March 27, 2011

YouTube: A World of Fakers and Authentics

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The creation of YouTube forever changed the Internet and the music industry. Recording contracts and heaps of money are no longer necessary to forge a music career; average people can gain notoriety among established artists in the business.

The rise of the “YouTube star” is a consequence of these new chances at exposure. Some of today’s brightest, as well as up-and-coming artists have gained fame through their Youtube channels, winning loyal fans and attention from record labels.  Despite their success, Youtube stars have undeservedly gained a bad reputation as untalented and lucky. Many unrightfully argue that true talent indeed exists on Youtube, but it is only the attractive and marketable people, rather than the amazing singers, who gain recognition.

No one epitomizes this view, nor the definition of a Youtube star, more than Justin Bieber. Inadvertently discovered by ex-marketing executive Scooter Braun, Bieber was sent to Atlanta to make demo tapes. While in Atlanta, he sang for Usher, who immediately signed him to a joint label with Braun, culminating in a deal with Island Records. The rest is history — Bieber is arguably the most popular teen star around. “Bieber Fever” is in full force, to the chagrin of many, including myself. With a voice that has not reached puberty, even at age 16, it is difficult to tell if he’s even a good singer. Certainly his music leaves much to be desired, but that is also a result of his target fan base.

Even so, it would be a stretch to say he is not talented. Anyone that can sing, dance, and be as charismatic at the same time deserves some respect. Nevertheless, it is interesting to wonder if he would’ve gained exposure in the first place if it weren’t for his good looks. YouTube videos undoubtedly have a superficial nature, as attractive artists tend to gain more popularity than others through the website . People who argue that marketability affects YouTube success are correct; however, this is no different than any other gateway into the music industry. Regardless of their origin, most stars today are attractive to some degree, or at least maintain a commercial image. Just because someone may be marketable or attractive does not mean they lack talent entirely.

YouTube is not like American Idol, nor shows of a comparable nature, which are supposed to look behind appearance to find the best voice, but who rarely follow that principle. Although musical success may result from YouTube exposure, it comes as an unintended consequence, it is not YouTube’s central purpose. Dismissing an artist based on their means of breaking into the industry is not a good argument.  Plus, unattractive singers like Susan Boyle have found success through YouTube.  Even though she came from Britain’s Got Talent, she wouldn’t have crossed the sea without the aid of YouTube.  Clearly, the website has the potential to give traditionally unmarketable talent a fighting chance.

Furthermore, not even bona-fide YouTube stars have an easy time breaking the “glass ceiling” from YouTube into popular music. Artists such as Bo Burnham, despite their success on college campuses, have yet to match star power like Justin Bieber. Marié Digby, who is known for her cover of Rihanna’s “Umbrella”, has released three studio albums, but hasn’t quite caught the spark of anyone other than her dedicated followers. Even Sam Tsui, with 170 million total views on his channel and various high profile covers, has yet to find a lucrative record deal. For a YouTube star to truly break into the industry, they really need to have that “it” factor. Those who have found true success, like Justin Bieber, perhaps deserve more credit.

Critics are right, however, in that bad talent gains exposure over amazing talent in some cases. Current phenomenon Rebecca Black is as atrocious as YouTube can get. I don’t have to go into detail due to her ubiquity, but it’s safe to say that Black has no more talent than she does ability to write atrocious lyrics. Yet, once again, that is not enough to dismiss YouTube as entirely devoid of finding true talent. It may be grounds to resent it, but YouTube still provides such an amazing opportunity that it is okay to overlook the few bad seeds that sneak through — especially when they are as entertaining as Rebecca Black. It’s difficult to deny the entertainment value of the ignorant bliss that is the “Friday” music video. Let’s face it — everyone is in love with Rebecca Black, including myself.

Original Author: Matt Samet