Tag Archives: Britney Spears

Playing for Change features on The Colbert Report

Remember ‘Playing for Change’? I wrote a post about it a little while ago (here). I’m really happy that this great initiative is slowly gaining momentum. I purchased the ‘Playing for Change’ CD and it has become one of the musical ‘spiritual ladders’ in my music collection, an amasing ladder to my soul I am not yet even remotely getting tired of (official website here).

Playing for Change’s Mark Johnson made an appearance on The Colbert Report a couple of nights ago (August 12th to be exact). The interview was a typical Colbert one and was followed by a live rendition of ‘Stand by Me’. (Watch the interview here. Watch the live performance of ‘Stand by Me’ here.).

I especially loved Stephen Colbert’s quip about how, in his opinion, a good artist is someone who makes a lot of money. Even if it was made in the spirit of late-night comedy, there is, quite unfortunately, a lot of truth in it. Granted, this truth might have unconsciously crept up on us because of our constant overexposure to cookie cut and mass produced commercial music (think Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers: they are everywhere!), but it doesn’t change the fact that nowadays, the highest grossing artists are mostly commercial.

We have entered something of a vicious cycle, perpetuated on the one side by an aggressive marketing that puts commercial music within easy reach of the population, and on the other by a still-naïve population that equates financial success with quality and talent. After all, it makes sense that: talent + soul + hard work = amazing music = lots of sales = financial success, therefore if the abovementioned artists are financially successful, then it must mean that they have talent and soul.

But this equation is void in a culture where intensive marketing tips the balance in whatever direction it wishes, and usually for the purpose of making money. Nowadays, quality, talent and even soul aren’t enough; you have to have a powerful marketing team behind you to make sure you become the success that you deserve to be (or don’t, for that matter).

Check out some of the theories behind why performers like New Kids on the Block, the Spice Girls, Britney Spears, The Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus have become famous and are staying famous: here, here, here and here.

And a little off topic but still really interesting: go here to read a little about how Japanese schoolgirls (yes, you read that right) are helping refining marketing strategies in Japan.

Reading about this particular strategy makes me think of the concept explained in the book ‘The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t be Jammed’ by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, in which the authors argue that the counter-culture that was created in direct opposition to the culture as defined by the likes of NKOTB becomes, in the end, the culture itself (think Kurt Cobain and Converse…).

Thankfully, we now have the Internet, and although we (too) often find crappy music on it, there are also gems that are waiting to be found.

Playing for Change is definitely one of them.

Watch Playing for Change video clips here and here.

Follow the Playing for Change team in this series of episodes chronicling their work.

IHT: ‘When stars Twitter, a ghost may be lurking’

Here is another reason why celebrities shouldn’t be role models: they are often the result of careful marketing strategies. What we think as coming from celebrities, i.e. what some people consider as the standards towards which they strive, are actually coming from a team of people manipulating that stars image. And, however obvious this argument might seem, it’s interesting to note that it isn’t really taken into consideration nowadays.

When stars Twitter, a ghost may be lurking

By Noah Cohem; posted on IHT.com on March 27th 2009

The rapper 50 Cent is among the legion of stars who have recently embraced Twitter to reach fans who crave near-continuous access to their lives and thoughts. On March 1, he shared this insight with the more than 200,000 people who follow him: “My ambition leads me through a tunnel that never ends.”

Those were 50 Cent’s words, but it was not exactly him tweeting. Rather, it was Chris Romero, known as Broadway, the director of the rapper’s Web empire, who typed in those words after reading them in an interview.

“He doesn’t actually use Twitter,” Mr. Romero said of 50 Cent, whose real name is Curtis Jackson III, “but the energy of it is all him.”

In its short history, Twitter — a microblogging tool that uses 140 characters in bursts of text — has become an important marketing tool for celebrities, politicians and businesses, promising a level of intimacy never before approached online, as well as giving the public the ability to speak directly to people and institutions once comfortably on a pedestal.

But someone has to do all that writing, even if each entry is barely a sentence long. In many cases, celebrities and their handlers have turned to outside writers — ghost Twitterers, if you will — who keep fans updated on the latest twists and turns, often in the star’s own voice.

Because Twitter is seen as an intimate link between celebrities and their fans, many performers are not willing to divulge the help they use to put their thoughts into cyberspace.

Read the rest of this post here.

The oddity of intelligence: Another Heather Mallick gem

I can feel the excited, giggly fan-girl within me when I type titles such as the one I graced this post with, coming out of the little room I have sequestered it in. It happens, every once in awhile, that something makes her come out with a vengeance – especially when I read something like the latest Viewpoint from Heather Mallick.

David Sedaris and the weirdness of everyday life

Posted on CBC.ca on December 19th 2008

(…) It has come to this. I will pay 50 bucks to sit in a chair for 90 minutes and see a small man in a pool of light on a distant stage talk intelligently about the weirdness of daily life.

