TAKE #19: Parasocial Interactions & Music

Ahh, it’s been a nice lil’ minute since I’ve done one of these! I don’t always be havin’ stuff to talk about lol, so I just sit in my little corner and wait until I have a moment of inspiration. In an attempt to get away from some w e i r d energy in the house a couple of days ago (that has since lingered into today), I decided to sit outside in the backyard with my cat for a couple of minutes, while watching some videos on YouTube. I had been seeing Jack Saint’s The Collapse of Bon Appetit float around my YouTube recommendations for a couple of days, and I figured this was a good time to watch it.

I don’t really talk about things outside of music on here often, but to give you a little peek into my life: I used to watch Bon Appetit’s videos everyday lol. I’m not sure when I started watching them, but it was sometime early last year, I think around the time they started posting more frequently on their page. I loved the atmosphere that the folks in the Test Kitchen gave off. They seemed like super nice, super talented cooks, who had great personalities and knew make cool things. I don’t want to admit how many times I’ve watched through every episode of It’s Alive with Brad. Something that I had always noticed, which is probably something that any savvy fan of color picked up on, was that there were VERY FEW people of color in the test kitchen. And no Black folks. The only time a person of color would get a few minutes in the spotlight was when they were being asked to share recipes from their cultures and families or acting as a extra in the background. But even with that knowledge, I chalked it up to racism in the culinary industry, and kept it pushing.

By now, you’ve probably already seen the shitstorm that Bon Appetit has turned into since a pictured surfaced of their former editor-in-chief, Adam Rapoport (who always gave me snake energy, when he appeared on screen) in brownface. Since then, many folks from BA spoke out on the racism and discrimination they (and their colleagues) were facing in the BA workplace, and some of them either cut their ties with BA completely, or decided to discontinue their appearances in future BA Test Kitchen videos. As things started coming out, I hurriedly pressed the “unsubscribe” button, punched the air a bit (in irritation of how people of color are treated), and I haven’t watched anything from BA since June – or looked at any of recipes on their website. Long story short, I was curious to see what kind of information Jack Saint would uncover in his video that I wasn’t privy to beforehand. And while he didn’t really talk about a whole bunch of things that I didn’t know, he did expose me to the term “parasocial interaction” (yes, I’m very late lol). And that’s why we’re here 🙂

Generally, parasocial interactions are the experiences that audiences have that are based around specifically tailored content. The point of that content is to create a sense of closeness and familiarity with the audience and the content, in an attempt to win over hearts to win over dollars. In Jack’s video, he talks about how – until recently – BA’s video format was completely different. The content was very distant and separated from a genuine human experience. Eventually, BA and Conde Nast – BA’s parent company – started to realize that it was more profitable for audiences to ~feel~ something when they watch videos. You create a connection, you create continued interaction. So BA’s Test Kitchen videos became a calculated roleplay (as Jack refers to it as) of a group of goofy friends who make tasty things together. And it’s clear from the comment sections under all of their videos since the change, all of the BA stan accounts on various social media platforms, and the fanfiction that apparently exists, that their move towards more personable content worked. The move created a sense of ownership for fans, and that sense of ownership kept them coming back.

And I started thinking about this a lot with how that same thing happens in music. I’ve talked about this before on other TAKEs, but having the language of parasocial interactions really brought this to a new level for me. With the rise of social media, our favorite folks have become even more accessible. If I wanted to see what The Weeknd was having for breakfast right now, I could. If I wanted to see what Denzel Curry’s favorite cologne was and where to buy it, I could find that information out pretty quickly. And this is conflated by the ways that artists interact with their fan groups. The fan pet names – like Barbz, the Beyhive, XO, etc. – create a sense of community between fans and the celebrity. Artists refer to the music they create has “our music” made specifically “for the fans.” And that sense of community makes people feel more connection to the content that’s created, and that allows for fans to continue to be HAPPY to empty their pockets for an opportunity to buy a piece of merch to show their loyalty to that community. And of course, there are good things that come out of that. BUT, there are also not-so-savory things.

I’ve mentioned before how celebrities and how we see them are carefully curated. And a part of that curation is how fans interact with the music that artists make. Every mention of how close they feel to us is an attempt to place the audience in those parasocial interactions that Jack talks about in his video. And that’s not to say that artists don’t appreciate their fans; I’m sure they do. And that’s also not to say that artists don’t enjoy making the things that they make. BUT. We can’t pretend like we don’t know how profitable the music business is when you can get into it good. Y’all saw how all those celebrities were living when we were all in quarantine (remember that? now everything is a lot worse 🙂 ); they aren’t hurting for much. And we also can’t pretend like we don’t know how TOXIC these relationships can be. Certain fan groups are notorious for sending threats to other groups and other artists, gatekeeping is a thing in fan groups for whatever reason, people talk about artists like they aren’t real people (the amount of “will Abel and Bella get back together?” that I see in the Weeknd subreddit is honestly quite disgusting), and if I see one more person beg for the old Tyler or the old Kanye back, I’m gonna scream. And of course, as I’ve gotten older, this relationship for the sake of dollars has become more clear, but I would be a hypocrite if I pretended like I haven’t felt this way about a dozen or so people over the course of my life. I once got mad at some boys in my elementary school (and CRIED) because they said Corbin Bleu couldn’t sing lol (you really couldn’t tell me ANYTHING bout CB back then!). All of this is a consequence of the work of a bunch of people who get paid to make us invest our time like that.

I’ve also mentioned a bunch of times before about the concept of “we don’t know these niggas” lol – and I think this is the perfect time to bring that theme back in. WE. DON’T. KNOW. THESE. NIGGAS. And the things that we think we know about them are things that we’ve been allowed to know. Celebrity is fake, y’all. It’s capitalism and consumerism wearing a pretty face with pretty vocals. It’s all a scam for your dollars lol. It’s ok to spend them if you want; it’s ok to find a certain level of closeness with people who are fans of the same thing as you, but don’t get caught up.

here’s something else you might like:

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