Monday, November 9, 2009

"Adventures in (in)authenticity" starring Miley Cyrus

It's time to jam. Just push play ...

Come on, admit it. You started bobbing your head -- and perhaps even singing along -- the second you hit "play" on that video. At the very least, you recognized that song and would probably admit -- even if begrudgingly -- that it's really darn catchy.

But, sadly, "Party in the USA" is a fraud. And the party's over now that someone's turned on the lights and cleared out the room.

Over the weekend, the folks over at Best Week Ever informed us that Miley Cyrus admitted she's never heard a Jay-Z song, invalidating a lyric of the song that made Miss Cyrus a relatable, even -- gasp -- cool teenager who digs all sorts of music and gives props to other artists.

First of all ... WHAT?! What planet are you from, girl? I mean, I know your dad is famous for "Achy Breaky Heart" and all, but you're a popular music star. Jay-Z is a popular music star. You've probably been at -- and even performed at -- the same awards show at least once. There's no excuse for you to have never heard any of his work.

That bit of "Captain Obvious" commentary aside ...

You're probably thinking, "It's a song. A silly little pop song. It's not supposed to be an autobiography."

And you know what? I would agree with that argument approximately 99% of the time. Matt Nathanson, for example, is a singer/songwriter who spins vivid, brilliant stories in his songs. Are they autobiographical? Perhaps in parts; I really don't know ... but that's because they're written in a way that they could be about anyone, for anyone. And his music doesn't contain shout-outs -- contrived or otherwise -- to other artists, which means there's no related sincerity/authenticity issue inherent in his work.

As soon as you start singing songs that sound like autobiographies -- or like they're at least "loosely based on actual events," as they say -- you cross over into different territory. And when you start singing lyrics that offer shout-outs to fellow artists, you really start treading on special ground. Shout-outs -- especially in today's highly competitive, beef-filled music industry -- are rare and usually considered sacred, for lack of a better term. So to waste one of your two shout-outs in a song that is a huge hit (and was bound to become one from the start; let's face it) on an artist whose music you've never heard is both foolish and inauthentic.

In the communications world, we stress authenticity and hold each other accountable for it (or the lack of it). What Miley Cyrus did by not changing the Jay-Z lyric in "Party in the USA" to the name of an artist with whom she's familiar -- and preferably one she even likes -- is akin to, say, retweeting an article you haven't read, gushing about a book you haven't read, or raving about a product you haven't tried, all in an effort to earn favor with peers or to give the appearance that you're up on the latest trends.

A friend of mine has a daughter around 10 years old who, upon hearing the information about "Party in the USA" and its phony Jay-Z mention, proclaimed, "I'm MAD at her! She lied on her song!" Kids say the darndest -- and truest -- things, no?

(And if you want to dive into the conspiracy theories, what if the shout-outs were paid placements? I have no reason to believe that they were, but hey, there are product placements pretty much everywhere else these days.)

The bottom line: Authenticity is key. And, in any context, if you're going to give someone a shout-out, mean it ... because it's awfully embarrassing when the world finds out the truth.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Did Facebook just make a change that is -- *gasp* -- useful?!

I think it may have!

The other day, I laughed heartily when I saw the
"52 notifications later and i regret liking your status" fan page show up in my news feed after one of my friends joined it.

We all know what that's like, especially if we've opted to receive notification e-mails regarding comments that occur after we click "Like" on something and/or leave a comment on it.

Personally, I love getting the notification e-mails so I can stay apprised of conversations even if I'm not on Facebook. But, let's face it, it can get a little overwhelming if it turns out we've commented on something and it turns out to be an incredibly active and lively conversation, resulting in 25 notifications in your e-mail inbox in the morning.

This happened to me last night when I commented on a friend's status update regarding health care reform. I knew he was paying close attention to what was going on, and my comment was a simple question: "Since you are the expert here ... where does the extension of the COBRA subsidy stand in all of this?" Mine was the third comment on the status update.

Within minutes, the comments turned into a political debate among some of this friend's other friends. I went to bed dreading what my e-mail inbox and notification page would look like. When I I got up this morning, had a couple of notifications (via e-mail and on my notifications page) of additional comments on that status -- five notifications in all, including those that I saw before going to bed last night.

Imagine my surprise when I went to read the comments to find out what my friend might've been able to find out about the COBRA extension and found that there was a total of
21 comments on the post! And there didn't appear to be a problem with the notification system, since I'd received e-mail notifications and items on my notifications page regarding several other things I'd either posted myself or commented on.

So, could it be?! Did Facebook finally wise up and cap the number of notifications that you can receive regarding a single post?!

If so, I think this is GREAT! Less junk to deal with in the long run. However, I'm sure some people will dislike such a change because it -- *gasp* -- puts the onus on the Facebook user to keep track of high-volume conversations on his or her own if s/he wants to keep up on the conversation ... but I maintain that this is positive thing, because it cuts back on that "information overload" we all complain about while also making us personally responsible for being a part of the conversations that are happening in our respective communities and deciding which ones we care to keep up with.

Again, I'm merely speculating as to whether this is an actual change, but I'll be investigating the matter today and will keep you posted. In the meantime, if you have any insights or opinions, please do post them here!