Esteemed blogger Andy Von Pip submits his first column for GIITTV under the title: “the catcher in the Zeitgeist”
The Double Edge Sword Of Being A Blog Buzz Artist
It’s an indisputable fact that the music industry has struggled to cope and adapt to the seismic empire levelling changes brought on by the digital age. Their initial reaction was to adopt a mode known in trade as “complete balls-out panic” which involved issuing threats and lashing out indiscriminately at anybody who threatened to upset the status quo. They even tried, like some crazed modern day King Canute, to ban the actual internet. This of course only served to further alienate many music fans, who, tired of paying extortionate CD prices, grew even more determined to ‘stick it to the man.’ But the major labels (at least those who are slightly forward thinking) have softened their approach, and whilst they still don’t appear to have a cohesive digital strategy they are starting to appreciate the benefits of engaging with fans and music bloggers and have realised the influence of the traditional music press is well and truly on the wane. Despite Kristy Murrison’s best attempts to re-launch the NME as credible music paper after previous editor Conor McNicholas’ woeful tenure the fact remains that the NME at its popular zenith sold 180,000 copies per week and now limps along with a meagre 35,000 sales per week. Labels are now wisely wooing influential websites and bloggers and often launch PR campaigns describing their latest hopefuls as “new Blog sensations” whilst trumpeting the fact that their artists” DIY” youtube videos have “gone viral.” The truth is despite Andrew Marr’s somewhat acidulous assertions that bloggers are in general “socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother’s basements ranting” that it’s the blogs and zines that are increasingly discovering some of the most interesting and innovative new music way ahead of the big boys.
Of course positioning your artist in the unforgiving blogosphere spotlight also means you are placing them in the firing line and, in a sense relinquishing control, as blogs can be notoriously difficult to manipulate. You therefore must employ more subtle, slightly Machiavellian techniques lest the oh-so predictable “blog backlash” develops too early in your PR campaign. Ideally you’d want the inevitable backlash to build after your artist has enjoyed a degree of success, appeared on Jools possibly and embedded themselves in the public consciousness with round the clock plays on national radio. And if there’s one thing hipster bloggers hate more than mainstream music, it’s success! It’s like so uncool… Eventually information will “emerge” like an insidious whisper that this hot new D.I.Y. star is maybe not all they claim to be. The first phase is normally marked by spluttering indignation as puce-faced bloggers realise they have been duped by ‘big music’ and fallen for it’s clever guerrilla marketing.
The backlash will move swiftly on to the next phase, that of questioning an artist’s “authenticity” whilst accusing them of being a sell out “I mean she recorded her single in a studio, with like, musicians, and instruments and even a PRODUCER- I mean-what a fake “ Sadly it’s female artists who are singled out for some particularly vile and vitriolic abuse. There is nothing more fearsome than the wrath of a geek scorned.
Sandi Thom is the first example I can recall in which bloggers described her in rapturous terms as a “genuine internet sensation” and “the next big thing” whilst huge play was made of her nightly webcasts beamed live from her humble basement studio, located somewhere in near DIY Bohemia, Wanksville which had apparently attracted 100,000 visitors and led to a major record deal. Only problem was none of this was strictly true, but why let facts get in the way of an internet fairy story? Upon investigation the figures were found to be spurious at best and Ms Thom was actually already part of the music industries oily marketing machine having signed to a well connected publisher some six months previous. How ‘Big music’ must have chuckled into their champagne flutes as bloggers went apoplectic after falling into their carefully constructed trap. However the biggest problem, which became glaringly apparent was the simple fact that actually Ms Thom was, well, a bit crap really.
