Taylor Swift Is Exploiting Her Fans: Here’s How

BY LIAM MENZIES (@BLNKCLYR)

After a little while away from the spotlight, Taylor Swift‘s return was bound to make headlines – she could have released the most half arsed song imaginable (oh wait, she already did that) and it would still gather countless listens and publicity with her fans flocking to pre order her upcoming album.

With a new record comes a new style and while the reception hasn’t been great, the glossy sweet pop star we saw a few years ago has been replaced by a woman who has watched Mean Girls just a little too much, full to the brim with angst. However, as the saying goes “a leopard can never change its spots” and a recent announcement in relation to tickets has shed some light on this.

 Described as being a “really fun way” in order to guarantee your place in the ticket queue, “Taylor Swift Tix powered by Ticketmaster Verified Fan” may not be anything new as artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Ed Sheeran have had similarly named programs to help tackle the issue of touts. However, the devil is in the details and upon reading into them, you realise how exploitative the programme is to those who want to see her perform. 

In order to ensure your opportunity to buy a ticket, fans of the squeaky clean pop star are encouraged to do the following things which all range in what kind of boosts they give you: 

Watch the latest music video, purchase the album (for the greatest boost), post photos and engage on social media. Check the Taylor Swift Tix portal for the newest boosts and activities you can do everyday. – [Source]

On first glance, nothing nefarious stands out to you; fans would most likely purchase the album anyway and Swift’s fanbase won’t exactly moan about doing what they already do on social media if it greatly improves their chance to see her. However, it’s not until you look deeper into the former that you’ll start to roll you eyes. Consequence of Sound brought this up when breaking the news, stating: 

To guarantee they’ll receive Reputation it on the day it’s released they’ll have to fork over an extra $48.03 to ensure timely shipping, which brings the cost of one CD purchase to $63.03. – CoS

“You don’t have to buy the CD” you may be asking yourself and that’s true; the aforementioned ways like social media spamming and repeatedly watching music videos will give you little boosts but it’s all very reminiscent of the free to play system that plagues many games nowadays. You do have an authentic way to reach your goal but when the option is waved in front of you that you can essentially cheat your way in front of the queue with money then any “fun” is immediately stripped away, leading the program to benefit Swift’s wealthy fans and leave her impoverished ones in the dust.

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The final nail in the coffin is that even if one of her poor fans did manage to muster up the money to afford both a CD and tickets, they’re faced with the harsh reality that this program is only to allow you into the line. The fact that up to 13 purchases can be made that further your progress means that the whole message Swift and Ticketmaster are giving is “you could do this but slip us a hundred under the table and we won’t tell anyone”.

Bare in mind though that Swift isn’t new to this obsession with capital gain: who could forget when she trademarked “this sick beat” and other phrases from her 1989 album, leading fan made merch on sites like Etsy to have to seek permission to use them. The most shameful thing about this program isn’t the profits that both Swift and Ticketmaster are aiming for, though it certainly plays a factor, rather the faux-moral high ground they’re trying to take by utlizing fans. Even putting aside how Swift has further stigmatised a mentally ill black man, and is planning on releasing an album on the tenth anniversary of his mother’s death, this undoubtedly is one of the pop star’s most reprehensible moves to date.

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Is Harry Styles really the next Bowie?

By Brogan McKeown (Writer @ LPD) and Oli Butler (@notloliverbutler)

Brogan: Harry Styles has released his debut solo single and already I have a lot of opinions on it. Is it really what we were all expecting? Is there much more to this single release than meets the eye? Oli and I sure think so. 

Oli: Whilst arguably this should be a bit of a talking heads piece where we both cheerily discuss and banter our way through the finer points of yet another debut single from yet another breakaway member of the imploded marketing campaign, One Direction, I’m more than willing to side with Brogan here. Already with some foaming at the mouth, declaring him to be the next David Prince-Jagger-Lennon-Cher, it’s high time for a hearty dose of calm the fuck down here. 

Brogan: Firstly, let’s start with the name. Sign of the Times– fab name! If only it hadn’t been done before. The name is clearly a direct reference to Prince’s Sign O’ The Times and it has become SO blatantly apparent that his team is trying to sell him as the next Prince, and, as we have seen in news articles, the next Bowie too. That would be all fine and well- if we could actually see how he is similar to them.

Oli: Ah yes, what an inventive name Sign of the Times is. Not identical to Prince‘s Sign O’ the Times (Released as Sign O’ t’Times in Yorkshire), the all knowing record company have swapped o’ for of to really distinguish between the two song titles. Whilst I’m well aware of and accepting that song titles will often repeat themselves and that’s just par for the course in such an expansive musical universe, how fucking stupid do you think we are to package a solo boyband artist as the next Prince and pinch one of the dead man’s song titles for good measure. Whilst the purple velvet strings around Prince’s back catalogue have been loosened, allowing you to throw D.M.S.R in a pre-drink Spotify queue, pinching one of his song titles is a bit much. 

