David Hepworth: Why the revolution in digital distribution has made delivery of news, music and entertainment more significant than the content
This is almost total horseshit - a lot of third-hand observations about social media, some of which are sometimes true about some things, wrapped around a really TERRIBLE example, a record that was the subject of passionate, sustained conversation among its main audience, with major ripples beyond. And maybe - just maybe - a 50something British white guy isn’t part of that audience, isn’t the best placed to judge how much “impact” the record had or how “important” it was to people. (Though simply by virtue of being on Tumblr this 40something BWG managed to twig that SOMETHING was up.)
No, the problem here - and I’m not even talking about Hepworth here, bad as the article is it’s a symptom, a symptom of something I suffer from too. An open letter to me, then.
The problem is that you hit a certain age and you stop doing the work. You assume that if conversation’s not happening amongst your ossifying set of professional contacts, it’s not happening anywhere. You imagine that your contributions are such that you will know what’s up by right, by licking a finger and sticking it into the air and sitting back down on your arse and re-typing something you once read about the internet.
Though, OK, “The revolution happened in distribution”, that’s a fair starting point. You can work from there. You can think about what that means for how stars present themselves, for how people become stars, for whether “singles and albums” are the best way of thinking about what a pop star does, about the art, the presence, “the content”. Though in this record’s case, there is content to spare. Maybe get specific and talk about how Beyoncé in particular is a really fascinating figure in this shift, coming up in the CD boom heyday and adapting (unlike almost any of her peers) partly by trying new things out.
What does it mean - just looking at the simplest, most public facts - that musicians dominate Facebook and Twitter fan scorecards, that music is so enormous on YouTube? You could take the analytic route - try and work out what the half-life of a song, or a video, is these days. Or you could take the journalistic route, find the people who Beyoncé means something to - something bad, something wonderful - and bloody ask them.
It’s not just lazy. It’s fine to get lazy. I can’t keep up any more, that’s just a fact. You don’t stop being useful - I hope! - you become more of a historian, turning your eye on the past a little more. Maybe use your experience as a scalpel on the times you lived through, not as a weapon against the present? No, fine, you don’t have to do that at all, if the present sucks people should say so. But not so ahistorically. When distribution shifts, exciting things happen. We can look at the history of radio, Dansette record players, sheet music, MTV, as evidence for that. Look for what’s changing. People aren’t mugs, or no more than they ever were. Look at why they care. Don’t trust yourself so much.