At an old job writing for a website that I thoroughly loathed, I would walk down Jay Street, from the F train stop, towards the East River every day when it was too cold to ride my bike. And on that walk I would pass a billboard for the Samsung Galaxy S III where, apparently, if you had a Samsung Galaxy S III, you could just touch your phone to the advertisement and get a free, exclusive Goodie Mob song. Maybe it was my job, maybe the weather, but it made me so sad. It seemed to be everything that was disappointing about technology — its ability to take something you hold dear, make it more available to you than ever before imaginable, and then reveal what horseshit it is in the process.
Today I watched a commercial where Jay-Z, pretending to work out bars for an upcoming album that will be released on Samsung Galaxy S III phones, comes up with this: “All I want is a Picasso/En mi casa/in my castle/I’m a haza.”
Jay starts with fine art — something he’s been making boasts about lately — and finishes with a Scarface reference. But then the commercial takes a weird turn. Jay-Z pretends to make the bizarre claim that hip-hop is all about “lush sounds” and “live instrumentation,” then he and Rick Rubin, so world-weary he can’t sit up, start to pretend to dissect the bars. Jay-Z asks himself a series of rhetorical questions.
JAY: I just want a Picasso. You don’t want a job? You don’t want happiness? You don’t want this? You don’t want that?
RUBIN: [IN REPOSE] And you’ve found in life experience that you’ve gotten enough of those things to realize that it doesn’t change your life at all.
Quite the reveal! Jay-Z’s crass materialism (q.v. “Dead Presidents,” “Money, Cash, Hoes,” “Money Ain’t a Thang,” the entirety of his public persona, etc.) was an act all along. Or, if it was real at one point, on his album that is to be released exclusively on Samsung’s Galaxy S III, it will become put-on, an act that critiques consumer culture — specifically in the market for priceless fine art.
It reminded me of the chatter I saw on Twitter, that Kanye West’s newest album — maybe you’ve heard of it — Yeezus, should be considered a, pardon the expression, Rap Game American Psycho. Kanye even promoted the album with a clip inspired by the movie version. In it, Scott Disick, who is famous for being on a reality TV show about terrifyingly un-self-aware heiresses, one of whom just had Kanye’s first child, plays the Bateman character. He launches into a glowing review of Yeezus before killing Jared Leto (or whatever), just as Bale’s Bateman did after discussing Huey Lewis and the News’s Sports.
What people who have seen the movie American Psycho but have not read the book don’t often know is that the album reviews are standalone chapters. Bateman is odd, but not so odd he would deliver an album review to a guest at his home. (Other characters in the book are odd in this way: a friend who he takes out to dinner talks about his vacation in 100% travel brochure copy.) But the reviews give a window into Bateman’s empty world, where Huey Lewis and the News and Madonna make truly meaningful — indeed, beautiful — music, rather than empty, disposable pop music. The adaptation is smart, but it plays up Bateman’s craziness, which I think misses the point.
However absurd Bateman’s world was, I can’t imagine ours is very different, at least with regard to our willingness to intellectualize pop music that exists for one reason only: to enrich the musician and the corporations that put out the music. Or maybe phone companies. And now the two guys who made Watch The Throneare trying to convince us that they dislike consumerism, right on top of one another. Please, don’t let them convince you.
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