CHRIS PUMMER: To the surprise of somebody, or I don’t know… maybe nobody, Taylor Swift was named Entertainer of the Year by….
I’m sorry. I forgot what magazine or Web site or TV program bestowed the title on Swift. Maybe if they were just adding up record sales and morning show appearances they were right.
But if the records you buy aren’t usually listed by Billboard, and you don’t watch TV in the morning, or at night, or ever, then Swift probably only pierces your awareness bubble because [insert your own Kanye West joke here].
That describes an ever-increasing number of people now that media and culture aren’t balkanized by basic cable television packages, newspapers and corporate FM radio.
For instance, I know that Swift is a country singer. But I’ve never heard any of her songs. I know she was on Saturday Night Live this year, but I didn’t watch it. I know about the Kanye thing, but only because it became the Internet meme of the year, sort of like Rick Rolling was in 2008.
It’s not that I’m disconnected from what’s going on in music or television. It’s just that I’ve got so many options, why waste my time sifting through the old means of delivering entertainment? With a few clicks on the Internet, I can find something that suits my own tastes, or expand my palate with something more daring, innovative or challenging than a song that sold three million copies on CD.
The Internet has fractured the media and audiences into much smaller, more narrowly defined groups. No offense to Swift, but even though I’ve never heard her, I’d be willing to bet her music is as bland as plain oatmeal if it’s flying off the shelves at Target.
Think that’s too harsh? Then tell me: Why is Susan Boyle breaking sales records with her CD? It ain’t because she’s reinventing the art, or even tweaking it.
It’s because bland with a backstory is the only thing that the old forms of big media are hocking these days. Probably because with so many folks tuning out, it’s the only thing left with a bankable profit margin. And that’s why Entertainer of the Year probably doesn’t mean what it did five years ago. For sure not what it did 10 or 20 years ago, when breaking through on TV and the pop charts meant you really reached everybody.
So [insert your last Kanye joke here... you know you want one more...]. Because Entertainer of the Year is probably more for just that — entertainment purposes and not actual posterity.
STEPHON JOHNSON: Let’s be serious with ourselves for just one minute. While Taylor Swift was definitely a star in her own right before that fateful night at Radio City Music Hall in mid-September, she didn’t find herself at megastar status until Kanye West decided to unnecessarily defend Beyonce’s “honor.” From that point forward any award show, regardless of its connection to the music industry, made a Kanye joke. Every announcement of award nominees for any show granted all of us the chance to rehash the moment for maximum amusement and pleasure. Every award given out to Swift since the MTV Video Music Awards has had a smidge of “Take that, Kanye!” thrown into the situation. Everyone from Donald Trump to Joe Jackson to Smokey Robinson to Pink to Kings of Leon to Chaka Khan to President Barack Obama had something to say about West’s interruption.
No one had this much rage for Rep. Joe Wilson’s interruption of Obama’s speech that happened days earlier (including Obama himself), but there’s a reason why the MTV VMA’s incident sparked such venomous anger by those who care about such things. What the Kanye/Taylor moment really meant was a battle between rap and country music, it was a Black male dishonoring a young, White female and it confirmed the stereotypes that people had about rappers (not to mention it gave those who already couldn’t stand the “Louis Vutton Don” a soapbox to finally smack him down with widespread approval).
The rap vs. country music issue took center stage at Country Music Awards where Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood sang a little ditty titled “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Boys Grow Up To Be Kanye.” In the song, which was pretty funny, Paisley and Underwood sing the lyrics “‘Cause cowboys have manners/they don’t interrupt.” While everyone acknowledged that Kanye was getting clowned on big time, everyone failed to notice that they were singing an anti-rap ditty as well.
By the way, what Chris said above me is absolutely correct (and it’s something I’ve said since 2004). The media/entertainment industries are so fractured that it’s hard to call anything mainstream anymore. The entertainer of the year award gets harder and harder to validate because everyone has their own personal outlets for entertainment, especially in the music world. Now you can program an internet radio station to play what you want, you can look for artists that challenge you if you want and the “good stuff” doesn’t naturally rise to the top of the music food chain anymore. It takes just as much work to be a music fan as it does to for an independent artist to peddle their music to a target audience.
I guess Kevin Kaduk (who runs the Big League Stew baseball blog for Yahoo! Sports) was right. The night of the infamous stage interruption, Kaduk took to Twitter to speak the truth. “Kanye just made that girl millions,” he wrote. “America’s sympathy for wronged blondes knows no bounds.” Let this be a lesson my friends: if you’re going to interrupt someone, make sure she’s isn’t blonde and make sure she isn’t a country-pop artist. Any other time, it would be considered a zany rock and roll moment. In this instance, it’s the worst thing ever a human being can ever do.
When Swift wins the Album of the Year category at the upcoming Grammy’s (and you know she will), she better thank Mr. West for all of the attention bestowed upon her since the VMA’s. Just the mere act of West “hating” on someone made them more famous. That’s not good for West’s ego, but it’s great for Ms. “You Belong With Me”‘s bank account.