Marketing Overtaking Music

Rilo Kiley is touring North America. I mention this only so that I can point out that, despite having heard Rilo Kiley probably a half-dozen times, I can never remember what they sound like. Their music falls off my brain like water off Teflon.

Despite this fact, I know a lot about Rilo Kiley the band. I know that Jenny Lewis and Blake Sennett were both child actors, that they had a relationship at some point, and that Jenny Lewis has dated every sensitive guy who fronts an indie band. (Or has some kind of non-sexual deep emotional relationship with them — Ben Gibbard, represent!) I know there’s a lot of tension in the band about how Jenny Lewis is the focus of every media article on the group.

I know this because these facts are plastered over every possible surface in the music media. I know this because Spin (which, for various reasons, I have a subscription to) had an entire cover story dedicated to the band.

Nowhere in this story is there any actual discussion of the band’s music, or even a description of what they sound like. In fact, almost none of the stories I come across on Pitchforkmedia or any other music media outlet have anything to do with Rilo Kiley’s music. It’s all about…well…who’s shagging who in the band. (Or who Jenny Lewis is shagging that’s not in the band, but in another band, or is Conor Oberst, or is a pretty singer-songwriter dude who might someday be Conor Oberst.)

Now, I know enough about the music industry to know that this is not accidental. Every time I read an interview with these people, they seem quite willing to discuss their personal lives. (They’re from Los Angeles, though, so that makes sense. Everyone in Los Angeles is willing to discuss their personal lives with random strangers. Even non-famous people.) Somewhere, some marketing person or PR person is figuring out how to keep Jenny Lewis on the cover of every music magazine, from Filter to Spin to The Fader to Electronic Noise Made By Retards From Poland Quarterly. (I just made that up, of course, but I wish I hadn’t. I wish that was a real magazine. I would hella buy that magazine, yo.)

And apparently, this is not done by making memorable music. I dunno — I never heard that solo album she did, and maybe it was awesome. But I’m pretty good at cataloging music in my head, and the fact that I still couldn’t tell you if Song X was by Rilo Kiley says something, though I can tell you that Song Y was inspired by Indie Singer Guy Z’s brief relationship with Jenny Lewis. The same is not true of, say, Radiohead, or even Simian Mobile Disco, or other lovely contemporaries of Lewis like Leslie Feist or Emily Haines.

Again, the whole point is that, at some level, they are allowing this to happen. It’s a lot easier to control your public persona than you might think. Anybody know who Leslie Feist’s been dating? Me neither, probably because she won’t talk about it in interviews. At least, not in the interviews I’ve read, which is a pretty fair selection. I’m more likely to read an interview with Feist than with Rilo Kiley, because I can remember what Feist sounds like. (I really like Feist and I’m glad she’s out there. Even though I’m not a huge fan of every song, I love many of them, and I’m even happy about the ones I don’t like as much just being in the world. Leslie Feist, you’ve got my vote!)

None of this has anything to do with actual music, of course. And maybe Rilo Kiley is really awesome, and I just haven’t had enough exposure to them to realize how awesome they really are.

But I’m deeply suspicious of a band who seems more willing to talk in public about their fractally convoluted relationships than the music they make. That really strikes me as being born more of a desire to be famous than to be a great musician. It’s got this brimstone whiff of caring way too much about your public image. And I do mistrust that in musicians, very much so, because it suggests where your priorities really lie.

It all reminds me of all the horseshit surrounding Fleetwood Mac in the 1970s, all the hype about who Stevie Nicks was humping every week…which is why, I think, I keep hearing Rilo Kiley referred to as “the new Fleetwood Mac”.

Or maybe they just sound like Fleetwood Mac. I dunno. I can’t remember.

(To balance my shit-talking, I should point out that I don’t really mind looking at Jenny Lewis on album covers. I would rather look at Jenny Lewis than Thom Yorke, even though I’d probably enjoy a conversation with Yorke a bit more. But Jenny Lewis is very pretty.)

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  1. Maybe it is ’cause I’m old and grouchy, but yeah. . . just read an old interview of Lou Reed by Dave DiMartino probably rom Creem where the conversation was about music, it was about Carla Bley and Cecil Taylor and how Ornette and Hendrix both played in Little Richards band. I realize at the same time in the same issue probably Lisa Robinson was talking underwear stylings with Mick, but there it was, at least music being discussed in a pop music rag. Little music moments, like Thom Yorke singing a chilling, shiver inducing a capella version of Tim Buckley’s “Sing a song for you”, genius calling genius. I miss music on the radio and hate becoming the guy that only listens to his collection any more, because he can’t find a place to connect to new stuff anymore.


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