“In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” – Andy Warhol
So I had a topic all set for today. Then, I hit up Twitter and saw that MTV has denied access to Colin Munroe’s “Piano Lessons” video from getting airplay on MTV. I really love that song, and think the world of the talent of Mr. Munroe, and got kind of bummed. That then bled over to a greater moment of reflection, to all of the times that music has really depressed me in the past few months, including the Grammys, and Katy Perry’s subpar performance, and the ultimate ignominity of the evening, that Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, one artist completely irrelevant to popular music in 2009, 1999, 1989, or ever, and another, Robert Plant, who is iconic, but ultimately irrelevant now, were being shoved down my throat, while, ultimately, M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” the freshest, sonically arresting, and musically different song I’d heard in quite some time, was passed over.
And then I thought again. It wasn’t. “Swagga Like Us” features Ms. Arulpragasam’s “Paper Planes” lyric as the entire basis of what ultimately, on first listen, makes the song worthy of a Rap Performance by Duo or Group. If there was no “Paper Planes,” I don’t care how hot the verses were, there would be no “Swagga Like Us.” In Warhol’s future, stated so simply at the head of this piece, everyone was famous for fifteen minutes. Amazingly enough, Warhol’s future is now the world’s past, and that fifteen minutes has become fifteen seconds. And now, with bloggers and tastemakers and their mutated attention whore brethren circulating around the ever expanding digital universe, that 15 minutes is rapidly shrinking to 15 nanoseconds, and, as the Grammy example shows, you may be done before you’re even famous.
I used to find a problem with this. An enormous one in fact. I am a believer in the concept of A & R guys, of DJs breaking records, and so on, and so forth. I believe in spit shined and polished musical artists, the kind I used to study on my mother’s Motown records. Even the Stax artists who were much rougher even dressed nice, as Otis Redding and Sam and Dave’s gospel shouts were accompanied by them in impeccable sharkskin suits. Hell, fast forward to the 80s, and I can go on for years about the work of Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons at Def Jam, or a guy like Timmy Regisford developing the historical background of mainstream friendly hip hop and R & B. In 2009, it galls me that 1,000 22-year olds with keyboards and the ability to download music can seem to approximate and duplicate the work of legends, and propel Wale, Drake, Charles Hamilton, B.O.B., Asher Roth, Proton and any great number of what would’ve been underground emcees years ago to the forefront of the game, and none of them at that point it seems had record deals, stage presence, consistency, or any of the other popular bellwethers of talent and skill in, well, the history of recorded music.
But things have changed. Nobody buys music anymore, in the sense of albums of 8-20 songs linked together, so the need of a guy to come along and sign, nurture and develop and artist to sell is unfortunately nil. This is clearly for the worst on one level, but on another for the best. In these initial days of the internet understanding it’s power, without a label appointed gatekeeper, we, the listening public of dot com, dot net, WordPress and Blogspot and related friends must take our clarion call far more seriously and understand exactly what we’re shaping through our acceptance and proclamations of greatness.
It is my opinion that music is shifting slowly in the mainstream universe, to the point where it seems like the mianstream may just grind to a halt, and the music they play becomes ultimately worthless, bits of sound that are fun, but don’t create anything of permanence or legend. Comparatively, as stated before, in the digital atmosphere, cats are hot for nanoseconds. The most magical thing can develop from this though. Let’s go back to the example of Mr. Munroe. “Piano Lessons,” while unfortunately not an MTV hit, has a video released to Youtube. There’s a ten year old boy that sees that video. He needs to pick an instrument to study in elementary school. That video almost made ME want to play piano, and I’m a lazy 30 year old man. He then goes to iMeem, and hits upon Rye Rye, the 18 year old Bmore wunderkind. He likes that “Shake it to the Ground” song. Then, he exposes himself to an hour of watching MTV and sees videos for Kanye West’s “Heartless,” Vampire Weekend’s “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” and JT and TI’s “Dead and Gone.” After soccer practice, he turns on his iPOD and has three Wale mixtapes and some Minor Threat and Bad Brains. Imagine what happens to that kid in 20 years if his love of music grows? What once took words to do takes snapshots. What once took albums takes songs. What now took songs takes snippets. As the mind expands, the filters grow, and everything becomes, well, everything. Everybody is famous, everything is important, the possibilities, therefore, become limitless.
I may not like it, but I have to learn to love and find beauty in it, because it’s the rules of the roads of the future.