To quote one of the most prolific Bristolians in the world “In the future, everyone will be anonymous for 15 minutes.” And Banksy might as well be right.
In a society where the lack of a Facebook page can legitimately cause someone’s existence to be called into question, it seems as though being known has now become the norm. We’ve all seen bands take advantage of the readily available platoon of social media in order to promote themselves, but this got me wondering, what about anonymity? When artists and musicians are constantly putting information out in order to satisfy our needs, when can we unravel the music from the artists themselves?
I recently went to see FKA Twigs at the Bristol trinity and during a moment of silence a member of the crowd decided to grace the room with a bellow of “Kirsten Stewart!’ in obvious reference to Twigs’ relationship with Twilight star Robert Pattinson. At the same time that Twigs raised an eyebrow in annoyance it struck me that perhaps she’s a particularly unique example of the how the loss of anonymity has had negative effects.
Twigs began her career by posting tracks anonymously onto the Internet — a relatively standard way to introduce your music to the world. In her own words, “When I first released music and no one knew what I looked like, I would read comments like ‘I’ve never heard anything like this before, it’s not in a genre.” Although Twigs’ rise to fame has been largely positive, the end of her anonymity came at a price. She continues, “Then my picture came out six months later, now [I’m] an R&B singer.”
In fact, Twigs’ music is a beautifully ingenious mix of punk influences, trip hop and vocals that skate between Kate bush and Sade, rather than any conventional form of R&B. Or as she eloquently puts it, “If I was white and blonde and said I went to church all the time, you’d be talking about the ‘choral aspect’. But you’re not talking about that, because I’m a mixed-race girl from south London.” This reductive labeling has taken an even more sinister turn. Since the invasion of the press, her relationship with Robert Pattinson has been revealed and she is consequently now plastered all over the Daily Mail as arm-candy rather than a musician, and has been inundated with racist twitter messages — simply as a result of the relationship.
Twigs started as a leftfield, anonymous musician and now, after losing her anonymity, accommodates the reductive labels that have been forced upon her, in way that hasn’t applied to other leftfield artists that have similarly shot to fame — think Evian Christ. Twigs’ persona has been so interlinked with her music that it becomes difficult to see each in a separate light; so much so that someone deemed it necessary to shout the name of her partner’s ex-lover at one of her gigs.
So perhaps it’s the fifteen minutes of anonymity that allows us to truly unravel the music from the musician to an extent at which they do not wholly rely on each other. There are a lucky few who have been able to extend the concept; when we think of Daft Punk the first thing that comes to mind is their aesthetic — to all intents and purposes we see them as robots. As a result of their mysterious persona they’ve created their own universe, one that allows us to accept their music more freely. If songs like ‘Technologic’ were backed with humans would we feel the same? Or would the songs be less exciting? Would we able to appreciate the song itself or would we see it something cringey? Their anonymity and aesthetic seems to soak up all of the silliness of their songs so that they exist on their own terms.
To quote SBTRKT on the concept of anonymity: “I never set out to hide myself completely. I don’t have a problem with people knowing. It’s just if your whole point of reference is about who you are versus what it sounds like, that kind of defeats the point for me.” And perhaps this is where the ultimate sweet spot lies. When we somewhat detangle the artist’s personal life from their music we can truly appreciate the music itself — an obviously personal moment, but one that is self-contained as its own universe.