Myspace refugees: waxing philosophical on top 8s and page-view-rated music
Hopes&Fears's Mike Sheffield seeks out the wandering souls of Myspace.
By the end of the aughts, Myspace had shit the bed.
Launched in 2003 in Beverly Hills, California, Myspace quickly rose as the leading music-oriented social media platform, launching careers and forming relationships. The internet meeting place was purchased by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp in July of 2005 for a whopping $580 million but would go on to hit its peak in 2008, attracting 75.9 million visitors a month and generating $800 million. But suddenly, without warning, Myspace was shaking. Tech writer Kate Losse describes the bust in her 2013 New Yorker piece “The Return of the Selfie,” claiming that "many users found [Facebook] superior to MySpace as a matter of both technology and taste... If ... MySpace was the blurry bathroom selfie, set against a page decorated with graffiti and flashing graphics, Facebook profile photos announced a clean, well-lit model of orderly selfhood."
By 2009, Facebook had overtaken Myspace in unique worldwide visitors and feeling the burn, Myspace sought change. Suddenly, users were redirected from myspace.com to new.myspace.com, where they were given the option to import their old myspace account, sign up, or login using their Twitter or Facebook. It was a confusing time, like a midlife crisis or a presidential candidate who changes their position in the 9th hour in a desperate bid to win over voters. The change, which was a promising attempt to win over more music fans, did the opposite; its format less social, its ads more glaring, its player more buggy. By 2010, Myspace had lost half of its users. But where did they go? The migration of Myspace users to other online platforms was not a consensus but a smattering.
In 2006, pop critic Jonah Weiner wrote a piece for Slate which functions sort of like an abbreviated ‘be all end all’ of the Myspace generation. The piece called “Tila Tequila for President: The bikini-clad singer who rules the musical democracy of MySpace,” funnels the upper echelon of myspace music into two basic categories: emo-punk and, what he regrettably refers to as, "skank pop."
Fall Out Boy's Myspace page circa 2006
Of the former, Fall Out Boy reigned supreme. In April of 2006, the Wilmette-bred pop-punk quartet had over 10 million profile views on the website, nothing to scoff at yet only a fraction of the attention that would come to them in the years to follow. But Myspace had lit the candle. In his 2004 Rolling Stone article on the band, Nathan Brackett describes the business strategy the young pop/punk band implemented over the social network saying, “the band's ‘anthems,’ distributed and marketed through their MySpace, connected with ‘skinny-jeans-wearing teen girls,’” with fans being converted one MP3 at a time. Being the poster boys of emo bangs and lip piercings wasn’t as easy as it looked, as there were deep psychological implications to the Myspace-charged fame. "I literally spent my twenties as the most selfish person that I know," says Wentz, "I didn't have the capacity for understanding.” The Myspace machine had turned Wentz into a sociopath. Their current online presence - by means of Twitter, Facebook, Spotify, and an official website - is a fragmented reality, but it still does the job. As of January 1st, the band's latest single “Centuries” had racked up more than 30 million plays on Spotify.
But not every emo band saw continued success after Myspace, most shrank and bowed out of the spotlight. Talking with Fuse writer and emo guru Maria Sherman, she purports that, “Most of the Myspace emo generation grew up, some stayed on the Warped Tour train, and some fled their emo past only to come to terms with it later.” Which highlights a key element of the Myspace emo generation: their age. “I think when you hit your mid-20s, you start to realize that teen taste isn’t terrible and that you shouldn’t feel shameful for being a little loser.” Asking Sherman about emo’s current location on the web, the answer isn’t simple. “There aren’t really any new hotbeds of emo activity, I mean, Alternative Press is still running, as is Absolute Punk.” But the emo bubble has wandered aimlessly, receiving recognition on indie rock blogs every so often because, as Maria mentioned; most of them grew up.
