Sometimes I’m a little slow to pick up on American pop culture these days, what with my obsession with Swedish pop and all, so I managed to completely miss the Voxtrot blog buzz in 2005-2006. Voxtrot have been called “the perfect web 2.0 band” or something like that, with their blog and (former) status as darlings of the mp3 blogosphere. But they’ve got a highly ambivalent relationship with the net, as manifested most directly in singer Ramesh’s blog rant against the internet last March:
The internet is fickle. Everything is disposable. Everything is fleeting. The internet is a very dark place to be. Everybody’s a fucking authority and everybody knows better than everybody else. [...] Sorry if I sound a bit critical, but I guess that, at this point, I’m not talking so much about Voxtrot specifically as I am about the relationship that every band is forced to maintain with the internet.
So, this guy is like 23 and because he wrote some songs bloggers like, I guess that makes him an expert in the internet and its societal effects. But let’s smack a little realism in here. First, disposability and fleeting things predating the internet by a long time. Anyone remember the 1980s? How about that great 1970s pop hit “Wildfire” (I apologize if you lived through that and had successfully forgotten it). There have been disposable pop hits as long as there’s been pop hits. That’s part of the beauty of pop music — it’s ok if it’s disposable. If it makes you feel good for a little while, it’s done its job. You want great art no one criticizes, try classical music, and even there the Bachophiles go off on the trash that Beethoven dude wrote.
Second, “the internet is a very dark place to be.” Uh, not like, say, inner cities? Iraq? Darfur? Because you have to face the fact that some people aren’t into your music? Or the same things you are? Because on the internet criticism and the conversations that have happened offline every day as long as people have been having conversations about pop culture become visible? Well I don’t like reading negative reviews of my work on the net either, but … and this leads me to the third point… I recognize that it is the PERSON WHO WROTE THE REVIEW that has that opinion, not THE INTERNET, and that if I look elsewhere I will find rays of sunshine that are great ego boosters. The fact that your skin is thin does not mean the net is dark.
The band “is forced” to maintain a relationship with “the internet”? No, bands that want to be successful have the opportunity — an unprecedented one — to form and maintain relationships with THE PEOPLE WHO ARE INTO THEM. The internet doesn’t give a hoot about any of us. It’s a bunch of signals and wires. It’s a communication medium. The net gives bands a means of reaching their audience. They are also going to encounter people who think they stink or, worse yet, are boring. That’s because the internet mirrors everything else, not because it’s a dark force.
And don’t even get me started on his titling the post “get off the internet, I’ll meet you on the street” because, guess what, I’ve actually done research on this and read a whole lot more, and the internet is not a substitute for face-to-face interaction. It’s a supplement, and even an enhancer. Alienate your online fans and they won’t be joining you offline, they’ll be too busy with their friends.
But his reification of the internet gets suppport in this recent article about them in the Baltimore Sun titled Internet killed the radio star:
A funny thing happened to Voxtrot on the way to pop music stardom: The Internet moved on.
A year ago, the rock group from Austin, Texas, was the darling of music bloggers everywhere. One site described its music as verging “on the Platonic ideal of indie pop.” [...] But the experience of Voxtrot this year has proven that what the Internet gives, the Internet can take away. Internet love is fleeting and fickle. Fans must be nurtured and cared for. Or else they can turn on you with all the viciousness of a cliched pop song heartbreaker.
The same bloggers who fawned over Voxtrot last year are no longer so hot to, um, trot. The band’s new album, released in May, was met with yawns at best.
“The Internet moved on.” “Internet love is fleeting and fickle.” Hello bloggers, you are not people, you are The Internet. That wasn’t YOUR love, it was “internet love,” which is a whole different thing, I guess. So different that it bears no relationship to, oh, every band whose sophomore record ever got trashed by people who loved their first in the entire history of rock and roll. Which is like, just about all of them. Isn’t it maybe just a little bit possible that THEIR RECORD WASN’T AS GOOD AS THE EPs and it’s about people making astute judgments and sharing them with others rather than the medium moving on?
Man, I remember the heyday of England’s New Music Express (NME) and how unbelievably fickle they were. There was an internet back then, but none of us knew about it yet. It wasn’t called the internet yet. Yet we managed to like some stuff bands did and not like other stuff they did and talk about it with each other anyway. Amazing.
I will agree with the claim that “fans must be nurtured and cared for,” but don’t kid yourself that if you are good at creating relationships with your fans they will like anything you produce. Fans are individuals with judgement, and they will decide whether or not they like your music based on how it makes them feel. They may still like you, but if you put out a lame record, it won’t sound like the bells of heaven in their ears just because you update your blog and respond to friend requests on MySpace. And they might even dare to say so.
Now after all that ranting, I will confess that I love Voxtrot’s EPs, which I discovered AND BOUGHT through the internet, and I even like their album a lot, though I don’t think it’s as good as the EPs. But as an internet scholar, I get really freakin’ sick of people’s pop analyses of the medium. As though no one has actually done any real rigorous consideration of these issues and to quote Ramesh, “everybody’s a fucking authority.”
Here is a link to a Voxtrot song from one of the EPs Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives from their own website. If you like it, give them the credit. If you don’t, blame the internet. You know how It can be.