Narcissism, Inc.: A Look Inside Ark Music's Fantasy Factory

Video still from CJ Fam’s “Ordinary Pop Star.”

In more civilized times, music industry bottom feeders had to seek out the child prodigies and pre-teen crooners they sought to exploit. That meant dispatching A&R reps to troll shopping malls and amusement parks in the armpits of America and the Great White North, all in hopes that The Search would turn up the next Bop or Tiger Beat centerfold. Such arduous work is no longer a requirement however, as evidenced by the business model of Clarence Jey and Patrice Wilson‘s Ark Music Factory, a new tween and teen pop-star assembly line that believes high-def video and layers of Auto-Tune can transform anyone into a bankable artist.

First out of the gate was Rebecca Black (see: “Friday”), a teen whose nasally, off-pitch singing would have left her crucified by the braintrust at American Idol; broken down in tears back stage as viewers gawked at yet another teen with delusional aspirations of a career in music. But re-tune her vocal misfires through technology, and engineer her image using a roughshod Disney Channel template, and she’s prepackaged for viral video infamy stardom.

Video still from Rebecca Black’s “Friday.”

It’s a formula no different than that applied (in varying forms) to artists such as Ke$ha, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, etc. But in Black’s case the overwhelming consensus is that she has no talent and the aforementioned elite do, and our delicate sensibilities are offended by this. Thus cue the parodies, remixes, and (ahem) scathing blogland diatribes, pull out all the weaponry at hand and destroy this plague that threatens of our nation’s sacred pop music tradition.

In a piece for Rolling Stone, Matthew Perpetua attempts to say that the song “Friday” is “actually good” because it holds a mirror to the pop world, one that leaves the genre’s formulaic approach more toxic for “respectable” artists as a result. But that argument lacks teeth, mainly because it’s foolish to believe that Rebecca Black marks a turning point in pop music. Black and her hastily-produced song represent, at best, a forgettable footnote in a genre of music deeply marred by stupidity —  a genre that strives for simplicity and widespread exposure but often wallows in mediocrity. In other words, low points are what pop music does best.

A look behind the curtain at a recent Ark Music Factory event conjures visions of pageant world terror and star-spangled delusion
(h/t: Douglas Haddow for the video link).

In truth, Black and her Ark Music Factory cohorts — artists like CJ Fam, Kaya, Alana Lee, and Britt Rutter — imbue a certain sense of terror for an entirely different reason. This ensemble of wannabe pop stars share an eerie familiarity to the young girls paraded by overbearing parents on the beauty pageant circuit, or the precious child athletes that rabid sports parents push so desperately in attempts to vicariously reimagine their own youth. They embody America’s you-can-be-whatever-you-want-when-you-grow-up enthusiasm laced with unhealthy levels of delusion.

According to Rosie Gray over at BlackBook, Ark Music Factory’s “business model is simple: give them money and they will produce a formulaic pop song for your 13- to 17-year-old daughter, complete with video, and then your daughter will become a famous music star like she (you) has always dreamed.” So what Clarence Jey and Patrice Wilson lack in songwriting skills, they make up for in entrepreneurial vision, having established a frightening cottage industry by finding a new way to monetize narcissism. And if you ask this guy, the whole thing is like, a total scam. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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