Categories
Music

Vault: The best new sustainable music platform? 

James Blake has launched Vault, a subscription service for unreleased music, to the public since March.

British singer, songwriter, producer, and DJ James Blake released a new platform named Vault inspired by social media discourse about how streaming platforms and social media are not sustainable ways for artists to make a living solely out of music. 

On the website, Vault explains that “artists can share their unreleased tracks directly from their vault to their fans and tap into a new recurring revenue stream.” The app saw the light on March 21, a few days after Blake communicated his opinions publicly on how social media can be an issue for music artists and their careers. “Music is my life’s purpose and I will not have mine destroyed by a bunch of labels and tech companies who don’t even pay us and exploit us relentlessly,” says Blake in an Instagram post in early March 

Blake shared on his Instagram story that the concept of a subscription-based platform like this one offers an artist some certainty, financially speaking. “I want artists to have less anxiety about what they put out, less fear that it leads to uncertainty,” he said. 

Indeed, this platform revolves around unloading music files from hard drives and displaying any idea that will probably never make it on Spotify, Apple Music, or other streaming platforms. “We’ll never be able to eliminate uncertainty from music, but platforms need to encourage artists to make their favourite, most integral music—not just the big 15-second TikTok moment,” Blake said.

Vault also contains a discussion forum space, allowing fans to discuss the music on the artist’s page and directly message Blake for instance. There is also a mobile app currently in the works, making the private access to the artists’ vault for their fans more accessible.

Blake said the infant stage of this platform is exciting as he shares it with people and how he can get artists to grow their following, heighten their connection with their fans, and make it fun to put out music they love, not just music that works as singles on TikTok. 

He highlighted that this platform is one of the only ones that will focus on getting artists actually paid directly. “The industry has always been an ecosystem of free versus paid.” 

A lot of the reason why music stays unreleased is because of demand-side platforms’ (DSP) limitations which is a type of software that allows solutions for advertisers. “DSP’s favour in certain structures/styles/genres to accept songs onto playlists, to the point where it stifles creativity,” Blake noted in another post. 

Moreover, as of March 28, the platform has announced its first new artist alongside Blake to be American singer Monica Martin. Blake stated in the comment section that “it’s going to be an amazingly diverse, musically exciting place pretty soon.” 

A monthly subscription fee is needed to unlock an artist’s page and all of its content. Blake’s page demands $5 USD per month and Monica Martin’s Vault content requires $2 USD per month. The subscription amount then differs via the artist’s popularity, making up-and-coming artists’ pages more affordable to encourage more people to discover them. Subscribers are also notified of any new drops by a text message to their phone number. Any collaborators who worked on the songs released also benefit from the revenue. 

“Artists are already being robbed worse and legally,” Blake wrote about potential piracy on his platform. He adds that copyright claims are still in effect and the usual copyright laws will protect all music found on Vault. 

Blake said that he’s working to grow his Vault following and show people it’s worth the $5 USD a month. The artist also revealed he’s felt more creatively free this past week than he has since he started in music. 

“Looking forward to more artists joining and seeing what I’m talking about, and for their fans to see what the real world effect of offering an easy-to-use alternative to the DSPs will be,” he shared. 

With new artists joining the platform, Vault will continue to flourish with brand new users every day and evermore cut the middleman between eager fans of music and passionate music artists.

Categories
Music

The curious case of releasing “versions”

The music industry’s latest tactic capitalizes on hit potential—but at what cost?

In the late 2010s, TikTok truly established itself as a pivotal force in the music industry. It helped several songs grow rapidly in popularity, granting the platform its status as a hit factory. There was the runaway success of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” in 2019, which went on to become the longest running #1 in Billboard Hot 100 history, and tracks have since found their way onto the top 10 of the charts starting from TikTok.

The music industry found new ways to adapt, with the concept of “versions” resurfacing as a way of maximizing success on the platform. The practice consists of releasing several variations of the same song or album, with differences in pitch and speed, or even deconstructed versions.

The release of alternate versions is far from a new concept. It has long served as a “fans-first” method for artists and their audience to revisit and reimagine existing projects. Artist-producers like Metro Boomin and Tyler, The Creator have notably released the instrumentals to their albums to highlight their production. A cappella and instrumental versions of songs notably open the door to creative opportunities for musicians. 

Concordia communications student and producer Theo Andreville notes that these versions are longed for by DJs looking to remix songs, producers trying to remake beats and rappers looking to record remixes (which defined hip-hop mixtape culture in the 2010s). 

For local singer Marzmates, they are also a teaching moment in which she gets to notice the intricacies of a beat, the way the vocals are mixed, and the technicalities behind the singing.

Andreville also supports artists releasing a larger output of the same song as it results in a greater financial gain for them: “It makes sense—you’re already being paid pennies on the dollar.”

Sped-up and slowed-down songs are two of the most common styles, and their popularity predates TikTok entirely. Forbes reported that the app’s most popular songs in 2023 were sped-up remixes. Both Andreville and Marzmates agree that these edits can breathe a new and unique life into an existing track because they bring a totally different vibe.

