Today’s Fandom. By Bob Lefsetz

Posted on February 6, 2022 by


Is not yesterday’s fandom.

Every other day I have people attacking me for what I said about Taylor Swift’s performance at the Grammys over a decade ago. When I research further, I find that most of these people were barely born when this happened. But they need to defend their hero.

But Taylor Swift was not like her contemporaries. She was a teenager singing from the heart. She was perceived to be genuine. She represented the demo. AND STILL DOES!

A week or so ago, Damon Albarn of Blur/Gorillaz, attacked Ms. Swift, saying that she did not write her own songs. The blowback was instant. Ms. Swift responded and then her minions piled on and Albarn retracted his statements nearly instantly.

This is also different, stars of yore didn’t bite back. Nor did they have the communications methods to do so. As a matter of fact, most hatred went unnoticed and unread, the internet amplifies hate today, but there are so many more things to hate in the channel.

And hate is the word. There is nothing subtle about it. Not only are you wrong, you must be excoriated, intimidated, the goal is to get you to crawl back into the hole you came from and be silent. Which keeps many people from playing at all, or playing once and then giving up. But unless you’re part of the maelstrom you’ve got no idea what is truly going on in America today, because it’s a war.

Now Taylor Swift has been around for a long time, she broke in 2006, over fifteen years ago. When MySpace was still a thing. And not only was Facebook not dominant, Instagram and Twitter, the entire social media world of today, didn’t exist and had no traction. So really, Taylor Swift is an outlier, her career began in the aughts, under a different paradigm, because today no one can have the footprint of Swift, NO ONE!

This is what the music industry media disinformation machine obscures. Rihanna revealed she was pregnant last week. But she hasn’t had a record in half a decade, she’s in the rearview mirror. Most people shrugged, even though the story is everywhere. In truth, Rihanna gave up music for the mainstream, the penumbra, the opportunities that stardom has delivered, she’s no longer a musician. And she broke the year before Swift, and although she was in the spotlight, she had no rough edges. And sans rough edges you can’t grow a fan base today.

This is what those on the way up don’t realize. That they will never become ubiquitous, not even world famous. Oh, people might know them around the world, but not MOST people, even though the publicity machine will hype them to high heaven. But in today’s multifarious world you don’t have to pay attention to any media that doesn’t appeal or agree with you.

Which is why pop stars come and go. Their fans are not dedicated, it’s all about the songs, it’s momentary. To have a dedicated fan base you have to think smaller, like a metal band.

Metal is thriving. It never ever crosses over to the mainstream, it puts up poor streaming numbers, but its fans are some of the hardest core extant. They relish being outsiders, they’re not just fans of the music, but the whole ethos. You go to the show to be with like-minded people. It’s us versus them. The fact that people outside this world can’t even understand the music, never mind the fandom, only bonds believers to the act and the scene even more.

Used to be people were fans of the system. Now they’re fans of INDIVIDUALS!

It was AM radio in the sixties. Then FM. Then MTV. Now there’s no overarching distribution medium that bonds people to it. Certainly not a streaming service, nobody believes in Spotify, never mind Apple or Amazon. If these outlets were smart, they’d try to gain adherence from their users, akin to the “I Want My MTV” campaign, but they’re run by techies, not marketers, if you don’t understand fandom you cannot create it, never mind nurture it.

It must be an identity. Not only are you a fan of the person and their output, you’re against anything that intrudes upon it. So, one can’t believe in a streaming music distributor, because if it has everything, there’s nothing to hate. You need context.

And fandom can be of a scene, like with metal above. Kind of like the jam-band scene, listeners may be mellower, but they will tell you they listen to nothing else, and everybody else’s music is crap.

Which is what the Joe Rogan story is all about. Forget the content, it’s HIM versus the WORLD!

What’s the first thing a Roganite will say in his defense? HAVE YOU LISTENED TO HIM? Because if you did, you’d instantly become a believer, otherwise you’re the enemy. You either love him or hate him, and his fans will defend him to their death. If you think this is about content, you’re missing the point.

