Thursday, March 31, 2005

Post-pop stars: Moby and Fukuyama

Kelefa Sanneh is one erudite music critic. At times, he reminds me of the indomitable Armond White, the shining star of the otherwise-uninteresting New York Press. (See, for instance, White's recent review of the CGI movie Robots; he finds a way to compare the film to Jacques Tati's Mon Oncle).

Sanneh isn't quite as out there as White sometimes is with the obscure and brilliant cultural allusions. Still, this one seems especially clever:

How did "Play" make Moby a star in the first place? As most articles about "Play" mentioned, Moby marketed his album by licensing the tracks to commercials and soundtracks; relying on the power of corporate synergy, he had made an end run around the pop establishment.

His wasn't just a success story, then, it was a new kind of success story. Even better (according to the strange rules that governed 1999), it was a success story involving the words "geek" and "synergy." Suddenly, regular pop stars seemed old-fashioned: a bunch of oversized personalities, jockeying for space on radio stations that broadcast their songs using an antiquated system of frequency modulation. By contrast, Moby was a scientist, a musical technician who listened to everything and distilled what he heard into some state-of-the-art pop essence.

"I want to have the broadest possible sonic palette to draw on when I'm composing music," he told Gerald Marzorati of The New York Times Magazine, adding that he'd been listening to "pop records, dance records, classical records." And you could tell he felt a bit sorry for those sad 20th-century types who confined themselves to a single genre. He was a pop star for a world too sophisticated to believe in pop stars - a post-pop-star, perhaps.

"The end of history will be a very sad time," the political theorist Francis Fukuyama wrote in 1989, anticipating, after a fashion, Moby's world. Mr. Fukuyama imagined a future defined by "economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands." The appeal of Moby was that he would give us a way to enjoy this future; he would satisfy our "sophisticated consumer demands" through superior engineering.

It's true -- every single track on Moby's Play was used in a commercial somewhere.

1 comment:

Ms. World said...

HUH? I think that is a very savvy business move but it is a sad statement about the American music business. I guess Q-Tip was right.