When Taylor Swift wrote that now-famous lyric in “Shake It Off,” it resonated throughout the pop culture community because stars from the worlds of music, sports, TV, and film could certainly relate. As an artist, you may be able to control your content, but never the public and how they react to what you do.
Jimmy Kimmel’s “Mean Tweets” showcases the absurdity of fan vitriol, making light of the nasty things people say about artists and athletes from all walks of life. And yet the passing of George Michael over the holidays was a reminder of just how fast the pendulum can swing – in either direction.
As news of his death took over social media on Christmas Day, the accolades and memories came flooding in. And yet, in the past two decades, Michael was often a punch line because of his well-publicized problems and issues that dogged his career.
I know it’s popular to bring up the b-word – bullying – whenever anyone feels the least bit violated. But celebrity bullying takes place all the time in the music world, whether you’re Barry Manilow, Creed, or yes, George Michael.
That came to mind in of all places a video from none other than Mark Zuckerberg and his attempt to be cutesy about his digital servant, Jarvis – his version of Amazon's Alexa. Voiced by the iconic Morgan Freeman, Zuckerberg tries to use humor to show how voice command technology will soon become standard equipment in all our homes and offices.
But the joke may have gone a bit over the top when he took a cheap whack at Nickelback. Asking Jarvis/Freeman to play “some good Nickelback songs,” the artificial intelligence response was:
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Mark. There are no good Nickelback songs.”
Now you can make the case that the world is loaded with serious problems and issues and that poking fun at Nickelback isn't one of them. But everyone has feelings, and every band has an intensely loyalty following of diehard fans.
In response to the Jarvis video, Avril Lavigne – Chad Kroeger of Nickelback’s ex – took Zuckerberg on in a note on Twitter:
— Avril Lavigne (@AvrilLavigne) December 23, 2016
Whatever you think of Lavigne or Nickelback, Zuckerberg's video was seen by a lot of people. After all, he lords over the 800 pound gorilla of social networks where nearly two billion people congregate to share photos, memories, observations – in short, their lives. As their mission statement reads, Facebook’s purpose is “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”
With that power and reach comes a sense of responsibility to be mindful of the ways that Facebook users behave. And while we know there are trolls, creeps, bullies, and haters on every social network, we might expect a little more from the guy who created the Facebook community. And in the same spirit, radio stations play a similar role in their communities, setting the tone for how we present the music people enjoy.
The fact that Nickelback has sold 50 million+ albums should be a reminder to all of us in radio that there’s an audience for every band, and that joking about their talent or even vilifying them offends a lot of people.
I see this all the time when moderating focus groups. Discussions of music become personal when someone announces that if they hear Boston one more time, they’ll turn the station off forever. Those kinds of comments are almost always followed up by someone who declares that Boston is one their all-time favorite bands.
2016 was a cruel year for the music industry, starting with the passing of David Bowie in January, and ending with George Michael’s tragic exit late last month. The outpouring from fans is proof positive these artists were loved and idolized by millions, many of whom recall how their music helped get them through challenging and tough times.
Radio should celebrate its artists while they’re still with us, taking care to steer away from the cheap shots and low blows. This isn’t about defending Nickelback. Kroeger – and Lavigne – can do that on their own. But it is about setting a higher bar and a more civil tone, while respecting everyone's tastes.
Haters gonna hate. But respecting the artists and their fans is something we can all aspire to.
You never know whose careers we’ll be memorializing in 2017.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.
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