From the Typewriters to the Social Media Titans
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Are Celebrities More Influential Tastemakers Than Traditional D.J.s/Journalists?
I was reading an article today…
IN THIS PHOTO: boygenius (Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker)/PHOTO CREDIT: Lera Pentelute
that posited a rather terrifying future. Mark Beaumont, writing for NME, observed how celebrities and the Instagram elite like Kendall Jenner are pushing a greater number of people towards new music. He observed how, when giving a shout-out to the splendid boygenius; the female trio increased their fanbase and a lot of Jenner’s followers were checking them out. I am not sure whether Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker are actually called ‘boygenius’ or it is their E.P. title but, in any case, let’s put semantics away and think about what Beaumont observed:
“At the very top of the pile (or thereabouts) sits Kendall Jenner, queen of vacuous celebrity-for-celebrity’s-sake culture and a selfless proponent of the millennial dream of becoming fabulously rich by having the best cheekbones on a shit TV show. Kendall’s the ultimate symbol of the blind devotion that’s now paid to the stunning yet pointless. Social media allows her followers to feel as though they’re somehow involved in her life, despite having the same level of personal, one-on-one relationship with her as I have with Pizza Hut’s monthly discount code generator.
Now we’re facing a future where individual A-list influencers like Jenner become out-of-control ultra-Peels. To be honest, part of me thinks that leaving Insta big-shots like Huda Kattan and Cristiano Ronaldo in charge of pop music can’t be any worse than the current algorithm system, which just gives you more and more of what you like already...
I’ve been experimenting with clicking endlessly on whatever video is ‘Up Next’ on my YouTube feed and it turns out I’m never more than five clicks away from a Muse video, usually via several screenings of ‘Fever’ by something called Balthazar, who have presumably shelled out the big bucks to clog up my internet feeds for the foreseeable future. It’s all further proof that entertainment technology is tantamount to cultural surveillance. The other day Spotify started playing Tony Orlando’s ‘Bless You’ when I sneezed, and I only had to mention to a work colleague that I was considering listening to the new Mumford & Sons album and suddenly Facebook started showing me adverts for Dignitas”.
I guess, from a purely mathematical and observational standpoint, if any big celebrity plugs an artist or suggests a brand then, soon enough, people will flock that way. There is something obviously very controlling and inescapable about social media. I have never met Stephen Fry but love his work and, if on social media, he recommended eating a pinecone, I’d seriously have to hold myself back from having a nibble! In music terms, yeah, I am quite susceptible and malleable. I look out at music magazines and the traditional tastemakers and put them first but what is a big artist or celebrity tipped a new artist? If I trusted a celebrity and had no reason to doubt their recommendation then I would follow that tip.
IN THIS PHOTO: Kendall Jenner/PHOTO CREDIT: Gisela Schober/Getty Images
Those with millions and millions of followers can make an artist with a single tweet or Instagram photo. It is scary to think how much power they wield but, as much as anything, it is the unreserved trust that followers hold – this sort of idol-worshipping culture where the likes of Kendall Jenner has countless teenagers idolising her and would do anything she says. I am not suggesting social media is a form of brainwashing but I also feel like, unheard, she could push a lot of people the way of certain artists. One might think that there is no issue. You are not forcing them to listen and people can make their own minds up; if they are good then you have done a great thing. The thing is the power that these big names have. Look at the likes of Jenner, Kim Kardashian and any number of celebrity vloggers, Instagram stars and YouTube icons and they have legions of fans. They can get online and post a comment; they can recommend musicians and have more sway than most of the D.J.s out there. One reason why I was caught by Beaumont’s theory and post was that notion: the fact we are seeing a break from the established tastemakers and a nudge to these Internet personalities. The nature of what a music journalist is right now is changing.
PHOTO CREDIT: @chrisspiegl/Unsplash
I have written pieces asking whether we still value the opinions of journalists and read critical reviews. Why read an album review by some broadsheet writer when we can go onto Spotify and listen to it ourselves?! Are we going to listen to a range of different tips and artist suggestions when this celebrity gives us the one name – and they have many more followers than all of those journos combined! We are relying more on our own opinions and the Internet as opposed the old guard of music D.J.s. Consider the iconic and peerless John Peel. During his lifetime, his radio show played host to hundreds of artists and his infectious personality and enthusiastic curiosity made us all feel we had this wise elder who knew the game and was giving us a rare insight into artists about to hit the big time. So many, myself included, revered the man and I discovered The White Stripes through him. He would receive records through the post and have a play – putting the ones he liked and felt has legs on his show. It was a ritual listening to him and hearing these artists perform for him. Now that radio is so widespread and music media is vast; do we ever really have the opportunity and time to focus on this all-conquering tastemaker? Do they even exist anymore?!
