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Thinkpieces And Shit

A Love Letter To Myspace, the Social Network Where Music and Identity Intertwined

It was an era of top-down selfies, black-rimmed eyes, snake bite piercings, and Aiden t-shirts.

by Emma Garland
21 January 2015, 12:15pm

In an alternate reality, where I am cooler and wise beyond my years, I would like to say that the lyric that most accurately summed up my puberty is something insightful by Leonard Cohen or empowering by Bikini Kill.

In reality, where I am a tragic millennial who can only form new friendships after weeks of online communication have established at least three solid in-jokes, the lyric that most accurately sums up my puberty comes from Brand New’s "Sic Transit Gloria": “Die young and save yourself” - a ridiculous, theatrical statement that arguably could not have existed with an ounce of sincerity if it weren’t for the indulgence of a particular music community and the social networking platform that allowed it to flourish.

In 2004, millions of people across the world became friends with one man, referred to only as “Tom”. Now officially retired from being on first name terms with everybody with an internet connection, Tom (surname “Anderson”) - whose crappy low-res profile picture has probably been viewed more times than the Mona Lisa - built a social networking empire that combined two major cultural driving forces: young people and music. That empire was called Myspace, and it was as definitive of my puberty as dermatological problems, public snogging, and My Chemical Romance.

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For some reason, when we talk about the “emo revival” we only talk about a very specific time and sound. We talk about American Football, Mineral, Braid, and all related midwestern musicians of the 90s who inspired another wave of brooding, twinkle-bands that would roll back into popularity in the 2010s. For some reason, we don’t often address the fact that, between those two time periods, the 00s happened.

As well as being the decade in which every music video editor discovered contrast levels and went to town with them, the 00s was responsible for launching a melodramatic fusion of elements taken from midwestern emo, hardcore punk and pop to create emo 2.0. That is, emo in the most marketable form imaginable, characterised by faux-bisexuality, the kind of side-fringe even Gabrielle would consider overkill, and song titles that were an auto-generated combination of aggressive verb + type of make-up + girls name. A Google image search of “emo” in 2015 won’t bring up a multitude of pictures of the Kinsella brothers in too-small jumpers, but an endless stream of top-down selfies from teenagers with black-rimmed eyes, snake bite piercings, and Aiden t-shirts.

The early 00s was a golden era in which the members of My Chemical Romance, Taking Back Sunday and Brand New were revered with a fervour typically reserved for male pop stars or Jared Leto (before he became a male pop star). It was a time before Conor Oberst went country, before Dallas Green turned into an acoustic singer-songwriter, and before Skrillex was Skrillex because he was still a 16 year-old called Sonny Moore who looked like this. It was a time when Epitaph Records was still relevant and gender was seemingly not, because everyone had the same “David Bowie circa Labyrinth” Halloween costume haircut, wore too much eyeliner, bought their hoodies from H&M and their skinny jeans from the girls section.


A portrait of the author as a young emo

Between 2004 and 2009, before the digital mass-migration to Facebook began, Myspace sat at the epicentre of every teenager’s cyber universe. It may seem trite now that we’ve been social networking for over a decade, and the culture of “commenting” has become as integral to our daily routines as morning coffee and danger wanking, but it’s worth remembering that, in the early 00s, it was still a massive novelty. For the first time, you could build your own identity (which usually involved re-branding your own name to include “Chaos” or “Slaughter” or whatever made it alliterative). You could form long-lasting friendships with people based on mutual musical interests and a deep-seated envy of their hair extensions. And you could write to your favourite band and know for sure that they would see it. It was the most immediate and direct form of artist-to-fan interaction you could get short of loitering outside the back entrance of a venue 6 hours before a show just so you could scream “I LOVE YOU” in the general direction of anybody holding an instrument. The blanket formatting of Myspace meant that artists would use it in the same way their fans would. Suddenly, everyone was equally accessible.

In 2006, Jupiter Research published a report revealing that Myspace generated more music-related activity than any other music-related website, and 75.9 million unique visits per month at its 2008 peak don’t lie. It was used as a platform for R.E.M to unveil Around The Sun, it helped launch Crystal Castles’ entire career off the back of a single demo, and Billy Bragg absolutely fucking hated it, so it had all the markings of a successful music site. Still, the initial rise of Myspace arrived exactly in tandem with the rise of mainstream emo, resulting in the two sharing a bond that would only break when it failed to evolve at the same rate as the digital generation it spawned. So deeply connected was Myspace with pop culture that there was even a hairstyle named after it. Nothing like that has happened since. There is no climate in which “Twitter hair” could ever become a thing. When Myspace fell in social prominence, so, then, did the connection between artists and fans.

Yes, newer social platforms like Soundcloud and Bandcamp offer essentially the same streaming and discovery services as Myspace, but there’s much less room for artists to personalize them. You can’t upload photos, post blogs, or talk directly to fans. They are, by and large, faceless. Twitter and Facebook pick up the slack on those grounds, but the end result is fragmented. We end up going to one social network to listen, another to learn more, and another to reach out. Similarly, from a consumer perspective, we no longer have “profile songs” to define our moods or proclaim our love for our favourite musicians in Top 8 format. Again, there are similar services available, other ways to confirm that we “like” things, but this information is never collected in one place. We are so spoilt for choice in terms of what to listen to that our habits have lost their permanence. The reason the "profile song" no longer exists is because the majority of us would need to change it every thirty minutes. Why bother when you can just re-post a mix on Soundcloud?

Myspace still reaches 50 million people every month, but for most people my age it is emotionally resigned to the past along with LimeWire, Woolworths and getting your stomach pumped. Maybe we’ll end up returning to it in the same way we sometimes end up forming friendships with people we broke up with years ago, but it’ll be a completely different kind of relationship. The innocence will be gone, there will be too many lingering memories of how things used to be, and all the songs associated with your time together won't resonate with you in the same way, but that doesn't mean they lose their significance. Having seen Brand New for the fifth time last year, I can confirm that a room full of twenty-somethings can and will scream “Die young and save yourself” with just as much sincerity as they did twelve years ago, if not more.

Follow Emma Garland on Twitter.

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