Scooter Braun Does Not Have a Playwriting Degree From Emory University and I Do
But more importantly: Revision!
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Okay, Sternal Journalists, listen up!
Just because I have a few official paid subscribers under my belt (a hearty thank you to all some of them, but again, to the rest of you—never pressure and there will never be anything behind a paywall here) does not mean I’m not too good for an old-fashioned Sternal Journal rimble ramble bo bamble, so here we go:
Remember back in September when I was talking about how it felt pretty dambed silly that people had a problem with Kanye releasing an album that he admitted was unfinished?
The problem here, if there even is one, doesn’t lie in Kanye’s Kanye-ness. It lies in the fact that we’re still barely a decade into streaming, which is the biggest infrastructure shift in distributing and consuming music since like the invention of the gramophone.
When you give artists another opportunity to experiment, they’re going to experiment. Get used to it now so you don’t have to find an excuse for why you don’t hate it when HAIM eventually does something like this (which I look forward to very much).
AND HERE WE ARE, STERNAL JOURNALISTS, not but two months later and what happened?
RED (TAYLOR’S VERSION) HAPPENED.
Taylor and Kanye and Spotify, Oh My!
And let me get ahead of one thing. Taylor and Kanye have quite a history, none of what I’m saying is with the intention of comparing them as artists or coming down on a side in their feud.
Now let me get ahead of another thing. Is what Kanye did and what Taylor did exactly the same? No. Kanye left one album unfinished. Taylor finished the same album twice. Also worth noting that Taylor Swift is not exactly HAIM, but demographically? They occupy somewhat similar fanbases.
At this point, you may be wondering, “Julian are you really just taking up an entire Sternal Journal to be like ‘I was right about how people shouldn’t give Kanye so much shit because they would like it if another artists did it’ because if so Julian that is some of the most Julian shit you’ve ever done here and you’ve done some very, very, very, very, very, very, ver Julian shit like for instance right now this whole paragraph with no punctuation bit you’re doi—”
NO. Fair enough, but that’s not my point. I’m not here to claim victory. I’m not here to call peanut butter. I’m just here to expand! Because I think DONDA and Red (Taylor’s Version) are both side effects of a much larger trend towards revision.
Why did Kanye release an unfinished DONDA? We might not actually ever know (maybe there’s a clear answer out there—I admittedly haven’t kept up), but partially, it was because he could. It was because, with streaming, you can release an album and then continue to tweak it. And the tweaking (or as it’s otherwise known: revision!) was such a part of the album.
Even if he had gotten to a version that everyone felt was finished, he had already showcased multiple early drafts both in stadiums and live-streamed into our homes.
Similarly, why did Taylor rerecord Red? Well, yes, she wanted to reclaim her masters from Scooter Braun and a bunch of holding companies. But also? Because she could!
Could she have done it pre-streaming? Maybe? But there’s a huge gap between the diehard fans who would have gone out and bought the (Taylor’s Version) physical CD, and the light to medium fans who gleefully gave it a bunch of spins on Spotify.
On the flip side, could she have done it with today’s streaming capabilities if she hadn’t been trying to get one over on Scooter Braun? If she just felt like re-recording it? She probably could have. I guess what I’m trying to say is… ScooterBraunwasafalseflag!
Nonono jkjk that stuff was all very real, Scooter sucks. I’ll never forgive him for dropping out of Emory to become Jermaine Dupri’s Head of Marketing but that’s another story!
But the takeaway, the cultural through line, is not that this special thing happened because Scooter Braun needed a reputation swirly and Taylor Swift wanted to give him one. This special thing happened because we are in THE AGE OF REVISION.
You can and should revise people, too
And it’s not just about music or the technology we have access to. I think social media and digitizationdo play a huge part, but really only for the voices they give to people who are doing the living and the thinking.
Whether it’s because of people being able to find like-minded peers online or COVID creating this global sense of a near-death experience, it has become extremely cool to rethink things in our lives and communities.