With record labels throwing their hat into the ring, versions are now being mass-released in an attempt to chase hits and make more money off artists, jeopardizing creative control. British singer James Blake recently made headlines for an Instagram post on March 2 addressing the topic. He stressed the problematic nature of the focus shifting from the art towards viral moments. “We have to be great at social media but not really need to be great at music, the ‘working’ of songs now meaning posting infinite videos with the same clip of the same song,” the vocalist stated.

Certain labels and artists are pushing the concept to extremes. Ariana Grande recently reissued her hit single “yes, and?” with a whopping eight versions: the original, radio edit, extended mix, sped up, acapella, slowed, instrumental and extended instrumental versions. The technique is also being applied to entire albums: 21 Savage’s american dream was given a slowed, nightcore and sped up version within two days of the original’s release. 

Communications student Jade Dubreuil also takes TikTok’s fast-paced nature and consumer culture into account. “From a business standpoint, it’s extremely smart—but it creates fads. Artists who take that route take risks.” TikTok creates hits with ease, but shaking the “TikTok song” label is a much stickier situation.

Despite now flooding the market due to corporate greed, versions are widening the window of opportunity for creators and executives alike. “It’s more of a service to everybody, even if it’s redundant,” Andreville concludes.

Categories
Opinions

Are we all just living the same life in different fonts?

Don’t be fooled—social media capitalizes on relatability and social isolation.

Do you ever see a meme or video on social media that is oddly specific and relatable to you? I always find it so unsettling how well my algorithm knows me, from my taste in music and books, right down to personal experiences that I thought were unique.

I’ve stumbled upon videos lately that really made me sit back, set my phone aside and stare at the wall. Seeing memes related to our secret little quirks or even our very specific and seemingly unique past trauma can be ruled out as coincidence; however, it seems every single piece of content I come across lately is eerily accurate.

Yes, I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix when it came out—it still haunts me. I also read Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. That’s how I learned that the algorithm compiles data from likes, comments, shares, and other interactions, and that some social media even record the amount of time you spend on a specific post and where your gaze catches on the screen. I’m always painfully aware that social media preys on my attention and time, which the algorithm then uses to throw me into a vicious cycle of doom scrolling.

However, I also realize that users capitalize on relatability. We all (subconsciously or not) know the golden rule to success on social media: if people don’t relate to you, they simply won’t care. My own experience in business communications taught me how hard content creators work to get on the “For You” page. They have to work with the system, but they also feed it more tools to reel us all in.

So what if my algorithm notices that I am a Swiftie eagerly anticipating the announcement of  Reputation (Taylor’s Version), that I have a “golden retriever” boyfriend, that I secretly dream of owning a book and plant shop joined to a cat café (apparently it’s a “feminine urge”), that my Roman Empire is being a woman in a man’s world, and that I am afraid of the dark? Is it really so bad that my social media feed is so meticulously tailored?

The answer to that question will depend on how you answer this one: Is social media a means for entertainment, or to gain information? Part of me wants to say it’s just entertainment and it doesn’t really matter. But another part of me is screaming that my algorithm is putting me into niche boxes and shuttering me from the bigger picture of the world. I find myself consuming mindless content instead of learning about the war and humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, for example. I have to go out of my way to learn about that.

It always gets me when I see someone comment: “Are we all just living the same life in different fonts?” Your social media feed is giving you that impression, showing you oddly specific videos you’d send your best friend in a heartbeat. Your algorithm knows that if you are entertained and you feel seen in a world where human connection is blurred by screens, it will keep your attention just a bit longer.

Am I really a die-hard Swiftie, or am I just being overexposed to that content? Is that video really “so me!” or does it just touch on something I can somewhat relate to? Are these memes truly relatable, or am I just yearning for a vague sense of community and belonging in a socially-isolated generation?

Did you find this article relatable? If so, I’ve succeeded in the golden rule. Welcome to the Social Media Existential Crisis Club, where we question this warped sense of belonging and combat the negative effects of the algorithm on important information sharing.

Categories
News

What’s up with Instagram?

What are the impacts of Bill C-18 on social media platforms?

For us to make important financial decisions, we must first be informed. Recent events surrounding Bill C-18, the Online News Act, have ignited a fierce battle between tech giants and Canadian journalists.

This legislation aims to compensate Canadian news outlets for their invaluable content. Tech giants like Meta and Google have chosen to block Canadian news on their platforms in combat—which is the reason why you may have noticed that news content has disappeared from your Instagram feed.

The federal government is throwing their weight behind Bill C-18 and suspending advertizing on Facebook and Instagram altogether. This move is echoed by provincial and municipal governments, including Quebec Premier François Legault. Even big media corporations are taking a stand. 

The Online News Act, enacted by the federal government in June, requires tech platforms to negotiate with news organizations for financial remuneration for the news shared on their platforms. This can potentially bring in over $300 million annually for Canadian news organizations.

Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, is urging all provincial and municipal governments to follow the federal and Quebec governments in stopping advertizing on Facebook and Instagram in response to Meta’s threat. The Canadian Association of Journalists calls on Meta to reverse its decision, emphasizing the importance of access to accurate and quality information for a flourishing democracy. 

