Tuesday, May 18, 2010

M.I.A. and music's newest marketing frontier: the guerilla Web itself

There is an ever-growing cohort of faceless, nameless, constantly-irreverant and ultra-referential users of the Web that is the source of all the weirdest, coolest most quickly spreading shit on the Internet. This isn't a group about mashing anything up. This isn't a group about memes. We are way beyond that. This is the young, front edge of the Internet where everything in history is chopped and spit back out in an unrecognizable jumble of pixels and symbols that have formed a new logic for the most adventurous and most acute consumers of our new popular culture. The Web itself is not only canvas but source material for a movement of content creation that has reached so far past postmodernism that no one even has the time or mental bandwith to parse through the signs and symbols they're regurgitating into a new and beautiful trash heap. We can only continue to scroll, "like" something or re-post it ourselves to place it in our own collage of jarbled references and pretty pictures. The new brush strokes are screen shots, the new pen and pad is a digital camera, and the gallery is a network of other likeminded brain splatter. Messages and ideas spread like wildfire because the network is enthusiastic beyond all comprehension. This community (it's really an art movement) has many codes, its own complex language, and a very distinct personality that defies a single-style approach by incorparting all the styles its individual members have ever been exposed to. M.I.A., the artist, may be one of these people or she may not be, but either way, she is grasping at a space that has not been exploited yet by any brand on its own terms, only by force in the hands of the members themselves.

Most are aware of MIA's new video for "Born Free" where red headed people geet rounded up, executed and exploded. Big thing on the internet. The accompanying marketing campaign by Interscope to promote her album, which is called /\/\/\Y/\ (it's supposed to spell her name, Maya), also garnered some press when a blimp flew over Coachella announcing the album's release date.

But, more importantly and much more interestingly, MIA has taken the culture of the Internet's most creative, subversive and zealous hipsters to market herself and wrap her whole brand. In her typically cocky and abrasive way, MIA is using the hipster Web community's language, codes, trends and irreverent hacker-y clubhouse vibe to spread some weird and interesting stuff to promote herself. First was her Pitchfork Twitter takeover day, during which she manned their account and basically went nuts and freaked a lot of people out; then she put up billboards in London of chopped up collages of screenshots from youtube's very familiar video player control bar; and, I think, she's the first artist to use animated GIFs as a promotional tool. And like the most navel-gazing and camera-happy laptop warriors out there, she even took a picture of her laptop screen frozen on Google's search bar with her name and "pitchfork" typed in to show the suggested results, demonstrating the popularity of her Pitchfork/twitter experiment, and then Twitpic'ed it.

What seems like a quirky personality is really a co-opting of one of the Web's most vibrant communities, one that just so happens to be the target audience for any indie band or artist, in this case one whose genre-raping and erratic attitude perfectly mirrors that of the Tumblr/Flickr/GPOYW crowd.

M.I.A. isn't merely reflecting a set of habits that may be popular among a certain crowd: she's using them to spread her brand. Like I said earlier, she is merely grasping. She may not even realize, though I believe she is much too savvy to stumble upon something by mistake, but she is not only using the language of these ultra-hip Tumblr-ites to associate herself with a young, vibrant culture but also to thread her brand through a community of the very people who spread ALL the best messages on the Internet far and wide. And by the time you see it on buzzfeed or whatever site your co-worker links you to, they've already forgotten 15 other cool things. nM.I.A. clearly isn't having a problem keeping up.