Most of us are probably familiar with the 1979 Buggles tune, “Video Killed the Radio Star.” In the synth-heavy and somewhat campy song, the group sings in saccharine yet nostalgia tones about a shift from the experience of radio to TV. The lyrics both melancholy and strangely robotic are reminiscent of a failed or at least very changed romantic relationship: “we can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far” and “pictures came and broke your heart, put the blame on VCR.” The song is perched awkwardly yet sweetly between old and new media, genre, styles. I bring it up because the “oh oh”s were caught in my head while I read this week about Caribbean music in the digital age. Though the musical connections might be non-existent, the ambivalent attitudes toward changing musical media seemed to dovetail. And the Buggles came to mind again when I watched the interview of Tessanne Chin who appeared on the popular radio show “Sway in the Morning.” Here was a “radio star” Sway who has not been killed by video, but has actually found success as a radio host and his show is also on digital video (an even newer form of media than the Buggle’s VCR). I actually remember Sway from his time as a host and correspondent on different MTV programs. In his case, video made the radio star. A similar trajectory toward increased recognition vis a vis changing technologies is charted in the Houghton and Bonneville article on Dancehall economy in the digital age. The authors note that in the 1990’s videos and CDs helped spread dancehall sensibility, often inflected through hip-hop, across the Caribbean and the Caribbean diaspora. While this might be a positive change for the artists seeking more global recognition, I read a trace of nostalgia in the authors’ note that the Jamaican soundsystem model was being displaced as the center.
The connections and blurred lines between forms of “old” and “new” media persisted as I watched the interview and came to know more about Chin. Tessanne Chin is the 2013 winner of TV competition show The Voice, sign of how the music industry and individual aspiring musicians rely on spectacular TV competitions and the narrative form of a season to promote themselves to large audiences. (Spoiler alert for Empire, season 2 episode 3) Sway’s radio show, broadcast as well on Youtube, is given another layer of mediation in a recent appearance of Sway on the extremely popular TV drama, Empire. In the episode Sway plays himself as a host of “Sway in the Morning” who is drawn into a feud between two record label heads who are looking to use his show to launch their own artists. “Sway in the Morning” it should also be noted is broadcast on satellite radio, a lucrative melding of radio and digital spaces/audiences.
An interesting research question would be how these overlapping forms of media and entertainment are all different technologies for the representation of racial difference and even larger meta-conversations about race. I’m also intrigued by how we might read this as how the technology (and technologies?) of race might interact with forms of media technology. How can people “do” race differently by using different media? The question of how Chin does race is a somewhat awkward subtext of her radio segment where there was focus on Chin as a mixed-race performer who has a Jamaican accent. This is an accent, it is implied, which is not often associated with a Chinese surname or a light-skinned mixed race person. Sway claims that “The world hadn’t seen anything like you” because the majority of people were not familiar with Jamaica as a plural society and as Sway says “how that came to be.” I haven’t articulated a full thought around it yet but this Youtube radio segment seems to be a cluster of different formations of race, media, technology, and public discourse.
I found Sway’s statement “The world hadn’t seen anything like you” a curious reference to global awareness and visuality that I situate in the digital age that Houghton and Bonneville are describing. These authors address the contradictions of an increased global visual presence and economic success. “Dancehall e-commerce barely exists as such but the web and other digital technology have connected artists, selectors, and dancers to a much larger arena for live shows, in effect extending the potential space of the dancehall…” (2). At the same time, blogs and social media are creating “informal virtual mirrors of the mom-and-pop networks” (2). These statements and trends indicated there might not be such a sure line between old and new media.