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The Most Important Article on Music Hype Ever Written

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Makes No Sense At All captures the visions, ramblings, and memories of Chris Strouth, a Twin Cities-bred master of music, film, and everything else.

You may have noticed people on the social networks touting the virtues of the new up-and-comer "ello.co." This new alternative to Facebook touts that it was created by artists, and is anti-advertising. To quote from their manifesto: "Advertisers buy your data so they can show you more ads. You are the product that's bought and sold. We believe there is a better way... We believe in beauty, simplicity, and transparency."

Hey, wait a minute... Isn't that just the "not selling, sell" tactic? You crazy kids. It's HYPE. Super-effective hype, but hype nonetheless. Eight weeks ago, Ello had 90 users and is now reportedly getting 31,000 requests for invites per hour.

The reality is that good work is important, but hype is what gets you to experience it. I ask you, dear and gentle reader, what was the last new record that you listened to? But add this caveat: Make it the last time it wasn't prompted by a magazine, website, podcast, radio station, or the cool girl at your office? Don't feel bad if the answer is a shrug followed by a frown.


Almost anyone who has ever seen an old movie (well, one from MGM anyways) is familiar with the Latin term "Ars gratia artis" or "Art for Art's Sake." It's the idea that true art is divorced from commerce, or function. A noble sentiment, indeed. Of course if you look a little deeper, you realize that MGM was the number one studio at the time, and land of the over-hyped blockbuster (Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz). In fact, the phrase wasn't originally Latin, rather French -- 'l'art pour l'art'' -- and is really more tied into political philosophy than currency. Ass, Gas or Grass, nobody rides for free.

There is just way too much art to consume, as I mentioned back in May. Social Darwinism would say that it's survival of the fittest, and consequently what you hear, see, buy, and "like" therefore must be the best. That, friends, is just patently untrue. If it was, we would live in a Jessie J-free world; i.e: Utopia. Anyone who has ever watched Jerry Springer knows that it's not reason that wins the day, it's whoever speaks the loudest... and you know, throws the most chairs.

Hype is everywhere. We have TV networks dedicated just to it (hell, E! which is like a publicist's wet dream), because there is so much that no one seems to have the time to fact check. We live in an era that if you say you're famous, people will to some extent just accept that. How else do you explain any Real Housewife of Anywhere?

My favorite story of that sort of thing is a band a few years ago that hadn't gotten much national attention, that became international darlings because a major music institution had given them a review so complimentary you would think the band had parted the Red Sea. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the writer and one of the band members were roommates in college. And somewhere in the distance Terminator X scratches "Don't, don't believe the hype."

Who was that band, and where were they from?

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It was... well, that would be telling.

If you think that these sorts of shenanigans are a by-product of the modern era, well then allow me introduce you to the original Flavor Flavius, or Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus to be exact. Ruler of the Roman Empire from 69-79 A.D., he ordered the construction of the Coliseum, who inadvertently set upon the idea of "panem et circenses," AKA Bread and Circuses. According to Webster's, that means "Provision of the means of life and recreation by government to appease discontent." Or to put it another way: "Problems? What problems? Here, have a sandwich and watch the gladiators kill stuff."

The problem is that we have gotten so good at hype, that as a society we don't even attempt to really justify it. Rather, we rinse and repeat.

We like to hunt for the cool, for the exclusive, for that short window that something is cool but relatively unknown. The only thing better than jumping on the train early is to be able to tell all your friends that you got there first. Which wasn't so bad when things were just going supersonic. But we live in the light-speed age. News is only news for 15 minutes, or it's not fresh anymore. This speed runs counter to art, which is sometimes like bourbon -- the more time it has to sit, the better it gets.

Not that we don't overhype even the old stuff -- we just do it retroactively. Sort of how now everyone over 30 in Minneapolis is a huge Replacements fan. This is great, but in their prime there is no way in hell they could have filled Midway Stadium. It's hype. The very same hype that turned the 100 people at the first Sex Pistols show into an army of the spiky haired.

People used to accuse modern music of being style over substance. The funny thing is that, in a lot of ways, style can fill in the holes that sometimes exist in substance. It allows for the suspension of disbelief that makes you think Prince singing "lay down your funky weapon" is a clever lyric. When he sings it the way he sings it, it is. Now our problem is more hype vs. reality.

If Fox News has taught us anything, it's that repeating something often enough makes it true -- even in the negative. For example: I can say with 100 percent certainty that my editor Reed Fischer is not in Daft Punk. Again, I repeat Gimme Noise editor Reed Fischer is not in Daft Punk. There is absolutely no truth whatsoever to the rumor that City Pages music editor Reed Fischer is the gold robot in Daft Punk. Any Daft Punk helmets he may or may not have in his closet are purely coincidental, as is any French accent he may or may not have.

Not everything is hype, and for every rule there must be exceptions. In the genuine pop star bits, you sort of have to give it up for Taylor Swift. No publicist is that good to be able to fake it. She comes across as a ditzy 24-year-old. I think it's pretty genuine, if not a bit arrested in her development. It's that sincerity that makes her perfect fodder. She's not trying to hype. She doesn't have to, for right now she is in the perfect place at the perfect time. Well see if that same charm hold true at 28.

Whatever we are told is the next big thing may or may not be. The one thing we can know for sure is that it won't last all that long before it falls in the famous, but not cool category. It's all one big Wheel of Fortune, spun by a hype man dressed as Vanna White.

To quote Factory Records head quoting the sixth century Roman philosopher Boethius, "History is a wheel. 'Inconstancy is my very essence,' says the wheel. Rise up on my spokes if you like, but don't complain when you're cast back down into the depths. Good times pass away, but then so do the bad. Mutability is our tragedy, but it's also our hope. The worst of times, like the best, are always passing away."

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