January 12, 2015

Leaving The New Yorker to join a lyrics-annotating website?!

"Sasha Frere-Jones, the longtime pop music critic for The New Yorker, has left the magazine to join Genius, a website mounting an ambitious expansion after starting as a forum for annotated rap lyrics online."

Signs of the apocalypse for old media? Or just another data point in the very old process of taking a job that offers much better pay?
Mr. Frere-Jones will be an executive editor at Genius, two of its founders, Ilan Zechory and Tom Lehman, said in an interview, with a focus on annotations of music lyrics. He will start this week.

Genius, which was originally called Rap Genius before changing its name last summer, has received $55 million of venture capital funding and broadened its mission beyond music to include restaurant menus and Shakespeare, among other texts.
The reason Frere-Jones gives is "I don’t want to stay up until 4 a.m. any more at shows, and you can annotate lyrics during the day." He's 47. I get it. Sometimes I think, I'd love to live in New York again, because there are all those things you can only do in New York. But then the question becomes: Yes, but would you do them? And the truth is, even when I was in my 20s, when I lived in New York, I found it a struggle to listen to music that went on after midnight. I believe Frere-Jones that the work fits a non-young person's life more comfortably. Good for him for getting the money. And give the New Yorker gig to somebody new, who's up for that sort of thing. We'll all survive.

And Genius is a nice format for annotating lyrics, a writing format that's very similar to blogging, and quite delightful, really. A big distinction from blogging, however, is that your writings remain stuck on the lyrics you've attached them to. They don't continually sink down as new stuff is put on top. Not that a blog's archive can't be searched, but in blogging, you do have this sense of layers of time, with the top layer fresh and soon to be pushed down by the next new thing. The tyranny of the timeline is most notable on Twitter and Facebook. If you're a serious writer, it can really get to you.

Not that annotating lyrics on Genius seems serious, but the hiring of Sasha Frere-Jones makes it a little more serious than it was before.

ADDED: Hey, Genius has a law section. (They should give me a million dollars!) Here's Marbury v. Madison. [AND: The cases are too long to annotate in the spiffy way that works for songs. The Marbury annotations alternate between boring explanations of technical terms and smart-ass observations, for example, pointing out over-broad/unsupported assertions. And most of the lines are just there — in hard-to-read white text on black — without annotation.]


rehajm said...

Sinking ship? Or chance of participation in a liquidity event?

rehajm said...

Drop the 'Rap'. Just 'Genuis'. It's cleaner.

Original Mike said...

"We'll all survive."

I know I will.

William said...

I gave A Whiter Shade of Pale a shot. I always thought that those lyrics had some occult meaning that I was too dense to grasp. No such luck. The writer said some things about a journey and images, but it was clear he didn't have a clue either. Maybe that's the meaning: a song full of melody and longing signifying nothing. It's an accomplishment to be meaningless in such an evocative, haunting way, and it's a relief to learn I haven't missed out on the true meaning of life.

EMD said...

Maybe I'm dense but annotating lyrics seems a bit pointless.

First contributor 'annotation' listed on Great Balls of Fire:

"She drives Jerry Lee crazy."

No shit, Sherlock.

Anonymous said...

It's an odd marquee hire in that (Rap) Genius is right in the middle of a pivot away from music. You'd think they aim for someone more closely aligned with their new mission of "annotating the Internet". I'd expect someone in pop culture who is perceived to be a polymath... John Hodgman-esque.

Ann Althouse said...

"The singer seems to know most of the people he meets, so it’s odd he doesn’t have a better plan for finding a place to hide than asking random strangers. While “the Devil” (like “Nazareth”) makes it sound like a religious allegory, the fact that Carmen calls him her friend could mean he’s just a guy with that nickname."

Ann Althouse said...

"The most famous part of the song is, unfortunately, the most difficult to translate. The most well-sourced theory suggests that Fanny is Cathy Smith, who dated/slept with THREE members of The Band and who is infamous for giving John Belushi his overdose. Even backers of this theory, though, admit that there are equally good theories, including one related to the slang meanings for 'fanny.'"

So... Fanny is his own ass, and "Take a load off, Fanny" is just a fancy way to announce your intention to sit down.

Ann Althouse said...

"The idea behind this refrain is that the cops targeted a certain kind of person— a beatnick or a hipster; basically someone who smoked pot, listened to jazz, and had existentialist crises (see On The Road AKA Overrated)—regardless of whether or not he/she was actually doing anything illegal (although, clearly the folks in this song are). Dylan is emphasizing the “beats vs. squares” culture war that prefigured the “hippie vs. hardhat” (or activist vs. establishment) culture war that blew up after American intervention in Vietnam. The fuck-all genius of this song is the juxtaposition of this refrain (we’re innocent) with the narrative (we’re guilty)."

mccullough said...

Sounds like a fun job. Shakespeare and Marbury have been annotated to death. But annotating pop lyrics is a worthwhile service.

I was driving my 10-year-old son and his friends to basketball recently and was explaining a reference to Jeffrey Dahmer in some pop song on the radio station they like. There's a demand here.

Popville said...

All I want to know is what the hell "But there's a rose in a fisted glove" means.

As for (Rap) Genius the company, I once worked for the folks that started Andreessen-Horowitz (A16Z in venture capital hiptser lingo), the lead investor in Rap Genius. And Ben Horowitz was always big on rap lyrics - putting them in company emails & whatnot. So not surprised Rap Genius exists, with massive funding.