What we don’t like about Lana isn’t entirely Lana’s fault. There’s no rags-to-riches story with her. She went to boarding school in Connecticut. Her rich father financed her early work. And I’m not sure what she was doing in Miami, L.A. or NYC, where she claims to have drawn so much inspiration, but I doubt she was waiting tables. Continue reading
When I was a kid, I was luckier than I imagined. For one, I lived in Germany’s mystical Black Forest. For most of the 10 years that we spent there, my mother worked at CFN-RFC, the TV and radio network … Continue reading
There’s no way to dress it up: I didn’t meet my father until I was 16 years old. Circumstances, more than anything else, had a hand in it. For most of my short life at that time, my father lived … Continue reading
Remember the ‘80s? Or rather, our once-collective hatred of the ‘80s? Then American Apparel came along and used that washed-out Polaroid aesthetic to sexify Flashdance shirts, and we bought it, along with some leggings and legwarmers. We thought, “okay, so … Continue reading
It’s impossible to visit a place like Liverpool and completely avoid the Beatles. Not that any of them live there anymore, but the little world that begat them still does.
On the thoroughly enjoyable Beatles taxi tour, our knowledgeable guide Kevin sometimes seemed embarassed to admit some of the trouble John Lennon got into. For a person who preached peace in his latter years, he sure was a little crap-disturber during part one.
Here are some of John Lennon’s most notable trespasses.
- When he was 5 years old, he was kicked out of school for punching a boy who suggested young Lennon’s mother was a harlot.
- Apparently, the punch was more like a straw; the last one, in fact. The school’s headmistress had long been seeking a final strike on little John’s record to put an end to his brand of schoolyard terror. Among his offenses were pulling girls’ braids, pushing schoolmates, and generally disrupting class. Again: he was only 5.
- When he was a little older, John Lennon was kicked out of the church choir for stealing money from the parish.
- He flunked out of the Arts College in part because of poor grades, but mostly because he kept skipping class to smoke pot in the alley. Sometimes he even smoked pot in class. To be fair, George and Paul were usually with him.
- He and soon-to-be-wife Cynthia Powell did the nasty on the cathedral grounds.
Before the Beatles, John Lennon formed a band called The Quarrymen, an allusion to the nearby quarry. I asked Kevin if our blue-collar hero had ever worked at the quarry. With his head down, Kevin humbly replied, “Sadly, no. Mr. Lennon wasn’t too keen on…labour.”
Who am I kidding? He’s still my favourite.
Look, I know this is a bit of a delayed reaction. In my defense, I’ve been seriously bogged down by things like packing as much of the life that I think I’m going to live in one year, in one and a half suitcases; followed by some serious vacationing in Florida with the in-laws and taking as much of this eternal sunshine in until circumstances take the husband unit and I to Europe for the next year.
This response has been brewing inside me all this time, and it hasn’t come out until now because I just haven’t had a moment to write it all down. Or at least, not to my liking.
I want to talk about an Internet campaign to beat that poor X-Factor kid in the charts by getting people to buy Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the name.” (To those who don’t know, you could say that X-Factor is the U.K. version of American Idol.) Much to my distaste, Tracy and Jon Morter, who started the campaign, were successful in their pursuit, and here’s why I think Rage are a bunch of phonies who duped the lot of you that helped them…
Here’s the thing, because there’s always a thing: no matter what your values may be – left-leaning or not – you can be sure that they’re for sale, somewhere, for a low price…maybe even at Wal-Mart in the music aisle (where, incidentally, you can purchase a censored copy of any Marilyn Manson album). You can be an advocate of anything Al Gore, and you might even argue that his filmed PowerPoint presentation passes as cinema. The point is that no matter how righteous you believe your opinion may be, you probably have it because at some point, it was bought and sold somewhere, which invariably made it available to a larger audience, who could then propagate that view and bring it to various discussions.
