Year-End 2010

The Best Ideas Of 2010: Musicians Who Made Social Networking Work

All week we'll be talking about the best and worst ideas in music this year — click here to see all the stories. Write us at therecord@npr.org if anything in the business or culture struck you as particularly effective or shockingly misguided in 2010.

Midway through the last decade, media outlets started taking notice of bands who used the social media network Myspace to prime audiences for major releases. Today, social networking is a given — if you're a musician who's not on Facebook or Twitter, you should maybe think about whether you want people to hear the music you make.

Which is not to say that we've lost the capacity to be surprised by discoveries on these outlets — just that listening to music on the Internet in 2010 has finally started to feel less like a gimmick and more like a facet of the connected life we all lead, for better or worse. Maybe that's why a generally savvy company like Apple seemed to expect that users who had already incorporated iTunes into their listening lives would accept an experiment like Ping without protest (oops). Turns out social networks are like every format that came before. Success still requires a good idea, executed well.

Surprise is still out there. For proof, look no further than these five acts, who all used social media to expand the number of listeners that heard their music in 2010.

A still from the "Zef Side" viral video featuring Die Antwoord
YouTube

Die Antwoord & YouTube
Try to imagine listening to South African art project/rap group Die Antwoord for the first time without having seen their self-consciously unsophisticated backyard-in-Cape Town video for "Zef Side" or the surreal Keith Haring-does-set-design for Silence of the Lambs clip for "Enter the Ninja." Without the visual introduction, we'd have no context for the weirdness, and a group that caught the attention of just about every major critic in the country would probably still be struggling for attention outside of South Africa.

Odd Future t-shirt
oddfuture.tumblr.com

Odd Future & Tumblr
The simplest, most elegant blogging platform available was the home of the rap collective with the most vile lyrics, and the most confusing, intimidating presentation. That Tumblr is also where many of the country's younger music critics have set up shop meant that by the time the Los Angeles group played their first show in New York City, we were ready to digest their shtick, or at least to try.

A Tweet from Kanye
twitter.com/kanyewest

Kanye West & Twitter
Yeah, yeah — Kanye West's "comeback" album would have gotten the attention of plenty of critics and fans, but what's notable about the rapper's year was how he removed himself from society (he recorded My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy at a recording studio in a strip mall in Hawaii) to record his most ambitious album and then spent the summer training his followers how to listen to it by posting photos of luxe goods he'd rap about, links to artists who inspired him, and songs that would show up on MBDTF. Half art class, half promotional tool, Kanye's Twitter feed was twisted to serve his purposes: for long stretches he followed no one, and disappeared right after the album dropped. Until then, his feed was the most visible avatar he presented to the media, who took his obvious infatuation with the form and turned it into some of the most inspired coverage of the year. Now that he's made tentative steps back into the ring, maybe the ideas for his next album will come from the service itself.

A still from "Kiss Me Through the Phone" by Soulja Boy
Vevo

Soulja Boy & SayNow
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal's Lee Hawkins earlier this year, Soulja Boy said he had thoughts of inventing a social network that would combine the best of Myspace, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Credit the rapper's previous web success with making that statement sound anything but completely laughable. Not content with his standing as the inventor of a viral video and dance phenomenon, or as the youngest person ever to hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, or having more Twitter followers than Kanye, rapper Soulja Boy took to the phones. Via the service SayNow, which allows users to post and receive voice messages, Soulja Boy racked up 4.9 million followers (or so he told Hawkins), helped along by the inclusion of his SayNow number in the chorus of the song "Kiss Me Through The Phone." Given that this is a guy who once said he makes money every time someone posts a negative comment about him on YouTube, you can bet he's figuring out a way to turn those followers into dollars.

Justin Bieber dances
Vevo

Justin Bieber & YouTube
So, Mr. Bieber, let's get a few things straight: You've got the most popular video of all time on YouTube, with more than 400 million views. Your album My World 2.0 spent four weeks this spring at the top of the Billboard chart. What are you going to do for your next big video? Oh? You're going to make an expensive-looking video in which you surround yourself with unbelievably, effortlessly good dancers while you attempt to use your natural pout to hide the fact that you're basically counting along with the beat the entire time? And this video isn't going to be a thinly-veiled metaphor for a music industry in which the least talented are held up as figureheads for the public to adore while a team of obsessive workers swarms behind them? What's that? Another 100 million views? And I counted, personally, for how many dozens? I suppose there's no denying it was fun. One more can't hurt, right?

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