The Black Kids retrospective
In the midst of a scorching 2007 summer, an indie pop group played a small stage in Athens’ Popfest. The outfit’s way around hooks and a knack for songwriting quickly caught the attention of festival goers and, like buzzards to a corpse, the music press quickly jumped at the chance of being the first ones to cover the next big thing. The viral performance lead to a frenzy of positive press, and the general public would eventually follow suit. The band’s debut, Wizard of Ahhh’s, was alternative pop lightning in an independently released bottle; the EP’s four songs were all single worthy, reverb drenched, deliciously lo-fi new wave anthems that reeked of homemade charm; and it was all available for free download on the band’s myspace. An 8.4 review score and a Best New Music tag from Pitchfork was all the industry needed to hear before it posed the question; “Who are Black Kids?”
Well, that was before the group imploded. What came after their 2007 set is one of the most extreme domino effects in recent music history. The band’s virality eventually attracted a slew of major labels, and the quintet eventually signed with Almost Gold, a division of the grossly popular Universal Music Group. The label then landed a production deal with former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler (who went on to produce for a mass of indie rock bands) and the group eventually released its debut 10-song LP, Partie Traumatic. The album glossed the production to a near shimmer, and to say its release was polarizing would be an understatement. To most critics and casual fans, the album was nothing more than a decent-to-good dance pop record whose strengths laid in the 4 tracks featured previously on Wizard of Ahhhs, now with a fresh coat of major label paint. To the rest, however, Partie Traumatic’s erasure of the EP’s lo-fi charm was a manifestation of every hardcore fan’s worst nightmare: a major label gutting a unique sound with cold, dead, corporate hands and selling what’s left of the skeleton. The anxiety and loss felt by fans accumulated in the infamous Pitchfork review; a web page consisting merely of a 3.3 score accompanied by a picture of two pugs that simply read “Sorry :-/.” After a brief radio hit with the Butler-produced version of the EP song “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You,” The brutality of still juvenile internet culture and the shock of overnight rockstar-dom led to a near 10 year release hiatus, and the subsequent the swift end of Black Kid’s relevance.
Black Kids’ death is a warning; not to independant bands or labels, but to fans. This is not a contained event; the group’s brief flirt with with infamy served as a cautionary tale of how damaging the internet hype machine can be. While the hype-epidemic’s urgency has dwindled over the last 15 years as bloggers and critics have loosened their iron grip on popular culture, Black Kids is only the most extreme example of an era -and genre- spanning pattern. The Strokes, Paramore, Justin Bieber, Panic! At The Disco, and most similarly (and perhaps most shockingly) Weezer were all victims of accidental super-stardom brought on by music press, and subsequently some of the most dysfunctional acts in their respective genres. Fans (and press) need to be more forgiving in the future.