Like money, electricity and Lady Gaga, social media is the latest installment of human creations which have innovated and modified our society forever. Pretty much everybody is on at least one social media platform sharing selfies, food pics, hole pics, travel pics, philosophical musings, etc. Plus, it’s the easiest way to keep tabs on people you’ve only said 3 words to (usually “excuse me, please”) IRL. The outcome of this? There’s a vast sea of people, from China to Columbia to Cheshire, networking and just a few clicks away from each other.
Because of this, social media weaseled its way into every industry. With music being the social activity that it is, it was only natural that social media and the music industry became intertwined. For example, your fave debuts her new visual on YouTube, distributing the link across her Facebook and Twitter profiles. She promotes herself on Snapchat, blogs, Instagram, Tumblr. You then tear the video apart with your fellow stans on Twitter or forums like ATRL and Church Of Pop, or beg your 36 Facebook friends to watch the video. It is this shareable nature of music and social media which ending up creating, destroying and ridiculing your faves. Observe:
Chapter 1 – The Rise
August 2014. Struggling rookies of K-pop EXID make their comeback with “위아래 Up & Down”, a sexy and saxy bop about a relationship in turmoil. It’s been two whole years since their debut mini album Hippity Hop croaked on the charts and, paralleling the lyrics to “Up & Down”, their future as a girl group was also in turmoil. “Up & Down” disappointingly debuted at 94 on the Gaon Domestic Singles Chart, and slid off the radar the week after that. Yet another flop. All hope was lost, yet the girls diligently kept promoting it across the country. And then, something curious happened.
An October 2014 fancam of the group performing the song, which focused on the visual member Hani, had somehow achieved viral status by November. It got the bop smashing into the charts at #34, EXID’s best position yet. Headlines like “Social media gives failing singers another chance” popped up across Korean media. And then, like a Lotus, “Up & Down” rose up. By December 28th 2014, it was Korea’s #1 song – a true Christmas miracle. The group’s scrappy antics paid off, and the single went on to sell 1.5 million copies in Korea alone. Their label, Yedang Entertainment, fast-tracked their second mini album “Ah Yeah” for an April 2015 release to cash in on their newfound glory, going on to sell 41,000 in Korea and 7,000 in Japan. Suddenly they were winning the MBC Music Star Award at the 2015 MelOn Music Awards, and scored number-one wins on all the big music shows in Korea. As if that wasn’t enough, Hani had sasaengs everywhere seething when she started dating Junsu from TVXQ, Korea’s most iconic boy group.
No longer were they the underdogs of K-pop. EXID had moved up in the girl group hierarchy, leaving behind Stellar, SPICA and Fiestar to join the likes of f(x), 4Minute and Sistar as A-List entities of the industry.
All thanks to that one video going viral across Korean social media.
Chapter 2 – The Fall
If social media can help a musical act rise to the top, then surely it should be able to do the same in reverse. Send in… Madonna.
The pop icon has always had her finger on the pulse of trends, so it was slightly odd that she didn’t immediately embrace social media, especially when it came to the marketing campaigns for Hard Candy and MDNA. But soon after MDNA, Madonna decided to hop on the social media bandwagon. 2012 saw her tweeting, and 2013 saw her Instagramming. For a while, it was fun interacting with an artist of her caliber. But 2014 was something else though, and had us whistling a different auto-tune (baby).
- She called her son “#disnigga” in an Instagram caption in January 2014.
- The leak of Rebel Heart demos was controversially described by Madonna as #fuckedupshit, “artistic rape” and “a form of terrorism”.
So ~deep~. Madonna added insult to injury when she began sharing images of iconic world leaders like MLK and Nelson Mandela with their faces wired up, a nod to Rebel Heart’s artwork. “This ❤️#rebelheart had a dream!” was the caption for MLK.
It was tacky. It was tasteless. Above all, it was Madonna exposing herself as a narcissist out of touch with modern day issues. Sure, she’s done that in the past, but this time her 6.8 million Instagram followers could comment and share their views directly with the legend.
Ultimately, this resulted in a lackluster era for Madge. While it was received positively by critics, the album has barely cleared the 1 million mark worldwide and it failed to peak at #1 in the US, Japan and the UK. Impressive feats if you’re somebody like Halsey, but this ain’t Halsey. The music was pretty good, but it’s no coincidence that it’s M-Dolla’s lowest selling record. Her social media blunders damaged her reputation as the Queen of Pop, forcing fans to view her in a different light.
Chapter 3 – The Birth
Social media has created stars, just as well as it has damaged them.
You know the story. Poot Lovato is Demi Lovato’s twin sister, and this photo is the moment she escaped from the basement. It of course went viral on Tumblr in October 2015, receiving 87,000 notes. The meme led to the fanfiction series “The Secret History of Poot Lovato”, and climaxed with a feature on TIME Magazine’s “16 Most Influential Fictional Characters of 2015” list:
This fan-fiction character—based on an unflattering and likely manipulated photo of pop singer Demi Lovato—is undeniably absurd; Poot is supposed to be Demi’s secret twin sister who has been “locked in a basement her whole life,” according to her Tumblr origin story. But she nonetheless became a meme in October, pulling attention from Demi’s new album release and proving how Internet fandom can redefine celebrities’ carefully groomed images.
Demi went on to publicly call out the meme, admitting her disappointment that it “made actual headlines”.
But as TIME stated, Poot’s birth hinted that the nature of celebrity has changed. With the power of social media, the public can make their own as well as control the fate of existing stars. Like Rebel Heart, Confident did not match sales expectations (or did it, nnn) and #PootGate definitely played a part in that. It made Demi the laughing stock of the pop girls. Everybody was talking about this picture instead of her incredible and triumphant new album (#JusticeForConfident #AvailableOniTunes). Poot’s TIME feature was the ultimate “and none for Demi, bye!” moment.
The meme serves as a testament to stan culture’s impact and, ultimately, the pitfalls of social media for a global pop star like Demi Lovato.
Epilogue – What Now?
I know it probably feels a bit late to be commenting on these things. Social media has already made its mark. Plus, these three events are in the past now. But their effects can still be felt. Demi is still mocked and taunted, Madonna is still being messy on Instagram, and EXID are still slaying. What we can learn from all three of these stories is that, social media must be used properly. Campaigns need to be well thought-out and executed, and social media accounts need to be heavily controlled (or at least monitored) by management in order to avoid Madonna-scale backlash. If you correctly unlock its potential, social media can make your song go viral and generate the exposure PR companies promise but don’t often deliver. But even if these campaigns are flawlessly executed, who’s to say another Poot won’t come along and utterly tarnish the whole thing? That is the most beautiful yet fearful thing about social media for musicians.