Invisible Artists Behind the Web

    With the Internet, there’s no reason to ever go to a normal store when you can order anything on Amazon or eBay. There’s no reason to buy a newspaper, since Twitter can tell you everything you need to know. You can even meet someone, fall in love and break up without ever leaving your desk. 

    But for the most part, when people talk about the Internet they talk about its ability to destroy other media industries. Anyone who’s following SOPA and PIPA through Congress can tell you it’s clear that these other media industries (the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America) feel threatened by a free and open Internet.

    But there’s yet another danger posed by the Internet, and it doesn’t just threaten greedy corporations, but art itself. 

    I think memes are destroying music. Not the music industry (thankfully, that’s already dead), but the way we appreciate the actual art form.

    Let me break down the obvious first: Memes are Internet videos or images passed on from one user to another. Unlike traditional media, the actual creator of a meme is irrelevant; what’s truly important is the sheer spreadability. The meme reaches so many people that the original source loses all meaning. Just look at the latest batch of viral media: “Feminist Ryan Gosling,” “Shit Girls Say,” planking. We all know the basic premises — Ryan Gosling seducing women with feminist theory, the inane things girls find themselves saying, lying face down in an unusual location — but we no longer care where they come from. It makes no difference whether it’s from a celebrity or an anonymous commenter — on Reddit, 4Chan and Tumblr, all posts are created equal.

    Apart from being annoying, these types of memes aren’t concerning. They’re mostly brainless, require little to no creativity and fade away just as soon as they emerge, but they’re a triumphant example of the copyright-busting, free-for-all landscape of the web, and that’s something I can get behind. But there’s a difference between overthrowing the concept of ownership and completely eliminating the artistic identity.  

    In essence, music and meme are becoming synonymous, so that artists are uploading their content, going viral and then virtually disappearing from the discourse surrounding their work. 

    Just look at the controversy surrounding an artist like Lana Del Rey. After Del Rey’s homemade “Video Games” music video emerged on the web, questions of the singer’s authenticity immediately followed. The trouble is, Del Rey touts an “indie” aesthetic — vintage style, Lolita sex appeal, a taste for PBR and the men who drink it — but a few years ago she was a much plainer, “mainstream” songwriter trying to make it in the music biz. 

    And so the Internet reacted — on Twitter, on YouTube, on the all-too-self-aware blog Hipster Runoff, which has literally rebranded itself as “the Lana Del Rey Report.” Her abnormally large, collagen lips were planted on other people (à la “Chicks With Steve Buscemi Eyes”), her nervous SNL performance was disseminated and judged by all and people seemed to forget to talk about the actual music (which is not very good, but that’s irrelevant). 

    Through all this, you’re left wondering, “Is there anything to Lana Del Rey but a few jokes on the web and really distracting lips?”

    That question, oddly enough, reminds me of the brilliant showstopper “Man Or Muppet” in last year’s “The Muppets.” Jason Segel’s character sings, “I reflect on my reflection and ask myself the question / what’s the right direction to go? / I don’t know / Am I a man or am I a muppet? / If I’m a muppet then I’m a very manly muppet.” I imagine Lana Del Rey is asking herself something rather similar. Is she a meme or an artist? And if she’s an artist, then she’s a very meme-y artist. 

    At this point, it’s impossible to separate the two, which is a dismal prospect for aspiring musicians. The Internet can pick you up and drop you at cyber speed, and by the time you’re done, you’ll be remembered in a GIF you never created, rather than the song that you did. 

    Somewhere, Rebecca Black is nodding in agreement. 


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