I’m not saying any of this to discourage people from having beliefs or aligning themselves with particular movements. I’m only trying to illustrate that any opinion, even a good one, is not something you acquire because you’re an original (keeping in mind that I don’t exclude myself from this equation). Ideas are formulated in a constant traffic of incoming and outgoing information, and somewhere in there, your own narrative is formed. That part of it is yours, but the things that feed it are borrowed from a bunch of borrowers. As a result, someone like Kurt Cobain would never have existed without an ample amount of exposure to things that he both liked and disliked. More importantly, he wouldn’t have been successful (to the extent that he was) without the support of a record label.
When the “Killing in the name” campaign was launched to boot X-Factor winner Joe McElderry off the number 1 spot in the U.K. singles chart, the motive was to challenge the hold Simon Cowell and his ilk have on the machine that manufactures things like “charts.” I know what you’re going to say: “but Rage said proceeds would go to a charity; but Rage is going to play a free concert in the U.K.” I get it! I’m just saying let’s call this what it is: free press. And with the amount of money Rage already has, it’s a lot like Angelina Jolie donating a cool million to World Vision when she’s worth 100 times that, isn’t it?
We can’t lose sight of who’s ultimately benefitting from this: Rage Against the Machine. Not you music lovers. Not Joe McElderry. And certainly not today’s alternative musicians, who didn’t get to cash in on the “alternative” movement of the early ’90s the way Rage did. And today’s alternative musicians who are musically talented – but not politically inclined – have to gain their acclaim in a way that’s much more organic than how it was done in those glorious early ’90s. They actually have to play live shows as much as they can (regardless of the venue size), they have to update their own Myspace page, they have to produce as much merchandise as they can because every little bit adds up (and might even pay for gas to get to the next show), and they actually have to reach out to their fans by personally answering e-mails and maintaining blogs and websites. Unless they have the great fortune of being featured in an iPod commercial, today’s alternative musicians develop their fan base in a way that’s probably to their disadvantage, though it’s nevertheless fair: democratically. Most don’t benefit from the marketing mechanics that drive label-backed artists, so they just do it all themselves, amassing fans that like what they do despite a lack of radioplay and advertising. And if these musicians eventually get signed, they still have to keep at it. Case in point: Lady Gaga.
Enter 18-year old Joe McElderry, this year’s X-Factor winner. Would he have been discovered at all without the aid of a singing competition? My guess is that he wouldn’t have, even though he has a beautiful voice. Having won X-Factor, what’s next for him is a lame pop record that’s sure to please teens and their grandmothers. At worst, he’ll be a one-hit wonder (a fate reserved for many singing competition winners). At best, he’s got 4 albums in him, followed by a stint on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here…
Between the two musical acts, I prefer Rage Against the Machine. But I also believe Joe McElderry needs his one-hit-wonder ride more than Rage needs to be on the charts. If anything, sentiments towards “the music industry” are misplaced, especially when Rage is brought into the discourse. In many ways, Rage are no different from Joe McElderry. Without a label, they would never have reached the level of fame that afforded them their fortune (thus allowing them to play free shows). While they don’t have to look like polished pop idols as do most X-Factor winners, you can bet they work just as hard at maintaining their fist-raising revolutionary image. And for alleged leftists, they sure didn’t mind profiting from Che Guevara’s effigy with their “Bombtrack” single (something that would have raised Guevara’s eyebrows). In fact, their leftist construct served them well enough to convince millions of people that a vote for them – a group of signed artists – was a vote against the music industry.
Ultimately, the campaign served Rage rather well. It’s a shame because Rage stole votes from a working-class boy who needed your help more than they do. It’s odd, considering what Rage writes about. You’d think they might have stood up for a working-class hero themselves.
More importantly, the exercise proved how easily it is to sway the public to do anything. I don’t care how this impacts the musical charts, but it’s sad to admit that this happens all too often in the political arena. In that light, I’d like to throw the following out there: instead of voting “against” the person we don’t want, why don’t we make an informed choice about the person we want to vote in? Don’t stand behind Joe McElderry or Rage Against the Machine. Support the person who hasn’t been signed yet.