Recent data from an August 2023 study conducted by Talk Shop reveals that 51 percent of Canadians are concerned about the impact of Bill C-18. These worries highlight a growing unease about the future of dependable news in the digital era.

Even though Bill C-18 was meant to safeguard journalism against dwindling revenues, it has unintentionally pushed consumers to seek news from unaffected sources like newsletters, podcasts, independent news sites, and even X (formerly Twitter).

The union also calls on corporations responsible for a significant portion of the more than $4 billion in annual revenue that Facebook generates in Canada to support local news and Canadian content by halting all advertising through Meta and its subsidiaries. 

The world is closely watching how Canada tackles this issue. As tech giants square off with governments over their responsibilities in the digital era, Canada’s actions will set a precedent for other nations.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s plans to implement the Online News Act are taking shape, promising a potential resolution to the contentious issue. With public consultations, an independent auditor, and a mandatory bargaining process on the horizon, the organization is hoping to establish a fair compensation framework. 

Whether through negotiated agreements or regulatory changes, the outcome will shape the future of digital news in Canada.

INFOGRAPHIC BY CARLEEN LONEY/ @SHLONEYS

Categories
Arts Exhibit

Yea I made it up, Yea it’s real: Examining digital culture, social media, and the meme-sphere

Concordia students and alumni adopt internet aesthetics to explore the human experience in the digital age in new exhibition

On Feb. 17, artists Edson Niebla Rogil and Dayana Matasheva hosted the vernissage for their exhibition Yea I made it up, Yea it’s real out of their shared Plateau studio.

The show featured 12 artists, including Niebla Rogil and Matasheva, whose works address the effects of the internet on the human experience through mediums ranging from AI-generated audio to livestreaming-inspired video compilations.

For Matasheva, who graduated from film production in 2020, the internet represents an aesthetic endeavour. “I think aesthetically, no one is using the visual vernacular of the internet. We are interested in its aesthetics specifically, rather than just its subject matter.”

After noticing a lack of representation of internet subject matter within traditional gallery spaces, Niebla Rogil and Matasheva issued an open call for like-minded artists.

“There’s a really big focus on technology as a medium, but there’s very little about the cultures that are growing online and changing the landscape of how people interact with each other,” said Concordia intermedia major Liz Waterman, whose sensorial TikTok-inspired video projection Doom Scroll was featured in the exhibition.

“I think that it’s shaping culture and psychology in a way that’s really interesting, and we don’t see enough work about it.”

Yea I made it up, Yea it’s real is the first exhibition organized, hosted, and curated by Niebla Rogil and Matasheva, but the pair have ambitions to move future exhibitions out of their studio into larger spaces, and to continue to host their networking event The Net Worker.

“It’s a recurring event where people shamelessly network and there’s no other purpose to it,” explains Matasheva. “People come together, exchange DIY business cards, they wear business attire and everything. It’s a little bit performative, but it actually is serving a purpose for artists.”

Information about upcoming exhibitions, networking events and more can be found on Niebla Rogil and Matasheva’s Instagram profiles.

To All The Books I’ve Never Read Before

How Bookstagram made me feel ashamed of my reading habits

Did you get into a new hobby during quarantine? Maybe you started something you’ve always wanted to try but never found the time to? Or maybe you dedicated more time to an already existing passion?

Whether you got into a new hobby or not, you’ve definitely seen your friends flock to social media to boast about their new hobbies. And let’s be real, it probably made you feel like shit if you were just trying to survive.

Now I won’t lie, I got really into reading during the first quarantine. With all my newfound time, it was just so easy to pick up a book and finish it in just a couple of days, something I was never able to do before. My new passion also made me discover the reading community community, Bookstagram, BookTube and BookTok. These are all places where people like me could share their love of reading, get recommendations and share our thoughts on our latest read.

I fell for the cute montages and pictures of perfectly-scattered books on beds made up with white sheets, thinking how books were not just about reading, but also about the aesthetics. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the dedication these accounts have for keeping up with their aesthetic because I know my cheap and unstable IKEA bookcase in the corner of my room will never be that pretty.

After following a few accounts on different platforms, I also loved getting recommendations and seeing my TBR (term used in the community to refer to someone’s “To Be Read”) list growing. However, when normal life started again, going back to work and school meant I did not have the same amount of time to dedicate to reading.,Determined to hold onto this new personality trait, as a reader, I made it my mission to not lose the hobby completely.

This is when my love for Bookstagram, BookTube and BookTok accounts turned on its heels. The algorithm started showing me more and more book content that made me feel ashamed that I couldn’t keep up with the creators I was seeing. Posts like, “All the books I read this month” or, “How I managed to read over 100 books last year” made me feel major imposter syndrome. Was I not reading enough to be a part of this community?

Reading for me can be a daunting task. I have trouble focusing, and sometimes need to read one sentence, paragraph or even page, over and over again in order to make sure I understood what I just read.

