On The Record: You Have The Power. Stop Acting Like Such A Dumbass
It's been one week since the world changed. Do you feel any different? Me neither. This is sort of a bummer.
Just in case you weren't aware, it was roughly 185 hours ago that Radiohead nuked the entire record industry with the online release of their In Rainbows album, and strangely, though some predicted that the sun would be shrouded in black dust and the seas would boil, the post-apocalyptic wasteland in which I'm living today doesn't seem any different than the one I was living in last Tuesday (note: this could also be because I live in Brooklyn).
In fact, things are pretty much exactly the same as they were before In Rainbows hit the Net (though I now have a somewhat-underwhelming-yet-really-beautiful-in-parts-and-ultimately-solid new Radiohead album on my iPod). Major labels did not crumble, the Internet did not explode and people still bought the new Kid Rock album. Rainbows didn't sound the death knell of an industry, nor did it herald a bold new era of commerce. It was, for all intents and purposes, just another album.
Of course it seems pretty funny writing all this now. But last week, people were genuinely freaked out by what might happen in Rainbows' wake. The CEO of Terra Firma Capital (the company that now owns EMI, which, in turn, owns Radiohead's former home, Capitol Records) wrote a widely leaked memo that detailed how the company would refocus its "business models" to reflect the post-Rainbows world. After the album was released, I wrote a story about problems fans were having with the audio quality of the download (and possible ulterior motives of the band's management) and received e-mails from employees at both Universal and Warner Music Group telling me how much they enjoyed the article. Clearly, people were paying attention. And they were worried.
But did nothing change in the days since In Rainbows' release? Well, not necessarily. If anything, its reception has shone a big, bright light on two rather interesting aspects about us as "consumers" of music: 1) We've got a rather bizarre sense of entitlement, especially since we usually do nothing to actually deserve said sense; and 2) If given the chance, we will nitpick and complain about anything in the world.
Both points can be rather accurately summed up by our reaction to the news that In Rainbows would be released as MP3s encoded at 160 kilobits per second. For most, the move was greeted with a rather unceremonious "Eh," though to some, it was akin to Hulk Hogan's heel turn at Bash at the Beach '96. Seems that after a decade of telling us to say our prayers and eat our vitamins, Radiohead might have dressed in all black and gone Hollywood on us (note: roughly 78 percent of you have no idea what I'm talking about right now).
After all, 160 kbps was a far cry from 320 kbps — the "industry standard" among file-sharers (though, that idea seems rather ridiculous) — and it seemed like Radiohead duped us all by making the announcement after we had already plunked down money to download the album (even though, you know, a reported one-third of us didn't). We were paying for a lesser-quality version of the album, even though we probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference on our tiny iPod headphones. And this was not right.
That point resonated across blogs and 'boards for days, even managing to somehow drown the actual release of the album (and all the amazing, ballsy aspects that went along with it). The whole thing was a prime example of how, when given the chance, we'll take any opportunity to absolutely bury anyone for anything. Perhaps a commenter on Idolator put it best: "If this thread isn't indicative of the entitlement of early 21st-century culture, I don't know what is."
And it's sort of a shame, because people in the industry — including those major-label bastards in their ivory towers — were watching. And the end result of all our squabbling seems to only reinforce their point of view that every artist needs a major to help guide them. But then again, it's also not, because it also showed those same industry suits just how incredibly pissy and insufferable we can be when we really set our minds to it. We've actually got the power to kill careers if we decide to (see Pitchfork's "chimpanzee peeing in his own mouth" review of Jet's Shine On for further proof of this point). We only need to get our sh-- together long enough to do it.
But of course, all this is entirely debatable. After all, for all our moaning, a reported 1.2 million of us still downloaded In Rainbows, and at an average price of around $8, that means Radiohead made somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 kabillion in roughly 24 hours (I am not good at math). The rich got richer. The machine chugged on. And the rest of us are still sitting here watching a video of a monkey peeing in his mouth.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
B-Sides: Other Stories I'm Following This Week.
Apparently, 50 Cent wishes he could be a broke-down dude whose biggest claim to fame is doing a "Grease"-theme music video with Ashanti (see "Ja Rule Looks In The Mirror — And Sees Who 50 Cent Wishes He Could Be").
MTV News video game guru Stephen Totilo and I both decided that Chris Walla looks like he's playing Wii in the photo that accompanies this article (see "Death Cab For Cutie Guitarist Baffled By Homeland Security's Seizure Of His Album").
Nerds of the world unite to save "Buffyoke." Very rarely do I root for a huge, multinational corporation. This is one of those times (see " 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer' Sing-Alongs Killed ... But Can They Be Resurrected?").
Questions? Comments? Threats encoded at 320 kbps? Hit me up at BTTS@MTVStaff.com.