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Discovery of musician on YouTube triggers loss of faith in American Dream and interests

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Bloggers have expressed outrage after a singer-songwriter who won fame through YouTube turned out to be professionally backed.

Marié Digby filmed herself singing cover versions on a guitar in her bedroom and posted them to YouTube and MySpace, where she described herself as an unsigned artist. But, wait - stop the internets! Digby was merely creating a simulation of an "amateur" - she's actually signed to Disney label Hollywood Records, has a professional publishing contract, professional management and a professional producer.

The most comically absurd reaction came from music biz stalwart, Bob Lefsetz, who was so upset, he reported in his newsletter, that he'd practically lost the will to live:

"Once the uber-beautiful Marié Digby is revealed to be just another young music wannabe, no different from any other major label priority, suddenly, there’s nothing of interest left," wrote Bob.

Er. Nothing at all? It's worse than that: the American dream has died in front of Bob - right there, on his monitor:

"You could say I’ve lost my faith in corporations," he added.

Say it ain't so, Bob - hang in there!

No wonder some bloggers were outraged. This is the net - so how could things not be as they seem?

It's enough to make you reach for the off-button.

As the WSJ reported last week, there are parallels with last year's Lonelygirl15 story, but it's the howls of outrage this time that make it so interesting. It's a fascinating example of how people consider "authenticity" in music to be important, and what they consider "authenticity" to be.

Marié Digby is far less of a synthetic artist than The Monkees, Boney M or The Sex Pistols. And it's often been the case that the professional adds the "authenticity" that was otherwise lacking: remember how Bernie Rhodes took a dodgy but enthusiastic pub-band The 101ers, gave them slogans, decent clothes, booked them in for de-elocution lessons, and turned them into The Clash?

And at least the boy bands don't pretend to be anything else. This is a point taken up by authors Barker and Taylor in Faking It: The Quest For Authenticity in Popular Music, where they suggest that disco was no less inauthentic than sweaty rockers, because it wasn't pretending to be anything other than an alternative reality.

What's new here is that the bloggers - as usual - mistake the medium for the message. What they really object to is that this digital equivalent of CB Radio has somehow been tainted by the arrival of professionals. But what else did they think was going to happen?

(While you're pondering that - hum Shaun Rolph's winning definition of Web 2.0.)

Now that someone has the audacity to get signed, they don't want her in the gang any more.

This isn't the first example of some unwritten "authenticity" rule being broken, either. You may recall a story from the infancy of podcasting, three years ago. The man who likes to credit himself with inventing podcasts, Dave Winer, was outraged at being fooled by a female impersonator.

"It's an act!", he gasped incredulously on air - on noticing, after several episodes, that a podcaster called Madge had a day's stubble and an Adam's apple. So outraged was Winer, that he demanded a directive from the podcaster on how he should interpret it: a sort of self-certificate of authenticity.

"I need to know which parts of what's she's doing are real!", he pleaded. (See our story, Harvard Man in lesbian mix-up wants satire clearly labeled.)

As with Winer, this is just control-freakery, beyond anything a record company could envisage. And there's such a mean-spiritedness about it, too.

Lefsitz sneers that Digby's subsequent appearance on a TV soap is "career ending" (look what it did for Will Smith!) - but Digby's fans are delighted. Just as no one minded that Boney M's "members" were hired after the fact - and that Lonelygirl15 was acting. No one really minds at all.

Then there's troubling corollary - that someone with talent should resign themselves to using a lousy producer, or none at all, and flogging home-made CDs ripped on Nero. Just so the secret doesn't get on, or remains on the blogs, pure n'authentic. Maybe artists should take what we'll call the Lefsetz pledge, and ensure all their videos in the future will be shot on shaky VGA cameraphones. With the beginning and the end missing.

You can't get more real than that. ®

Bootnote The late Tony Wilson once explained the Pistols to me like this: "They were manufactured ... but Malcolm McLaren hadn't counted on Johnny Rotten being a genius." Nicely put.

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