Ladies and gentlemen. Children of all ages. I present to you reason No. 592 as to why you should never take a top-heavy, $5 trillion deal from a music business company that has established itself as a juggernaut in said business world: The Amex Sync Show Presenting Jay-Z.
What’s that, you ask? Well, it was a live-stream concert sponsored by American Express at the uber-hip South By Southwest music conference featuring hip-hop giant Jay-Z. Duh. Those who happen to own an American Express card were eligible to land tickets into the actual venue, while those without an American Express card could take to their Twitter accounts to suggest songs they wanted to hear. The thing was then set to air at 8 p.m. Monday night on the credit card company’s You Tube channel. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, if you happened to be one of the pathetic awe-struck news outlets that covered the thing, the answer would be nothing.
No, seriously. Take a look …
“Jay-Z, wearing a cap with a polka-dot brim, his trademark sunglasses and a sparkling gold chain, led the crowd in several rap-a-longs and kept everyone on their feet,” The Associated Press’s Chris Talbott wrote. “Fans lined up for entrance more than two hours before show time.”
“… Jay-Z seemed relaxed and almost playful,” Billboard‘s Cortney Harding said Tuesday. “The show closed with an energetic version of ‘Empire State of Mind,’ (after an abortive effort at the track), then, fittingly, ‘Encore.'”
You see. I told you.
For me, the thing was appointment viewing. Spending my Mondays away from work these days, I knew it was coming and after two failed perceptions of when it would actually begin, I finally parked myself in front of my computer at 8 p.m. last night. And that would have been great … if the show actually started at 8 p.m. Instead, what I found was some British dude in a derby-type hat trolling around the backstage area and creating an overwhelming amount of awkward moments with people who had no idea what was going on. It wasn’t until 8:30 that the “countdown” began, which promised a start time at the bottom of a 15-minute clock.
Not that any of this is new. It took two and a half hours for Mr. Carter and his friend, Kanye West, to finally hit the stage in Baltimore last November. But if you were like me Monday night and already thought the show was first going to start at 5 p.m. only to be informed that it started at 7 p.m. — and keep in mind, it was actually set to begin at 8 p.m., though it didn’t kick off until nearly 9 — the grand entrance-aura becomes moderately, if not intensively, annoying. My God. Just come out, already. It’s only music.
But back to the AmEx project. Look. I’ve been a long, long, long-standing Jay-Z fan. That’s no secret, really. I’ve seen him in three different cities and at least once every six months, I am sure to pop his concert movie/documentary “Fade To Black” into my DVD player. I admire him. I think he’s smart. He practically forced me into my now-deep-seeded love affair with hip-hop. I’ve read his book. And most of all, as someone who has spent 27 years immersed in music as a whole, I think Jay-Z is the most important figure the genre has ever seen, if only for his crossover appeal and how he essentially brought the African-American culture into White America, put it down on the table, and dared millions upon millions of Caucasians to latch on to something with which they have no business relating.
That said, this was a bad move. If we’ve learned anything from “The Voice,” it’s that the combination of Twitter and television isn’t nearly as much a match made in heaven as many network heads once thought. Case in point: The idea behind this show was to allow fans to pick the setlist through Twitter. Can someone then please explain to me why “99 Problems” was the leader in the clubhouse early on? It doesn’t matter what, where or when you see Jay-Z in concert these days. Seeing that track performed is almost as much a certainty as the delay in start time. Why not pick rarities? Why not go for songs off the seemingly-always-ignored “Kingdom Come” or the pseudo flop that was “The Blueprint 2”? Sure, we got “Excuse Me Miss,” but why not go for “A Dream”?
Idiotic song choices aside, the underlying takeaway from the event was marred with a low-budget vibe that provided more low-lights than highlights. More times than he should have, Jay-Z stopped songs in the middle of a performance, demanding the band start again. While in other cases, this may have seemed like a neat live moment, his consistency in doing so only allowed for the conclusion that the act was excruciatingly under-rehearsed. The night seemed more sloppy than successful.
Adding to all the displeasure was the awkward crowd, who looked as though they had no idea what was going on when he launched into songs from the early days of his career (which, for the record, wasn’t often). As cameras panned to hipsters and housewives, most people looked lost and a sense of inauthenticity appeared palpable through the computer screen. It was an odd night all around, really, and there wasn’t a single entity that came away from the event looking good …
… Thus the following question must be asked: Why?
Now, you know where I stand on all this watching television on the computer stuff, so granted, these are the kinds of things that should be applauded. But the more and more I see this happen (Lollapalooza streamed a select amount of sets during last year’s festival and Coldplay tried a similar stunt some months back), the more and more I’m inclined to think we are far away from successfully figuring out the whole social media + music + Web TV thing. The attempts at conveying a live show as it’s happening come across as unorganized and cheap. Did anybody honestly flip between the “Director’s Cam” and “Audience Cam” during this mess? Doubtful. Did we learn anything more about Jay-Z concerts or how he conducts himself backstage? Absolutely not (even with the Brit was running around backstage, he made it quite apparent that they were not going to be allowed to spend time with the star of the show). Did this allow us to feel or think as though we were at the event ourselves? Not even close, and the many awkward crowd shots made me even question a desire to actually be there in the first place.
It all adds up to one incredibly large ball of hip-hop disappointment. The sentiment was correct and no one should ever blame anyone for trying something new. But at this point, the people who insist on force-feeding us this type of nonevent event with more hype than we could ever imagine need to start learning from their mistakes. Of course, we know that these kinds of things could indeed be cool. The problem is that nobody has even approached warm yet.
For those who are interested, you can find the show in its entirety for the next week here and here. Yes, there were words used that little children should probably not hear, so click at your own discretion.