Stephanie DePrez | Wednesday, March 30, 2011
I was frustrated by a deep-seated conflict when approaching this week’s Tantrum. I began the day by sending out the alert, “looking for a good tantrum, open to all suggestions.” I posted this alert on Twitter, the hub of friends/Joss Whedon junkies/natural grocer advertisers who all deign to follow me on the new-media mammoth site that I have, reluctantly, hooked up to my phone.
By late afternoon I had received two suggestions: “Ark Music Factory = The Disney Channel. So much pain.” This tweet included a link to a video called “Ordinary Pop Star” by eleven-year-old CJ Fam, produced by the super-slick production team that brought us Rebecca Black’s “Friday.” This tweet was followed in quick succession by, “Whatever it is, don’t let it be Rebecca Black. Plz.” Well, unfortunately for tweeter number two, it seems that all tweets lead to one topic. Why we love Rebecca Black, and why we hate Rebecca Black.
Let’s set the stage: cute, bouncy thirteen-year-old who literally looks like she could be hanging out with your little sister lands in the middle of a very well-produced music video with auto-tune sharp enough to make Rihanna weep. Millions downloaded her single. She goes on Jay Leno, sits next to Bradley Cooper (without ever acknowledging she’s sitting next to smolder incarnate) and answers questions as if she were talking to her dad’s college roommate. Meanwhile, everyone who spent the weekend partying, partying (yeah!) remains acutely aware that in the normal wheel of music production and distribution, something is not right.
Here’s the hitch: Rebecca Black’s music video was produced by a company called the Ark Music Factory. Based in LA, Ark is run by two guys destined to live out the music producer’s dream, even if that means making videos for children of loaded Los Angelinos who are willing to back their children’s’ pop fantasies. They seek to reach out to “young artists” by offering them a venue to pursue music that is “clean and safe.” After multiple clicks on Google and YouTube, I found an interview — very staged — with Patrice Wilson, CEO and founder of Ark Music Factory.
“What we do, and the amount of work we put into artists…is very amazing, because we provide that platform. We give that music video, we give that song., we give that photo shoot, that image [a} consultant. How much do we charge? Number one, we don’t charge all artists. If we are to charge an artist, it can range from $2000 to $4000. Is that a bad deal?…You even get lunch!”
Thus speaks Wilson.
The system is clear: parents pony up the cash, and their children get to play rock star for a day. Which is great. Ark Music is happy. The parents are happy. And the kids get to dress up, perform at an Ark Music showcase, get interviewed on the “red carpet” and send a link of their professional looking music video to all their friends. Stasis remains.
But what happens when the parental-pleasing fodder that we roll our eyes at actually catches on at Finny’s? We like to think that extravagant birthday presents such as an Ark Music video remain contained to the little world in which they were produced, but Rebecca Black’s “Friday” proved what many of us refuse to believe — pop music really is just crap that’s fun to sing along to! NOOO!
“Listen to a song on the radio. Try to compare it with the song ‘Friday,'” Wilson says. “A pop tune is supposed to be really, really catchy. Now, regardless of the lyrics, and how easy the lyrics might be, some part… can stick in your head, and you get out of the shower, and you’re singing, ‘Friday, Friday…’ because it’s stuck in your head. That’s the whole purpose, that’s the goal of creating tunes and songs like that.”
Here we have it folks. Jason Derulo may think he’s trying to make art, to be somebody and fight for something greater, but really all he needs to do is write something that goes down in your head — and stays there.
“There is no difference whatsoever to the songs you hear on the radio today and the songs that we make. To get that radio sound, we have to go ahead and create that auto-tune to balance it out.”
And with that, Wilson might as well have said checkmate.
How can we compare “Friday” to “Only Girl (in the World)” and not come out scratching our heads? Ark Music Factory has called out the system by playing right into it. So Black has to get a bowl and cereal instead of being the only one who knows your heart. Does that make it any less fun to sing along to and make fun of? Ark Music Factory is utterly transparent in it is purposes. Wilson literally tells us how much it costs to get to be a pop star for a day. Is Rihanna any more “legit” because we don’t know how her songs are written? The next stage is, of course, Lady Gaga’s place in this debate, but I’ll leave that for another week.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
Contact Stephanie DePrez at firstname.lastname@example.org