Livestreaming: how Katy Perry raised the bar for online self-publicity
Livestreaming – the art of putting a celebrity in a room, broadcasting it on YouTube and hoping that, through sheer raw charisma, something will happen in the rough shape and form of album promotion – is The Hot New Thing. It’s time to get used to it while it’s here.
Katy Perry set a new bar last week, living for three days inside a 41-camera-armed LA apartment, taking in celebrity guests (James Corden popped over for breakfast; Caitlyn Jenner joined Margaret Cho for an impromptu-but-actually-very-promptu dinner party) and, presumably in a bid to fend off cabin fever, answering live Q&A questions from her fans. The ultimate effect was that of a Big Brother x solitary confinement mash-up: we watched Perry preen, we saw her act as chatshow host to her various guests, we occasionally got a closeup of her puppy while she was off camera doing off-camera things.
It’s not always this glossy. Past livestreams have wobbled precariously into that pixelated realm known as “high-profile musicians experimenting with doing art”. Dizzee Rascal just teased his new possible album, possibly called Raskit, with a seven-hour stream that consisted of him writing a tracklist down and communicating via various oblique symbols. No doubt he was inspired by Frank Ocean, who last year made us watch him do woodwork for 12 hours while small, ambient snippets of Blonde played in the background.
There is a fine line between “giving the fans the content they crave” and “torturing them, unnecessarily with pop star-fronted tedium”. Currently it feels like we’re in danger of crossing it. Is the promo livestream something people really want, or is it the ultimate endgame of tone-deaf label-driven fan engagement? By the end of the year, Lady Gaga could be sitting in a bath of red velvet cake or something, singing for eight straight hours at Tony Bennett. Or Sir Paul McCartney will be desperately doing “1 Like = 1 Dab” for a week until he is wheeled away, exhausted. It feels, already, somewhat doomed.
For how to get it right, pop stars should look to Wiley. He not only pioneered grime but the art of the genuinely fascinating livestream, way back in 2010, when he broadcast himself jogging in a park and arguing on the phone, for no other reason than the hell of it. It cemented his reputation as one of the 00s most unpredictable and interesting artists, and a motivational quote machine long before Kanye (“Just wake up and live your life until you’re dead!”). Suppose the lesson was there for us all along: the livestream only really works if your artist is intriguing enough to hold it up. Three days of Katy Perry being woke in a flat in LA possibly pushes the limits of that.