The Music Fan’s Lament #3: Hype Overload

Hysteria

The third in this series of posts addresses hype, and the excesses thereof to which we seem to be constantly subjected at the moment. It’s certainly a common enough complaint at the moment, but I seem to remember there being plenty of hype overload well before the internet.

Once again, here are the various articles that prompted this little festival of self-indulgence, so you have some idea what to expect:
A Penny For Your Thoughts by The Vinyl Villain (read the comments as well, because some of them are very thought-provoking.
Does the World Need Another Indie Band? by Tim Walker, writing in The Independent.
Why Has Modern Music Lost So Much Impact? by the Kings of A&R.
This comment, from a reader called Alex in the comment thread of my recent podcast – The Tribecast.

And here are the other posts in the series:
1. Fragmentation
2. Over Saturation
3. Hype Overload
4. Decreasing Quality

#3 Hype Overload

Hype overload is something I’m a little divided on. In one sense, an excess of shrill hysterics about how wonderful the brand new somethingorother is had become annoyingly prevalent in modern society. You can see it in just about every form of advertising known to man, and advertising itself has pretty much infested every foetid little nook and cranny of our worthless souls, so maybe it is arguable that excessive hype really is everywhere.

In all honestly though, I just don’t think that’s really the case. Yes, media-wise whatever there is, there’s more of it, but that’s a factor of there being more media in general rather than anything that I would say is particular to the world of music. Is the hype shriller, more bombastic, more needlessly over-stated than before? Well, I don’t actually know, but I genuinely have my doubts. The only real touchstones I have with which to compare this would be the pre-Napster, largely analogue world. I am only 32 and during this period. the early to mid-90s, I was only just evolving into the sort of unbalanced music obsessive I am now.

The first really hysterically anticipated stuff I remember was probably the when The Bluetones and Gene were releasing their first albums. Leaking was far less prevalent back then – or at least it penetrated less far into the popular consciousness – and after the release of two or three blinding singles all we could do was sit and wait. Stoked by the anticipation of the press, the NME in particular, I remember charging off to the record shop at lunch time on the day of both of these releases in order to get my hands on a copy. I also remember the claustrophobic disappointment as it slowly dawned on me that the genius I was anticipating just hadn’t materialised.

Basically, it’s pretty easy to write a couple of great songs, or so it appears judging by the number of groups who seem to be able to do it. Often, inevitably, these are amongst the first couple of songs a group writes, so it can be very difficult to judge whether or not they have any more in them. B-sides help, as do live shows, but basically when you hear a new group you are making wild extrapolations based on very little information. If this couple of songs happens to be brilliant, there is no way you aren’t going to be excited and, nowadays, talk about it.

Maybe the jump from bedroom recording to chart assault is being made a lot faster these days, and this may not give groups enough time to develop, settle and figure out who they are as a band, so perhaps the hype can seem out of proportion with the professionalism or presence of the groups itself. Groups like this can seem like they appear from nowhere, with the weight of expectation around them that you would expect from a band with a couple of records behind them, but then people used to overreact to a promising 7″ single as well. Maybe because music criticism and music dialogue is much more participative now, people feel more caught up in the hype.

Maybe we feel more pressure to conform to media expectations because, with music in particular, often our friends are the media, instead of just friends who make you a few too many mixtapes. I know I find it harder to turn around to a blogger I’ve exchanged emails and comments with and say ‘No, I think your new favourite band are shite, actually’ because it just feels mean, but we’d never have hesitated to sneer at the NME’s latest favourites, even ten years ago when they had a shred of credibility still intact.

In the grand scheme of things though, I remember people getting just as over-excited about new releases in the days of vinyl and fanzines, so I just don’t buy this ‘too much hype’ stuff. Yes people are prone to over-reaction, and yes the big labels are a bit desperate for love at the moment and prone to a bit of leg-humping, but really, I just think humans have always been excitable, particularly where music is concerned.

Gene – Be My Light, Be My Guide
Gene – Sleep Well Tonight
The Bluetones – Bluetonic
The Bluetones – Cut Some Rug

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