Being proud of myself for reading a book in one week became an underachievement when I’d open social media and see someone I admire had read three in the same amount of time. I realized the community puts a bigger emphasis on quantity than I originally thought, which made me feel like it didn’t matter what I read, just how much I read. The amount of time I would spend curating my library and TBR to fit my interests and topics I wanted to educate myself on felt like a waste. My 20 books in a year record now looked substandard and like it definitely didn’t necessitate a celebratory Instagram post.

Although I know that this is not the message these Bookstagrammers and BookTubers are pushing, comparison is inevitable. Not meeting the same book count as your favorite content creator makes you feel like you’re not doing it right.

Instead, I’m going to try focusing on what I get out of reading, instead of how many books I read — that is still a challenge. After all, I read a lot of non-fiction books about social issues with challenging and hard to digest content. Why read a lot of books if I cannot take the time to appreciate my growth and learning?

I might not read over 100 books a year, and my bookcase might not be filled with aesthetically pleasing covers, but I would never trade that for what I currently get out of reading.

 

Graphic by Lily Cowper

Categories
Sports

Colour Commentary: Social media’s involvement in sport

Social media has provided fans with ways to push the envelope on some well-known athletes. To what extent is it enough?

Professional athletes are humans too and as sports fans, we tend to forget that. The physical capabilities of athletes, now more than ever, are so extreme that we class them as near superheroes. The sheer power it takes to dunk a basketball or the agility needed to stretch from post to post to save a puck make us forget that although what athletes do is near extraterrestrial, they still deal with personal issues just like the rest of us.

Social media is the purveyor of directed personal messages to public figures across the world — a facilitator for people to personally send their opinions (good or bad) at the ends of their fingertips. Professional athletes don’t receive just a modicum of messages, they receive a plethora of different opinions and critics.

We’ve never really asked ourselves: how much is too much? How many negative messages can someone endure before it seriously takes a toll on them? Does traditional media exploit and amplify these messages athletes already see online?

For many players, they either avoid social media altogether or deal with messages head-on. Especially now more than ever, it is encouraged for athletes to express how they feel as well as their mental health status. It has gotten to the point that even notable NBA all-star Kevin Durant was caught responding to critics using multiple burner accounts on Twitter to defend himself. When media outlets like ESPN caught wind of Durant’s usage of a burner account, it became a non-stop discussion topic on all their platforms.

Lebron James has even admitted that come playoff time he shuns social media altogether. Sports media companies keep tabs on the online activity of any given athlete. If anything “newsworthy” exposes itself, they take a screenshot and share it with their millions of fans. All facets of media and fan involvement intertwine, constantly placing players under a microscope.

Locally, over the past year, both Jonathan Drouin and Carey Price admitted themselves in the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) assistance programs, creating a media stir in Montreal. Out of the countless rumours posted online, sports media amplified the message to another degree. Media companies are always on the prowl for anything that can attain clicks and shares.

The O.J. Simpson trial is when traditional media intersected into the personal life of an athlete and broadcast it for the world to see. The outcome of that trial prompted traditional media to continue pursuing drama in players’ personal lives to report on.

For an athlete, social media is a tough medium to frequent. Many people are jealous of their success, similar to tall poppy syndrome, a cultural phenomenon where fans criticize and sabotage people of notable success in order to make themselves feel better.

Social media is still too early in its development to know what the appropriate steps are to combat backlash. Athletes should have the chance to enroll in possible PR training on how to properly use social media for their own benefit. Though it may not be the ultimate solution, it’s a good place to start.

Categories
Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: MONTERO – Lil Nas X

Lil Nas X’s ascension to fame was quite impressive

From sleeping on his sister’s floor to spending 19 weeks at the No. 1 spot on the Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart back in 2019 with the worldwide hit “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X has certainly come a long way.

The promotional rollout for MONTERO was completely wild. With singles that did enormous numbers (the title track even topped the Billboard Hot 100), to “scandalous” music videos that sparked discussion in good (and bad) ways, it’s clear Lil Nas X is not afraid of being extra dramatic. Most notably, by acting pregnant on social media, with MONTERO being the baby he was expecting. Lil Nas X’s camp really played it well with the promotion of the record and it quickly became one of the most anticipated releases of the year.

On MONTERO, Lil Nas X blends the two genres he is most comfortable with, pop and hip hop, in a brilliant but distinctive way. The hip hop portion of the record seems to appear more at the top of the tracklist while the poppier section is more towards the bottom. While he executes both genres extremely well, his hip hop tracks hit more home than his pop tracks. Songs like “INDUSTRY BABY,” “DEAD RIGHT NOW,” and “DOLLA SIGN SLIME” are by far some of the best tracks on the record.

No matter what genre he’s working with, Lil Nas X always has an ear for a catchy chorus, and MONTERO features some of the most infectious hooks of the year. The artist also doesn’t back down from hopping on current trends in music. From a high use of horn-dominated instrumentals on hip hop tracks to even embarking on a pop-rock cut with “LOST IN THE CITADEL,” he knows how to exploit the trendier and fresher sounds of today in a more than profitable way. Although not as triumphant as some of the bangers on the first half, the more mellow second half is as enjoyable with smoother and sweeter tunes like “VOID” and “SUN GOES DOWN” showcasing Lil Nas X’s versatility and willingness to switch things up.

