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Fifteen seconds for fame

Music has become disposable. One day, you hear a new hit song, and then, a month later, it has vanished off the face of the earth. While this is not an entirely new phenomenon, the world of music has shifted greatly over the last decade. Instead of relying on record sales, downloads or touring to gain popularity, musicians are relying even more on the power of social media.

Now, before you criticize me for “putting my dad hat on,” or you accuse me of “shout[ing] into the void [about] how no one has good taste anymore” (like one kind online-commenter said to me two years ago), please hear me out. Trust me, I’m tired of writing about the evil relationship between music and social media, but someone has to say this. These ramblings are not intended to complain about my favorite indie bands getting popular online in attempt to “gatekeep.” This is simply to educate the world about the industry of mass-music-production. While I might miss seeing my favorite underground bands play in intimate venues, I want them to play in front of thousands one day. I want them to achieve the recognition they deserve and if that needs to happen via Instagram or TikTok, by all means, have at it! But, if reaching this goal requires an adherence to mainstream ideals, also known as the loss of originality, then they might as well be called “sell-outs.”

Platforms like Instagram and TikTok are tools with an angel and a devil on each shoulder; a place where personal and professional promotion reign supreme. If you are unaware, “The Algorithm” (which we shall denote as its own entity) is a bully. The system is like Regina George from “Mean Girls,” if you don’t like [blank] then “you can’t sit with us.” This is true with any online platform, but TikTok and Spotify are the most brutal. (Yes, Spotify is not a “social media” platform by definition, but it is considered to be one of the most intimate platforms compared to others.)

TikTok has become one of the most influential platforms for shaping music taste. Consider the story of the band Vunadbar. Almost a decade after their first album “Gawk” (2015) was released, their song “Alien Blues” suddenly experienced a rise in streams; a snippet of their song had gone viral. Even though Brandon Hagen (their lead vocalist and guitarist) expressed how strange it was to be known for a song he wrote when he was 18, they embraced their new-found popularity with a new music video and a re-recording of “Alien Blues” on their most recent album “Devil for the Fire” (2022).

While this is a positive story of embracing the power of TikTok, there is a downside. These “sounds” on TikTok are only a few seconds long, so you’re only getting a little taste of the greater picture. It was strange to see them live and see the crowd get the most animated for only two lines — what about the rest of the song? What about all the incredible music they have released since 2013? This is true for almost all TikTok sounds, creating a big dilemma: the disappearance of the bridge.  

If you are not familiar with song construction, a bridge usually occurs after the second chorus, standing as its own musical element. A great example of a bridge is in Gwen Stafani’s “Hollaback Girl”: “This s**t is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S.”  Because of TikTok’s format, despite the bridge being one of the catchiest parts of any given song, most clips feature either a few lines in the beginning or simply the chorus — it’s all about grabbing users’ attention. This strategy is also found to be true on Spotify, and it’s often called “The Spotify Effect.” There are two elements that go into the Spotify Effect. Firstly, if a song is skipped before it ends, The Algorithm will consider it to be less desired, recommending it less to other users. Secondly, Spotify won’t count a song as officially streamed unless it has been played for at least 30 seconds, so if it gets skipped in the beginning, artists won’t get paid. As a result, the combination of the two elements have forced producers and musicians to “get to the point” of the song, so they are less at risk of getting skipped. Today, music is made for consumption.

Now, you might echo my hate-commentor’s sentiments when they said, “Duh, it’s an economic game, what did you think would happen after streaming took away all of the artists’ revenue,” but none of this overproduced music is going to last. Vundabar, who have been working extremely hard to be where they are now, embraced their viral popularity while allowing their music to speak for itself. Many artists strive toward conformity because that is what is going to make them popular and get them paid, but no one is going to remember who they were in 30 years because they will have sounded like everyone else.  

I am not trying to tell you who or what to listen to; you should listen to the music that makes you happy. I simply want to educate you about the powerful relationship between music and the Internet. There are many cool things the Internet has done for music, but let’s make sure it doesn’t take too much control.

Contact Willoughby Thom at wthom@nd.edu.

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All in this together: the sprawling ‘High School Musical’ universe

“Breaking Bad.” “Star Wars.” “High School Musical.” What do these have in common? They are all sprawling franchises with films and television series, which all tell one cohesive story. (If one of these looks out of place, I don’t blame you. I also did not know Breaking Bad released a movie.) Jokes aside, it’s time to “get’cha head in the game,” because I am about to break down the expansive High School Musical franchise. 

The easiest place to start is the films: “High School Musical”, “HSM 2” and “HSM 3: Senior Year.” The first two films were released on Disney Channel in 2006 and 2007 respectively, with the third receiving a theatrical release in 2008. A fourth film, “Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure,” debuted in 2011, returning to the straight-to-television model. There was also a pilot for a TV spin-off, but it was never shown to the public. This takes us through the American installments of the franchise–with the emphasis on “American.” 

In 2008, the franchise found itself “breaking free” of the United States, with the release of two separate movies released in Argentina and Mexico with both films titled “El Desafío.” A third adaptation, for the Brazilian market, was released two years later, with a slightly different title: “O Desafio.” All three shared the same plotline. A fourth spin-off, “High School Musical: China – College Dreams” also released in 2010.

The franchise is still running, jumping from Disney Channel to Disney+. “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” makes the movies a fictional series (in the universe of the show) that the students perform as their school play, and the upcoming fourth season focuses on the fictional film “High School Musical 4: Reunion.” This segways well into the next piece of the High School Musical machine: real world domination. In 2006, Disney held a touring concert series to promote the film. Theater companies can license the rights to perform a stage adaptation of the first and second film. Additionally, there have been multiple reality shows to help Disney cast minor roles in the third film (“Get in the Picture”) and the foreign market films (“A Seleção”). 

Now here is where things get weird. In the second film, during the final musical number, one new character shows up: Miley Stewart, from “Hannah Montana,” played by Miley Cyrus. This blows the door wide open. “Hannah Montana” already exists in a connected universe of Disney TV shows, spanning as far back as “Boy Meets World” to recent shows such as 2015’s “Best Friends Whenever.” But, this is just Disney. We can take this so much further. Time for the lightning round!

Hannah Montana appeared in an episode of “Suite Life of Zack and Cody.” “Suite Life” character Mr. Moseby guest starred in an episode of “Jessie”, whose cast of characters featured in an episode of “Ultimate Spider-Man.” Spider-Man teamed-up with the Avengers, who have met the Simpsons. Homer Simpsons went to “Cheers.” “Cheers” introduced “Frasier.” Niles from Frasier was on “Caroline in the City,” whose titular character met Joey and Chandler from “FRIENDS.” Phoebe from “FRIENDS” is the sister of Ursula, the waitress in “Mad About You.” Kramer, from “Seinfeld,” made an appearance in “Mad About You.” And thus, the “High School Musical” to “Seinfeld” pipeline is complete, clearly the intention Disney Channel had all along. 

Dear readers, this is just the tip of the iceberg, but we are out of time. Next time you watch “High School Musical,” think about what you now know. It might change how you view the film. I know it has for me.

Contact Andy Ottone at aottone@nd.edu.