The biggest story of the year is the failure of Re/code to go it alone. With the number one tech reporter on board, and a plethora of backup, it turned out no one cared, that the “Wall Street Journal” was the brand, and no one had the time, interest or inclination to go elsewhere.
This is a major shift from the era just before, where stars were kings and not only did their audiences follow them to new environs, the establishments that let them go saw their fortunes decline.
Not that every establishment is dying. Concomitant with the death of the star system comes the beefing up of institutions, because they’re the only ones who can cut through the noise.
But then there’s Viacom, so beholden to Wall Street that it missed the future. And in today’s world, once you’re one step behind, it’s not long before it’s two, three and then game over.
I remember the old days. When we all rushed to the movie theatre so we could be part of the public conversation. Can you say “Pulp Fiction”? But then films, like Viacom, became so money-driven, so inane, that adults stopped going. And now it turns out kids are burned out on the superhero flicks, and although I’d like to dig deeper into the failure of Hollywood, its eclipse by television, my only point is that films are no longer dominant. They come and go in weeks at most. Next!
Ironically, since they take so much less money and time to produce, records last longer than ever before. Those that break through. If you don’t gain traction, your record is over in a day. You do the publicity buildup and then the project is released, the media moves on to something else, and in most cases you’re ignored. Superstars are not immune to this paradigm. Their products are either instant successes or instant failures. And once something gains traction it lasts and lasts and lasts, seemingly looking for every last listener, but also a comfort to those who want life anchors, something to believe in, something that will make this fast-moving world make sense.
And there are a number of dominant musical artists. But despite the publicity, there are distinct walls around their art. People know more about Kanye West than his music. Taylor Swift is always in the news but it’s easy to avoid her tunes. And the only people who care about One Direction are the act’s fans.
It didn’t used to be this way.
“Star Wars” was an endless part of the national discussion. You had to see it in order to weigh in, and you did.
MTV was a national obsession. As was Michael Jackson. He was bigger than the Pope, but he just wanted to be known as the King of Pop.
But, no stars are this big anymore.
Except for Donald Trump.
What do we know about the Donald? He’s been in the news forever. And his fame was cemented by television. It turns out that your best chance of lasting is to be a part of the mix, the national discussion, for decades. This is the exact opposite of how today’s media corporations play. They’re always looking for the new, which they end up finding out is evanescent. This is what oldsters complain about when they say there is no artist development. They remember when artists were nurtured, took chances, went from caterpillars to butterflies. There was a whole arc in the story, which is so different from getting a fresh face to work with the usual suspects. After all, Taylor Swift is a function of the usual suspect known as Max Martin. So, ultimately, there’s little there there.
Not that you can say this. Not because you’re worried she’ll write a song about you. Her squeaky-clean new image won’t allow her to do this. But because people need something to believe in. And right now some believe in Taylor Swift.
But many more believe in the Trump show. You don’t even have to believe in Trump himself, but the show is amazing.
First there’s the self-immolation. Akin to the rock stars of yore. “I’ll do what I want to and bear the brunt of the consequences.” You’re supposed to bow to the powers-that-be and apologize. Instead Trump doubles-down.
Then there’s the burning of cash. The loss of “The Apprentice” and beauty pageant telecasts. No one does this. As Taylor Swift invites critics to her house and bakes cookies for nobodies, the Donald is out pissing people off. We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969, and it’s truly refreshing.
Furthermore, Trump assumes you’re smart in a world where everybody is assumed to be dumb. That you can parse the issues and get sarcasm and realize that the front is not the reality. In a nation where you have to get someone to say yes before you can have sex on a college campus, truly SAY yes, as if kids are sexually confident and experienced enough to say anything, Trump claims that political correctness is b.s. Kind of like how Jerry Seinfeld says it’s too risky to play college campuses. Isn’t it interesting that we’re in a heyday of comedy, it seems comedians are the only ones other than Trump who can state the truth.
And Trump reveals the media to be an empty suit over-invested in its importance. Bloviators on TV and in print said his comments about McCain would kill him, it did not. And then there was Megyn Kelly and the Latinos and…
Megyn Kelly… Are you beautiful? The beautiful are one step behind the rich in power. And what Roger Ailes does not realize is the average person will never be rich and never be beautiful and has contempt for the personages with these qualities. I know, it’s a conundrum, we worship the rich and beautiful too, but only to a point. And now, with social media, we’re willing to dig in and make our point.
