On “Harlem Shake” at #1, the death of the “glass ceiling,” and the rise of the “platinum roof”
The glass ceiling no longer exists. Long live the age of the platinum roof.
If we as fans/employees/journalists reporting the day-to-day operations of the music industry refuse to accept the idea that standards and practices have radically changed, then shocking times lie ahead. Rapid cultural shifts caused by the instantaneous socialization of the digital age are truly upon us. There’s no better recent proof of this than “Harlem Shake” – Baauer’s year-old trap-as-EDM anthem turned viral internet marketing craze – reaching Billboard’s now more heavily weighed in favor of Youtube and streaming clicks Hot 100 at No. 1 last week, with radio airplay accounting for less than one percent of its overall chart points. An artist that’s never seen even say, a Hype Machine #1, or even an MTV Woodie Award (formerly high praise for indie-to-mainstream artists), superseded all former judgments of excellence to charge headlong into mainstream prominence. When you shatter the glass ceiling so demonstratively, and end up on top of the world, there’s something more intriguing that must be at play, a visible invisible space even higher atop the industry that allows for that to occur. Welcome to the era of the platinum roof, the most rarefied of spaces, a place that cannot be reached by shattering old ideas, but can only be reached when those on the new top level open a door, and accept you as their own.
Commercialization’s dovetailing with the internet age crushed the glass ceiling into dust. In an era of Amanda Palmer becoming an entirely underground fueled indie pop star, plus Kickstarter’s popularity and Youtube click monetization, it’s entirely possible to be a sustainable, and possibly even comfortably wealthy artist without the aid of mainstream name recognition or a top ten hit. Without a glass ceiling to contain levels of potential success, a truly motivated artist with an above-average understanding of digital culture is able to achieve unlimited levels of success. In the internet being able to allow for direct and inherently personal marketing, the connection between the artist and the fan is literally one-to-one, creating a level of honesty and trust in the music industry that for many fans has never existed. The unlimited potential of human connectivity is a byproduct of 21st century technology that has created a complete paradigm shift for modern music.
The most intriguing issue to watch though, is that the “no rules, just standards notion seemingly guiding this “no glass ceilings” era is that it almost immediately creates strange outliers as stars. Artists like Trinidad James and Brooke Candy, while possessing a certain underground appeal – due to the co-mingling of underground and mainstream as a unified body – have had mainstream opportunities that they have both arguably cashed in upon quite well. From literally the first second the post-apocalyptic real-life anime appearance of Brooke Candy graces Grimes’ video for “Genesis,” she’s the most interesting young woman in the world. Same for James, whose “All Gold Everything,” from it’s plethora of Southern crunk rap hooks, to the rapper’s unique sartorial sense allowed him to impact both rap music and hip-hop culture in an instantaneous manner. But none of these are Baauer, and all of this pales in comparison to the “Harlem Shake.”
Baauer’s the perfect storm. He was an intern at Trouble and Bass, a low-end sound collective/label with iconic marketing and unassailable indie cred. His track “Harlem Shake” was initially ‘released’ to Soundcloud, giving fans, as well as indie DJs and producers the ability to discuss it, access it and stamp it with layers of indie cool quicker than say, having it sitting on a label executive’s hard drive and being clandestinely dropped in mixes while waiting for sale through a label. From there, the track finally ended up being released for public consumption last year by Jeffrees, the “farm team” label for Diplo’s Mad Decent Records. Jeffrees releases give indie artists an opportunity to hopefully springboard into greater success given the indie label’s cosign. “Harlem Shake” did just that, and within 12 months, Baauer went from indie name to global giant.
In this new atmosphere, the early adopters of technology’s brilliance occupy the platinum roof. Folks like Kanye West, Jay-Z, will.I.am of the Black Eyed Peas, Diplo, A-Trak, Skrillex, the aforementioned Amanda Palmer, and all they have touched through business partnerships and collaborations. By comparison, the former standard of breaking the glass ceiling by getting the people to collectively stand behind your work was an incredibly simpler process. The platinum roof is reached by staying perpetually hip, aware and having the intellectual sharpness to understand the logical interplay between history and the future in a wild and volatile environment. Those who are there surround themselves with like-minded individuals to stay there, while all others, at the moment, float beneath, at varying levels of potentially unlimited success.
The death of the glass ceiling as the creation of the “platinum roof” occurs to now control the rampant levels of creativity and brilliance now allowed to occur is an ostentatious development. One can only hope that, in being so progressive and well guarded, with time will allow for a healthy, socialized, creatively and commercially prosperous music industry.