The Peabody Award-winning Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen, from PRI and WNYC, is public radio’s smart and surprising guide to what's happening in pop culture and the arts. Each week, Kurt Andersen introduces you to the people who are creating and shaping our culture. Life is busy – so let Studio 360 steer you to the must-see movie this weekend, the next book for your nightstand, or the song that will change your life.
February 10th, 2015
Episode 35 of 186 episodes
According to a recent New York Magazine article, two percent of all web searches are for lyrics, hence all the terrible websites dedicated to cross-selling you music you don’t want and ringtones you shouldn’t buy. As soon as we could connect to the internet, we used it to connect with our favorite music—and we keep finding new ways to do that online. The lyric video technically traces back to Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” but the modern iteration begins with Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You.” Before Cee-Lo, most lyric videos were fan-made and low quality. “[Cee-Lo] released this video that’s pure typography,” says Kevin O’Keeffe, a pop culture writer for The Atlantic. “It’s one blue screen and words appearing on top of each other and sliding in and out. It’s the form we know now as the lyric video.” Cee-Lo’s profane break-up song was a perfect fit for the lyric video, which is why it launched a trend in 2010. Since then, lyric videos have racked up hundreds of millions of views for everyone from Romeo Santos to Vampire Weekend to Katy Perry. Lyric videos can be a great introduction to a song’s meaning, but if you want to go deeper, there’s Genius. Up until recently, the site was best known for annotating rap lyrics and its reputation as a frat-party themed start-up. But recently, the site began to seriously consider music of any genre (plus historical documents, Shakespeare, prescription drug bottles, and more). Genius’s most infamous founder resigned and last month they hired the New Yorker’s longtime pop critic, Sasha Frere-Jones, as an executive editor. “One of the functions of this site is simply trying to get the lyrics right,” Frere-Jones says of Genius, but he’s also in it to create a historical record. That’s what drew him to Genius—to celebrate music on a scale that’s never existed before. “For anyone who loves these facts and words, it feels very helpful,” he says. “We’re dealing with production, culture, transmission of symbols.” Frere-Jones and his fellow editors are there to guide the community towards meaningful annotations and away from the observations you would find in YouTube comments. “We don’t want stuff like ‘J. Cole kills it on this one!’ That’s not an annotation, that’s just what you think.”