Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

When bands – and fans – bite back

It’s not just Chris Brown who has had a trying week on Twitter. The contretemps between Garbage singer Shirley Manson and a bunch of fans, including blogger Vanessa Monaghan and singer-songwrter Conor Furlong, has been well documented online already. Monaghan …

Thu, Nov 29, 2012, 09:10


It’s not just Chris Brown who has had a trying week on Twitter. The contretemps between Garbage singer Shirley Manson and a bunch of fans, including blogger Vanessa Monaghan and singer-songwrter Conor Furlong, has been well documented online already. Monaghan has written about it at some length here and there’s been plenty of reaction online, as we have come to expect when this kind of thing goes down. We all love some online pop palaver and, because Manson addressed the spat at some length at a show in Berlin the following night, we can expect this story to run a little more. There’s sure to be some social media experts along to make hay out of this one too.

Shirley Manson sees red

All of this puts me in mind of a few things. There was a comment by Louis Walsh’s solicitor Paul Tweed yesterday about how a headline, which was completely erroneous in the case of his client, can now go around the world in an instant thanks to social media. There was this post the other day about how online posts now live forever. And, seeing as Manson was kicking off because of what she saw as a subdued reaction at a sold-out show in Koln, there was this post from a month ago by Brendan O’Connell about what artists owe their fans when it comes to live shows.

The psychology behind the relationship between bands and fans is almost as fascinating as the psychology between members of a long-running successful band. Bands need fans because they wouldn’t have an audience without them and fans dig bands because they dig the music (mostly – there’s another treatise in the attraction between fans and pop bands which leads to outbreaks like this). But in an age when you can follow acts on your favourite social media network and actually carry on what are, obviously in many fans’ minds, one-to-one conversations with these bands, fans have come to view the relationship in a different way than used to be the case. Many fans now see bands at their beck and call and woe betide any act who doesn’t respond to fans in the way they expect or, worse, in a manner fans consider to be rude or uncouth. With every passing day, you become less and less surprised by the increasing levels of passive aggressive behaviour, unreal expectations and off-the-wall entitlements encountered online.

From the bands’ point of view, social media is fast becoming a poisoned chalice. They know from managers and advisers that Twitter and Facebook are fantastic tools to build and engage with a fanbase. When a band is rising, they make the most of these tools and talk to fans probably more than their own families. When I interviewed Sean Arkins from the Original Rudeboys a few months ago, for instance, he spoke at length about how they’ve used social media to build that fanbase.

The problem comes when some comments, like this one, take off and keep going. In the past, Manson’s post-gig musings about the dull, dead crowd in Koln would have been heard by the rest of the band and crew and gone no further than backstage or the lounge in the tour bus. Now, she has Twitter to share her thoughts with the world after what could have been a bad day and, well, we know what happened. Fans took umbrage, Manson responded, people gleefully spread the story like manure and we had yet another Twitter storm in a teacup to fill pages and blogs (yes, like this one). Online media is a beast which needs constant feeding, which is why spats like this achieve a prominence out of all synch with reality.

There are several ways of looking at this. On the one hand, it serves the act right. They need to be careful about how they deal with fans because they would be nothing without those fans, right? However, on the other hand, are acts not allowed to have an off-day without having people trying to get a rise out of them and then laughing at them for hours and days afterwards?

But once something is online, as noted in this post the other day, it’s out in the wild forever. The comments may have been deleted from the Garbage timeline but some quick digging around will bring them back to the surface again. Online, it’s Homeland or The Secret State 24/7: everyone is watching you. While there are some acts who are quite happy to be themselves online – Geoff Barrow and Questlove are both hugely entertaining – you can imagine more and more acts are going to become guarded about what they say and don’t say online, especially once their managers and PRs have a word with them. And, of course, when we reach a sitaution where everyone watches their Ps and Qs online, we’ll have fans complaining about how sanitised and PR-friendly everything has become. Hopefully, five years from now, we’ll look back at the social media era and have a good aul’ chuckle about it all. For now, though, the next Twitter tantrum is only 140 characters away.

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