Not that content hasn’t built Rogan’s rep. He’s hosting the outsiders, the people who get traction nowhere else. Which appeals to his outsider fans. What do they say, Rogan has 11 million listeners? That’s a drop in the bucket, especially considering it’s a worldwide number, and Rogan does have fans around the world, and Rogan’s podcasts is the BIGGEST!

Everything is niche. Except maybe the Super Bowl. Then again, America puts on blinders as large men hit each other and cause brain damage. But everybody else is watching football too, we can root for our home team (the idea of the Dallas Cowboys being America’s Team are long gone), and watch a contest which is essentially a fight to the death. It gets our ya-ya’s out. We can yell and scream. We don’t have to hold back. Letting go is approved, whereas every day your behavior is limited by society, what you can do or not, there’s a psychological cloud atop every American, limiting their behavior. This may or may not be true, but people feel it. Because their teams have amplified the message and there are no refs in real life. The word police. The sexual behavior police. People feel constrained and they cannot escape it, nowhere is off the grid, everybody’s connected, so they REACT!

And in order to react, you must have something to believe in. And it doesn’t matter if what you believe in is right or wrong, or if the person delivering the message is heinous, they’re INVESTED in this person and their message, and to show weakness is anathema.

Older people who grew up in the last century, yesteryear, just don’t get it. They think we can all get along. NO WAY! Because for me to get along I have to give up my fandom, my allegiance, and it DEFINES ME!

Otherwise what defines you?

Certainly not your job. It’s low-paying labor or service or else you’re a cog in the machine at the tech company. And the rulers of this country, the billionaires, believe you should be happy, since you’ve got a flat screen, alcohol and maybe even legal marijuana. I mean what else could you want?


For a while there, people were fans of corporations, especially tech corps. But that was before solidification of the sphere. When Apple was an upstart, an underdog doing it differently, you could align your beliefs with the company. But then the sun shined on the company and its manufacturing and labor processes came into view and no matter what was said in the company’s defense, it didn’t wash. The truth is everybody wants the cost efficiencies of cheap labor, America has voted for lower prices even if it means people have to get on the plane last and take no luggage, and if you go against this you lose.

And Amazon has got its warehouses.

And Google and Facebook have manipulated the online advertising world.

And we get inane doublespeak, like Mark Zuckerberg railing against Apple’s iPhone privacy/anti-tracking options by saying the customer will be hurt, they won’t have as targeted ads. HUH? The users want NO ADS! And Zuckerberg also said this would hurt smaller merchants. Do you really think Americans care about these people? It’s everybody for themselves in America today, and these small companies don’t have enough FANS!

And how do you gain fans?

By being different. It hasn’t been this way since the sixties. The more unique you are, the more different you are, the more you speak your mind, the more people love you. If you post and no one reacts, you’re doing it wrong. As for veracity? Most of the myths of rock and roll are just that, they were manipulated publicity stunts. Rogan knows if he hosts outsiders, his fan base will go rabid, for they feel like they’re outsiders, everybody feels like an outsider today. And the truth is there’s so much in the channel that most egregious statements and behavior never get widespread attention anyway. It’s not like Rogan has just started pushing the envelope of accepted science, he’s been doing this for years! But now with the pandemic and Neil Young’s focus a light is shined upon his behavior and we find…he’s not a prince. But this guy has been in the marketplace FOR YEARS! The biggest podcaster, essentially unscathed. Who else has not been exposed? Spotify quietly removes over a hundred Rogan podcasts, but it can’t cancel him, for one thing his fans will go INSANE! And when your future is bleak, you’ll do insane things to defend your hero, you’ll even show up at protest rallies with a gun. Whereas if you’ve got something to lose… That was the amazing thing about 1/6, all those people entering the Capitol, it didn’t even occur to them that their behavior could come back and bite them in the ass. After all, Trump continued to get a pass, why shouldn’t they?

And people fight over that which doesn’t even affect them, because it’s part of that team ethos. Like that woman who ran for the school board (and won!) even though she HOME-SCHOOLED her kids! This never would have happened in the past. But there’s this feeling if we give just an inch, they’re gonna take more from us, and our backs are gonna be against the wall.