Brogan: The same thing, selling Harry Styles to be like anyone other than himself, happened to Styles when he was in One Direction. His team so desperately tried to pitch him as the next Mick Jagger with his dress sense and photo shoots. But did it work? I don’t think so. I don’t know how he could be compared to such independent thinking artists who were ever changing and innovative. To me, Harry Styles is an image that his team use to sell songs. I can’t help but feel we don’t know who he actually is? WHO IS THE REAL HARRY STYLES?! 

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Oli: We will never see another Prince or Bowie in the same way we’ll never see another Kanye or Kendrick, and why? Because they were and are icons, innovators who didn’t play the game they were in, they rewrote the rule book altogether. Whilst they’ll influence future generations both directly and indirectly, it’s detrimental to suggest that [new artist] is the next [icon] on both sides of the coin. Why? On the one hand, it merely says that this brand new artist with plenty to offer the musical world now has no identity and is just the Saturday night tribute act, and on the other hand, you’ve turned to millions of fans around the world and said that your icon has now been replaced, quite quickly, by someone you’ve just heard of. 

Brogan: After seeing all that promo from his team after the single was released, I decided to listen to it. Now, I’m not trying to slag off the song by any means, but it never fit the bill for me. It seemed very forced and not how I expected him to sound at all- maybe I thought this purely on what I was reading before I listened! I couldn’t see any Bowie similarities in there and the only thing that would liken him to Prince was the song title! I was surprised not to hear anything even remotely similar. Perhaps a failed marketing campaign from his team on this one.  

Oli: Whilst this track is not a bad track by any stretch of the imagination, what’s sullied this track for me is that they’ve tried to market him as two of music’s biggest icons at once. Furthermore, every soulless record executive in the world probably rubbed their hands with glee when both men passed away, knowing that there was an easy sellable Greatest Hits bonus in their next paycheque. 

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Brogan: He should have been pitched him as purely Harry Styles. I say this because he has millions and millions of fans out there who would jump at the chance to buy and listen to work by him. People everywhere would have wanted to hear what Harry Styles sounds like- what’s his style? Former bandmate, Zayn Malik, released his solo work and everyone went crazy. Purely because it was Zayn in his own right- he even said that this is the type of work he wanted to do all along, which made me think a lot at that time too. Are these boys always going to be a product of their marketing team? Are they always going to be told how to look/sound in order to sell money? Has Harry not managed to break free from this yet? It’ll be interesting to see what the future holds for Mr Styles and his solo career. 

Oli: Such a move is not the fault of Harry Styles himself. He’s probably just a lad who wants to sing songs and obviously walk away with a sack of money that would make a game of Monopoly look frugal, but has left selling the track he’s made in the hand of record executives, record producers, and soulless marketers to make sure that they maximise profits for themselves, completely stripping both Harry Styles and his music of any identity. They’ve seen a floppy haired white boy, slapped a load of bumper stickers that say “PRINCE!” “BOWIE!” “YOU LIKE!” all over him and thrown him into our faces, not actually allowing to carve out an identity of his own. Harry Styles can have something truly wonderful here: his own identity. Not just one of the boys from One Direction, not just another face and voice used to sell records, he can be his own man, his own talent and shape his own destiny, but if he is forever left to be packaged as your next icon, his best hope is not featuring on a “Where Are They Now?!” article on, oh, I don’t know, Buzzfeed.


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How Arcade Fire’s Funeral Became A Modern Day Classic

Before they got the nod of approval from the late King of, well, music David Bowie. Before they experimented with Haiti inspired music, drawing from Regine Chassagne’s origins, which shaped their latest album Reflektor. Before they managed to beat Lady Gaga, Eminem and Katy Perry to win the Grammy Award for Album Of The Year. Before all of this, Arcade Fire were just a group of friends, the main songwriters Win Butler and Chassagne being husband and wife, who loved to make music.

Made for $10,000 yet, at the time of writing, selling over 700,000 copies, Arcade Fire managed to strike gold on their first attempt with debut record Funeral in 2004 which has left a mark on the indie rock scene that, since then, has yet to be matched. So just how did the band manage to make such a remarkable album and why is it so lauded by not only critics but by fans all over the world?

