Did the Internet Kill the Debut Album?
Lana Del Rey, suspected debut killer
Remember Lana Del Rey? It's OK if you don't, but 10 years from now, we might remember her for a different reason: the death of the debut.
I know, technically Born to Die wasn't a "debut." But her manufactured reinvention and the unwavering hype train that furnished her ascension would seem to suggest otherwise, so allow me to use Ms. Grant to prove a broader point. This we know for certain: The Internet is drastically changing how artists, specifically newer, "buzzier" artists, release music. What are the repercussions of this sea change? How will this affect how we consume music in the long term? The truth is that we're already seeing these effects, and for music purists and LP enthusiasts, the prognosis isn't good.
Each of these artists' full-lengths were titanic disappointments: Twin Sister, Light Asylum, Memoryhouse, Teen Daze, Washed Out, Warpaint, Tanlines, Black Kids, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. The list goes on. But what else do they have in common? They all were subject to the mounting pressures of hype and the expectations that come joined at its hip.
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The story goes: Buzz Band A self-releases a promising EP or string of singles on their Bandcamp, then Buzz Blogs A, B and C really like Buzz Band A and proceed to hype the shit out of them. Buzz Label A signs Buzz Band A as the hype continues to mount, while Buzz Band A's every move comes under intense microscopic scrutiny. In the end, Buzz Band A couldn't live up to the strength of their singles, succumbing to the pressure of unreasonable expectations and public skepticism.
There are, of course, notable exceptions to this rule. Fleet Foxes blew minds with their Sun Giant EP in 2008, only to sustain, if not improve, upon its promise later that year with a full-length (although technically the album was recorded prior to the EP). This year, prominent hype-worthy acts Purity Ring and Lemonade transcended the too-big-to-succeed phenomenon with respectable full-lengths. But the industry's tectonics are shifting in an era where the freshman slump has superseded the sophomore slump.
Just ten years ago, it was harder for an artist to get exposure, yet now we're inundated with so much music it's become damn near impossible to dedicate the necessary time and effort to fully appreciate every deserving artist out there, much less a 40-plus minute body of work. Instead, we rely on that all-important first impression. And I get it -- we're busy folks. We download music en masse. But with the rise in quantity we've also seen a decline in quality -- or, at the very least, curbed artistic progression.
So who's to blame? Well, ultimately the consumers are. In the age of GIFs and 140 character limits, our dwindling attention spans have become either overly submissive or unreasonably dismissive, depending on the beleaguering sway of popular opinion -- typically dictated by the all-important musical tastemakers. Yet, attention deficit disorder and groupthink are hardly novel concepts, so deriding human nature isn't completely fair. It's the so-called tastemakers who ought to know better -- we consume new music through their prism. And, unfortunately, sensationalism and hyperbole are infesting their dialogue.
Thankfully, the LP format isn't completely dead. In fact, album sales are doing well in the digital age, but the purist in me hopes this trend is merely an anomaly, and not an indication of some broader transformation. As it stands, we may never see another coming out party quite like Murmur, The Velvet Underground & Nico or Funeral. Instead, Lana Del Rey could become the norm, and born to die the maxim.
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