Only there was no sex tape; or rather, there was a contrived promotional video for the latest single, “I Want To Fuck You Till I'm Dead”, from their last album. The whole exercise was a publicity stunt; the following day, they were to, with feigned resignation, put up a website supposedly selling their homemade sex video, though one which always gave an error at the time of payment; ultimately the truth would come out, and fans would push the album to the top of the Spotify charts, all the while praising the artists' clever, subversive conceit. It was to be, in their own words, “a slowly-unveiling conspiracy”, referencing The X-Files and The KLF*.
Unfortunately, they miscalculated. What they weren't counting on was the mass outpourings of public sympathy at them apparently having had the privacy of their intimate lives violated. It turned out that the public, by and large, weren't grabby jerks hungry for celebrity skin; they were strongly susceptible to what millennials call “the feels”, and almost painfully empathetic with their sorry heroes. Which was a problem, as, all of a sudden, YACHT had committed the offence of obtaining sympathy under false pretences. Not quite in fake-cancer-blogger territory, but the difference is a quantitative, rather than a qualitative, one. As the truth emerged, they issued a weaselly non-apology, followed a day later by a genuine apology, for both the stunt and the non-apology. But the damage was done. Perhaps ironically, the exercise has left YACHT revealing a bit more of themselves than is entirely flattering.
While this is the most problematic of YACHT's public projects so far, it didn't come from nowhere; they have form taking hot-button issues and using them as superficial aesthetic elements, much like extreme violence in a Quentin Tarantino film. Witness their most recent album, I Thought The Future Would Be Cooler; it was in this blog's records of 2015, and it is a finely crafted piece of infectiously fun chopped'n'screwed electropop, albeit with pretentions above its station. As its title suggests, it is somewhat of a concept album about technological ennui; the actual execution involves taking a number of ideas about how our high-tech world, you know, kinda sucks, and mashing them together, like a selfie-stick-era We Didn't Start The Fire; thus, the Snowden revelations and extrajudicial executions by drone are mentioned within a breath of crappy ads on the web, corny Internet-of-things gadgets and Tinder being a bit lame, like a focus-group brainstorming exercise of some sort. (Needless to say, there is no time to discuss, say, the issues of privacy or trust in the digital age, the potential implications of data mining, or whether, say, the internet's convergence into corporate-run proprietary silos is bad for human development, democracy or civil society; this is pop music, not a Cory Doctorow blog post. Onto the next snappy soundbite!) The whole point of the song is that our technological age kinda sucks, in a nonspecific way that anyone can agree with. It's pretty close to content-free and a brilliant piece of marketing.
And marketing is YACHT's stock-in-trade. They appear to be relentless self-marketers, classic Frommian Marketing Characters, chameleonically superficial, as sexy, edgy or profound as you read into them. To the Marketing Character, depth is a liability that compromises one's ability to self-promote. This superficial engagement with the world in the mode of marketing also jettisons any distinction between critique and complicity; we have seen this with their marketing tie-in with Uber, making their then-unreleased album streamable when surge pricing was in effect; which is on one level a criticism of Uber's exploitative business model, and yet isn't, any potential critique being defanged into mere “edginess” of the sort ad agencies have thrived on since the days of OK Soda in the grunge era. Yeah, Uber, surge pricing, it says, with an affected vocal-fry of exaggerated ennui: but hey, have a listen to this awesome album! And I'm sure the edgily back-handed endorsement didn't hurt Uber.
From surge pricing to leaked sex tapes may seem like a leap, but it's not a huge one; in both cases, newsworthy exploitation is used as a vehicle for self-promotion; in the latter, YACHT don't merely reference the exploitation, with an edgy ambiguity that is well SugaRAPE, but actively concoct it, leaping onto a topical issue (revenge porn) and using it as a marketing gimmick. But hey, there's no such thing as bad publicity, right?
* Let's see: The KLF came up with a formula for gaming the pop industry, used it to score a hit, then when invited to
Top Of The Pops the Brit Awards, got shock-metal band Extreme Noise Terror to play with them, and poured buckets of pig's blood onto fired blanks into the audience, and then finally incinerated a million pounds in banknotes, negating any business value their exploits may have had. I somehow can't see YACHT doing anything so gauchely self-destructive or blatantly anti-commercial.
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