Being one of — if not the only openly gay and queer black man mainstream rapper — brings a breath of fresh air to the industry. Hip hop culture is often perceived as homophobic, so for a figure like Lil Nas X to rise so astronomically within it and proudly representing his genuine self is great to see. The industry has been in need of a figure like Lil Nas X for a very long time.

With his debut album MONTERO, Lil Nas X proves to the world that he is here to stay and that he is a force to be reckoned with among other mainstream artists. He has completely left behind the “One Hit Wonder” tag that was stuck with him.

Trial track : “INDUSTRY BABY”

Score: 7/10

The halcyon days of 2014

All over social media, people are reminiscing over their former Tumblr kid selves

Imagine you’re mindlessly scrolling through Twitter, as we all seem to be doing more and more these days, passively reading through job announcements, middling “hot takes” and COVID-19 stats. Suddenly a post comes up that stops you in your tracks and drags you right back into your adolescence with a wave of nostalgia. Scrolling through the replies, you see that the aesthetics, music and products from your teen years are all coming back into style. You’re only 21.

Recently, a lot of people all over the internet have been reliving a certain 2011–2015 subculture that revolved specifically around the website Tumblr. This burst of nostalgia came fast and hard, but it hasn’t even been that long since us “Zillennials” were spending our days scrolling down our dashboards. So, why now?

If you didn’t have the (dis)pleasure of living your early teens predominantly online, I can try my best to explain the early 2010s Tumblr aesthetic, often dubbed “soft grunge.” While the look had little in common with the 90s subculture it got its name from, other than the mere existence of flannel shirts, it could be seen as the product of the 20-year cycle of fashion. In the 2010s, elder millennials were nostalgic for their youth in the 1990s, and that nostalgia trickled into the style and media of the day.

Now, feed that through the hyper-visual medium of Tumblr and you’ve got yourself countless images of teens in jelly sandals, ripped tights under denim shorts and choker necklaces posing with polaroid cameras, holding up records, or, most commonly, smoking cigarettes.

On the music front, in 2014, I, like my fellow Tumblr teens, was listening to Lana Del Rey, Arctic Monkeys, The 1975, and Grimes, because the songs on your iPod Touch were integral to the maintenance of the aesthetic.

In terms of 2010s fashion, this aesthetic was far from the worst thing in memory. Yet, that alone can’t explain its resurgence in recent months. We’re nowhere near the 20-year nostalgia cycle yet, so there must be something special about that time, or our current time, that holds special significance.

For a lot of Zillennials, Tumblr wasn’t just an aesthetic, it was a formative part of their adolescence. While any media you consume on a regular basis through your tween and teen years is likely to shape you in some way, Tumblr was uniquely good at fostering a community environment. Being more of a microblogging site than a traditional social media, users were encouraged to publish long posts and personalize their blog’s design. This affordance, mixed with the fairly low median age of users, and possibility for anonymity, led to users sharing a lot more personal information than they would on other platforms.

While it wasn’t always perfect (I’m looking at you, #thinspo), overall, this caused Tumblr to become a safe space for many young people in the early 2010s.

As one Concordia student describes, “All the fangirling, aesthetic stock images and memes were incredibly private. Your Tumblr was definitely not something you shared with anyone.” She continued, “Yet, there was strangely a big sense of community.”

Community-making on sites like Tumblr can be invaluable in helping young people through their search for identity. And this is double fold for youth who are already marginalized.

As Stefanie Duguay, assistant professor of Communications at Concordia explained to The CBC about LGBTQ youth Tumblr use, “They share GIFs and videos and content around queer celebrities, queer characters, and fanfiction,” Duguay explained. “It’s a general part of people’s self discovery, especially when you’re a young person and you’re determining things about yourself and your sexual identity.” For many, 2010s Tumblr text posts were their first introduction into important conversations of politics and identity.

Lisi Schauer, a fourth-year student at the University of Southern California puts it as such: “I think it struck the perfect balance of ‘cringy’ fandom stuff and people starting to use aesthetic as an adjective and just enough political text posts sneaking in to be really influential for people our age.”

Now that we are all so disconnected through COVID-19 isolation, it only makes sense that many of us would yearn for an adolescent time where everything felt new and important. As everyday feels mundane and predictable, it can be fun to engage in a bit of escapism in the aesthetic of who you used to be, before the world delved into chaos.

Additionally, many young adults have had to move back home, so if you’re constantly being reminded of your former self, why not lean into it?

While it may be jarring to see the rose-coloured glasses come out so soon, there’s really no harm in taking a stroll down those dashboard memories and into your younger self. We all need whatever bit of respite we can get from the current world. If what gets you through it is blasting Passion Pit and digging out your old Brandy Melville clothing, far be it from me to tell you to stop. At least it keeps people indoors.

 

Photo collage by Kit Mergaert

The ethics of altering your photos

Are you part of the problem?

It’s no secret that it’s easier than ever to alter your photos. No need to know your way around Photoshop or Lightroom anymore; with a simple slider, you can adjust your photo’s saturation, contrast, brightness, or even completely change how you look. Whatever it is you’re insecure about — your skin, teeth, stomach, or butt — you can easily fix it without going under the knife thanks to apps like Facetune. Even celebrities and influencers do it, with the Kardashian-Jenner clan particularly guilty of editing fails.

