Why We'll All Try to See Justin Timberlake at SXSW, and Why That's Completely Wrong
I remember one of the most exciting moments from last year's SXSW. I was walking out of my hotel and I heard the familiar strains of an iconic bassline rumbling across the avenue toward me like the vapor trail of a picnic beckoning to a cartoon wolf. "Wait, is that... Snoop Dogg?" I thought. Bad ass! I walked over to the edge of the outdoor venue, the Cheeze Crisp Boner Water Experience Tent Hut, stood outside the fence, and bobbed my head in time. "Maybe I should try to get in?" I thought. " Who do I know in marketing at Boner Water?"
Similar scenarios transpired that night throughout Austin, with everyone from Bruce Fucking Springsteen, to 50 Cent and Eminem, and Lil Wayne anchoring the festival's big name slots. Kanye even made an appearance, although that's probably not so surprising given the sheer number of cameras and microphones on hand. He probably went to sleep the night before and ego-auto-piloted all the way to Texas without even knowing it.
Naturally, the venue was packed for Snoop, and you could feel the excitement in the air. After a song or so, something about it started to feel dirty, like an abnegation of professional responsibility. I said, screw it, and promptly got the hell out of there. I moved along on my way to go stand in a succession of empty bars to watch bands I'd never heard of, and wouldn't end up remembering anyway, play to nobody. And you know what? It was awesome. That's what SXSW is supposed to be about. It's not, but it's supposed to be.
Any moment now it's expected to be confirmed that Justin Timberlake, paragon of get-in-the-van work ethos, will be performing at this year's SXSW. That's after exemplars of small-scale indie ethics Green Day were announced as headliners late last month. This is nothing new for the sprawling festival of course -- Metallica played in 2009! -- and the luster of the independent spirit has long since sleuced off in a body-spray whore's bath of sponsored experiences and corporate influence peddling, but this might finally be the nail in the coffin. Not really for me, because I'm still going either way, but you know what I mean. Not for the festival either -- there's way too much money involved at this point for it to suffer from any sort of backlash from the likes of me; too big to fail isn't just for bankers. But for some reason this feels like an overstep. One pop star too far. There's nothing inherently wrong with Justin Timberlake, mind you. He's pretty amazing, actually. There's also nothing inherently wrong with your ex-girlfriend coming to your wedding, either, but the sideshow tends to take away from what the day is supposed to be about.