There’s something particularly off-putting about self-congratulatory wealth. Not only does it tend to ignore the hard work and personal sacrifice of the unrecognised many who helped create it, but it manages to do so with such an air of sincerity that it can sometimes make you doubt your own intuitive sense of outrage.
The recent launch of TIDAL from Jay-Z and Co. have given us another perfect example of this particular combination of elitism, self-regard and detachment from everyday reality. Focussing the world’s attention on the absurdity that lies at the heart of our consumerist, celebrity-obsessed culture. Thankfully, behind the ludicrous display of martyrdom wrapped in a perfectly tied capitalist bow, is a heartening message of blossoming escape from the glamorous illusions that have held us in thrall for the better part of the last century.
The past few years have seen a string of credibility-busting spectacles: the banking industry imploded, and forced us all to pay for their sins; politicians caught out in overt corruption that placed them far from the public good; media moguls no longer even attempt to hide their self-serving spin; tech companies are mining us for every morsel of information they can get before selling us on to the highest bidder; and governments throughout the ‘free world’ have proven to be operating the most invasive, secretive and non-democratic intelligence operations that history has ever known. Our trust in these institutions has been shattered because they have shown, time and again, that they have little concern for the wellbeing of those who they rely on for existence.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, we now have another sector to add to the increasingly long list of those who have lost the people’s trust – with a phalanx of celebrity musicians charging forth to Jay-Z’s rallying call and finding themselves quickly submerged under a TIDAL wave of public anger and mockery (I enjoyed that one, let me keep it). Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised by this at all. We know that the music industry is a vast machine that churns out identikit boy-bands and overly-sexualised young women. But the outrage comes from the fact that music is an art form and medium of human expression that touches all of us at a deeply emotional level. We have high expectations from music icons because we see them as inherently countercultural, as fighting back against the system with their devil may cry attitude and rebel without a cause level of freedom. Why should we be surprised that a collection of the world’s richest musicians (nay, media moguls) are drawn together by the idea of becoming wealthier under the pretence of saving us from ourselves? Surely they deserve to be free from the oppressive restrictions of the music industry, and the disrespect of thieving music pirates? Free to express themselves and reach out to their fans directly rather than through an endless cascade of middle-men.
Of course they do, everybody does, and to a certain degree they deserve the wealth that they have gained by doing so. Bringing joy and entertainment to people’s lives is something worth a bit of personal luxury in return. The real problem comes from the self-congratulatory part of this ostentatious and surprisingly devoid of media-savvy display from the world’s wealthy elite. The appropriation of the language and rhetoric of social justice movements; of placing the universal cultural expression that is music into the stewardship of a few heavily-marketed celebrities; of speaking on behalf of all of us when only the most exclusive selection of global society (the 0.001%) will profit; that claims to be changing the course of history with nothing more than a formulaic commercial product…these missteps represent the tipping point where the persuasive facade of glamour that we are prone to worship ceases to have power over us. Where we look out from under our many modern comforts and shake our heads in disbelief.
The power of celebrity and glamour to shape our view of reality is a truly powerful one, but in this moment of immediate and poignant outrage – coupled with a strong sense of mockery, because it’s actually difficult to even take seriously – we are reminded that the impact of these commoditised forms of social manipulation can only extend so far. Countless others have summed up the drawbacks of this ridiculous #TIDALforALL launch better than I could, and it’s heartening to watch the responses come in one after another, but what is important to consider at this point is that we must take this moment of awakening and try and hold onto the farcical sense of where our modern consumerist culture has taken us.
TIDAL is likely to disappear from view before too long, and all those involved will likely profit a great deal, but our ability to see through the manipulative facade of speaking for us – of a forced view of supposedly shared reality that profits only the very few – is a social memory that I hope we retain a strong sense of. We’re seeing a renewed appreciation for the true impact that ideological mechanisms of persuasion have on our sense of identity and collective responsibility. Behind the spiritually and emotionally uplifting message of universality and common bond – “the language of Love, and Laughter, and Heartbreak, and Mystery” – we see the self-serving, profit-driven and exclusionary structures that only serve to renew a world view based on strict hierarchies of power and social control.
In a modernity ravaged by global inequality, climate change, violence and oppression the appropriation of a truly universal outlet for joy and solidarity, of community and reconciliation, speaks to us of the corrupting influence that lies at the heart of a commoditised view of the world we exist together within. In their attempt to escape from the music industry’s structures of oppression, the new TIDAL moguls have done nothing but replicate those same structures under their own control. They have placed themselves into the emperor’s throne, and now demand that we congratulate them for how good they feel about it.
The sheer absurdity of the situation in a world descending daily into chaos might just be the wake-up call we really needed to hear. Maybe this day will go down in history after-all, as the day that we stopped buying into their consumerist bullshit and started realising that the ability to create the future we long for lies in our own hands – and that nobody has earned the exclusive right to package and sell that which truly belongs to us All.