Collectively we seem to agree that it isn’t okay for celebrities and influencers to edit how they look in photos and pretend they look that way naturally. This is because social media has been shown to have a negative effect on body image, particularly for young women. If we agree that it’s wrong for celebrities and influencers to do it, then is it wrong for anyone to edit their appearance in photos?

After all, most of us aren’t famous. So, for example, if you follow 100 people and 10 are celebrities or influencers, then isn’t it more harmful to see the other 90 people’s edited photos? Aren’t we more likely to compare ourselves to our friends and peers than to Victoria’s Secret Models or NFL athletes? I want to know: is it unethical for you and I, “regular people,” to alter how we look in photos?

Geneviève Laforce, a Concordia student with over 35,000 followers on Instagram, and over 200,000 TikTok followers, told me she has mixed feelings about photo editing.

“I feel as though the most important thing is to be transparent with it. Like, if you actually do do it, don’t just do it and then not acknowledge it. For example, if I edit my skin, then I say I edit my skin, I will actively tell people,” she said.

“I definitely think that diving into social media at such a young age really did affect the way that I saw my body and see my body now,” says Amanda Wan, a Concordia student and content creator. “I understand that people want themselves to look a certain way. But on the other side, if they’re an influencer or celebrity, they’re lying to their audience because they’re saying ‘this is what I look like’ when in reality, they don’t.”

Wan says we should hold celebrities accountable for how they can affect followers through photos which portray perfection. These photos can be particularly harmful to the body image of younger people who follow them. In Canada, between 12 to 30 per cent of girls and nine to 25 per cent of boys aged 10 to 14 report dieting to lose weight.

Laforce mentioned the role that capitalism plays in creating a cycle of insecurity and impossible beauty standards.

“I think that we’ve created a problem for ourselves, but it’s like a cog in the 21st-century machine. We’re caught up in it, you can’t really get out of it. I think that it’s a problem that’s deep-rooted into society. And it’s gonna take some time to dismantle. But for now, it’s an issue that we’ve created,” Laforce said.

Today’s marketing is focused on making you insecure about how you look, so you need makeup, clothing, teeth whitening, plastic surgery, a gym membership, or laser hair removal. Insecure about your life so you need a car, a house, a puppy, kids, a big wedding, a trip to the Bahamas, a university degree. Capitalism depends on your insecurity and desire for more.

To help solve this problem, Wan suggests that platforms like YouTube feature more diverse creators. Laforce suggests that Instagram start telling you if an image has been altered, “Because although you may not pay attention to it, acknowledge it, your subconscious does if it sees that.”

However, what if altering how you look in pictures actually hurts your own self-image more than it hurts anyone else?

“You need to kind of know your truth,” Laforce said. “Why do I feel the need to alter this photo of myself? Is it to please the societal regard? Why is it going to, in turn, make you feel better about yourself?”

There are no easy answers; navigating social media is complicated. So I don’t think you should be too harsh on others or yourself. This minimizes larger systemic problems which create this rampant insecurity and desire for perfection. This implies that the individual or even the internet is at fault, which creates guilt and doesn’t lead to real solutions.

The truth is that people were insecure about their bodies before the internet, which has only allowed people to perform perfection for a wider audience. So what I’m saying is: do whatever makes you happy, let’s be more open and transparent about curated perfection, and let’s work on challenging the corporations which profit off insecurity.

 

Graphic by Taylor Reddam

Truth is no algorithmic matter

Technology is no better than the next guy when it comes to solving age-old human dilemmas

Meredith Broussard sits calmly at her desk. Behind her on a bookshelf is a copy of her latest book, Artificial Unintelligence, the topic of her latest Zoom talk.

“The people who decided to use an algorithm to decide grades were guilty of ‘technochauvinism,’” she says with a cool and collected tone that trumps the gravity of her research. She’s referring to the infamous decision that attributed artificial scores for a decisive IB exam based on an algorithm that looked at student’s performances pre-pandemic as well as their school ranking over previous years.

Technochauvinism is defined by the presumption that technology-based solutions are superior to human or social ones. This is a central concept to keep in mind when thinking about algorithms and their biases, which — although not always self-evident — sometimes have very tangible consequences.

And these consequences may be more serious than not scoring an A on a final test. With Broussard’s words still ringing in my ears, I stumbled upon an article exposing bias in algorithms used in American hospitals to prioritize access to chronic kidney disease care and kidney transplants. A study had found that the algorithm negatively discriminated against Black patients. It notably interpreted a person’s race as a physiological category instead of a social one — a design decision vehemently disputed by numerous medical studies.

Use of decision-making algorithms has become somewhat of a norm — it can be found anywhere, from the military, to newsrooms, to, most evidently, social media. They have found a purpose in making predictions, determining what is true, or at least, likely enough, and prescribing consequent actions. But in doing so, algorithms tacitly tackle some of our greatest dilemmas around truth, and they do so under the cover of a supposedly objective machine. As the kidney care algorithm clearly demonstrates, their interpretations are not an exact science.