Alongside the Myspace, emo phenomenon arose acts like Tila Tequila. Tequila seemingly came out of nowhere, as if she had been birthed by the social network itself, but it might be more fitting to say that she revolutionized gaming the platform. The Singaporean pop sensation, born Tila Nguyen, was discovered in the Sharpstown Mall in Houston, Texas by a Playboy scout and was offered a chance to model nude for the magazine. She was 18. She would go on to pose nude for a variety of magazines and opted out of college with desires of entering the entertainment industry and Myspace served as the perfect platform for her ambitions.
A self-portrait Nguyen posted on her now defunct Facebook page via Animal
Myspace’s infamous Tom Anderson went on record explaining the site’s ranking system, saying "It's based on profile views and nothing else...if guys want to come in there and just look at these girls' pictures, it tends to drive them up to the top of the charts." And Nguyen gave them pictures, from nearly nudes to twerking GIFs, all accompanied with her brand of sexually charged pop. In 2006, Nguyen’s Myspace, branded under Myspace’s unsigned artist category, was the most popular page on the site with over 31.5 million views. This would give rise to TV deals, hosting Fuse’s Pants-Off Dance-Off, a game show where contestants would strip to music videos, and MTV’s A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, a bisexual-themed dating show where 16 straight men and 16 lesbian women competed for Nguyen’s affections.
Nguyen's current website
She went from a strict Buddhist household to being a C-list pop star and playing huge music festivals, such as the Gathering of the Juggalos (which could have gone better). But Weiner is quick to note, “For all [her] online notoriety, Tila Tequila...has sold exactly zero CDs.” Her reign over popular culture would not end with her music career, however. In some point in 2013, Nguyen began acting extremely strange. Two years after her conversion to Judaism (ala Madonna), Nguyen began spewing Hitler-sympathizing, Illuminati-obsessed rants to her Facebook page. She posted a blog post entitled, “Why I Sympathize With Hitler Part 1: True History Unveiled.” James Marcus Howe, a director who had worked on A Shot at Love, was murdered in his Los Angeles apartment and Nguyen reveled in his death on her Facebook page claiming, “GOD SEE’S YOU DIRTY FUCKING KIKES WORKING FOR THE SYNAGOGUE OF SATAN.” Weeks after her anti-semitic rants, Nguyen would put out her first official sex tape, elegantly named "Tila Tequila: Backdoored and Squirting.” Her bizarre rants would eventually lead Facebook to delete her account, yet her online existence is almost as manic as her hate-filled delusions. From July 2001's TilasHotSpot.com to MissTila.com, TilaFashion.com to “Tila Zone” in 2006 and 2009's TilasHotSpotDating.com. In 2010, Nguyen launched a celebrity blog site, MissTilaOMG.com, which was transformed into her personal blog by 2012. The blog seems to be mainly focused providing advice, for those who will take it, and posting pictures of her new baby. As of 2015, her net worth was $1.5 million.
Black Kids press photo
One of the quickest Myspace career cycles came in the form an indie rock band from Jacksonville, Florida called Black Kids. In August 2007, Black Kids' demo EP, Wizard of Ahhhs, was released as a free download on their MySpace page. The EP got rave reviews, a press shit storm if you will, and many were pegging the Black Kids’ Robert Smith-esque crooning as the next big thing, saying that the quintet would be the next Arcade Fire. At the time, I was at NYU and friends with a very promising music blogger named Derek. He would later found Neon Gold Records and cement himself as a music industry staple, but at the time he had been running “Good Weather for Airstrikes,” an indie rock blog with an international following, famed for breaking Vampire Weekend. We had been hanging out in my dorm room in the Financial District and decided to grab some beers from our local Jubilee Supermarket. Waiting in line with our overpriced beers, he was very enthusiastically describing Black Kids to me. I had never heard of them and he thought that was nuts. He drove his point home by shouting, “What other bands have come out of Jacksonville, Florida?” With this point, he intended to prove Black Kids were an oddity worthy of the spectacle. As we paid for our beers, a man with a shaved head and a camo hoodie tapped him on the shoulder. “Limp Bizkit is from Jacksonville, Florida.” He had a good point. But while the band had amassed an army of press devotees, their debut album didn’t have the same impact as their free download, and the group all but slipped out of the spotlight. Today, the band still has over 100,000 Facebook fans, but the buzz has long but diminished.
