Animal Collective Embodies The New Internet Hype Cycle

Jan 26th, 2009 // 22 Comments

How successful are people expecting the new Animal Collective album to be? So successful that Spin‘s Charles Aaron is worried that Merriweather Post Pavilion will become as ubiquitous as Moby’s Play—an album where all but one track was licensed to commercials. This is to say that Aaron is predicting it will be as successful as one of the most successful albums in recent memory, and he is worried that this will make him dislike it. Aaron seems aware of how crazy this is, but all the self-flagellation about his coyly authentic taste lapse doesn’t excuse the fact that he nevertheless wrote a piece about it, nor that he felt enough ownership of a Moby album to be offended when its songs showed up on soap operas, nor that he, like the rest of the internet, is somehow convinced that MPP is going to be a major crossover smash. But why?



Aaron’s only evidence seems to be that a lot of the people have written about it, and that Entertainment Weekly gave it an A-. (An A minus, you guys!) Unlike Aaron, we have the advantage of writing after the album’s release, so we can look at its position on iTunes. After a week of availability there, it’s the No. 5 best-selling album—behind the Twilight soundtrack, Taylor Swift, and the Bon Iver EP, which was released the same day as MPP and is sitting at No. 2.

Ah, but maybe, like Play, it will be licensed to lots of commercials and get noticed that way? Even Aaron admits this is unlikely—”it’s hard to imagine them licensing ‘Lion in a Coma’ to Nokia,” he generously notes in a parenthetical—and there seems to be a world of difference between Moby’s yuppie-friendly blend of blues samples and house and Animal Collective’s hippie-derived drones and group singing. But the overexposure, in Aaron’s reckoning, is going to come from a different source than with Moby’s album. Instead of being forcibly informed that people he dislikes have an emotional connection with a piece of music he does like at “a Starbucks on the New Jersey Turnpike,” the overexposure here would be more virtual.

And now, an oversaturation similar to what Moby willfully engendered via multi-platform licensing over more than a year could be happening, somewhat organically, to Animal Collective — even before their album’s official release and without the attendant financial windfall — via blogs, websites, YouTube, and assorted online jabberwocky.

Aha! What we’re talking about here, then, is not actual success, but Internet success, which is a different beast entirely. By that measure, of course, Animal Collective are already wildly successful. But it seems a little strange that this is what constitutes making it for the modern musical enterprise: not the awareness of casual listeners, the monetary rewards of actual sales, and the cultural ubiquity afforded by a presence on television and in movies, but the warm glow of blogged concert pix, fan-made videos, and people having “SummertimeClothes” as a username on discussion boards.

If this is the success Aaron is worried about, then he has nothing to fear. This is a safe form of acclaim, a small-stakes version of selling out that leaves everyone but the artist satisfied. If Animal Collective never crosses over to the real world, then no one drinking latte in an SUV will ever be playing the album; all we will have to contend with is the affection of other people on the Internet, who are not so unlike you and me, after all. If the band doesn’t get the reward of real-world sales, then it can never leave us, the cossetted bosom of true admirers that have made it what it is. It can stay small, stay in its little hometown and never escape. And if all its ubiquity is on Web sites, then these are easily avoided. We never watch something we don’t choose to watch, after all. This could only be a problem if we spend all our time on the Internet.

But, of course, we do. This is the odd bifurcation of the moment in which we find ourselves: a fragmented musical landscape in which “crossover” means only a jump from the country charts to the pop charts, but we are all loath to admit the new reality. We yearn for the days when we could complain about a band selling out—when Nirvana could cross over and make us all argue about the wrong people liking things. Maybe it will happen for Animal Collective. But if it does, will we even notice? Or will we just assume it’s successful because it’s successful on the Internet?

Is Animal Collective the New Moby? [Spin, via PGWP]

idolator

  1. doublewhiskycokenoice

    i swear i read this article every year, just in rehashed form, replacing one artist’s name for another. (see: clap your hands say yeah, arcade fire, m.i.a., etc.)

    my question is, since it is fairly obvious that mainstream media can basically pick any good band at random and play it off to the masses as the next coming of christ, why haven’t the media outlets made a run at hardcore punk in the last 25 years? even fucking “horrorcore rap” got a moment in the macabre sun. where’s the love for Career Suicide?

  2. TheRunningboard7

    This article reminds me that my first experience in a Starbucks resulted in a delicious mint brownie. I don’t recall hearing music being played. This was last year.

    So, as I’ve stated before, I kinda like the Animal Collective song I’ve heard on XMU, and I have no clue what the name is. Instead of wondering if this is the Messiah if indie rock, and without worrying who else is going to like it, here’s a better question: Should I buy this album?

