Nothing is Forever on the Internet
We're often told that the internet is eternal, but web-based media has made music more ephemeral than ever before.
If you were born between the late-1980s and early-2000s, your parents lied to you. Well, your parents probably lied to you at some point independent of when you were born, but those born within that 20-ish year period were lied to about one specific thing: the internet is forever. If you’re unfamiliar, the idea is that you need to be careful about what you post online because it will be there until the end of time for all to see. A picture with a beer can while you are underage ends up on Myspace? You’re going to lose your college scholarship. Post an explicit song lyric on your friend’s Facebook page? You’re going to be suspended from school.
Of course, I understand the notion. Things that end up online can persist for a long time. But one thing we’ve seen over the last few decades is that the internet is often not as permanent as we thought. I want to talk about this idea and how it relates to the preservation of popular music.
The Impermanent Internet
Well, sort of. That was the artwork when the album came out. If you seek out any of her music as of the publication of this newsletter, you’ll see that not only does Future Nostalgia have a different cover, but all of her albums do.
Will these alternate covers be around forever? Probably not. This is likely a marketing ploy to promote her upcoming album. In an August 2023 interview with The New York Times Style Magazine, the pop star characterized the album as psychedelic, which aligns with her updated cover art.
The next record will still be pop … although she’s developing a new sound that may be informed less by the house and disco beats beats beneath songs like “Physical” and “Hallucinate” than by 1970s-era psychedelia. She’s working with a smaller group of songwriting collaborators, supposedly including Kevin Parker of the Australian psych-rock band Tame Impala.
Even if this change isn’t permanent - as I’m almost certain it won’t be - it highlights the ephemerality of music in the internet age. In a snap, Dua Lipa and her team can change the cover art to every album in her catalogue. What’s to stop her if she no longer liked one of her songs? Why not replace it with a new version or delete it?
In 2016, when fans expressed distaste for the song “Wolves” off of Kanye West’s album The Life of Pablo, he tweeted, “Ima fix wolves” and proceeded to upload a new version of the track. That new version is the canonical version.
This revisionism doesn’t just affect changing tastes, though. It can also affect changing standards. In 2022 Lizzo released a song called girls “GRRRLS” that contained the lyrics “Do you see this shit? / I’ma spaz”. Though the word “spaz” is a slang term that can refer to either freaking out or doing something klutzy, it has been deemed offensive by members of the disability community.
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