Nonetheless, there is a tendency among humans, especially in the tech sector, to assume technology’s capacities are superior to that of human brains. And in many ways, they do outperform homo sapiens. Decision-making algorithms can be extraordinary tools to help us accomplish tasks faster and at a greater scope. In newsrooms, for instance, they are more efficient and accurate in producing financial and earnings reports. This is one of the promises of GPT-3, the latest language-generating bot, capable of producing human-like but repetitive text. This could significantly alleviate journalists’ workload and spare them from boring tasks.

What an algorithm should not do, however, is universally solve complex philosophical and ethical dilemmas, which humans themselves struggle to define, such as the matter of truth.

The case of the kidney care algorithm clearly illustrates how the ‘truth’ — about who is a priority — presents a clear distortion, embedded in the algorithm’s architecture. It also shows how what we hold to be true is exposed to change. It is subject to debates and additional information that might readjust and refine its meaning, from one that is biased and scientifically inaccurate to its ‘truer’ form that reflects more faithfully social realities.

The problem is perhaps not so much that the technology is imperfect, but rather that it is thought of and presented as something finite, which in turn leads us to be less vigilant of its blind spots and shortcomings. The risk is that the algorithmically prepared ‘truth’ is consumed as an absolute and unbiased one.

Scholars Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel help us to think of truth as a “sorting-out process,” which results from the interactions between all stakeholders. The result does not represent an absolute truth — which, although it sounds compelling and elegant, may not ever be possible, for humans or machines. Rather, the sorting out process aims to paint a less incorrect picture.

Truth is the product of an ongoing conversation and this conversation should not take place solely within tech companies’ meeting rooms. It requires questioning and debate which cannot happen if one-sided interpretations are embedded in algorithms, dissimulated, and tucked away from the public space.

One simple way to ensure algorithms work for the benefit of human beings is to ensure more transparency about their design. In 2017, a Pew Research Center report on the matter had already called for increased algorithmic literacy, transparency and oversight. Last December, a British governmental report reiterated that proposition.

In the case of kidney care like for the IB test scores, algorithms have been actively contested and their uses have been revoked or appropriately adjusted. They have sparked a conversation about fairness and social justice that brings us closer to a better, more accurate version of truth.

 

 

 

Graphic by @the.beta.lab

How to be a bimbo in 2021

A group of TikTok creators are embracing hyperfemininity while rejecting internalized misogyny and the male gaze

In recent years, words like “bitch” and “slut” have undergone a transformation. “Bimbo” used to be a misogynistic insult, connoting an attractive but unintelligent woman. But now it is the latest word in “girl world” to go from demeaning to empowering. On TikTok, bimbos are trending. This proud new breed has embraced the identity of a new-age bimbo while sporting a pink Y2K aesthetic, worshipping icons Dolly Parton and Anna Nicole Smith, and preaching leftist values.

“A neo-bimbo unironically loves hyper-feminine fashion, jewelry and aesthetics in the face of a patriarchal institution that would deem them frivolous,” explains Bunny, who goes by the handle @bunnythebimbo. She has gained a following by making videos where she teaches classes on what she has coined as “bimbology.” Having recently graduated with a Women and Gender Studies degree from Chatham University, she loves to analyze what being a new-age bimbo means from a theoretical perspective. In one post on her Tiktok, she says bimbos take their femininity to the extreme as a way of making fun of how men perceive them in this patriarchal society. “But also we’re taking part and pleasure in it so it’s once again ours,” she points out.

Twenty-three-year-old Tennessean Hannah Foran, a.k.a. @parishiltonslefttitty, enjoys being able to dress for the male gaze, even if she’s subverting it. Ever since she was little, she’s admired the Y2K aesthetic. Known for her platinum blonde hair, plump lips, Juicy Couture, and cleavage, she says, “To me, being a new-age bimbo means you’re flipping the ‘male gaze’ on itself. You are becoming the very thing that men fear; a promiscuous, very attractive woman who plays dumb but is actually very smart once she reveals all her cards.”

New Yorker Meredith Suzuki (@maeultra) recently started to embrace being a goth-bimbo, a type of bimbo who has a darker aesthetic than the stereotypical pink.

“We are hot bitches who choose to be dumb, not just because some annoying idiot man made them like that,” she says in one clip on her TikTok. The 24-year-old believes the pandemic and capitalism pushed her towards bimboism. She became increasingly frustrated with how much more mental and emotional labour women have to do.“I wanted to break away from all that,” she says. One day she woke up and decided that she just wanted to be hot instead.

Perhaps the most successful bimbo on TikTok, Chrissy Chlapecka, 20, has attracted more than two million followers to her account, @chrissychlapecka. In a recent video, she frolics through the streets of a wintery Chicago in a thin coat unzipped to show off a pink fluffy bra. “Sweetheart, this is a sign to wear whatever the hell you want,” she tells her audience. “I don’t care if it’s snowing! Winter is a concept!” Her account is filled with videos where she’s either screaming at viewers to stop being sad over some mediocre boy, making fun of Trump supporters, or discussing how bad she is at math. Chlapecka famously finishes each of her captions to her videos with “#ihatecapitalism.”