Just like other quintessential albums like Radiohead’s OK Computer, Funeral is very much a product of its time. In a post 9/11 world that was full of paranoia, fear and tragedy, there was a definite feeling of unrest that many found hard to shake off. Though many find the label “emo” revolting due to the colourfully dyed hairstyles and monster energy drink cans that will come to mind, Arcade Fire manage to show that emo stood for something which, unsurprisingly, is emotion. From the get go, the pain, the positivity, the lows and the highs are all documented in such a way that when you remember Butler describing the development of each new record as if they were making a film, you can’t help but nod in agreement.

Let’s take opening track Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels) for example, a thematic opener that sets the scene for what’s to come. A model coming of age song, instrumentally it’s grand which is in no small part due to the seven members of the band: Butler, his younger brother Will, Chassagne, Richard Reed Parry, Tim Kingsbury, Jeremy Gara and former member Howard Bilerman. Every individual plays a key part in making the sound on Funeral feel as grand and open ended as the snow drenched streets and lands that Butler sings about so whimsically.

It would be a cardinal sin not to mention the lyrics on this LP and boy, do they pack a punch. The tragedy encrusted lines on the aforementioned Neighbourhood #1, which has juxtaposing imagery of love with the protagonist’s parents and his own romance with his partner who he decides to run away with, stand out as some of the band’s best so far. This, accompanied by the catchy yet simple piano, the humming organ and the seductive strings, gives an almost Wes Anderson type of vibe, more specifically his project Moonrise Kingdom which touched upon some of these issues. In addition to all this, the lyrics aren’t all drenched in sadness as certains tracks have the anthemic chorus that helps to keep the album fresh and alive. Rallying cries are Arcade Fire’s forte and the “WHOA-OH”s that are scattered along Wake Up will be etched into your mind immediately.

This emotion from one track alone is overwhelming and it continues throughout the entire LP, whether it be on the following Neighbourhood tracks #2 and #4 which discuss alienation and the banality of modern life respectively or the standout track Rebellion (Lies) which is essentially the tale of being an optimist in a pessimistic world. As mentioned before, Arcade Fire made emo stand for what it was and in addition to that, they transformed the landscape of indie rock for the time being.

It’s no doubt down to the authenticity that makes Funeral feel like something much more than just an album. Family members were dying all around and, much like all great art, this tragedy and dire events fueled the band to make something special. The pain and frustration can be felt in every line and chord and what it evokes from the listener is something that even I, someone whose job it is to put things into words, finds hard to do so.

Michael Barclay, writer for Exclaim Music, wrote “Despite the title, Funeral is more like a baptism: an arrival, an affirmation of faith, a statement of purpose”, a statement that rings all too true in a post-funeral world where each and every one of Arcade Fire’s albums feels like it’s own entity. Funeral is an album that artists aspire to make, their very own magnum opus, that some never manage to create. Much like the sidewalk near the old apartment the band used to perform in, Arcade Fire have engraved themselves into the music history books: and they did it all on their first try.

-Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)

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Are We About To Witness A New Age For Albums?

Kanye’s The Life Of Pablo is being updated and changed weeks after release: could this be the new standard?

“Ima fix wolves”. These were the words uttered on Twitter by hip hop artist and self proclaimed god Kanye West mere hours after releasing his highly anticipated seventh LP The Life Of Pablo and unsurprisingly, this resulted in a bit of backlash. Some saw this as an inevitable outcome due to the amount of time Kanye had allocated to the release, others saw this as another opportunity to take shots at the ever controversial star.

However, could Kanye’s brilliant mistake be a blessing in disguise and shape the way we see albums as an artform?

Now first things first, let’s be clear here: I’m not the first to have this thought. In this day and age, there’s very little chance you’re going to say anything totally original unless you say something extravagant and idiotic like “oxygen is bad” or “I prefer Oasis to Blur”.Now that the default disclaimer is out of the way, it’s time to focus on the topic at hand which was brought on by this week’s surprise update to Kanye’s The Life Of Pablo. 

Although he had promised this for quite some time, this is also the man who said he’d release his album last year and look what happened there, eh? Adding a tweaked version of Wolves including Sia as well as an individual track for Frank Ocean, it’s safe to say that there was a great interest in the changes, so much so that Tidal had to extend the free trial for those who wanted to listen to Yeezy’s messy masterpiece.

Upon hearing of this, it seemed clear to me that Kanye had taken a page right out of someone else’s book. However, this wasn’t another artist he had copied but instead something else entirely: gaming. This isn’t hard to believe considering that West is planning an album named after a video games console and is making a game himself where the player leads his…dead mother…to the afterlife (another topic for another day, ok).

