Marc-et Watch: Netflix, Justin Bieber, and the 9:30 Club
My name is Marcus K. Dowling. I keep an eye on everything, at all times. Every two weeks, I’ll tell you about three things that you should keep an eye on too. We call this column Marc-et Watch.
Netflix Is Fox, 30 Years Later
On January 6, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings announced that Netflix — whose subscriptions have increased from 33 million to 69+ million subscribers since 2013, with 51% of American households claiming to use the service at-present — was now available via streaming in 130 nations and would be referring to itself from here on out as a “global TV network,” thus expanding the four-network major broadcast network realm into a party of five#.
Marketing rhetoric notwithstanding, it’s a statement move for a company who started out in 1998 as a simple DVD-delivery service.
However, while Netflix’s meteoric rise to prominence is assuredly unique, just look at what Fox did 30 years ago to become Network #4 and this entire story starts to look very familiar…
In March 1985, Australian news magnate Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation purchased 50% of TCF Holdings, the parent company of 20th Century Fox. As well, in May of the same year, he purchased control of six independent (non ABC, NBC or CBS affiliated) TV stations across America.
Working alongside 20th Century Fox, Murdoch intended to compete with the then big three by offering a slate of programming that was more caustic and socially progressive in approach…
Between 1986 and 1993, Fox introduced a slate of programs that included Australian comic Tracy Ullman’s eponymous sitcom, youthful cop dramas 21 Jump Street and New York Undercover, sitcoms Married…With Children, Martin Lawrence vehicle Martin, rapper Queen Latifah-starring Living Single, standout sketch comedy series In Living Color, youth-aimed dramas Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place and Party of Five, and real-life police dramas COPS and America’s Most Wanted. By 1993, Fox had built up enough goodwill and social capital to lure the NFL’s National Football Conference TV rights away from CBS in negotiations, which along with mega-successes like The Simpsons, Married With Children, In Living Color and later additidions X-Files and King of the Hill), allowed the network to become “the fourth network.”
Comparatively, Netflix has seen underground-to-mainstream streaming success in 60 countries worldwide with daring shows like Orange is The New Black and House of Cards, and 2016 has already seen early successes in the form of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, Making A Murderer, and the Marvel Comics-created Jessica Jones.
Like Fox, Netflix has also shown to be forward-thinking when it comes to emerging distribution strategies, as demonstrated by their bantam move to go out of their way to get Idris Elba’s critically acclaimed film Beasts of No Nation, which as Charles Bramesco has already explained on the digital pages of Random Nerds, was a big freaking deal for the emerging platform:
With this film, Netflix proves that they’re more than capable of running with the big dogs, of acquiring and releasing challenging and high-quality cinema from name-brand talent (with, all other things considered, serious awards potential). They’re doing the thing everyone’s trying to do now; Cary Fukunaga’s the Blue Fairy that has finally granted Netflix’s wish to become a real boy. They did it. They released a real live good movie.
With 600-plus hours of other new original programming, Netflix’s 109% growth since 2013 is made even stronger by the fact that television ad buyers are more readily turning to streaming portals to place their ads and ad dollars.
The revolution might not be televised, but it most assuredly will be streamed.
This is Justin Bieber’s “Michael Jackson Off The Wall” Year
In 1978, Michael Jackson was a 20-year-old teen pop superstar at a creative crossroads.
As the Jackson Five, Michael and his brothers had sold 10 million albums in 1970 alone, with Michael pushed to the forefront as the lead singer cherubic “face” of the quintet. But after the Jackson Five broke up (after first splitting acrimoniously from Motown in 1975, and spending two years as The Jacksons for Epic Records), only Michael was retained by Epic Records and two years had already gone by without any material being released.
In 1977, instead of in the studio, the soon-to-be “King of Pop” was actually more likely to be found in the infamous VIP recesses of Studio 54.
However, after years of what we now know was an emotionally trying time of teasing and abuse by his family, eventually MJ, much like Bieber, had lived enough of life at a fast enough pace – including witnessing the wild partying in Studio 54’s infamously decadent basement – to gain something of a “wisdom beyond his years.” Finally, he got off the dancefloor and into the studio to work on his first album both as a solo artist and without his brothers.