IN THIS PHOTO: John Peel/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/The John Peel Archive
I listen to certain D.J.s and tend to find I am more influenced by stations and publications rather than specific people. My own reviews and interviews attract some response and influence but I wonder how powerful my recommendations are. I think the times of the printed music press guiding our thoughts and stalwarts like Peel guiding our tastes are gone. I still think, mind, artists value the backing and guidance of ‘traditional’ channels – radio and music press – rather than these celebrity endorsements. I have just heard the BBC Radio 6 Music albums of 2018 rundown and their top album is IDLES’ Joy as an Act of Resistance. The band are honoured to receive that accolade and the relationship between radio and artists is pure. I am called a ‘tastemaker’ and there are some who follow my advice. I realise my scope and power is limited and do not have the same muscle and impact as big celebrities. Kendall Jenner is not the only Instagram star that is able to sway opinion and get a music act a swarm of new fans. The murky world of paid sponsorship; the link between brands and celebrities is nothing new. This article, from two years ago, looked at how it can be controversial when celebrities endorse products – and whether they are being paid:
“But the murky rules of the relatively new form of advertising means that many celebs and lesser known fitspo, foodie and fashion 'influencers' do not always make it plain when they've been paid to post…
FEMAIL caught up with the CEO of social media influencer app, TRIBE, Anthony Svirskis, to find out the dos and don'ts when it comes to making money from being a social influencer.
PHOTO CREDIT: @bneale87/Unsplash
According to the popular influencer app, TRIBE, posters are not required by law to disclose a sponsored post in Australia. However, TRIBE writes on their website that: 'We strongly recommend you do'.
The app's founders recommends adding #spon, as is the law in other countries including the US and UK, next to a photograph you have been paid to promote so that your followers can reasonably identify branded contact.
When it comes to some digital influencers, including the likes of fashion blogger, Chiara Ferragni from the Blonde Salad and celebrities such as Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez, their followings are higher than some of the biggest international publications.
The power of click-throughs from their Instagram promotions, from Coke to Calvin Klein, has never been stronger”.
There is the danger that artists, small or big, could find themselves paying big Instagram and social media stars to plug their music and pushing people their way. You get that problem with quality and whether financial profit is the motivator rather than genuine interest. Mark Beaumont, in his article, worried whether the lure of money and personal gain would be a bigger motivator than the music:
“At least influencers might plug something unpredictable or challenging. But since they’re all so buyable, I suspect we’ll see the high priority acts queuing up to pay their way into the latest industry fast-track, another way for the money men to secure the ramparts of success. And what of those with a tighter budget? Will the musical landscape become defined by the level of internet star each act can afford to endorse them? Will rising rock bands start bunging Scarlett Moffatt a couple of grand for an Insta shot in their T-shirt, in the hope it’ll get them enough exposure to land an afternoon slot at Bestival? Will glamorous pop hopefuls shove a monkey Piers Morgan’s way in return for a sexist diatribe about their naked poster campaign, thereby bagging five minutes on Graham Norton’s sofa?”
IN THIS PHOTO: John Peel/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/The John Peel Archive
I do like how the Internet allows for a broader conversation and greater choice but, when it comes to music, it should be kept away from paid hands and bigger stars. We might not have someone as titanic as John Peel helping us decide the good and long-lasting but there are some great radio stations and presenters who place the quality and originality of music above everything else. If you read the great music websites out there and have a solid rotation then you will get consensus and you’ll find people who are on your wavelength. Whilst somebody like Kendall Jenner might tip a great artist once in a while; I think there is that murkiness regarding paid promotion, the influence these huge stars have and how they can take power away from the more established and ‘proper’ critics. Some might argue everyone is entitled to their opinions and there is no real right or wrong but I do worry why certain stars are motivated to promote certain musicians. The fact boygenius might have gained a bigger push towards the mainstream because of Jenner suggests celebrity is more important than the music itself – even through their music is excellent. The biggest problem is how easy it would be for so-so artists to jump the queue and get to the mainstream quickly whereas someone decent who has been working for years does not have that advantage.
IMAGE CREDIT: NME/Getty Images
I am not so much worried about my position as a journalist and impact; how others – such as music websites and D.J.s – will be affected and whether they will lose influence. The problem revolves around the mega-stars who can make an artist so easily. You not only get this quick-fix-style career but the quality is questionable. This concern extends to products and businesses. Big musicians, celebrities and actors are using social media to plug who-knows-what and are getting paid to lend their voices to these companies. Music needs to be that safe and unpolluted industry where artists get where they want to head because of talent alone. I can see the temptation of paying an Instagram star for a boost or following the word of these stars but it is a rather unfair and singular opinion. What about the music press and listening to the voice of critics?! Even if you do not feel music critics hold as much relevance as years past, they have passion and work tirelessly to find the best music. Following the views and posts of your favourite star is alright but we can assume the more followers they have the better their music knowledge is. Confusing taste and genuine passion with popularity and celebrity is something that could threaten the role of critics in the future. I do not feel the traditional music journalist will be silenced and have a reduced role but cases where online stars have helped hugely boost an artist so easily makes me fearful...
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HOW we will view music tastemakers of the future.