Like many Montrealers, I take Halloween seriously. It’s not just an excuse to get dressed up; it’s an opportunity to express that latent part of your personality. Ah yes, and get sloshed with a few of your favourite friends. In due form, I spent one evening preparing my costume with my buddy G, who, incidentally, is a horror movie filmmaker. To entertain us as we worked on our Halloween creations, G asked me to pick something to watch from his extensive slasher collection. His eye lit up when I brought out Night of the Demons.
Before judging us, you have to appreciate that I selected it only because it’s so much worse than you think. From Linnea Quigley‘s b-movie training to that disembodied demon head, whose superimposed appearances are clearly being played on a loop. But then there are classic moments: the “lipstick-nipple,” Angela’s grotesque transformation from human to second-hand demon to lead monster, and the razorblade apple pie. True to the genre, those clueless teenagers get viciously massacred one by one, until nobody is left but the Vestian blonde. At least, that’s how I remembered it.
It wasn’t until I saw it again that I realized none of the characters actually die. Except for the two survivors, Angela and gang are merely turned into demons, whether by attempted murder or serious injury (one guy gets his arm chopped off; don’t know how that makes a demon, but that’s for another blog post). Naturally, one of the characters who gets away is poor, virginal, I-just-wanna-cuddle Helen, played by flaxen-haired Allison Barron. The brunettes, sexual deviants, and brown-haired sexual deviants all get it in the end, if not at first.
Today, there was some back-and-forth between Adam Lambert and Out magazine’s editorial staff over the singer’s “handlers” asking the publication to make sure their client didn’t appear too “gay” in their cover story about him. This all reminded me that big gay Glambert only ranked runner-up to squeaky-clean Kris Allen (so immaculate, in fact, that he married his junior high school sweetheart when he was just 23). Will Kris Allen sell more records than Adam Lambert? Of course not. His role will be that of American Idol victor, not successful recording artist. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like Krissypooh! But this is a publicity contest, and Adam Lambert doesn’t need a dull press release to make headlines.
In much the same vein, who did they bring back for the Night of the Demons sequels? That’s right: Angela.
It’s a bit like the Quebec referendum, isn’t it? Quebecers say they want something fresh and revolutionary, but when push comes to shove, the devil you know always wins. On a day-to-day basis, many francophone Quebecers still want that sexy, dirty, dreamy sovereignty, so long as they don’t have to vote for it.
What’s getting tiresome for me is the long, overdrawn process of attrition. In a slasher flick, this describes when (sexually active) characters drop like flies at the hands of a masked murderer/monster. In singing competitions like American Idol and X Factor, it describes those painful weekly eliminations that ultimately betray the audience’s hypocrisy.
Often, the chasm that divides who should have won and who actually won is wide and deep. Why don’t we just own up to our desires and vote for the Adam Lamberts and Rhydian Robertses of the world? Who cares if they’re gay or worship David Caruso. Shouldn’t our loyalties lie with the people who interest us most? This isn’t like separating a country; it’s about performance! I don’t remember a single thing that Kris Allen sang, but I recall specific Glambert hairdos. And most people agree the latter was the better singer.
Do we really need more disappointing post-competition careers from our safe choices? Let’s have some fun! Let’s give ourselves what we want!
Does this mean that Jedward are growing on me? Goodness no! They’re really terrible. But like Angela, no matter what happens to them, they’ll come back. The good news is, they’re both blonde, and they’re very likely virgins.
Remember how reliably bad TV commercial music used to be? It’s hard to recall now because we’ve been blessed with years of iPod ads. The jingle would be a thing of the past if it weren’t an essential component of video-produced spots for local retailers (“Mel Farr to the rescue! Mel Farr to the re-e-es-cue”). This, of course, excludes the “lingle,” when an ad is punctuated by a choir singing the company’s logo and slogan. I don’t know if that thing will ever die.
