Lana Del Ray photo courtesy of 5gig.
As most of the mainstream media has noticed by now, social media has taken the typically sloth-like pace of mass emoting and popular unrest to lightning-fast extremes. Case in point: Occupy Wall Street. Thinking more recently, there was the Susan B. Komen vs. Planned Parenthood controversy earlier this month as well as Silicon Valley’s tactful campaign against SOPA in mid-January. These incidents prove once and for all that in 2012, if there’s something worth being pissed about, chances are you’re better off tweeting about it than writing your local congressman. Whether or not mainstream culture acknowledges it or not, the world of pop has experienced a mirrored phenomenon over the last few months.
For now, I’m going to spare everyone from reading a piece focused squarely on how Whitney Houston’s untimely demise was the first celebrity death whose awareness was principally fueled by social media for four reasons. First, directly focusing on that dynamic during ‘Absurdity Week’ would be in unforgivably poor taste. Secondly, is it not obvious? Thirdly, that’s what Huff Po is for; and finally, nothing about her death inspired unrest (obviously) but only because the form which it took wasn’t at all surprising. Yet as noteworthy and humbling as it was to witness the mass instantaneous outpouring of grief on anyone’s Facebook feed in the hours after her passing, one can only imagine how exponentially intense the reaction might have been had Houston been struck and killed by a negligent taxi driver instead.
Nothing could make the certainty of that hypothetical circumstance more evident than the recent case studies of two recent musical performances on Saturday Night Live that incurred the wrath of the most unreasonable and emotionally haywire community on the Internet: the indie blogosphere. Anyone who frequents BreakThru Radio probably doesn’t need to be told the story of Lana Del Rey’s roller coaster trajectory from viral hype to super-stardom, and anyone who does can google it. To cut to the chase, the backlash following her now-infamous SNL performance last month was simply unprecedented in terms of Internet-related expression from the indie music community, similar to what the Komen controversy and Whitney Houston’s death meant to the mainstream media.
The absurdity of the backlash struck an untenable peak when Gawker founder (and winner for the Dickest Move by Anyone Who Ever Called Themselves a Friend of Brian Williams Award) Nick Denton posted a private email from Williams on his website that mercilessly tore the pop star apart. As the seconds following turned into minutes, minutes to hours, and the hours into the Monday after, it became clear to many a discretionary line of reasonable tact had largely been crossed.
Though Lana was already an incendiary and polarizing artist to many by that point, nothing justified that kind of virile reaction to her SNL performance. A need to defend Del Rey was felt by anyone who watches SNL regularly, or at least has in the last twelve years — a demographic mostly comprised of the cast and crew of the show, apparently. Further, to regular viewers of late night TV musical performances, LDR’s wasn’t all that especially mediocre, though mediocre nonetheless.
Karmin photo courtesy of Jasontoff.
Of course, the recoil from said backlash didn’t stop the blogosphere from hurling similar insults in reaction to the show’s next musical guests, Karmin, also of YouTube fame. The duo, a pair of Berklee grads known for their amusingly kitschy cover of a Chris Brown hit, performed on the show three weeks later, coincidentally on the night of Houston’s death. Since their performance was so overshadowed by the news of the weekend (not to mention the Grammy awards that Sunday), their haters’ cries could hardly be heard.
However in this case, their attacks didn’t focus on the quality of Karmin’s performance because they couldn’t — regardless of whether they make quality music or not, they performed with utmost competence. In attacking SNL for highlighting a “novelty” viral video act instead, the blogosphere revealed the latest trend in subversive, obnoxious elitism: an inexplicably stupid grudge against YouTube.
These days, the cliche rant about how Clear Channel floods the radio with mindless pop for tweens is akin to complaining that Boston is a difficult city to navigate or that the cast of The Jersey Shore should serve as the dictionary definition for acting classless. Each of these perfectly salient points have become so obvious by 2012 that none of them seem worth mentioning anymore, which makes me wonder: Forget SNL, what the hell makes YouTube worth complaining about by comparison?
Sure, it’s a younger medium free of payola-style fraud that possesses the potential to usurp top 40’s role in our society; but you’d think after the culture-engrossing ‘success’ of Rebecca Black’s “Friday” that YouTube’s lacking integrity for exposing genuine talent would be resoundingly self evident, perhaps even more so than top 40 radio (Jesus Christ, even Ke$ha makes for better art than that). Complaining about Karmin being featured on SNL in this way is sort of like complaining that elderly pop stars are performing the Super Bowl Halftime Show again. To those who actually care about the state of music, it was only to be expected.
In speaking of expectations, the big difference between the Karmin and Lana Del Rey controversies is the level of the public’s expectations: Karmin met them, however low, and Lana did not. It was because of this that during her backlash, almost any ridicule against her seemed justified if only for a brief moment until everyone collectively remembered the quality of her performance was not necessarily outside the show’s typical bell curve (especially given SNL‘s well-known reputation for infrequently failing to provide ample sound quality). In that moment, it felt like a perfect time to make her pay for being attractive, changing her name, not writing her songs entirely on her own, claiming no musical influence cooler than Kurt Cobain, and being born to a wealthy father, all for a reason having nothing to do with those listed.
I realize using pejoratives like ‘envious’ and ‘elitist’ to describe anyone with an negative opinion makes me sound like a Republican presidential candidate, but something about these respective backlashes feels more postured and hyperbolic than the art they are criticizing. Karmin, to my ears, represents nothing more harmful or important than Gym Class Heroes (the former might even be more tolerable if only by juxtaposition). Lana, however, has a handful of somewhat intriguing ideas behind her, despite whether they all come from her, the supposed artist, or not.
What will be the grounds for her artistic judgement over time is whether the bulk of her songs grow to stand out like “Video Games” has or if she can even provide her fans another song remotely that original. It won’t have anything to do with one slightly off performance on one late night show that hardly anyone would have cared about had she not been chosen as musical guest.
I’m sure Ashlee Simpson wishes she was as fortunate… or talented.