I read a rare Q&A session with The Weeknd from Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” series a few days ago. As you can imagine, fans asked him an array of bizarre questions, but there was one that asked about the history of his stage name and it immediately caught my attention. He answered with a story about dropping out of high school at 17 and leaving home one weekend never to return. The name stuck when he started doing shows, but he dropped the last ‘e’ because there was already a Canadian band called “The Weekend.”
JMSN (pronounced “Jameson”), another trippy/dark r&b artist, took on a similar less is more approach when he shaped his favorite whiskey into an artist name. Then there’s SBTRKT (pronounced “Subtract”), the tribal masked DJ/producer who also comes to mind. It doesn’t take a mathematician to notice the subtle exchange between meaning and form there.
By using these three as examples, perhaps it can be argued that there is still some functionality and creativity being built into the way artists are naming themselves, despite the obvious influx of a particular style.
[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/110813886″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true”/]
But seriously, who has time to figure out what the hell 3OH!3 (pronounced “three oh! three”) is supposed to mean? Reading a stage name shouldn’t bring back memories of doing the world puzzles and busy work that substitute teachers give out in 3rd grade. It’s pretty awkward when in the role of the listener, I have to grapple with the logistics of an artist’s music making process as well, but it’s even more awkward being a fan of someone when I don’t know what to call them.
So I’m supposed to know that STRFKR is pronounced “starfucker,” while also knowing that STS9 is an acronym for “Sound Tribe Sector 9” and not pronounced, “Status 9”? When is it an acronym and when is it just process of elimination for these people? A band name or artist name can mean anything when you look at it now, and that doesn’t strike me so much as creative progression as it does a hint that they’re running out of ideas. Sure, it’s not as if artists like, “The RZA” haven’t been using this type of abstraction for years, but it’s a reality that today’s immediate access to music creates more opportunities to make music, and thus more “artists” pumping out (mostly bad) music round the clock.
Although that cool band name you thought of while stoned is probably already taken, it’s apparently okay to randomly press buttons on your keyboard and loosely make sense out of characters while plotting on another one.
[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/84021770″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
But it’s unfair to have a conversation about current naming trends in music without mentioning the recent intemperance with using urban acronyms for song titles.
I’ll go on record in saying that U.O.E.N.O (meaning and loosely pronounced, “you don’t even know”) was a genius record. Also, as much as I still hate when I hear the phrase “YOLO,” Drake deserves much credit for triggering this recent trend of song titling within the Hip-Hop genre. Both songs earned their place as anthems, but the problem is that everyone wants to make the next #-worthy track. Inevitably, the majority of people who’ll try will not have the talent to produce such a hit. I find that this is when those people trade in efforts of making a quality track for checklist lyrics and generic choruses that scream THIS IS THE TITLE OF THIS SONG!
It’s exactly why I cannot take Jay Z’s “F.U.T.W” (fuck up this world) track from Magna Carta seriously. As a huge fan, I cringed at the thought of him needing to market an anthem by name instead of by content. Furthermore, scrolling down the album’s tracklist and also finding a song written out as, “FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt,” it became clear that even the most decorated artists fall prey to the “banger” mindset and the disguise that a good song title can offer to cheap material.
At some point in the music making process, artists are forgetting about the music part and changing the industry into one where titles are memorable, but the projects themselves are not. Sounds ridiculous, but if there were no market for it, it wouldn’t be happening.