The acts of the late sixties and early seventies realized this. They wanted to be on FM, they didn’t care about AM hits. That was a derided club. “Stairway to Heaven” didn’t have to be a single, it didn’t even have to be SHORT, it wasn’t made for that market, but for the band’s fans and FM. You could believe in the bands of yesteryear. Embracing exploration of your mind when the establishment said to close it. And what really put the antiwar movement on the map was when the acts got involved, in songs, in statements and at protests. They took a side. If you don’t take a side you don’t have hard core adherents. And the lesson we learned from Woodstock was primarily THERE WERE SO MANY OF US!

That was the revelation. That 400,000 people had to be there, they couldn’t be left out, that was the power of the music. Country Joe made a whole career based on his antiwar cheer and song.

Do you see this today?

Mostly not. Musicians yearn to be brands. They’re fearful of pissing off a potential audience member. What they don’t realize is pissing off customers IS GOOD FOR BUSINESS! That’s right, the Dixie Chicks were stars in the country ghetto, but once they came out against George Bush the rest of the nation became aware of them and to this day, almost two decades later, they’re heroes, icons to people who didn’t even know their music before Natalie Maines made that comment.

On a national level, it’s scary. But on a musical level, the opportunities are rampant. Why do you need to be in the Spotify Top 50? That’s a race if you win you can only lose, because unless you keep putting up numbers on the board listeners fade away, and since you hit the heights once, people think you don’t need their fandom, their support, so they fade away, follow other interests. One of the main drivers of hip-hop is the battles between the scenes and the acts. East coast versus west. Kanye versus essentially everybody! Kanye is akin to Rogan, an ongoing train-wreck. You’ve got no idea what he’ll say. And oftentimes it’s loony tunes. And you’d think he’d lose his entire audience, but his believers stand by him, even when he puts out mediocre music, they still think he might deliver in the future.

And Van Morrison and Eric Clapton chose sides too late. Turns out their fans were not as hard core as those of the acts today. Back then the scene and its music were paramount. You might argue who is best, Clapton, Page or Beck, but you’d still listen to all three. But today? NO WAY! You wouldn’t want that chink in your armor

The only reason Neil Young’s anti-Rogan statements had any traction was because of his hard core fans. From day one he’s gone his own way, and not always admirably, like abandoning his already booked tour with Stephen Stills. But his iconoclasm is addictive to his fans. You never know what Young will do, you’re always watching him, you’re a believer even if you don’t like half of his output. Because he aligns with your identity. He’s taking a stand for YOU! He’s not compromising where you’re told to, FORCED TO, compromise all day.

That’s right, you work in the warehouse and your breaks are timed and your output is monitored, you feel more like a machine than a human being. Which is why the STEM people ultimately lose, the battle is fought with the heart, not the head. Otherwise why would people continue to support candidates who support legislation that’s against their interest?

Now there’s another paradigm shift yet to come. When the boomers fade away. Perception is the boomers had it good and screwed it up for everybody else. Also, the boomers are invested in the past. The boomers are responsible for the chains.

Will the whole system blow up, will democracy die before the boomers?

That’s quite possible. Because as you can see above, the underpinnings of our society are broken. We live in a Tower of Babel society when we keep being told there’s one government, with our interests at heart. NO ONE BELIEVES THAT, except for people like Biden and Obama and the rest still living in the past. Trump channeled the anger, he stoked the belief of his adherents and didn’t care about those he pissed off. But on the left? They still think it’s the twentieth century.

So when Joe Rogan crosses the line…

The first question is whether he did or not. And we can’t even agree on the rules to judge his behavior, it’s open season, all the way around.

And Spotify, the host, is hands-off. It wants no part of this battle. It hopes it fades away. And Rogan built its now dominant podcast platform and they don’t want to let go of their flagship podcast.

No one wants to touch this, except for the fans on both sides.

The establishment hopes this fades out, just like so much gets plowed under in today’s tsunami of information.

But one thing is for sure, Rogan’s fans are never giving up, NEVER!

As for Young’s?

To a great degree they’re asleep at the wheel.

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