On a very shitty note, I can attest that everybody in Hollywood knew about Harvey Weinstein’s crimes and appeared to have known for a while when I got to LA in 2011. Anyone above 50 (probably younger too!) with any sort of power knows they knew about plenty of people doing what he did, and never tried to stop it. And while some of them surely were actively trying to protect him, plenty of people literally didn’t know they could have done anything about it.
Maybe they could have, maybe they couldn’t have. They should have tried. But the point is that before five years ago, “That’s now how things are done” was an answer that shut down conversations, ideas, and yes, even attempts at bringing rapists to justice.
In the past year, I had a boss tell me “That’s just not how things are done,” and I laughed and said “You’re not allowed to say that anymore.” And while I wouldn’t necessarily recommend responding exactly the way I did, but the point is I didn’t get fired and my sentiment was validated.
Because pre-The Age of Revision, that was exactly how people shut down attempts at revision that they didn’t have any legitimate reason to shut down. Because if there’s a good reason things aren’t done a certain way, you say the fucking reason. And all revision is is saying “Hey, is that thing I did right? Lemme look. Ooh, actually I wanna make a couple changes. I think I can make it righter now.”
And it’s great that we’re in a time where technology is giving us the tools to be more free with those revisions, and more importantly, that we can see the people around us using those tools to make big, societal revisions and small, important-only-to-us revisions.
And I haven’t even mentioned my favorite part.
Listen to this Kiese Laymon Interview
My whole inspiration for writing this Sternal Journal was hearing an interview between Tressie McMillan Cotton and Kiese Laymon, in which Laymon talks about having sold his first two books for four thousand dollars… and buying them back for fifty thousand! Just because, when he said he wanted to revise his books, his publisher said (and I’m paraphrasing) “That’s just not how things are done.” He rewrote essays, he took out pieces he could no longer stand by, he made his books exactly what he wanted them to be.
Would Kiese Laymon have done this if now weren’t this age of revision? Probably. I don’t know. He speaks about revision as a way of life and a moral act and it just seems like he would have found a way no matter what.
But it’s cool as hell to live in the time when somebody did do that, and when more artists and workers and people are empowering each other to look at what they’ve got and “Hey, is this how I want it to be? Can I change it at all?”
So you know, leave Taylor and Kanye alone and go look at your own metaphorical albums you want to release unfinished or all over again. I know I’ll be doing that to this Sternal Journal! I was all over the place! But boy, it was fun to be back in the wildcard seat.
Hawkeye. Television Show. I’m not normally so ga-ga over Marvel stuff, but this new show on Disney+ is surprisingly light, fun, and Christmasy. It reminds me of Home Alone or Jingle All The Way (which I only this moment just learned is a move people don’t like. Who knew! Revising my opinions!).
Get Back. Television Event(?). Also on Disney+, I’ve only seen the first 80 minutes of this fly-on-the-wall documentary about The Beatles, but damn it’s fun watching them joke and argue and come up with songs I’ve known my whole life.
How To Slowly Kill Yourself and Other in America. Book. This is the Kiese Laymon book I was talking about. I haven’t read it yet, but he read a brilliant excerpt from it in the interview and I can’t wait to read the rest of it.
Alrighty, that’s all, friends!
Much love, especially to all of the many Sternal Journalists who requested I finally talk about this specific topic!
P.S. I spend anywhere between two and twelve hours a week on the Sternal Journal. If you enjoy receiving it (and are RICH) consider becoming a paying subscriber. For just a few bucks a month, you can provide me with a bit more time to come up with fun topics, poems, and interviews; and you with probably fewer typos.
P.P.S. For making it this far, here’s a picture of a book I found this week. My friend Ben and I saw it unattended on a short brick wall. We figured we might take it if it was still there on our walk back. It was still there, but it was accompanied by a mysterious old man smoking a cigarette. We couldn’t tell if he was taking ownership of the book or just sitting near it.
What are you lookin’ down here for? I told you I wasn’t picking sides! Keep reading the story!
Just between me and you, I tried three times to spell “digification” before remembering the real word.