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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What's the Frequency, Gaga?

Michael StipeCover of Michael Stipe

When I was coming up in the Entertainment writer arena, I was taught that coverage of an industry or topic should be balanced, topical and fair. We still (mostly) strive for that principle in News, after all. But Entertainment – and in my case Music - has evolved into an altogether different animal over the years.

Two music stories grabbed opposite sides of the Channel24 Music desk this morning, and in doing so confirmed the evolved nature of "Music" as a public concept.

The first was the exclusive streaming of the newly completed R.E.M. album on Channel24. The second was the release of Lady Gaga's new music video, which generated a lot of buzz around my colleagues' sides of the table, Twitter, the solar system and possibly the Helix Nebula.

Call me a journalistic dinosaur, but I find the idea that Lady Gaga's video release should receive more "airtime" than any other "news" a bit disappointing. Of course it's the nature of what we do now, but it stings a little every time another Top Forty artist gets to pass of some expensive PR as "News".

You could of course say that the R.E.M. stream is pretty much the same thing, but I submit a few issues in comparing the two:

One: There was no question as to which story would lead. Lady Gaga is the highest ranked money earner in the market. R.E.M. is a respected but ultimately almost irrelevant commercial property compared to the machine that is Gaga – at least, according to the bean counters.

Two: It is implied that Gaga's story is more relevant to the "Music" content reader. Whereas the statement (it's not a question) "Who cares about R.E.M.?" will automatically appear in the minds of content editors everywhere when confronted with the same choice.

Three: Gaga's been on the frontpage of every major publication every week for nearly two years non-stop. Do you know what Michael Stipe or Peter Buck might look like today?

But of course all of this is built atop a false premise – that people are only interested in what is new and exciting and "hot right now". The truth is that the market is pretty much told what is "hot right now", because the only thing you get to see and hear with any regularity is the Top Forty's expensive PR. It's a vicious cycle that threatens a lot more than bank balances.

I guess my point is this: On a socio-political level, it is considered critical that national history is learned, remembered, noted, analysed, dissected, reviewed, and carried forth ("balanced", "topical", "fair"). "You don't know where you're going unless you know where you come from" is a common idea associated with this.

Why then is Music reportage – and Entertainment on a broader scale – so easily curtailed as to only service what is currently sellable en masse? Gaga, Katy Perry, Rihanna, etc...

Isn't it perhaps tantamount to keeping the population stupid so that it will just vote for you (and your product) again?

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1 comment:

  1. I kinda hope that in 30 years she (and similar people) might be remembered for her sense of style, which seemed outrageous at the time, but that at the very most... It's fashion vs. classic style. It's marketing success vs. true talent. REM (and similar) will be remembered for their music. She won't be. Well. I damn well hope not.