people suddenly though that “Death Waltz” was this fast-paced action song rather than an unplayable joke song.
So we go from “Video game song” to “Remix song” to “Remix song MIDI” to “Live cover of MIDI” to instant misconceptions everywhere.
And, a decade later, these misconceptions STILL EXIST!
It is NOT Death Waltz
The original piano cover and then the ridiculous MIDI verisons became so popular on Youtube that they completely took over in musical communities. Its status as an “impossible song” became legendary.
Soon, people completely divorced from nerd communities were uploading their own covers. And of course, they were always mislabeled:
All of these songs, specifically, were remixes of the cover, not the original version. So they have a distinct flavor that makes them quite different than a normal “UN Owen Was Her?” arrangement would have been.
Soon enough, people discovered the truth that “Death Waltz” was actually some dumb video game song, and most people changed their video titles—but not everyone. Over time, people started labeling every single version to have BOTH names, to the point that they are synonymous.
With a title as nonsensical as “UN Owen Was Her?” it makes sense. Maybe some people thought “Death Waltz” was the English translation or something? I don’t know. But either way, it stuck for good. Soon enough, just like the Street Sharks Lie, “Death Waltz” became a new truth.
The Touhou Fandom
Besides the Bad Apple video, the entire “Death Waltz” video and its bizarre mystery unraveling was my sole exposure to the Touhou fandom for many years. I didn’t really care about the game, but the absolutely bizarre events that caused this song to appear? That was amazing even back then.
Later, I played some of the Touhou games and got a little bit into the scarily passionate fandom. But the “Death Waltz” storyline remains my most prominent memory.
I actually referenced this event in a 2013 one-shot fan fiction about Touhou. A good chunk of the story is just jokes about Flandre Scarlet.
The Touhou fandom isn’t that active anymore, which is ironic since its games have actually officially released in the West. But the “Death Waltz” sensation lives on and will do so for many decades to come.
Did you like this post? If so, please check out my essay on the Poison of Easy Research. It’s directly related to this phenomenon of blatant misinformation spreading like really tasty peanut butter.
Also, if any of the video links above aren’t working, please tell me! Because the internet is not permanent, and I suspect many of these videos will be deleted in the next few years.