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Which leads us on to this year’s “blog sensation” Lana Del Rey. Vaunted by many blogs as being the real deal, she soon stood accused of not only being a construct of a clever PR campaign on behalf of major label music, but shock horror, of having a major make over. Once a struggling singer who lived in a trailer park ( yeah, yeah) performing under the decidedly un-starry name of Lizzy Grant, Ms Del Rey has attracted some particularly nasty comments from the sort of sites that actually do conform to Andrew Marr’s blogging stereotype. Take the woefully piss poor Hipster Runoff, a kind of (even) low(er) rent indie Perez Hilton which makes the Sun newspaper read like Tolstoy. In its poorly researched, badly written article which many now accept as being an unassailable truth it accuses her of ‘tricking the indie blogosphere’ and asks hilariously facile questions which get incrementally more hysterical as the article progresses such as ‘is any blog that hypes her’ totally inauthentic?’ You can almost visualise the authors head exploding “Scanners” style when he’d finished typing. It also provides pictures of young Lizzy allegedly “canoodling with industry insiders” although the authenticity of this claim (and authenticity seems to be something Hipster Jerk off takes very seriously-when it suits) has recently been challenged with the assertion that these photos are actually of Lizzy with, wait for it, her Mum and Dad! “Oh you sell out you have parents? that is like, so bogus !” But really some people need get over themselves , this whole ‘my music is more authentic than yours’ debate allied to the tiresome blog one up-man ship ‘I discovered her before you’ is pretentious in excelsis and also very, very fucking boring. As is the issue of whether Del Rey has had any ‘enhancements’ whilst undergoing a make –over, which is again debatable, but is evidenced as proof by her critics, as a physical manifestation of her overall fakeness. Let’s face the reality – all great pop music cloaks itself in a degree of artifice and authenticity is actually often just another marketing tool used to target a certain musical demographic. Lizzy Grant was given an opportunity and took it, can we really blame her? Are we really concerned if she’s had a little ‘work done’ anymore than we give two shits about the bruised egos of a group of pretentious indie bloggers who feel duped and now regard her as an industry insider and therefore their sworn enemy . I could care less.
At the end of the day Lizzy Grant is doing exactly what the likes of Stefani Germanotta , David Jones and dare we mention him, Paul Gadd et all have done before her and adopted a stage personae, and let’s face it, Lana Dey Rey is a fucking great name for a singer. Then there’s the prickly question of female empowerment – whereas Gaga’s semi nude frolicking is seen as the ultimate expression of strong powerful female sexuality by the pine nut and sun-dried tomato brigade and Rhianna who regularly dry humps furniture and deep throats bananas is considered a role model, Del Rey’s pouting languid, slightly acquiescent femme fatale shtick has apparently set the feminist movement back 30 years! Obviously women are only allowed to sexy if it’s done with a degree of cartoon irony or has them cast as a dominatrix these days. This has the added bonus of enabling The Guardian to go all “Pseuds Corner “ and intellectualise it and thus elevate crap Euro disco and soulless R n ‘B into something so much more profound than the sum total of its parts.
The strange thing about the whole Del Rey backlash is that most people don’t seem to have a problem with the actual music; with criticism tending to focus on how she’s been presented to the world and depressingly her looks. Would a man have the same judgements and insults hurled at him? I’m certainly not naive enough to believe the maxim ‘only the music should matter’ is some sort of “one -size- fits- catch- all,” our relationship with music and indeed fandom is often much more complex an issue to be summed up in a blithe phrase. Other factors do effect our relationship with music, for example, imagine if we discovered Billy Bragg was secretly a Tory, wouldn’t our emotional connection with his music wither and die forever no matter how good the songs might be? Ultimately it depends on your own definition of what actually is artistic credibility and if that even matters to you, but Del Rey is no political artist and as such there comes a point when you must ask yourself -is this bad art, or is this good art ? Does it stand on its own two feet; indeed does it add value to your existence? From what I’ve heard so far the latter defiantly applies and Ms Del Rey has it all to play for in 2012. Personally I hope she comes up with a blinding debut but sadly I’m sure there are already scribes out there preparing to dip their pen in vitriol, having already made the decision to slate the album whatever it sounds like. Which when you think about it, isn’t really very authentic either is it ?