Arcade Fire disguised a bunch of fibs as promotion for its new album, Everything Now. The release, the band’s fifth studio album, was met with negative reviews when it came out on July 28. But the project and the group have been getting lots of press, after announcing that it would be selling branded fidget spinners, and enacting a dress code at a July Brooklyn show.
Both of those stories turned out to be hoaxes. The alleged fidget spinners were “sold out” the moment the band announced them on Twitter on July 31. A July 24 tweet claimed the dress code was an unauthorized PR announcement. Arcade Fire also published a Stereogum parody webpage with a fake early review of their album. The band’s latest headline-making stunt involved a fake rider, allegedly provided to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert ahead of an August 3 appearance. The marketing campaign quickly grew tired, but many a music writer, including myself, may not have written about Everything Now without it. But more so than being an effective publicity stunt, it and other recent, alleged hoaxes are highlighting what many media critics have long argued: Music writers aren't incentivized to be as critical as other types of journalists.
Arts writing of any kind often relies heavily on taking artists at their word. But with music in particular, the pressure to anticipate and cover new projects while securing and maintaining access to often high-profile talent leads to a power imbalance perfectly suited to publicity stunts and strategic lies. If Arcade Fire says it is releasing a limited edition line of fidget spinners, how worthwhile is it for journalists to do the work to fact-check their harmless possible lie? Popular artists know that their every move is bound to draw media coverage, making messing with publications and their readers as easy as typing up a statement and hitting send.
Most people only learned of L.A. band Yacht when its members claimed to be revenge porn victims in May 2016. In a fake effort to get ahead of a leaked sex tape (which later turned out to be a dull music video posted on PornHub), Yacht announced it would be selling copies of it for $5. But Jezebel then revealed the hoax for what it was and the band issued an apology.
In December of last year, a CCTV-style video made the rounds on social media that appeared to show CeeLo “It’s Not Rape If She Wasn’t Awake” Green in a studio talking on a cell phone that then exploded in his ear, sending him falling to the floor. Obviously, his fans were concerned. But their concern turned to anger when Green later revealed that the video was staged and merely a clip to promote his new project “Gnarley Davidson.”
The high potential for journalist deception mixed with the success of recent secretive projects like Beyoncé’s Lemonade means that popular music fans as a whole don’t really know what to believe anymore. Last year Taylor Swift’s and Tom Hiddleston’s romantic relationship was widely suspected to be an elaborate stunt for a music video. But that suspected video is as-yet unreleased. So what looked like a relationship too boring and well publicized to be real might have really just been boring and true.
Perhaps the most maddening and confusing maybe-publicity stunt of the year is Kid Rock’s senate run, a nightmare scenario complete with a promotional website and merchandise released by Rock himself. He has denied that his political campaign is a publicity stunt for an upcoming release, but why should we take America’s newest unqualified, aspiring politician at his word? Will we tune into C-SPAN in a few years only to see President Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson arguing with Senator Robert “Kid Rock” Ritchie about whether or not flag burners deserve the death penalty? Who knows! Not you!
The only thing that’s for sure is that even the best, most elaborate, publicity-seeking hoaxes don’t compare to a just plain good work of art. Beyoncé’s promoting Lemonade with video of a Samsung Galaxy Note exploding in her face wouldn’t have made the album any more or less good. Similarly, Arcade Fire’s marketing strategy doesn’t make Everything Now any more appealing. Beyond taking music journalists and fans for fools, publicity hoaxes are plain annoying. Just post your album and go.