Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Inaugural Tweety Awards

As Vertigo Shtick embarks upon its second month of pop music blogging, I'm excited to announce that Vertigo Shtick is now on Twitter! Follow @Vertigo_Shtick for blog updates as well as my various pop music-related ruminations more suited to 140 character updates than full blog posts. It's a two-pronged attack, and I'm very excited.

Over the past couple of days I've browsed around the Twittersphere to find artists, record labels, studios, and other pop music media on Twitter worth following, and it's been neat reading the tweet feed of those I follow as a sort of collaborative narrative on the daily life of pop music personae. I've categorized them into Twitter lists so that others can both find artists, labels or media members they'd like to follow as well, but also created a list containing all of the users I follow, which allows anyone to basically see what my home page feed is like (there is now a box in the right sidebar for this feed). I debated whether or not I ought to follow all relevant pop music-related people and organizations regardless of my personal preferences in the spirit of a thorough reference provider to the pop minded, but I eventually convinced myself that because that's not really Vertigo Shtick's purpose or intent I am allowed to have opinions and not obligated to give everyone equal shrift.

So at this point if a prominent artist or record label does not appear on Vertigo Shtick's Twitter list, which while relatively thorough is by no means exhaustive, it is for one of three reasons:
  1. The artist/record label is not on Twitter (more on that in a minute)
  2. I don't feel like following said user for any number of reasons that are not necessarily hostile (but sometimes are, which is always fun)
  3. I was unable to find him/her/it in searches or hadn't yet thought to look for him/her/it. So please, if you notice an artist, record label, studio, media group or media individual missing from the list that you think would belong, let me know!
Public figures have had mixed success with Twitter over the year or so the site has been a major player in online social networking, partly because it has taken some time for people to figure out (or really, determine) what was or was not appropriate use of this new style of communicating. One of Twitter's unique effects is that it seems to remove almost all barriers between the famous and the everyday schmo; never before have the masses had (theoretical) access to the actual words and thoughts of celebrities in real time without the intervention of publicists, editors, or security guards. And while celeb tweeting pioneers like Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) and Demi Moore (@mrskutcher) were sometimes maligned for their often banal public ruminations on daily life, it turned out to be just such unexceptional kinds of information and seemingly informal, authentic insight into the offstage personae of celebrities that has allowed Twitter to become a surprisingly powerful tool in entertainment, one that studios and execs can't control. If all we'd been given access to of former American Idol winner Jordin Sparks (@TheRealJordin), for instance, was her website, album, televised live performances and talk show interviews to promote a product, then hearing her promoting the film District 9 would have mostly blended in with the rest of the marketing campaign with unremarkable impact. Instead, when Sparks tweeted excitedly about the film, it came off more like a text to a friend as she'd just gotten out of the theatre...and when over 400,000 people get that friendly message and pass it on to their friends, within an hour millions of people have gotten the message, and District 9 becomes an unlikely box office hit.

Musicians arguably display more of themselves in their public persona than, say, a film actor, and it makes sense that they have been the most successful as a group with Twitter. The best ones have managed to find a great balance between the freedom of unfiltered expression, which is liberating to both artists and their fans alike, and the inherent marketing potential of the popular site, and the winking in-cahoots camaraderie between artist and consumer is becoming increasingly evident in the industry output, with conversational musical material like Ke$ha's current number one album Animal or the staggeringly loyal following of Lady Gaga, whose recent last-minute cancellation of a concert due to illness was met with millions of get well messages and a palpable absence of backlash; meanwhile, artists who have enjoyed years of massive success without any such verisimilitude or connection are suddenly being taken to task for it (witness the Australian backlash at Britney Spears, who hasn't sung live in ten years and was still the most famous and successful young pop star of the past decade, for not singing live on her Circus tour). And when you think about it, the celebs who offer more of themselves on Twitter and elsewhere, who eliminate a lot of the mystique of celebrity (something some critics have bemoaned in regards to public figures on Twitter) and at least come off as genuinely accessible, are appearing less and less in tabloid journalism and, I believe, probably attract a good deal less paparazzi harassment than less accessible stars like Spears or Rihanna. While this probably means a lot of publicists have found themselves out of a job, it's something I imagine a lot of celebrities, especially musicians, embrace.

