Yesterday was the launch of a new Jay Z-backed music streaming service, Tidal. It started with a social media takeover (which I’ll get to) and then a press conference. An awkward as hell press conference; I got the sweats watching it. Why was the crowd hollering, who did they invite to this thing? Was it fans, or media? The audible dip in applause between Kanye and Deadmau5 was painful. Jack White looked like he wanted to run off the stage.
Tidal is trying to tell a story, and they started that story on social media yesterday, when the Justice League meeting of musicians started turning their avatars blue and one by one posting the video of the meeting.
The same artists that appeared in the video were introduced at the press conference later in the day as “owners” of Tidal – Alicia Keys, Regine Chassagne and Win Butler from Arcade Fire, Beyonce, Daft Punk, Jack White, Jason Aldean, J.Cole, Jay Z, Kanye West, Deadmau5, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and Usher (with Calvin Harris and Chris Martin on webcam). Jay is clearly the ringleader, but Alicia Keys took the podium. Because who doesn’t like Alicia? You can’t be bitchy with Alicia Keys.
There was a lot of talk about history, and revolution and artist-ownership. Passion and the universal impact of music. There was talk about exclusivity and preservation and experience – how, I don’t know. Do you remember the fake corporate double speak on 30 Rock? It kind of felt like that.
There was some sort of declaration signed. Signifying what, I have no idea. It was long on theory and short on specifics.
Not that the theory is without merit: Jay Z has spoken about wanting to take music back, and how as a society, we think it’s acceptable to pay for water, which is literally free, but we balk at having to pay for music. This is about artist control –owning not only the message, but also the medium, and Tidal represents a new structure that will compensate the artists and elevate the quality for the listener. If you listen to the audio after the press conference, there is talk of swinging the pendulum back to creation, and not satiating a free market that gobbles up singles and places no value on art.
Jay Z wants to start a digital music revolution, and his front-line soldiers are celebrities. Seeing all those famous faces lined up was supposed to feel exciting, I think. Historic, maybe? It fell flat though. And it made me wonder how each person was picked, and on what merit they were chosen, and who declined, and who wasn’t asked in the first place.
The biggest blank space? Taylor Swift. Huge gaping “wonder where she is” hole. For a while, it seemed she had friend-collected the Carters: they attended her birthday party and Jay Z brokered the peace treaty between her and Kanye. Her music has been available through Tidal’s beta phase, but there’s been some confusion with YouTube Music Key service, which her publicist denied but then it turns out they were using her music and it’s a clusterf*ck. Basically, she’s freezing out Spotify like it’s the new Katy Perry.
And speaking of Katy, where was she? She’s one of the most dominant pop artists to ever dance with a shark. And the list goes on: Pharrell? Pitbull? Adam Levine? Where was Lady Gaga? Justin Timberlake? (Particularly considering he has worked extensively with Jay.) Miranda Lambert? Bruno Mars? Uptown Funk is everywhere, and he is a force on the radio.
Even with rock music – no Dave Grohl? He’s a musical mainstay. Kid Rock? Yes, roll your eyes, but he’s still moving singles and getting a ton of play. Fine, how about rap – Eminem? You had Nicki Minaj there from Cash Money Records, why not Drake?
These people weren’t just absent, they completely ignored the launch on social media. So like I said, were they not invited to the party or did they RSVP, “no thanks”?
Of course there is always the business side: lawyers and business managers who may steer their artists in other directions for financial or contractual reasons. But if the point was to show your reach, it felt like there were too many omissions. Jay Z has some blank spaces… but does he have the names?
(Oh and I’m not the only one who thinks it was awkward – Deadmau5 knows it, too)
Watch the press conference here.