Largely produced by jazz-to-pop production giant Quincy Jones – whose work on George Benson’s jazzy disco hit “Gimme The Night” and The Brothers Johnson’s smash “Stomp” ensured his pop bona fides were set to meet with Jacko’s superfly disco desires – Michael Jackson’s descent into disco yielded his Epic Records debut album Off The Wall.
As an album, Off The Wall celebrates equal parts dancefloor grooving as much as it does the themes of escapism, hedonism, and romance that came to define much of the rest of Jackson’s career. It spawned four top-ten singles over a nine-month period (“Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” “Rock with You,” “Off the Wall” and “She’s Out of My Life”), and cemented the partnership between Jackson and Jones that gave birth to Jackson’s next album, Thriller, which at last check has sold 65 million-plus copies worldwide.
To best describe Michael’s shift in persona, leave it to the lyrics from “Off The Wall” to showcase the point. “So tonight gotta leave that nine to five upon the shelf / And just enjoy yourself / Groove, let the madness in the music get to you / Life ain’t so bad at all / If you live it off the wall.”
Similarly, Justin Bieber’s shift from pop good boy to EDM enfant terrible is currently soundtracked on his latest release Purpose, which soundtracks an era in the singer’s life that involves a breakup with pop star Selena Gomez, numerous run-ins with the law, and an unrelenting shift from his teenage years to young adulthood.
While Off The Wall had Quincy Jones evolve from jazz legend to pop production dynamo, Purpose is largely produced by dance-to-pop production giants Diplo and Skrillex.
Prior to 2015, the duo known in EDM circles as Jack U’s biggest renown came from Diplo being a fearless open-format party-starter of a producer with tastes squarely aimed at urban-leaning top-40, while Skrillex’s deft blend of UK dubstep and pop-punk vibes created a sound that has become universally palatable. Diplo’s breakout was with Usher’s Grammy-winning 2012 soul smash “Climax,” while Skrillex’s most surprising crossover came via rapper A$AP Rocky’s 2013 banger “Wild For The Night.” Justin Bieber’s latest album finds the one-time teen pop icon shifting from pop songs like swagged out American top-40 chart ready teenage pop ditty “Boyfriend” to more heady subject matter with UK-friendly club sounds like “Where Are U Now.”
Thematically, Purpose also touches upon the same themes of escapism, hedonism and frank discussions of romance (and romance gone wrong. Songs like current single “Love Yourself” even include lyrics like, “my mama don’t like you and she likes everyone, and I never like to admit that I was wrong…and if you like the way, you look so much, oh baby you should go and love yourself.”
At present, Purpose has three number one singles over three months (“What Do You Mean?,” “Sorry” and “Love Yourself”), and if you count 2015’s Bieber-vocaled Jack U single “Where Are U Now” in the mix, that’s four number-one singles, which definitely means that we haven’t heard the lst of Skrillex, Diplo and Bieber as a producer-and-singer trio. However, by comparison to Jackson’s album’s commercial success, Purpose’s potential has yet to truly be calculated.
With the digital age allowing Spotify streams to ultimately determine artistic excellence, the tide has shifted. Justin Bieber may never out-sell Michael Jackson, but he will most certainly out-stream him. For some, this realization may be somewhat surprising. But when stories mirror in the way that these two do and comparable success is achieved, attention must be paid.
We may be on the precipice of Bieber’s Thriller.
In one of the true first cases of modern age music industry mathematics winning out over time-tested logic, Justin Bieber and Michael Jackson (and the tandem of Diplo and Skrillex and Quincy Jones) are made one and the same. For some, this realization may be somewhat surprising. However, when stories mirror in the way that these do and comparable success is achieved, attention must be paid.
Some (More) Notes On Washington DC, the 9:30 Club, and Gentrification
When the 9:30 Club opened in 1981, Washington DC was only six years removed from earning the title of “Chocolate City” thanks to George Clinton’s 1975 Parliament album of the same name:
At that time, the city’s population was roughly 70% African-American, with roughly 25% of DC’s population being non-Hispanic white. 35 years ago, the 9:30 Club’s punk/funk events successfully bridged a gap in the Nation’s Capital between white and black residents. But 35 years later, the museum-style “World’s Fair” exhibit held last week at the club reignited issues regarding gentrification, the 9:30 Club, and race relations in Washington DC.