Anyway, a brief little history lesson. The year is 2010 and Square Enix release Final Fantasy XIV to overwhelmingly mixed reviews, some critics calling it “unfinished” (seeing a similarity here) which resulted in Square having to go back to the drawing board. What did they do? Made an entirely new version, updating huge chunks of the game and satisfying the demands of fans, all under the same title of “Final Fantasy XIV”.

This isn’t an isolated incident and infact is quite common place in gaming. While it’s becoming a criticism that some developers will send out huge Day 1 patches, the fact of the matter is that games nowadays are bigger than ever and these patches help creators make sure their product is to the best quality possible.

So could the same approach work for music? It’s not impossible as stranger things have happened: the rebirth of vinyl and the rise of streaming music would have been crazy talk if suggested a decade ago. Not only has the way we listen to music changed but the way it is released has too, artists like Radiohead and Death Grips deciding to take a different approach by allowing fans to pay as much as they want or releasing the album for free respectively.

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It’s a win-win result right? Perhaps not as there is some pretty understandable gripes, the standout one no doubt being, in my eyes, the fate of music journalism. If an artist constantly tweaks an album to their liking then every review becomes out of date almost instantaneously, meaning those who tend to rely on these critics might be put off from giving these albums a listen.

Then there’s the argument that it could excuse an artist’s incompetence, meaning that any sort of criticism could be retorted with “it’ll get sorted with an update”. Some will say that updating an album means that it doesn’t give them time to age and develop as it becomes a piece of contemporary art.

Despite all of this, the idea of an artist being able to update an album even after its release without charging the listener a penny is an interesting one indeed. Already there will be an artist somewhere coming up with some sort of ridiculous concept album that will benefit from this approach. Not only will it allow for some creative outbursts but it’ll help extend the lifespan of an album as even after the likes of The 1975 and Kendrick Lamar dropping releases, The Life Of Pablo has remained relevant.

The Life Of Pablo is a very fitting name, Kanye learning and improving it by ironing out all the problems some have came out with. Whether you think this will result in certain enjoyable quirks being removed or a genius move, music has proved once again why it’s the most exciting piece of entertainment.

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Thoughts On: Marvel Cinematic Universe

A new cinema powerhouse is fated to face the same demise as any empire: how can they stop it?

It was only a matter of time. When I was watching the latest Civil War trailer, I was happy with what I saw, everything that was happening confirming my excitement for the film’s release at the end of April: Iron Man and Captain America fighting? Check. Black Panther being added to the roster? Check. An inevitable divide within the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Check.

However, it wasn’t until the final seconds of the trailer that excitement levels for me went through the roof, leaving me in a similar state that I was left in back when the very first film for Marvel’s favourite web-slinger came out. I’m of course talking about Spiderman finally getting his big screen reveal.

“HOLY FUCKING SHIT” was my immediate response and the reaction I gave after watching the trailer repeatedly was pretty much identical. Finally we have Spiderman in the MCU, donning a suit that is beautiful fan service to anyone aware of the original style of Spidey’s look in the 60’s animated series as well as his original look in the comics.

However, the more and more tweets I saw about Spiderman, claiming that his look was awful and that he sounded too young, I started to realise how askewed some fans priorities are. Exile me if you want but the Marvel Cinematic Universe is far from perfect and the empire that it has become won’t collapse because of how cheap Spiderman’s costume looks: it’ll be our resistance to criticising these films.

Before I start listing all the issues I have, it’s important to point out that I do enjoy superhero film and Marvel’s are no different. Guardians Of The Galaxy was hilarious and engaging with a soundtrack that is undeniably perfect for the film and Captain America: Winter Soldier is one of the few films from the MCU that I could recommend to anyone, even those who detest superhero films.

However, if we want to see these films improve then we must realise that they’re not perfect. Nothing is and to live by the opinion that something is perfect sets up the very thing you love to become the very opposite of it and my biggest gripe with the MCU has to be the villains.

A problem that has been ever present in these films since Day 1, villains are seen as a total afterthought in the grand scheme of things. Ask someone to name a nemesis from a MCU film that isn’t Loki and they’ll be struggling, not because of their own bad memory but because of how poorly developed these villains are.

What makes this even more bittersweet is the fact that these villains are played by wonderful actors. Mickey Rourke, Guy Pearce, Tom Hiddleston, it’s a total injustice that Marvel and Disney waste the potential they have. Marvel can make great screen adaptations of villains as shown by Spiderman 2 and Daredevil which has not only irritated myself and many others but even George R.R Martin, author of a little fantasy series you may know that started off with Game Of Thrones, threw his hat into the ring:

“I am tired of this Marvel movie trope where the bad guy has the same powers as the hero. The Hulk fought the Abomination, who is just a bad Hulk. Spider-Man fights Venom, who is just a bad Spider-Man. Iron Man fights Ironmonger, a bad Iron Man. Yawn. I want more films where the hero and the villain have wildly different powers. That makes the action much more interesting.”

