October 30, 2016

WANG | Marilyn Diptych

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The music executive standing in front of us seemed either irritated or irrationally passionate. It was hard to tell. He hardly seemed executive. He stood a good two feet above the podium, shouting, criticizing and barraging the streaming industry, calling out no talent artists and what not. It was the vaudeville of Warren Hall. Between the vivid pictures he painted impasto and the outbursts that had to be a little unsettling to our collared business professor, he had managed to say a lot more than his resume could. Mr. Weiss was his name. He was a former Cornell business graduate whose father was a musical executive, so he became one too.  He liked to get down and dirty, and detested working in office spaces. When he started his career, he went from the ground up, looking for musicians that he could sign. He certainly was opinionated about them. When asked about his favorite musician he worked with, he didn’t hesitate. “R. Kelly,” he responded. “Complete psychopath, maniacal, absolutely crazy, but,” he paused with a smile, “a genius.”

Mr. Weiss didn’t look like the model businessperson we were told to be like. He cussed up a storm when he talked, and wore his pants loose. His suit was left crumpled on his seat. This shocked the preppies. We had been taught a certain amount of etiquette was needed in the business world to survive, where suits and ties were cuffed to us. Conformity was something to be desired, and monotone was pitch perfect. Yet, for all his roughness and jagged approaches, he was also immensely successful. He’d risen to become CEO of Def Jam, a musical label, and had been associated with platinum acts such as Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears.

It’s hard to fit in a box what kind of person he was. His talks spewed forward and backward, sideward and diagonal, and criss crossed until he’d get to his point. It was a little Trumpish, without the bigotry. But it was more like John Oliver. He’s get to one point, crack a colorful comment and have us fanning ourselves, and then move on like the world’s most off-kilter infomercial. It was something we sorely needed. Our in class presentations of case study had been devoid of life, sucked dry, all in the name of professionalism. We’d been told numerous things to look employable. Look straight. No shuffling of the feet. Don’t move your hands when you talk. Say “thank you” when you present after someone. It was a little odd, I thought. We were manufacturing robots. Since when did we outsource to Japan?

Professionalism was preached from day one. We had prepped resumés and Linkedin profiles before we had gotten the necessary skills, and dressed up for interviews. Interviewees to business frats who weren’t properly shaven and dressed flawlessly were berated. It was all a little pompous. The school had been given a Jackson Pollock, and decided it wanted a Malevich.

With that in mind, I felt the need to cut through Mr. Weiss’s romp on office culture. I raised my hand.

“What do you think about Frank leaving Universal Recordings for an Apple Exclusive?”

I probably shouldn’t have asked that. Frank Ocean had gutted Def Jam a few weeks earlier by releasing his sophomore album through his own label and selling it to Apple to stream exclusively. What was brilliant about this move was that, to fulfill his contract with Def Jam, he only needed to release one album. So, he released a visual album titled Endless and put it on Apple Music. The only problem was that it wasn’t for sale and was free, and Def Jam made nothing from the album except a batch of PR embarrassment. Now free from Def Jam, he then followed up this with the release of his commercial smash Blonde, of which he made a cool million in the first week with a deal with Apple. The bitterness from Def Jam was practically dripping cash flow. When they first signed Frank, they questioned his ability to succeed and stalled his career, but now, at the height of his monetary gains, they’d been duped in retaliation by the R&B crooner. It’s just good business.

Mr. Weiss’s neck seemed to swell a few good inches at the question. “Frank fucked Def Jam over with that deal,” he snapped. He loosened his collar, glared and continued to ramble on. A few of the students next to me nervously laughed. I grinned. It’s nice to finally see someone being themselves.

William Wang is a freshman in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He may be reached at wwang@cornellsun.com. Willpower appears alternate Mondays this semester. 

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