While an umbrella for overly buzzed bands, half-nude nazis, and swooping bangs, the Myspace that had enchanted me as a teenager was also a petri dish of counter-culture - not just bands, but communities of art enthusiasts, punk houses, and underground collectives that you could connect with at the touch of a mouse. Even with the launch of Facebook in 2003, Myspace gave artistically-minded entrepreneurs a platform for their agendas that the Zuckerbergian utopia could not support. Suddenly, there was an interconnected map of bands playing in New York City that you could tap into without knowing who was who; there was a top eight for that. Suddenly, touring the United States became even easier as with knowledge of one act you could meet all of their friends and view every venue they were playing. Suddenly, you could go abroad and with one connection reach a whole subculture that most tourists, and even locals, would never find on their own.
Sexy Sushi live at Glazart, April 2008
I fondly remember finding a rave on my first trip to Paris through digging top eights that began with the profile of an avant-garde performer named David Fenech. At the rave, an electroclash group called Sexy Sushi played wearing only tape over the genitals while women and transvestites danced and grabbed at the audience from steel cages. Outside the club, I would make friends with some locals using all the French I could muster until we realized we all knew of Vincent Moon, a french filmmaker who aimed to "use the camera like a guitar." I first came across Moon through a short music video he shot for Philadelphia-bred Ramona Cordova that documents Ramona walking slowly down train tracks. It was my knowledge of him that cemented me as worthy of conversation; it was Myspace that had given me keys to this debaucherous Heaven.
In Prague, I would find the lay of the land after stumbling upon the Myspace of an art collective called A.M. 180. The page led me to art shows in apartments and concerts below 18th century theaters; I would become friends with a vast array of people IRL and would see beautiful parts of the city, hidden bohemias, that I otherwise would never have known.
I would make lifelong friends after friending Turkish psychedelic band Grangulez. Having virtually no online presence in 2015, the band was a window into a world of Turkish musicians and artists operating out of Istanbul, Izmir, and Ankara. A woman named Özge Horasan messaged me out of the blue, or because I was a mutual friend of Grangulez, and gave all of my home-recorded mumblings a purpose, saying she wished to make art like mine. I can safely say that message was one of the main reasons I pursue music to this very day. She eventually started making her own noises, avant-garde and disparate, imperfect and beautiful, under the Myspace handle Good Housekeeping. Through Good Housekeeping I would meet a variety of other artists, namely Murat Üf Yaa and Berk Cakmakci. Murat performed in the duo Kahverengi Karton Ayi and alone as Mermaids (among a slew of other projects), and Berk would have many Myspace monikers including (but not limited to) I Create Soundscapes, Hey Rabies, and Soft Gates. I would talk to them on their pages, trading ideas and expressing my excitement about their new material and they would do the same. It was a renaissance, I could exchange ideas about art and life with this loose collective of experimental Turkish artists from my laptop.
The group have all but left Myspace but the website has had a glowing revival. With a pivot to cater strictly to video and music content, championed under the leadership of its new figurehead Justin Timberlake, the social network had a spike in growth of over 469% from 2013 to 2014. Horasan has since stopped making music but continues to inspire, living on Tumblr, making clothes and garments from natural dyes she has imagined and perfected under the moniker "sat-su-ma."
Murat Üf Yaa
Murat went to Denmark for a brief period before facing 15 months of military service back in Turkey. He worked at Turkish club Peyote until his untimely death on December 13th 2013, a battle lost to cancer only 40 days after diagnosis. He was buried in Izmir but his art lives on; on several Myspace and Bandcamp accounts and on several unsettling art blogs. Berk moved to Brooklyn to pursue his master’s degree in photography. His music has shifted towards electronic music and guitar-centered pop, which stands in contrast to the synth clouds he made when we were separated by half the world, but still contains that certain level of sophistication and nuance that led me to his work years earlier. I see him every once in a awhile, at shows or art exhibits but mainly we just meet at one of our apartments, sit on the couch, sip beers, and talk about music, the way we had when we were strangers on Myspace.