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Social Media is Dead to Donald Glover, Action Bronson and Iggy Azalea

Donald Glover, who you might know as Troy from Community or as the hip-hop artist Childish Gambino, appeared on The Today Show yesterday morning (Feb. 24).

In the midst of a cheeky interview where he quietly announced his forthcoming retirement from rap, but still somehow managed to promote his upcoming film The Lazarus Effect, he also aired out a dirty little secret about something far more important. The dirty little secret is this:

Social media is over.

In December, everything Donald Glover had ever posted to Twitter and Instagram mysteriously disappeared. All of it. Thousands of posts. Rumors suggested he’d wiped his accounts in solidarity with an organization called Blackout for Human Rights, which may or may not be true—Al Roker seemed to have not done that sort of homework, otherwise he’d have mentioned it specifically. But in reality, Glover may have just realized he’d had enough.

“Everything you put on social media lasts forever, so even if I post it for a second, it’s going to be there,” he explained. “My fans will find it again. So I kinda just want to be like… respectful almost, of the audience. I wanna make sure that when I put stuff up it’s for a reason. It counts. I don’t wanna just be posting up stuff about my dog all the time.”

Of course, Glover, like most people, once used social media to comment on the inane and the irrelevant. But he also used it for social commentary, too. And maybe the biggest reason why he wiped his accounts was that he needed to, in some sense or another, put the past behind him. He needed to close the book on things he’d once said, even if he deeply believed them, so that he could go ahead and have a career getting paid to say other things.

That’s real and logical and in the grand largess of what it means to be an entertainer or artist or creative person in general today, rather intelligent.

In this week’s issue of Billboard, I profiled the rapper Action Bronson.

Bronson is an interesting artist to look at in the age of social media because before he was set to release his major label debut—Mr. Wonderful, due in stores March 24 on VICE/Atlantic Records—or hosting his online food show Fuck, That’s Delicious (the show will be on cable soon, probably in Canada, where VICE recently scored a deal for a 24-hour news network), Bronson was an engaging, often politically-incorrect character who through a brief posting or two, could easily ignite Twitter and Instagram with his random musings.

Yes, there was Bronson’s torrent of lively, entertaining 90s-inspired independent rap albums to gravitate towards, but it was also his tweets and photos of other assorted things — hookers, weed and food, mostly — that helped us create a picture in our head of what Action Bronson was really like. It was how we came to know and understand and find proper context for what he was talking about on records.

“Social media helped Ariyan Arslani, a 31-year-old deposed professional cook from Queens, who might otherwise do nothing of any real substance with his life, become the character Action Bronson.”

But Action Bronson doesn’t really use Twitter the same way he used to—it’s now mostly just a series of promotional tweets.

And his Instagram account, while still moderately edgy, has gotten increasingly more vanilla as he’s become more well-known.

This is understandable, as he has an album coming out, but one has to wonder if the internet outrage sparked in 2012, shepherded by a series of photos deemed offensive to the transgender community, and his flippant response to that outrage, may have had something to do with it. Or, if it’s because he’s recently been dragged, unwillingly, into divisive online spats with artists like Azealia Banks.

“It’s the times we live in,” he said, when I asked why he’s dialed back. “You need to constantly feed news headlines and social media fucking hashtags and all this other bullshit, and everything is picked apart so crazily and made it into a big fucking deal.”

And it’s because of that, I posit, that artists like Action Bronson, Donald Glover and others will begin moving away from our loose and free-flowing social media networks. These networks empowered them with voices they didn’t have as minor cultural figures, but now that they’re major, they’re far less useful.

“It’s just boring now,” Bronson continued. “I used to get a kick out of it, but now it’s just boring. It is. Like, why am I doing this—why am I writing my thoughts [online]?”

The honeymoon with social media has ended. There’s nothing in it for people who have anything to lose.

Hyperbole aside, it would be unfair and irresponsible to say that social media is completely dead. Nothing online ever dies, but it does just go away. To wit, even someone as famous and outspoken as Kanye West is still using Twitter, of all things, to explain and validate his points.

Last week, after he was famously dissed by Fern Mallis, the creator of fashion week, he didn’t line up an interview with his BFF Jimmy Kimmel, but rather, posted a series of tweets which respectfully explained where he was coming from.

Elsewhere, Drake, arguably the biggest act in all of music at the present time, is still loose enough with his Instagram account that he’ll post funny, insular photos—things that hardly any of his 7 million followers will understand—celebrating writers whom he’s a fan of. Surely, no social media account manager at a record label would suggest he do this, but Drake obviously doesn’t give a fuck.

But still, it’s hard to ignore the winds of change in the air. It’s obvious, when Iggy Azalea—who has used Twitter liberally in the past, way before she was famous—is so fed up with abusive internet trolls that she’s essentially being forced from the service.

Afraid to say what they really feel, lest it be used against them later, what we’re left with are harmless postings—politically-correct, oddly ineffectual and devoid of anything that would provide any insight into who the artist really is. They exist just to sort of say they exist.

And it’s because, as Action Bronson suggests, everyone is looking for something to pounce on, something to float a headline off of, something to make into an issue, something to make into their issue. And those are, primarily, not the artist’s issues. The artist’s issues typically revolve around selling records, filling up venues and moving merchandise. Not all this other shit.

So, while artists or their respective teams are still using social media, still present and still available—engaging, as online prognosticators might say—they are, in many ways, choosing very carefully to say a whole bunch of nothing. In that sense, maybe social media hasn’t disrupted much of anything at all.

Maybe, when it comes to fame, comes to the record business, comes to celebrities having their feet held to the fire for something they once said, flippantly, while sitting at home on the couch, or getting lambasted for being white or black or gay or straight or male or female, it’s better to just sit back, smile and be content to say nothing at all.

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Paul Cantor

Paul Cantor

Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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