Saturday, January 4, 2020

Recognition | Lefsetz Letter

No one knows who anybody is anymore!

My e-mail has been buzzing with the Coachella lineup. Who are these acts? Can they really draw fans, is their audience that big?

Now Rage Against the Machine… They’re headliners, their reunion is news, but are forty and fiftysomethings going to Coachella? I don’t think so, unless they’re insiders with passes.

Travis Scott is a big deal, as is Frank Ocean. But read the second line of the lineup ( Do you know who each of these acts is? Have you even heard their names? Read below that and it’s gobbledygook, some names stick out, but most are unknown!

This is not a negative reflection on Coachella itself, it shows the power of the festival, that it doesn’t really matter who is on stage, it’s an event built for today, when the audience is just as important as those on stage, if not more. And one thing’s for sure, Boomers and Gen-X’ers don’t want to stand in a field to see their favorites. But really, you’ve got to ask, WHO ARE THESE ACTS?

In case you think you’re out of it, I draw your attention to this article:

“We Asked You to Name These Athletes, Politicians and Celebrities. Here’s How You Did.”

Actually, before you delve into the article, take the quiz yourself:

Quiz: Can You Identify These Politicians, Athletes and Celebrities? Most Americans Can’t.

There are 52 faces, hang in there. I got 40 right, which put me at 79% of “New York Times” readers. In other words, 21% did better than me. And two I knew and the names just would not come to me, Steve Bullock and Stacey Abrams, but there were some who baffled me, I had no idea.

Then read the analysis. (Actually, you can skip the quiz and scroll right down to the analysis.)

You know who was recognized most in the U.S?

Oprah Winfrey.

Then came Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian.

The fifth most recognized person in the quiz? Bernie Sanders! 67% of Americans recognized him.

Only 56% of Americans recognized Joe Biden. And this is fascinating, because 92% of “Times” readers did (Bernie was at 91%), so you can see where the bias originates. “Times” readers and writers are in a bubble. They think Biden is known best!

But it gets even more fascinating when you scroll down to the generations…

Gen Z, age 13-22? About 50% knew Bernie Sanders. Only about 21% recognized Joe Biden.

When it came to Millennials, 23-38? About 65% could pick out Sanders, about 45% could pick out Biden.

Gen-X, 39-54? About 70% recognized Sanders, about 10% less recognized Biden.

Boomers, 55-73? Bernie was recognized by 75%, Biden was just a bit higher.

Then you’ve got to look at the total picture, of all 52 faces. Only 32% of Gen Z recognized Tom Brady. And they say football is our national pastime and will dominate forever! Obviously a lot of kids aren’t interested.

48% of Gen Z recognized Bernie Sanders, only 12% recognized Elizabeth Warren.

Now I’ll let you go deeper, and you should, even if you abhor the “Times.” Because the research demonstrates that even if you’re a household name…you may not be. Only 66% of Gen Z could recognize Kim Kardashian? Yes, 81% of Millennials could, but it shows that Kim K. is just a product of her generation, and will be forgotten like everybody before her.

So, despite being Vice President for eight years, Biden is not as well known as Sanders.

You’d think this would be impossible, with all the press, the debates…but the truth is a lot of people are not watching, are not paying attention to the news. That’s how hard it is to reach people today. That’s why Trump got such a big bump being on TV every week.

What did the Firesign Theatre say…”Everything you know is wrong?”

What you think is popular probably isn’t. You think everybody knows, but they don’t.

And you wonder why there’s chaos in the world.

I’ll pull up a Spotify playlist and wonder…am I the only person who has ever heard this track? There’s no context, no groove to fall into. At least with TV there are fewer shows. But society is just overwhelming!

So, all that press, that buzz you see and read about new and established acts?

It isn’t having that much of an effect. It’s mostly an echo chamber. Especially because you have to click over to Spotify or YouTube to check out their music, and that’s just too much effort. You’re overwhelmed, you’ve got no time, you’re waiting to hear from your friends, your trusted sources, whether it’s worth the investment.

And the “Billboard” sales numbers are anemic.

And the Spotify streams… They may be in the millions, but is that just the same teens playing the same songs on 24/7 repeat?

It’s not only Facebook and social media that have lost control, where the platform has moved beyond the grasp of its handlers. What do all those streams on Spotify and YouTube mean? How many unique individuals are listening, how much? And since the money is in the data, very little of it falls down to the hoi polloi, and Facebook, YouTube and Spotify’s are all about the money, the underlying culture is secondary, if not irrelevant.

We’re living on a Tower of Babel planet and all the old sources are telling us we’re not, that life is cohesive, understandable, if we just place faith in them and their impaired outlook.

We are not at the beginning and we are not at the end.

For twenty years we were wowed by technical innovation.

Now, for the next twenty years, we’re gonna try to make sense of it.


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