Oh dear, 2009. In a world where Animal Collective can crack the top ten of iTunes (awesome!) and Susan Boyle can outsell everyone on the Billboard charts (huh?), NOTHING is certain. Discussions of making music free abound and despite years of education and prevention, piracy of music is still a problem. And although indie music has become more and more mainstream thanks to the ubiquitous nature of the net, we're still a slave to the monster in our closet: HYPE. It's like an incurable disease: once it spreads, for better or worse, fate has spoken. There is no cure. Its also almost always viral and often makes you itchy. Um, thanks Doctor Baeble, when can I expect to stop using this topical ointment?You know why they call it viral video? Viral marketing? Because organic grassroots marketing DOESN'T STAND A CHANCE. Drop your local mailing lists, and make a funny video with a cute cat in it because that is how to succeed in business without really trying.
But seriously nerds, lets get down to business. Hype is a problem, yes, like a drug. Like a delicious, performance enhancing drug. And when the angry blog-gatekeepers stop snorting your music and decide to get their fix from elsewhere, it might be a problem for your career. Johnson and Johnson, no more bumps!
Hype is so fickle, it can bring you up and CRUSH YOU all at once. Its like a tsunami, so when it hits, just wonder why you settled in a high risk Asian country. Build a boat out of sticks, very quickly. Or just don't do anything. Only God, or death, can stop it. Actually death usually makes it worse.
That is why in an effort to learn from the past, we will study what happens when the hype runs out, and a band is forced to stare down the lens of cold hard reality. Hype! It tastes great! It makes you a superstar! It ruins your brain! But when the hype is gone, what happens?
Today's Topic: Black Kids
Black Kids were a pretty hyped up band from Jacksonville, Florida who got a major record deal, thanks to hype, and then got kind of forgotten, thanks to Pitchfork. This is their story.
August 11th, 2007. Black Kids played a gig in Athens, GA that changed their lives. The underground success of the show led to positive buzz from the blogs and the posting of their first few recordings on MySpace. Later that year, their CMJ performance gave them a boost, with organizations like Rolling Stone calling them a band to watch in the coming year. Their EP Wizard of Ahhhs was also critically acclaimed by several different media sources and publications. Things began to heat up as the blogosphere started to bump them, one by one, shuffling tracks from their demo, perpetuating the hype machine. Pitchfork gave the EP an 8.3, and The New York Times even jumped on the bandwagon. The band had a manager and a bunch of gigs by the end of the year.
In 2008, after a "whirlwind UK tour," Black Kids signed with Columbia Records and made their debut record Partie Traumatic in about 17 days. When the album came out, so did the backlash: Pitchfork gave them a low score and a picture of puppies with the word "Sorry :-/" imprinted on it. The rest of the indie music community seemed to share the sentiment, or subscribe to an obscenely positive view which kept the argument going just long enough to bridge the gap to the next hyped band. By Fall of 2008, news about Black Kids and their "success" had vanished from blogs everywhere.
Now, I'm not trying to sound cynical here, but seriously world? They played the same songs on their album that they did on their EP, albeit a tad more polished. As soon as the album dropped the word "hype" was replaced with "backlash," and thus a reverse effect occurred. Partie Traumatic (an ironic name for the lynched LP) was still included on some best-of lists, but only by tired old sources like Spin and NME who are considered archaic and commercial, and barely have any critical credit themselves. Woof.
The tale is not all gloom and doom. Many bloggers just assume that once a hyped up band is forced to sober up, they fail and go work at Taco Bell or something. That is almost never the case, especially when they get a deal; kids these days DO NOT understand the music industry. It is complicated! Bands spend years working on their major label deals before anyone notices.
The band has spent more time promoting themselves in the UK than here, but Youngblood sat down with The Onion's AV Club to talk about what happened, and it raises some interesting points:
"...for people who picked up on us from the EP, that's what they're going to like. The majority of the LP is just the EP re-recorded, so there was no way it was going to be embraced by people who heard it on the radio. It was f***ed from the beginningand I guess with that in mind, we just figured, 'Well, this isn't really for people who've heard our demo. This is for a new audience."
That makes sense. Black Kids (but specifically Young Blood) claim that a paradigm shift happened: their fan base was completely turned over by the switch from free spirited indie cred to major label mojo. And just because the band hasn't really graced the front page of Stereogum or Look At This F***ing Hipster lately, they are still touring and making music. The Cemetery Lips EP came out in April. One might wonder if they'll follow a similar path as Kings of Leon; spending a few years incubating in the UK before coming back to America as pop stars. Only time will tell.
What we DO know is that hype didn't kill Black Kids, and it often doesn't kill anyone. Pitchfork is a strange beast in this regard, being highly regarded as the score-to-get by fans, but not necessarily the end of the road as far as labels as concerned. Some consider a low score as useful as a high one; bands receiving mediocre scores tend to get no attention. Remember the age-old adage: any press is good press. That's why we have Kanye West acting like an idiot and Adam Lambert gyrating his crotch in his backup dancer's face: these guys are pros/have pros working for them.
Will Black Kids ever be a household name? Probably not. But success is measured in different ways in 2009, and that is no longer one of them. Other young popsters can learn from this: never listen to your manager when he forces you to make a record in seventeen days. Or just don't submit your music to Pitchfork. Or work at Taco Bell. -joe puglisi