Furniture depots and used car dealerships aside, ad music has mercifully evolved. I started to take note back in 2002, when one of my favourite bands, Ladytron, sold one of their little-noted instrumental tracks to a car commercial. Whether composed originally for the spot, or purchased from a musician, ad music just got better. I generally feel that the advent of the web gave way to a broader, more engaging musical landscape. It became easier for people to discover alternative bands and break away from the mainstream, especially with file sharing, iTunes, and eventually, Myspace. Right on cue, ad agencies picked up on the trend, and started to infuse their creative with what I can only assume were their own musical selections. The result is so effective that a query often found on Yahoo Answers is “what is that song in the new *** commercial?”
I think we really started to feel a shift with the iPod spots, like this one:
To me, it seems certain creatives had the sweetest job: scouring Myspace for the best background noise. It worked especially well when the music was incorporated into the concept.
Car commercials especially started to gain momentum. While people are still seeking power and performance, ads started to appeal to those of us who want a car to reflect style, dynamism, youth, and ourselves. In fact, a good friend of mine admitted that he bought his Volks as a result of this ad:
I think it’s especially effective when we’re taking about cars, of course, because that’s when we listen to music the most. You’ve got speed and mobility, set to the soundtrack of your life. And isn’t that what the idea of freedom really is? A selection of your preferences combined with movement.
I particularly like this recent spot. The build-up is executed flawlessly.
Right now, I’d like to give a shout-out to my buddy TS, who’s taken the time to read all of my blogs after noticing that he had 5 pages of catching up to do. TS admitted that he absolutely hates commercials. I think that’s a normal reaction to have. Truth be told, ad creatives also hate a lot of commercials. Thing is, agencies are often forced to comply with a client’s demands, which means that an entertaining concept quickly turns into boring, indulgent guff. But every now and then, a client is willing to take a risk and allow creatives to have a bit of fun. The result is an ad you’ll likely remember for years and years. And yes, TS, even you have your favourites. Those entertaining ones have an impact on the choices we make, how we see ourselves, and how we perceive the world. Because it’s part of our daily routine, it’s actually quite inevitable.
And as much as we’d love to hate it, one company that allows agencies to take risks, a lot, is Coca-Cola. Based on this ad, the company is perfectly willing to sacrifice direct sales in favour of championing a particular lifestyle and demographic. Given its entertainment value, would you really switch to another channel, or would you wait until it was over? My guess is the latter.
Oh, and the song? Via the White Stripes.
On Selling Out
Shortly after seeing the Ladytron ad, I had the fortunate opportunity to interview Daniel Hunt, the band’s main songwriter. I asked him about selling “Mu-Tron” to the commercial, to which he aptly responded, “I think people would have be happier if we worked at Taco Bell and did music on the side. But the truth is, you’d have to be wealthy already to turn that down.”
There’s the rub. Ladytron, while they had a record contract, were still struggling. At the time, as now, they rely largely on shows as a source of revenue. To my understanding, they got a few thousand for the song, which they presumably shared between them, their manager, and whoever else. The investment was largely theirs, truth be told, and in its own way, the commercial became an ad for Ladytron.
Though we’d love to put artists in a category that’s holier than corporations, the fact is, they’ve got to eat too. Instruments are expensive, and with regular use, they require either replacement or maintenance. With file sharing and iTunes, a record contract just isn’t as viable as it once was. More than ever, musicians, even the really successful ones, go on tour and sell merchandise in the hopes of turning a profit, but mostly to generate an income. This is especially the case for alternative musicians, who, though they may be signed, aren’t benefitting from album sales in the same way as mainstream performers.
File sharing served a major blow to the music industry. While I’m certainly not expressing an opinion about file sharing specifically, I can support artists who agree to be part of an iPod ad. This is often the difference between insignificance and notoriety. And for an unsigned musician, that just makes business sense.
Although some of us got sick of hearing “1, 2, 3, 4″ repeatedly during the 2007 holiday season, most of us are glad that Feist got the kudos she deserved.
The other nice outcome in all of this is that audiences seem aware of how much musicians have been struggling in recent years. So attendance at live performances is statistically higher, and people buy more merchandise in support of their favourite artist.
And isn’t that how it should work? Shouldn’t an artist’s success be measured by their audience, rather than the company that backs them?
Why don’t we choreograph videos like this anymore?