I enjoy this; it also causes me pain that intelligent people are now oddities, like bearded ladies in travelling carnivals.

Simultaneous pain and pleasure is what distinguishes a Sedaris audience. I have never before had the sensation of being in a hall where everyone shared my sensibility, that I could be friends with all of them. (…)

After Sedaris read The Santaland Diaries on National Public Radio, people said what they always say about Sedaris — “I just heard that thing again and it still cracks me up” — and now he is a writer and big breadwinner who lives anywhere but the Carolinas where he grew up.

Sedaris is regularly described as an “irreverent” and “wicked” master of observational humour. He is not. In his six books, he simply investigates strangeness and it quickly becomes clear that everyone is strange. (…)

Sedaris quoted Saunders to the audience. “Humour is what happens when we’re told the truth quicker and more directly than we’re used to. The comic is the truth stripped of the habitual, the cushioning, the easy consolation.”

Shut out by the mainstream, good writers like him have snuck in the side door. It is now a Sedaris-welcoming world.

This is a fine thing. The cultural megaphone that Saunders refers to in the title of his latest book is no longer held solely by who he calls the brain-dead but by smart people, young-ish writers and performers.

I try hard to convince writing students that it’s better to use the megaphone truthfully, the way writers like Sedaris do. For one thing, it’s funnier. It worries me that they seem unconvinced.

Why do I like her articles, even if I don’t always agree with her opinion or her choice of words? Because they are well thought out and intelligently presented without attempting to ‘dumb it down’; this is something, like Heather Mallick herself points out, that is unfortunately on its way to extinction. In an era of celibrity-obsessions and fleeting, superficial pleasures, it’s almost shameful to be intelligent. I sometimes am very tempted to make myself a fake cover of Twilight just to hide the titles of the books I am really reading – what can I say, some of the glares I get in the bus are lethal!

But I do have to agree with Mallick that it’s kind of scary how young people today are more interested in mooning over a fictional character that doesn’t exist (Edward Cullen, anyone?), in reading everything they can about their favorite celibrities, however bad their influence might be and however purely commercial their products are (Briney Spears, anyone?) and yet when it comes to reading ‘serious’ books, they develop a sudden case of literatinitis. I wonder if we’ll ever come up with a cure to that.

The Economic Crisis: Down with the Economy, Up with Celebrity Activism

Celebrity activism could potentially be a great tool with which inspired teenagers would leave their screens (TV or computer) to go into the outside world and help make a difference. Learning to be selfless in a smart, dedicated kind of way would help decrease, if not eliminate the greed underlying many of the problems that started this crisis in the first place.

In reality, it’s much more a publicity stunt than anything else, accomplishing the contrary, i.e. increasing the importance of the self which can more easily lead to greed. The ‘feel-good’ message centred on the ‘amazing giving self’ is about all it’s really about, although it makes fans feel good about their favourite celebrities and not much else.

What should celebrity activism be

It should be about celebrities embracing a cause plaguing society that is also one that they are passionate about; it should be about them using the medium of the Internet to raise the awareness of their fans as they raise their own awareness (through, say, blogs? Ever heard of those?). It should be about said celebrity asking himself and his fans ground shaking questions about things that shouldn’t be taken for granted (although they often are). It should be about said celebrity engaging in high level discourses about said cause the fruits of which he can bring back to his fan base, encouraging them to start the same discourses at the local level.

Just imagine is Robert Pattinson did this! Were his legions of fangirls be mobilized, what change could this force create? I bet you we could have a human chain spanning the length of Africa were we to line up all Robert Pattinson fans. Imagine what that could do for food & water distribution to Zimbabwe!

Just imagine if Britney Spears did this! She could also make it look all slinky and cool, under a circus tent perhaps, with a snake around her neck and half-naked… Then again, maybe it’s a good thing that some celebrities aren’t into activism.

What celebrity activism is

Most of the time, celebrity activism is about going somewhere (the poorer the better), taking in a certain project, take pictures that look particularly poignant (usually with cute kids), come back to North America, do a couple of interviews, and then… Things gets back to normal.

What? I’m not being bitter or cynical, this is just the way it is.

OK, so maybe I’m being a tiny bit cynical.

While what celebrities are doing is definitely better than doing nothing at all, the unfortunate truth is that many think that it’s more than enough. That’s where the real problem lies.

My take

I see the same type of attitude in the day to day life of non-celebrities, too; people are so happy with themselves because they donated to food banks for Christmas. “I’m such a good person,” they tell themselves as they head home, feeling all warm and fuzzy. And yes, they are good people… But a little foolish. Because as good as their action is, it doesn’t really change much. These actions are just little Band-Aids here and there that cover the cuts for a little while longer before they fester and grow some more, needing even bigger Band-Aids.

What no one seems willing to admit is that, to create a massive, long-term change on an international scale, we need to make massive, long-term changes in our day-to-day lives. And no one seems willing to do so.