Speaking of social media, its importance has been overstated. What it does best is spread a story, and it should be championed for that. As for opinion… If you’re listening you’re tone-deaf. It doesn’t matter what people say online, in most cases few are paying attention, in all cases, the story blows over. Is anybody even mentioning Trump’s comments about McCain anymore?
So where does this leave the listener, the watcher, the average person?
Overwhelmed. There’s too much info and too much fakery. As a result there’s a run to mass, a rallying around institutions. So, the “New York Times” is bigger than ever, forget the financials, it’s the news king, it’s the only one with boots on the ground, the TV networks may have faces, but they’ve got no reporters. And on television there’s HBO and then also-rans. Not only has HBO run above the pack in talent/shows, it’s innovating first, allowing standalone subscriptions. A show on HBO gets scorched earth publicity, one on any other outlet is on its own. And will be canceled unless it makes instant inroads. As for movies, they’re moribund, like music, both playing to small audiences while the rest tune out. Sure, people watch old movies and listen to old music, but getting them to partake of new stuff is incredibly difficult, because the providers no longer understand the star system. For a while, the superhero was the franchise, this summer proves otherwise. As for music…it’s lost the plot to the degree most people are unfamiliar with what the industry considers to be stars.
Then again, music festivals are burgeoning, based on the concept that the fan is the star. Which is another change we’ve seen, everybody believes he’s important. But everybody is not a star, and this will only get worse. Not only is there no middle class financially, there will no longer be middle class stars, because people want to pay attention to one thing and one thing only.
Like Donald Trump.
Forget winning the nomination. What we’ve got now is a movie that the media loves covering, because the people can’t stop watching. Every week there’s a new story, a new twist and turn. There’s fresh data built upon a base of longevity. Furthermore, it’s all about confounding the system, and we’ve become paralyzed and overwhelmed by the system.
Change comes quicker than ever before. Not only did we move from Napster to iTunes to Spotify in little over a decade, but BlackBerry and MySpace tanked along the way. Meaning, not only is the long tail dead, but so is the viral video, rising above based on quality, creating a profitable niche and growing. Today, if you’re not in bed with major media, you’re never going to make it. You can cut a record without a major label, but you cannot be heard without its help.
But the labels are shooting too low. Into nooks and crannies as opposed to the stratosphere. A ubiquitous act will come along and blow it all away. Adele was a harbinger, but there will be more, like the Beatles and the British Invasion, stuff that appeals to many and sounds little like the pre-’64 pop dominating the airwaves today.
As for film… It’s over, no matter what they say. Everybody’s got a theatre at home and the only reason to go out is…to go out. Window/schmindow, the movies are only a couple of years and a couple of changes behind the music industry. Instant access, baby, in your own home. Day and date release.
TV is already imploding. The great contraction is upon us. There will be fewer channels and fewer shows.
As for YouTube, that’s a sideshow, kind of like social media. Evanescent niches equivalent to drive-bys. Because there’s no there there. What triumphs is quality, built over years, exhibited by the usual suspect powers. Which is why Spotify and YouTube are now all about breaking acts, to ensure their power.
So, if you’re behind the scenes, know that we’re playing a game of musical chairs. There will be a limited number of media outlets with all the eyeballs. And if you’re starting today, it’s tougher than ever before. And eyeballs are not everything, longevity is. So, the vast wasteland known as the “Huffington Post” is time-stamped. Buzzfeed probably too. Because to survive in this new world you need not only the outlet, but the stars. And if you can name one on the HuffPo other than its self-promoting title character, I’m stunned.
Not only does Universal Music make stars, but so does the “New York Times.” And Fox. And what we’re learning is the public is demanding a new kind of star, more akin to the old. One whose fame is based on talent and experience, and one who is willing to say not what is expedient, but what he or she believes.
Why did Amy Winehouse become so famous…because she said NO to rehab! Might have killed her, but in a world where there’s seemingly a rehab for everything, based on the fiction that any malady can be cured in 30 days, we gravitate to those saying to take the other direction, to speak the truth.
And right now all we’ve got is Donald Trump. We’re all talking about him. We’d like to talk about someone else too, we’re hungry to talk about other stars. But so far, the system has been unable to deliver them.
It’s a change in character. It’s a change in what is pushed. It’s the story of the teens.
AND IT’S HAPPENING NOW!