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How pop music became gossip

Does the scoop come first or the idea of making money from it?

How pop music became gossip Does the scoop come first or the idea of making money from it?

The problematic Pablo Picasso had long foreseen the endless lucrative potential of inserting personal stories into works of art. Even today, exhibitions dedicated to him explore his most famous paintings not so much from the technical aspect of cubism and his innovation, but regarding the toxic relationships he maintained with his muses. The famous encounter of the artist with Dora Maar at the café Les Deux-Magots is a work in itself: the Croatian artist, sitting alone, placed a gloved hand on the table and began to tap a knife between her fingers, without stopping even when she injured herself. After introducing himself, Picasso asked for her blood-stained white gloves to display on a shelf in his apartment. After nine years of relationship marked by wonderful artistic results inspired by his companion's face, like Guernica or her own portrait, but also by the strong humiliations Picasso imposed on Maar—he called her «the embodiment of pain»—Picasso left her for Françoise Gilot. Last March, the Picasso Museum in Paris unveiled a new exhibition that includes some of Gilot's works, but the tagline advertising the event is still dedicated to the love story more than her body of work—“Picasso tried to ruin his ex’s career. The Picasso Museum will show her art,” headlined the Washington Post. Nearly a century later, the relationships that inspired Picasso’s works and those of his lovers continue to attract the attention of the general public, a phenomenon that contemporary music and cinema also seem to have drawn inspiration from. The latest releases from Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Harry Styles, and Beyoncé drop hints about their love relationships, how the flame ignited, and what extinguished it, while screenwriters like Richard Gadd turn personal stories of traumatic events into Netflix series, with Baby Reindeer.

@littlebeeang The way he’s pointing his finger at her too Video from @HiFaeJen #taylorswift #torturedpoetsdepartment #ttpd #theerastour #joealwyn tolerate it eras Intro - Morgan Brook Music

Since the release of The Tortured Poets Department, the studio album by Taylor Swift released last April, the pop star's fans have not had a moment’s peace. With the care of an investigator equipped with photographs and red string, they have decoded each verse, trying to uncover the most hidden secrets—if we can call them that—of the singer’s personal life, making the album «the most streamed on Spotify in a single day, and Taylor Swift the most streamed artist in a single day in the platform’s history». Out of the 31 tracks in the project, the Swifties army is confident that So Long, London is a tribute to the city that hosted her when she moved overseas to be near her ex Joe Alwyn, that songs like The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived refer to her fling with The 1975’s singer, Matty Healy, and that finally, thanK you, aIMee is a diss to Kim Kardashian. Now, it is possible that a fanbase as fervent as Swift’s is capable of finding allusions where there are none, but the indiscreet abundance of Easter eggs in the album really makes one think that the entire project was orchestrated based on how much the revelations would be talked about, not the music itself. In a way, the dissing between Kendrick Lamar and Drake in the past month has the same flavor. Although the format is a well-established practice in rap history, the songs the two artists dedicated to each other are particularly striking for their choice to mention the most famous scandals they are linked to. Like The Tortured Poets Department, the juicy gossip provided by Lamar and Drake instantly sent the songs to the top of global charts, demonstrating the grip gossip has, even on rap music fans.

@idk._.fern Did Drake take the W?

Before Swift, Lamar, and Drake, other artists who included intimate details of their lives in their albums, turning them into viral phenomena, were Harry Styles, Beyoncé, Ariana Grande, and Billie Eilish. In the first solo album of the former One Direction member, there were veiled references to exes, like Only Angel which is thought to be dedicated to Kendall Jenner or Two Ghosts to Taylor Swift; Beyoncé’s Lemonade is a concept album entirely revolving around her husband Jay-Z’s infidelity; in Thank You Next, Grande lists in detail what she learned from each public relationship, from the near-marriage with Pete Davidson to the memory of Mac Miller, while Bury a Friend by Billie Eilish, present in her debut album When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go?, is thought to have been written in memory of XXTentacion. All these examples provide a clear picture of the elements that most influence the success of an artistic product. Now prisoners of the “social discourse,” pop songs today can be divided into two very distinct categories. It’s as if TikTok has altered the recipe for the catchy song, now in two distinct flavors: it either has a strong enough rhythm to inspire a dance, or it has juicy enough lyrics to arouse the interest and astonishment of fans, who comment on the verses online. The trick has also already infected Netflix, which with Richard Gadd’s series about his stalker, Baby Reindeer, is making waves on the web. In the era of post-relatability, where to achieve online fame it’s no longer enough to be beautiful and nice, but to have stories in common with your audience, exposing your past in a product that will be consumed by millions of people doesn’t seem as authentic as it would for a niche artist, especially since an evident commercialization of personal experiences makes the event less authentic than hoped.

@costarenato3 Na nova música “Wildflower” Billie Eilish canta sobre ter sentimentos complicados após namorar o ex de uma amiga. Ela pode estar falando sobre o seu namoro com o cantor da banda The Neighborhood, Jesse Rutherford. Jesse namorou a influencer Devon Lee Carlson até 2021, e Billie conhecia ambos. Em 2022, Billie começou a namorar com Jesse e essa situação por ter inspirado essa canção. Devon, dona da marca de capas de celular “Wildflower cases”, aparentemente continuou amiga de Billie e ambas foram vistas saindo juntas no final do ano passado. #billieeilish WILDFLOWER - Billie Eilish

Judging by the success of albums like The Tortured Poets Department, it is evident that the artistic trick of inserting true stories into a work follows the aim of strengthening the bond with fans, who feel involved in the artist’s personal life. The risk, however, is not only that it cultivates a parasocial relationship with the public, but that it also damages the music itself. What will remain of these songs, when the scoop is no longer hot off the press? To return to that problematic Picasso, who despite his controversial personality had a rather far-sighted vision of the art industry, he explained in the past that artists like him are nothing but good illusionists. 101 years ago he told Marius de Zayas: «We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies... I would like to know if anyone has ever seen a natural work of art. Nature and art, being two different things, cannot be the same thing. Through art we express our conception of what nature is not. .»