In November 2014, I went to see Capital Cities perform at the Fox. It was horrible.
My friend had an extra ticket, and he told me I was one of the only people who would go to a show on a whim (I still am, please continue to offer me tickets to concerts, I won’t always rant about them on the internet).
Capital Cities are a new electro pop group, famous for their song Safe And Sound. I had heard amazing things about their performance at OL 2014, and I was stoked to check out some dance-y tunes.
We walked in, and I grabbed a beer. The crowd consisted of all white people, mostly couples in kakis and easter egg halter tops. Everyone was pretty hammered, and already entering each other’s personal space.
There was a fairly small white screen placed front-center of the stage. The lights went down, and a video started, featuring the two dudes from Capital Cities, racing around in some animated car. This video went on for like, 5 minutes. At the end, a preposterously cheesy ad voice came on and announced, “This performance is sponsored by Forza.”
Are we for real? Was I just presented a wonky ad to “view this concert” after I paid (ok I didn’t pay this time) good money to be away from my computer screen for the night? Am I actually on Youtube right now? Oh wait, no. I’m at the Fox, trying to watch a concert.
Essentially, Forza replicated their tech conference booth sponsorship experience by paying for an overpriced projector screen to display their brand in a high traffic area, and pass out “swag” to random people in hopes to make some “impressions.”
The sheer laziness of this marketing campaign was shocking. This gaming company didn’t even try to be clever exposing their brand to me. They instead chose to present the ad through a method through which they were familiar, and attempt to hypnotize me into spending money that way.
After that nauseating experience, I began to question Capital Cities’ entire authenticity as a band: what kind of group would sign up for that type of nonsense, and agree to let a screen be placed in front of their fans before a performance?
This band played 3 cover songs: Stayin’ Alive (Bee Gees), Nothing Compares to You (Sinead O’Connor) and Holiday (Madonna). They played Safe & Sound twice, along with a song that mentions Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Farrah Fawcett hair.
During the Farrah Fawcett song, I watched this dude sing “like Michael Jackson’s Thriller” about 7 times, each time reenacting the signature Thriller claw move. Every single time.
The whole performance was staged. From the horribly choreographed throwback moves, to the trumpet player jumping on an amp at a light change, highlighting his silhouette for a photo opp.
I had gone to the Fox to celebrate the arts. Instead I was given a commercial followed by some derivative, data-driven marketing ploy to generate $$ under the guise of music.
I felt this same sense of betrayal after watching one of Aziz Ansari’s stand-ups. His jokes strangely felt unoriginal and inauthentic. It all seemed too constructed, like things I would hear at a house party. Not to say that’s a bad thing, but more that it appeared extremely accessible and safe, without pushing any sort of boundaries.
He uses words like “face” and “nachos”, and he references emojis and Snapchat. He also used “punched him in the neck” to get the crowd laughing, which I swear I have heard in more than one movie or sitcom. When I brought up this speculation in conversation, someone pointed me to the article that shows that he is actually using analytics to gauge who his audience is, and how to cater his jokes to that audience.
Unfortunately, the cost of applying data-driven tactics to the arts will result in uninspiring, “race to the bottom” content, leaving the audience with a subpar experience, and something we have seen before.
Intellectually, I can follow why Capital Cities would want to control the predictability of the bands’ revenue by creating songs that appeal to millennials. I comprehend why Forza would apply an ad campaign designed for a tech conference to a new channel (same demographic, right?). I mean, they are just reading the same VentureBeat sponsored articles we are. I can also understand why Ansari would use data-driven metrics to ensure he generates as much profit per show as possible.
And don’t get me wrong, he is hilarious in Parks & Rec.
I guess my point is that creativity cannot be measured in the same capacity as web site visits, nor should it be directly correlated to profit, because it ruins the whole experience. It’s one thing for a random gaming company to come in and try out a new “ad channel”, but if we are starting to create fake bands and fake songs for revenue, and comedians are resorting to analytics for business success, there is something seriously flawed with our priorities.
True artistic genius spreads in a completely organic way, and is what makes it so beautiful. When we try to force these things, we make it that much more difficult for real artists to reveal themselves, and we forget what we are really looking for in live performances.
Art is a lie that leads to truth – Picasso