Fifty-one-year-old Ginger Willson Pate, @glitterparis, is one of the older bimbos on the app. Her favourite part of being a bimbo is how often she’s underestimated because of her looks. She claims it has worked to her advantage in her life. Along with her daily TikTok videos, she’s a real estate agent in Silicon Valley and has a business with her partner of flipping and selling houses.

“That’s been a really lucrative career for me,” she points out, “so I’m not as stupid as I look.”

To Pate, being a bimbo means she doesn’t have to be ashamed of being ultra-girly and materialistic. “I’ve actually been put down for that by men that I’ve dated,” she says. But she’s happy the way she is. “I’m not gonna tone it down for some guy’s opinion of me,” she explains.

In the past, Concordia Journalism and Creative Writing student Nadia Trudel has struggled with letting herself care about her appearance, while simultaneously wanting to be an intelligent young woman.

“I think seeing these TikToks has encouraged me to be more unapologetically confident and take pride in my appearance without feeling shallow,” she says. Being smart and caring about your appearance had always seemed like two incompatible concepts. She’d been taught to value being smart and dislike girls who cared about their appearance. But now, she recognizes that belief system to be internalized misogyny.

Emma Amar, a Concordia Software Engineering student, categorizes the bimbo movement as a feminist movement. She believes that modern day feminism typically rejects stereotypically feminine things. As Gen Z, we are the daughters of the mothers who wouldn’t let us play with Barbies.

“Publicly deciding to embrace those qualities and still be a feminist, or still be politically informed, is really powerful because it shows that the way you look does not automatically decide how smart or informed you are,” explains Amar.

“Do you support all women regardless of their job title and if they have plastic surgery or body modifications?” Syrena (@fauxrich) asks in a TikTok video about the requirements to be a bimbo. While Syrena has not gotten any work done yet, the 22-year-old is currently studying to become a cosmetic injector.

Foran, @parishiltonslefttitty, openly admits that she had her breasts done in exchange for spanking a sugar daddy with a paddle in a leopard thong. She has blackmailed sugar daddies that were married in order to get free Botox and lip filler. “I want my nose done next,” she adds.

Ultimately, bimbos have created a safe and inclusive space on the internet where one can be themselves without judgement.

“She’s actually a radical leftist who is pro sex work, pro Black Lives Matter, pro LGBTQ+, pro choice,” Chlapecka explains in a TikTok video about the role of the bimbo, ”and will always be there for her girls, gays and theys.” While Chlapecka has progressive values, she still, as a blonde thin white woman, perfectly fits the original bimbo aesthetic from a decade ago from reality tv shows such as The Simple Life and The Girls Next Door.

Despite the progressive message of bimbo TikTok, Amar doesn’t believe that the community is sufficiently diverse. She has mostly come across white women on bimbo Tiktok.

“But I think that has a lot to do with TikTok’s algorithm,” she says. Bunny, who is a self-proclaimed fat white woman bimbo, says she’d also like to see more accounts uplifting POC and fat creators. “I think that creating your own aesthetic despite restrictions that say that you cannot be a part of it is something that can be really powerful,” Bunny explains about her own journey of embracing the bimbo aesthetic as a fat woman.

“The definition has expanded to become much more inclusive of all genders, races, body types, sexual orientations and aesthetics,” says Suzuki. In 2021, bimbo no longer just describes ditzy white blonde girls with big boobs. If that were the case, Suzuki wouldn’t be here. She’s proud of how far Gen Z bimbos have come when it comes to inclusivity and diversity. “But this is really only the beginning.”

Many bimbo creators have gotten comments from their followers claiming they want to be a bimbo but they don’t have big boobs or they don’t have the right sort of clothes. “A neo-bimbo needs to be hot, but that is not deemed by patriarchal beauty standards,” explains Bunny, “but rather by an unapologetic confidence that radiates from within.” Bunny strongly believes that anyone can be a bimbo.

Both Amar and Trudel say that since starting to watch bimbo TikToks, they have gained confidence. “It’s okay to just be like ‘I’m sexy, I’m hot,’’ Trudel says. “And it can be fully serious, or it can be kind of ironic.” To her, it seems like there’s an almost fake it till you make it quality to gaining confidence as a bimbo. “If you start acting like you are sexy and calling yourself sexy, maybe you’ll start to actually feel that way,” she explains.

Amar sometimes gets nervous about dressing in revealing clothes out of fear that others will judge her and think she looks slutty. Seeing bimbo creators dress unapologetically in hyperfeminine or hypersexual outfits has helped her become more comfortable. “It reminds me it’s okay to express myself in whatever way I want to,” she says.

While on the exterior, the bimbo movement on TikTok might seem like simply a pink aesthetic and pretty girls, it’s so much more. Syrena states that being a bimbo, at the end of the day, is a lifestyle grounded in kindness. “Loving yourself and refraining from judging others too quickly,” says Syrena, “That is the most important part of being a bimbo.”

 

Graphic by @the.beta.lab

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