Outside the Hit Factory

I’ve been working on a response to the question: why (more) Katy Perry? Which also is a lecture, illustrated with chart-toppers, on the use of consumer-behavior data and neurobiology research in the production of pop songs that are guaranteed to be pleasing to as many listeners as possible—and to avoid confronting listeners with songs that they haven’t already been conditioned to like. The producers of hits like “Roar” and “Can’t Feel My Face” might design insipid products that manipulate our basic impulses, but they also devise an emotional Esperanto that merges all our voices into a single chorus. In the lecture, I ask: do I want to hear a song that perfectly conforms to a numeric representation of my personality? Or a song that transports me to a club where nearly all of humanity mouth the words and grin as if just graduated?

In the past couple years, I’ve presented versions of the lecture at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, as part of Triple Canopy’s 2018–19 Public Engagement Residency; at Tai Kwun Contemporary, as part of Triple Canopy’s series of events at the inaugural Booked art-book fair; at CCS Bard in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York; in Liverpool, as part of the public programming for the Liverpool Biennial, organized by the Serving Library; at the Vera List Center for Art and Politics, as part of Art, an Index to (see also Politics); and at New York University, as part of Being in Two Places at Once: Art and the Geopolitics of Remote Sensing. An essay adapting the lecture will be published by Triple Canopy in the spring of 2020.