Of course, some do it better than others, and there are still a few major players who don't yet do it at all, although I suspect that will not be the case much longer, since at this point it almost seems irresponsible not to have a Twitter account in the way an artist without a website wouldn't be worth professional consideration. And so, as the Golden Globes chug along a few miles away on this rainy Sunday, Vertigo Shtick hereby presents the inaugural Tweety Awards (or the "Tweeties;" I was going to call them the "Twitties" but thought better of it right away), recognizing some of the best uses of the tweet by the different typed of members of the pop music circle...and some of the rest, too.
Tweetie for Media Tweeting: SPIN Magazine (@SPINMagazine)
The website of music monthly Spin Magazine makes great use of Twitter with a good combination of links to site updates and Twitter conversationalism without doing too much of one over the other. That balance makes it a reliable feed for announcing new site content while also maintaining an engaging self-sufficient Twitter "persona," if you will; tweets linking to site content usually serve as 140-character summaries rather than teases, meaning even if you never followed a link to the website you can still benefit from @SPINMagazine as a purely Twitter entity. Bonus points are awarded for the site's reciprocal promotion of Twitter rather than simply the other way around, mainly in their weekly post by Anna Hyclack highlighting three especially interesting musicians on Twitter, which is typically both a fun read and a good way to discover new musician tweeters of interest. 

Tweetie Award for Record Label or Studio Tweeting: Cherrytree Records  (@Cherrytreerec)

Cherrytree Records, whose artists include Lady Gaga, Robyn, Feist, Tokio Hotel, LMFAO, Keane, The Fratellis, Space Cowboy and Sting, is from what I can tell a small-to-midsize record label with enormous personality - and really, considering that list of artists all of whom have in common an abundance of personality, that would make sense. Cherrytree tweets as a personality rather than an institutional message board, and the unenlightened passerby seeing one of the common conversational tweet sequences between @Cherrytreerec and an artist like Robyn (@robinkonichiwa, for the curious), for instance, would likely assume these were two people talking rather than a record label and a pop star (I'm not sure if there is one main tweeter behind the label's account or if its various artists simply take turns tweeting for it; either way is amusing). But through the hilarity, the generally mischievous and fun-loving tone, and the occasional nonsensical tweeting sequences about asparagus, Cherrytree's Twitter not only remembers to promote the label's artists, it does so in such a genuine way that after following Cherrytree for a couple of days you start seeing the label and its slate of relatively eclectic artists as a big, goofy, joking, supportive, kickass family that you want to become part of.

Tweetie Award for Artist Twitter Persona: Ke$ha (@keshasuxx)

Pop music tweeters from the performing ranks vary greatly in their approaches to content, responsiveness, and what I call Twitter Persona, essentially the character they put across (genuine or not so) through their tweets.There are a number of artists whose Twitter personalities are immensely likeable, but then that's usually a common trait among popular musicians. I single out Ke$ha, who's currently enjoying the success of her debut album and single, both of which hold the top chart position this week, for several reasons. To start with, her personality as conveyed on Twitter matches perfectly the one present in her music and her public persona, and continuity is always a good thing if you want believability. She's funny, she's happy, she's jokingly self-deprecating (I love her username so very much), she seems devoid of egotism, she's a casual promoter (as if she sometimes forgets to do so) rather than a fame whore, and perhaps most endearingly, she addresses her recent success with a mixture of youthful and innocent excitement and a subtle sense of awe and humility. The Ke$ha you can follow on Twitter is thoroughly entertaining, yes, but the real success here is that she's a girl you love to root for.

Tweetie Award for Artist Tweeting: Kylie Minogue (@kylieminogue)

Speaking of girls you love to root for, Kylie Minogue is not only among the best things that come out of your radio speakers, she may also be the best of the bunch as far as pop music-related tweeting goes. She's known and admired for her rapport with fans on the site, always gracious and thankful when users
make an effort to reach out to her directly with their praise or tributes. As one user said recently, she seems to really understand and appreciate the many ways Twitter can work: she is a major exponent of the Re-Tweet, wisely using that simplest of tools to forward any tweets referencing her to her followers, which number in the 110,000s. And while this level of responsiveness to her fans alone would set her apart from most of her peers, Kylie doesn't just handle what she gets, she actively encourages her fans to participate in Twitter correspondence, sometimes with little contests and other times just posing casual questions in tweets. And the kicker is that you'd expect the contests to be promotions in themselves, like "Send in your best Kylie impression" or "tell us what you love most about Kylie" or the like, but Minogue doesn't seem to feel the need to constantly hawk herself directly, and a recent contest invited fans to send in their wishes for the new year; Kylie chose a few of the most positive messages as winners, sending Kylie merchandise to the winning fans and spreading that positivity to hundreds of thousands of her followers who love her all the more. Minogue's graciousness and attention to her fans via Twitter doesn't waste time pandering for more and more exposure and new fans; it does help cultivate the kind of absolute fan loyalty that a dance pop icon entering her 40s can depend (and bank) on for the remainder of her career.

Well, it's been a fun day of tweeting and browsing for the newest, hottest blog on Twitter, which you can now follow to get all the updates, thoughts, and good karma. Follow Vertigo Shtick on Twitter today!

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