On January 5 at 11:31 PM, DC-based stylist and fashion designer Kristi Riggs posted the following statement to her personal Facebook page regarding the exhibition:
“[Riggs herself] is so SICK of white people conveniently erasing the contributions of black people. Especially, the black people that have made you rich. I just left the 9:30 Club’s 35th Anniversary exhibit..which was a multi media exhibit depicting the history of the club over the years. I didn’t see not ONE photo or video montage that represented the contribution that hip hop and funk made to that club from 1990-until now. Not one. I can count on one hand how many black faces were in the photo exhibit that covered the walls of the entire club. I’ve spent countless dollars on hip hop/ neo soul/ funk shows, as did most of us young black DC natives and Howard alums over the last 20 years. And you mean to tell me that all they saw fit to represent their legacy in that massive exhibit was screaming, sweaty white people at punk rock shows??? Not only am I pissed, I’m brokenhearted. I’m brokenhearted because I considered the 930 club an integral part of my youth/adolescent/young adult social experience. I have so many wonderful and fond memories of performances by musical geniuses and icons there. Erykah Badu, The Roots, Common, WuTang, Goodie Mob Black Eyed Peas, Wyclef, Mos Def, Jill Scott and so many, many more..and NONE of them were considered important enough by the owners or worthy to be honored in the exhibit of the history of the 930 club??? Well, I haven’t had a n*gga wake up call in a while..but I sure did get one tonight. I hear ya 9:30 club. And hope y’all hear them too. #fuckouttaherewiththatbs#makesmewannaholler #930clubwhitewash”
The 2014 US Census shows that DC’s African-American population is at 49%, while non-Hispanic white is on the rise at 44%. If George Clinton released “Chocolate City” in 2016, we’d all wonder exactly what DC he was looking at, because that DC hasn’t actually existed since roughly the year 2000.
The 25% population shift in the Nation’s Capital has been a cause for public concern for both black and white and new and old Washingtonians. As part and parcel of that shift, areas of the city like the 14th Street and U Street areas close to the 9:30 Club’s location have seen shifts insofar as the number of black-owned businesses in the area. Instead of what once existed, DC has become some sort of cool Brooklyn-style new DC that is more an awkward chocolate/vanilla swirl than what George Clinton once called “Chocolate City and its vanilla suburbs.” A prime example of this is The Shay, a mixed-use 245-unit apartment building and retail hub that’s roughly a year old and has added an influx of a) white residents and b) non-black owned businesses like New York City’s Warby Parker, Toronto’s Frank and Oak, and DC’s own Glen’s Garden Market to an area once referred to in the first-half of the 20th century as “Black Broadway.”
Having attended 9:30 Club’s exhibition himself, Washington Post columnist Chris Richards wrote his own Facebook post in which he listed a semi-comprehensive list of acts showcased. Breaking down the racial composition of said list, it shows that 18 of the 62 listed acts (including Trouble Funk, James Brown, Miguel, Goodie Mob and more) featured African-American performers. At 18/62, the total of black artists on Richards’ cursory list equals 29%.
While not a total “white-washing,” this isn’t exactly representative of a rapidly gentrifying city once known as “Chocolate City” due to it’s overwhelmingly African-American population.
And in terms of “whitewashing,” the club’s historical exhibition may fare better than the club’s lineup at-present:
Of the 62 headlining acts named on the site, only 10 are African-Americans. That total equals 16%, which is roughly half of the general number as presented by Chris Richards’ impromptu statistical analysis. As well, on the cover of the comprehensive 35th Anniversary commemorative biography, two of the 15 acts pictured on the cover sleeve are African-American, with three black acts overall featured (James Brown, 2 Chainz and Drake — a Canadian). That’s two out of 15 total, a whopping 13%.
The same thing is happening outside of the doors of the 9:30 Club. Riggs tells Ally Schweitzer at WAMU’s Bandwidth that “Erasure is racism,” and continues that “[White newcomers] just want to pick it up from here, like, ‘Oh, thanks for creating this really cool city that we’re all clambering to move to — it’s really wonderful and colorful and fabulous. But we don’t need you anymore now. We’ll take it from here.”
Where DC goes from here, that’s anyone’s best guess. By the 2018 Census, it’s entirely possible that white, non-Hispanic residents could number at 52%, with blacks at 36% and Hispanics and other non white-nor-African-American minorities at 12%. While these numbers are somewhat arbitrary, they’re also entirely possible. The numbers aren’t lying.
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