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There's something fascinating about watching a monster celebrity at the peak of his powers go off-script the way Kanye has, breaking from the usual publicity tactics and taking it straight to the people via Twitter and giving away music (when he's not doing more traditional stuff like delivering a hot-fire performance at the VMAs). But if you think about it for a second, you might find something a little worrying behind the Wu-Tang cameos and the stunt remixes of Justin Bieber. Critic Nick Sylvester, who's been on a roll recently with his Riff City column for thirteen.org, thought for a little while, and what he came up with was a spot-on meditation on the nature of art and publicity in the hypernetworked present. It's specifically about Kanye West and more broadly about what anyone making anything these days needs to do to get noticed. It's a subject I've been thinking about for a while, and it's in the background of the Sharp Darts column I have coming out in the next issue of the Reader. Sylvester puts it out front in a recent piece that I wish I'd read before I wrote my own:
It bums me out that even the most significant mountain-moving type pop artists like Kanye West have to be "good at Twitter" in order to put a dent in the zeitgeist. That his music—very little music anymore, not even the best stuff—can't do the kind of heavy lifting that movies and video games and television can without this extra-song-and-dance. . . . It bums me out that music is so devalued at this point that Kanye West—one of the greats—is giving away his entire album a track at a time here because albums are basically just 'promotional materials' for 'artist brands.'
It's worth reading the whole thing, and it's also worth wondering what kind of hidden costs free music might have and what the implications might be of our increasing appetite for—and growing immunity to—novel Internet promotional strategies.