CMU Weekly Editor's Letter

Editor’s Letter: Is all publicity good publicity?

By | Published on Friday 10 February 2012

Andy Malt

Yesterday afternoon, there was a brief flurry of excitement when it was announced online that Jay-Z and Kanye West were popping around to the CMU office for a cup of tea. We cursed the fact that we had no biscuits and discussed if we should tidy up a bit, before we started to wonder if the cryptic message that had been sent out really signified that the two hip hoppers were on their way to see us.

Here’s what happened: An email was sent out with an image attached to it. The image placed a map of a small square of Shoreditch (which, as it happened, had CMU HQ more or less in its centre) under the banner ‘WATCH THE THRONE 5PM 09.02.2012’. ‘Watch The Throne’, of course, is the title of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s collaborative album, which was released last year. And 09.02.2012 was yesterday’s date. And 5pm was a time that had not, at that point, yet passed. What could it mean?

Twitter got to work. It almost certainly meant that one or both of the rap stars were on their way to Shoreditch. Probably not Jay-Z, not with the baby whose trademark would need caring for. But Kanye was probably hanging out right at that moment in Shoreditch House or (as The Quietus pointed out) Chariots Roman Spa – both of which were within the map’s boundaries. The Village Underground and Old Blue Last venues were on there too – though the latter only just. So, an impromptu performance, maybe?

But then there’s the Boxpark – Shoreditch’s recently opened ‘trendy fashion labels in storage containers’ set up. Why didn’t we think of that sooner? Last year Kanye and Jay opened a pop-up store in New York. Where better than to open another than in East London’s own pop-up shopping mall? Oh God, it’s happening, it’s definitely happening. Let’s get over there now and be first to waste our hard earned cash on some exclusive Kan-Z tat.

Fortunately we had a podcast to record, so were far too busy to experience the anti-climax first hand. Because finally the news broke. There’d be no Kanye, no Jay, no hip hop fashions in a metal can, rather the video for Watch The Throne album track ‘Niggas In Paris’ was to be projected somewhere. On the concrete wall of Shoreditch High Street Station, above the aformentioned Boxpark, as it happened. Many did venture out to see it though, and once they’d worked out where they were meant to stand, they found themselves shivering in the cold, squinting at a video they couldn’t really see because the sky was not yet dark enough and it was being projected onto a grey wall. Everyone left disappointed.

So, that was the day that Kanye West didn’t come round for tea. Though the question remains, why did anyone think this promotion was a good idea? Who thought that a cryptic message likely to make people think something very exciting indeed was about to happen would be a good way to promote a new video. True Shoreditchers are a strange breed, but surely even they couldn’t be expected to go home all excitable after being dragged into the cold for half an hour to watch a video they couldn’t quite see play out to music they couldn’t quite hear? A video, mind, that was already streaming on YouTube by the time the wintery open air preview began.

It’s a product, I fear, of an obsession with ‘going viral’. If it’s all over the social networks, then it must be good. Sure, the Kan-Z stunt made people aware of the video, but it also resulted in a load of fans and media types being totally underwhelmed. People who then tweeted that fact prolifically shortly after the stunt, complete with links not to the official Watch The Thone promo on YouTube, but to photographs demonstrating just how shit the Shoreditch video preview really was. Perhaps Jay-Z is trying to lose all his cool kid fans now he’s a responsible father.

The Good Suns, though, are presumably trying to attract the cool kids to their party. And while their video stunt this week wasn’t quite the anti-climax of the Kan-Z promotion, I’m not sure it will deliver much better results.

True, this new indie pop outfit from London did score a minor viral hit with the video for their song ‘Pop Wound’, which in just under a week has scored over 40,000 hits on YouTube (which is pretty good for a relatively unknown indie band, and in some ways more impressive than Jay-Z and Kanye getting 650,000 views for their new video in 24 hours, given the difference in the two outfit’s resources and fanbase). But there’s a problem. And the problem is the star of their promo.

I first watched ‘Pop Wound’ because someone tweeted that Lembit Opik had released a music video. Given he attempted to launch himself as a stand-up comedian last year, I wasn’t entirely surprised to hear that the former Lib Dem MP was now having a go at singing. I clicked. I watched. I cringed. I suspected that he might not actually be the singer of this song. But not enough to really digest the fact this was actually a track from a new band that I might want to investigate further.

Everyone else seemed to have the same response as well, so the video quickly became Lembit Opik’s rather than the band’s. The overwhelming majority of the coverage has focussed on the politician, rather than The Good Suns. And in The Evening Standard’s coverage, they weren’t helped by a quote from Opik saying that ‘Pop Wound’ is “a cracking song”. For a new band, the thumbs up from any politician in his 40s is pretty much the equivalent of your mum sending you a Valentine’s Day card.

And it’s notable that despite the flurry of YouTube hits and media coverage, The Good Suns followers on Facebook and Twitter – those profiles linked to from the video’s YouTube page – have not risen to any great degree. And as they weren’t collecting any other data, such as email addresses, it may mean that ultimately the video serves little purpose for the band.

I suppose having videos that overshadow your music isn’t always a bad thing. OK Go, of course, have made a good living out of producing highly innovative videos for their completely forgettable songs. There is genuine excitement whenever they release a new video, people flock in their hundreds of thousands to watch them – the latest, ‘Needing/Getting’, has pulled in nearly eleven million views in four days – but I think I’d struggle to find someone who could hum one of their songs, so I’m not sure how that translates to gigging and such like. YouTube revenue alone, coupled with any sponsorship, might be enough to keep one band going, and OK Go can rightly feel proud of their videos (and they’ve never made anyone stand in the cold to watch them). But I’m still not convinced this is a winning strategy for every or any new band.

It seems to me that if you want a real viral hit, you have to do it by accident. This week’s surprise internet phenomenon (for him as much as anyone else) was Tommy Jordan. He’s not a musician, he has no music in his video, but he does have a daughter, her laptop, a cowboy hat and a gun. This, apparently, is parenting in the digital age.

Andy Malt
Editor, CMU

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