  3. janine

    …since it is fairly obvious that mainstream media can basically pick any good band at random and play it off to the masses as the next coming of christ…

    I think the article implies the opposite, that all this attention just equals more attention and little else?

  4. Matthew Perpetua

    I remember back when one group of internet people asserted that M.I.A. had the potential to have real hits, and another group of internet people insisted that she could never be famous or have legit chart success because she was just something internet people liked, and Real Hip Hop Fans or whatever would never sign off on it.

    Nostalgia!

    People need to cool out re: Animal Collective. The record will do pretty well and they’ll play some bigger venues, and anything that will happen will happen organically.

  5. cassidy2099

    I’ve never understood this thinking, and it only ever seems to apply to music. If your favorite TV show becomes popular, do you lament this and wish it to obscurity? If that little indie movie you saw at a film festival catches on with the larger populace, do you wish no one had seen it? When I hear music I like, I thrill whenever other people hear it(and like it!) Are Bruce Springsteen fans pissed that he is playing the Super Bowl? No, they aren’t. Animal Collective will be lucky to get any kind of mainstream attention, considering what their music sounds like. But at the same time, if I consider much of the Top 40 lineup largely unlistenable, shouldn’t Animal Collective fit right in?

  6. sicksteanein

    I don’t think AC fans understand how small the Internet scene actually is.

    That and how boring and annoying the casual listener would find AC songs.

    Nothing against the band here, but let’s keep some perspective.

  7. BARRBARR

    Didn’t this happen with Arcade Fire & the Decemberists as well? Seems they now both play for a larger audience and are widely seen as stereotypically “indie” and not exciting now. I am getting the feeling this is just how it works.

  8. Ted Striker

    @sicksteanein:

    Excellent point. I don’t think you’ll ever find a situation where AC sells out a 2-4k seat venue all by themselves, in any city.

  9. MayhemintheHood

    AC have already made approximately 3 million internet theoretical dollars this year, which is pretty amazing.

  10. KurticusMaximus

    @doublewhiskycokenoice: I dunno, Fucked Up seemed to be getting a fair amount of attention there, at least for a while.

    I guess it took a 6-minute-long-song-which-opens-with-a-flute-solo-to-start-the-album to get their attention.

  11. Anonymous

    @Ted Striker:

    They have done just that at New York’s 3,000-capacity Terminal 5. It’s true that it’ll be tough to assemble that sort of mass in, say, Kansas City.

  12. Anonymous

    @cassidy2099: One of the big differences between a tv show and a band being popular is that as the popularity on television sets in, the available level of enjoyment is uniform- you can watch The Office, tivo it, and watch it again with your friends- same thing with movies. But with a band, when they get huge, you lose a bit of the personal connection you may have with a band- seeing the White Stripes at the Empty Bottle is better than seeing them at the Aragon Ballroom- and once they go that way, they ain’t coming back. Intimacy with the artist is lost. And its kind of sad.

  13. Anonymous

    @BARRBARR: I think the excitement waned on those two particular acts because they got big on the backs of great records- Funeral and Picaresque, and neither the Crane Wife nor Neon Bible were all that great. Both good, both fine, but nothing to evangalize.

  14. TheRunningboard7

    @cassidy2099: And on top of that, were they to get super famous, you’d probably see more ads for them in the top left corner instead of Hoobastank (?!!), and I don’t know why that would be a bad thing.

  15. AquaLung

    I never thought I’d say this, but can we PLEASE have some SXSW hype? Something needs to come in an eat up some of this daily AC hyperbole.

  16. Anonymous

    This whole AC thing is bizarre. I would have never thought that a band that you normally wouldn’t hear about outside of the Wire is being asked about by folks like my wife, an avid Beyonce, B-Spears and various other fun, poppy music fan, who’s not extremely knowledgeable about below the radar music (which she’d be the first to admit). It’s like there some sort of cultural capital to their name being dropped — you’re in on the secret and agree with the acclaim. I imagine that’s where most of the volatile hate is coming from, more at an audience than the band.

  17. King of Pants

    So this is basically Animal Collective fanfic?

  18. Anonymous

    @sicksteanein:

    Boring and annoying. Perfect description.

  19. janine

    @Thesemodernsocks: It’s also sad when your high school sweetheart gets into Swarthmore. Better they tank on their SATs and stay with you 4evah, or at least until you’re bored with them. That’s what they were made for right? For you!

    These guys practiced in basements and garages and hauled gear all over the damn place for years in order to play for no more than 500 people. This bugs.

  20. Anonymous

    Is Charles Aaron the new David Sprague?

  21. Maura Johnston

    Is a horse the new frisbee?

  22. MrStarhead

    @cassidy2099: Actually, Bruce Springsteen fans ARE pissed that he’s playing the Super Bowl.

    [sportsillustrated.cnn.com]

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