Don’t Believe the Hype
MEGAN KENNEDY looks at the hype given to new artists by the music press and suggests that, far from the Youtube era marking the democratisation of music success, the selective media publications have as much a say as ever in choosing our favourite bands.
Autumn 2005: an unknown band shuffle awkwardly into public attention, eyes fixed to the floor. ‘Don’t believe the hype’, the front-man mumbles, before launching into a three minute guitar onslaught that is still the cause of uncontrollable spasms on the Cindies dancefloor today. Being typical Brits, we stubbornly refused to take heed of their advice and hyped the Arctic Monkeys to the heavens. So inevitably they began to believe it for themselves; growing their hair, getting ‘celebrity’ girlfriends and demanding a choir of local schoolchildren to sing Handel’s Messiah at every venue they toured. Probably. We didn’t appreciate this quite so much.
Despite Alex Turner’s natural songwriting ability and the band’s live competence, one of the most remarkable things about the Arctic Monkeys’ story is the influence that the media, in particular the Internet, had in boosting their success. This type influence has become even more powerful in recent years. Most publications and blogs compile an ‘acts to look out for’ type feature at the turn of each new year which almost always overlap with each other, and when they do it means instantly pushing certain acts to the forefront of the industry. Six years on from Arctic Monkeys it is The Vaccines’ turn, gracing the cover of magazines and music websites as the ‘saviours of guitar music’.
The focus is the single ‘Post Break-Up Sex’, destined to be butchered incessantly on local band stages of fetes for many summers to come. The ‘Chasing Cars’ of a new generation. The Vaccines seem like a focused young group, all the members having had some experience and success prior to their formation. However, from the perspective of a casual listener, it is difficult to comprehend how an average song such as this one can receive close to two million Youtube hits in such a short band lifespan. It’s no ‘Friday’, that’s for sure…
The Vaccines are not alone in this respect; rather, their fast-track to the top represents the increasingly frequent phenomenon of ‘alright’ bands going stratospheric. Take Mumford and Sons as another example. Once again, they were fine. Probably still are fine. Yet having such songs as ‘The Cave’ shoved into the public consciousness by every Bowman, Cotton and Whiley can leave opinions of them somewhat tainted, in my case even a lifelong aversion to banjos. There is a fine line between appreciation and overkill, and unfortunately it is the latter offence that characterises modern radio stations and music channels when the power of the internet is so strong.
The frequency of internet-based success has supposed to represent the democratisation of mainstream music: artists can upload performances and recordings without having to go through a record label first, enabling them to establish a large enough fan base that the attention of music press can find them whoever they are. But this fails to recognize that finding ‘the next big thing’ before anyone else is important to music writers too, and this competition, this fear of missing out on the pulse, means an inevitable overlap amongst music media in who they give prominence to. People who hail this era as the age of grassroots music success have failed to recognise the influence these publications can have on people who follow rather than set these Youtube trends.
The problem with such powerful media support is the potential backlash and fall from grace that follows more often than not. One of the names heard repeatedly at the beginning of 2010 was Delphic, championed as the ‘new New Order’ and thought to be at the head of a Manchester revival. In 2011 Delphic are relatively unheard of, save for their debut seemingly being sponsored by Waterloo Road, in which ‘Clarion Call’ is churned out whenever a disadvantaged pupil does something inspirational in the face of adversity. That would be every scene, then.
Returning to Alex Turner’s youthful words of wisdom, we should indeed be wary of believing the hype that the music industry desperately attaches to its brightest hopes. Alongside every future meteoric success, zealous fans and critics will leave many hype casualties in their wake. One only has to ask indecisive flower child/punk rocker Sandi Thom about the perils of her Internet adoration circa 2006. If her conflicting personalities are somehow not interlocked in eternal battle, that is.
Judge music on whether you like it, not on whether you have been told that you should like it. Only then will pretentious cynics such as I have no reason to whinge… whilst listening to a lo-fi jazz fusion collective recommended by Pitchfork, naturally