How good your villain and hero are is irrelevant however when the plot itself is severely lacking and this is another pitfall that Marvel have yet to address properly.

If you don’t know what a Macguffin then it’s time for a little lesson. A Macguffin is defined as being “a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation”. A Macguffin goes by many names in the MCU, most typically the Tesseract or an infinity gem, and it has resulted in the predictable, formulaic stories we see more in these type of movies.

“Superhero x fights supervillain y to get object z to save the planet/universe” could sum a vast majority of Marvel films and while there has been some tweaks to the formula, Ant Man managed to make it more of a heist film than all out battle, that feeling of Deja Vu never seems to go away.

Speaking of Deja Vu, it seems like oversaturation is a word Disney and Marvel can’t seem to find in their dictionary. Although not all of these films are theirs, the amount of superhero films present no doubt spawns from their actions. Ten Marvel, eleven DC as well as other Fox owned properties are set to be released in the next four years alone with many others still to be announced.

All of this wouldn’t be a problem if directors were allowed to make the film they wished to but the fact of the matter is that isn’t the case. Edgar Wright, director of Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, left halfway through Ant Man due to creative differences, no doubt down to how every Marvel film intertwines, something that is undoubtedly cool as it makes the movies feel like they’re important in the grand scheme of things.

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I’m not alone in what I’ve said and I’m not trying to take some hipster approach as I’ve said before that I thoroughly enjoy superhero films but I am aware of their faults. While there is leeway for things like scientific inaccuracies in a world where a man can turn into a huge, green monster, there is no excuse for poor villains, plot and planning.

It’s not too late for Marvel to deal with these problems as all they have to do is focus more on what the director feels is right rather than the producers who seem more concerned on quantity rather than quality. Phase 3 of the MCU is set to kick off with Civil War and it has been teased that this will change the future of these films.

I can only pray that this is the case.

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Thoughts On: The Brit Awards

When your award show is referred to as “the British Grammy’s”, you’d think it was some sort of compliment. Well, that’s until you realise that the Grammy’s themselves considered James Bay more worthy of a Rock Album Of The Year nod than the hundreds of other potential nominees. Fair do’s to the Grammy’s though since they at least have some sort of range instead of the traditional limited list of categories the Brits provide, somehow being the smallest thing at an awards show that includes Dec Connolly.

Despite the excuse that they’re meaningless and shit, the Brits are still open to criticism and after all, this is the awards show where Franz Ferdinand won two out of five awards they were nominated for so they are capable of using their brains from time to time. The latter of this statement is unfortunately false when it comes to looking at one category in particular.

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Just like Ed Sheeran before him, James Bay will be the golden child of the Brits this year, no doubt picking up every award his little permanently hat attached head is nominated for. It’s no surprise that an awards show will try and make out that they award based on quality rather than sales, which couldn’t be further from the truth, but it all becomes even more gutting when Aphex Twin finally gets the recognition he deserves only to be beaten by Jason Mraz 2.0 .

Not only that but I find it fucking laughable that the Brits will bring the likes of JME and Skepta on stage with Kanye for a performance yet when it comes to representing their genre, they’re not given a hint of recognition. Grime grew exponentially in 2015 and to act as if it doesn’t even exist is just plain ignorance, especially when you’re awards show has enough black nominees that you could count them all on one hand and give the Oscars a run for their money with their lack of representation.

Unlike the Oscars though whose problem lies within the industry they represent rather than the ceremony itself, the Brits has little excuse as they have such a large array of black musicians to choose from: Kwabs, Stormzy, aforementioned JME and Skepta, Fuse ODG (hey, I didn’t say they had to be amazing), they’re just a few and just like the film industry, a lack of diversity results in little aspiration for other POC when it comes to them wanting to achieve in an industry that is largely white dominated.

This was initially going to be my pick of who I think should win but it just got on my nerves that the Brits will claim to be relevant yet will offer a seat to Olly Murs before considering an artist who helped a genre break into the mainstream. Of course there are other categories and I’m happy to see Kendrick Lamar and Jamie XX nominated after providing the two essential albums of 2015. Some of you reading this will no doubt slate this as another “PC gone mad” article but that’s not the case: credit should be given where credit is due and that just isn’t the case with the current list of nominees.

As far as I’m concerned, the Brits is fated to continue being the Limp Bizkit of the awards world: trying to act hip and current but failing to realise they were better kept in the 90’s.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think in the comments down below.

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