Letters from Rosie 3
The third in the series from my coolest correspondent. (Although I’m pretty chuffed at Nathan from The Gossip saying he reckons me to be the “most important and interesting critic of all time” – I’d be even more chuffed if I believed he was being serious.)
Incidentally, the criteria Rosie is applying to Vampire Weekend – whose bassist once invited me to perform oral sex upon his penis, following this Village Voice column – I applied to The Vines a few years earlier.
Letter begins now….
I’m going over to Berlin for a month to record some new songs and I’m having a moment of nerves. We’ve been promoting our new single and I’m utterly conflicted about it, it’s so strange. I read on Tobi’s blog about how she wasn’t into Vivian Girls at first because she knew they had a press agent. I’m so dumb, I never really realised how contrived the whole process of exposure is. Is there a meritocracy? Do the bands who make it into the mainstream get there because they are the best or because they paid someone to put them there? I don’t really know the Vivian Girls background, maybe they came from a really rich and vibrant underground scene in Brooklyn that had been allowed to flourish without press attention or exposure too early, but is there anywhere left in new york that enjoys that privilege?
The NME featured us in the magazine this week but only because we paid some dude to send them our stuff, not because someone who works there discovered us organically by seeing us live or happening upon one of our vinyl releases. I know they get solicited with stuff all the time and they are not obligated to feature everything they are sent…that’s where contacts within the magazine come in handy…some bands have that too. We’ve been building gradually to this point, but it still feels disconnected. When I was a kid, I thought the whole point of a band being in a magazine was so they could connect with their fans on an emotional level, almost on a par with the music. Do you still feel like some interviews with certain artists are special? I mean I can remember word-for-word some of my favourite stars quotations, like their lyrics…I thought that was the point! I never felt like I was being sold anything, but now I know I was. I wanted to know what Kurt or whoever had to say about stuff…and if there were pictures too, it really meant something to me to cut them out and stick them on my wall just for the pleasure of it.
It has literally only just dawned on me that the whole point of doing press is to promote the product, nothing more. And that certain publications are not really for the fans, but are really just industry catalogues that the people who manufacture clothes and phones and stuff can refer to when they want to find out how best to sell cool to the youth. Because the youth buy cool these days. They don’t and can’t make it for themselves. There are these entities called ‘tastemakers’ and the press team very clinically select where to ‘place’ an artist in order for them to appear ‘cool’ and manufacture their supposed significance in music. And it’s all so open to mis-interpretation, which is why certain artists must seem so glum in interviews…I get it now.
But a press campaign done well can turn a pretty pedestrian band into ‘stars’…the initial exposure of Franz Ferdinand in the UK was a work of art in itself. The NME got Morrissey to interview them! Both M and the band seemed pretty confused by this but the message was ‘This band will change yr life like The Smiths did’, and it worked. Franz hit. The UK music press is famous for this, as we all know…hype…whatever you want to call it.
I knew about that but I never really analysed the mechanics of it before. So strange. Do you remember all the animosity when Vampire Weekend first came out? I couldn’t work out why, but I took an instant dislike to them. It was because I unconsciously knew they were being shoved down my throat. The music didn’t come into it, even though in my own time, I did actually warm to the music. But with all the New York Times Style articles and Spin covers, I knew that they had been chosen FOR ME by someone who had decided that’s where guitar music and youth fashion was gonna go next. Cool is a construct. like, DUH, Rosie!
At the end of the day, if the music is really good, it can transcend all the nonsense. it just puts more pressure on the artist to really deliver and be worth all the fuss, cos really, if someone likes yr music they’ll forgive anything. I just hope our music is good enough in the long term. In terms of criticism, maybe this explains why sites like Pitchfork have had to become so pedantic and vicious, because they see themselves as having a responsibility to make sure the music takes precedence, and they are harsh because they want to put out the vibe not only among music fans and musicians, but primarily to the industry bodies that they CANNOT BE FOOLED – see the critical reaction to The Black Kids.
Sorry, just been thinking there. It’s been a funny old day.