‘TAG! You’re an idiot!’

‘TAG! You’re an idiot!’

A rant about the abundance of hash tags in today’s society.

Young William does his best impression of a chess pawn.

Young William does his best impression of a chess pawn.

When the sun comes out and the mercury starts rising, what we like most of all is to go outside so we can feel the warmth, then immediately find a way of making ourselves cold again. Some people like to do this by having a poor-quality ice cream from a shifty looking fellow in a large musical van, whereas others, perhaps the more young at heart among us, like to have a water fight instead, drawing pleasure from making themselves all wet and miserable, so that they feel colder than they would have done if the sun had not come out. If you do indeed have a water fight, you will certainly be the top dog in said fight if you have a very powerful water pistol that can superbly soak your foes. You can reach people from a distance and have literally minutes of fun before you run out of water. What’s even better is that your foes will not mind being hit, because it is a water fight, after all, and they want to cool down, so  your water pistol is fulfilling a purpose that is really of benefit to all involved.

Now imagine if you are walking down a train platform at rush hour on a Monday morning, while hordes of miserable people are all marching in time like corporate zombies, to work eight miserable hours in an uncomfortable suit, for a man who does not care about their well-being. Then, SURPRISE, you jump out from behind a wall and obstruct their path, before soaking everyone in sight. WHAM! Right in the face! Right in the groin! Aiming for any electrical paraphernalia in their hands! Your spray of cold water is unavoidable; it would be even worse if your pistol were filled with scalding hot soup.

The water pistol is completely acceptable within its intended context of a water fight; again, it serves its intended, if rather pointless, purpose. However, if you take it out of this context and bring it into a real life situation, attacking people who are not willingly involved in the game, you suddenly become a huge irritant to those around you, showing a lack of awareness about what and when certain behaviour is acceptable. /end metaphor/.

Now imagine that water fight situation is the rather handy news platform, but more often the adolescent-filled cesspit of hate, that is Twitter, and that water pistol is the irritating little ‘hash tag’.  When on Twitter, the hash tag is used to group together messages containing a key word or phrase, which you can then access by simply clicking the tag in question. Even when in its intended forum of use, the hash tag is open to infantile abuse, such as packs of young girls using it to trend juvenile and humourless phrases such as ‘#ReplaceMcFlySongsWithBoobs (this actually happened), and then laughing amongst themselves at their brilliant puns of ‘Five Colours in Her Boobs and ‘It’s All About Boobs’. This further abuse is basically the water fight equivalent of that dirty kid who pisses in his water pistol before aiming at your face. But, then again, even in this situation, the hash tag is being used in its intended platform and if you want nothing to do with it, you can stay away from the whole sorry affair.

'If someone retweets me, I know I've made it'

‘If someone retweets me, I know I’ve made it’

 

Sadly, in the last few years, hash tags have begun seeping into the real world, outside of Twitter, being employed by those who either want to look like they’re ‘down with the kids’, or by those who have spent so long staring at their ‘Interactions’ page, waiting for a retweet of their “You wouldn’t love me without my makeup” tweet, that they’re no longer sure of the boundaries between their life of Twitter infamy and their life where they need to communicate with actual people.

This grating phenomenon has popped up in both the world of television and music. I can understand that the makers of a trashy Channel 4 documentary will want their programme to be talked about by the thousands who spend their television time glued to a computer or smart phone screen, and they want to make sure that their programme is a ‘top trend’ by suggesting a hash tag that all viewers can use, in order to group all related messages together. Yet, if your documentary is good enough (or ridiculous enough, see: Dogging Tales) anyway, people will already be talking about it. It is tediously annoying that every time your programme comes back after the adverts, the channel is reminding you what you are watching, saying TALK ABOUT MY PROGRAMME, #DISCUSSTHISWITHYOURIMAGINARYFRIENDS, but even then, the best shows do not need to tell you what to talk about, people will talk about them anyway. For example, Ben Elton’s abominable so-called ‘comedy’ (abomedy?) ‘The Wright Way’, received such a huge weekly backlash on Twitter that reading the resulting disdain, plot predictions and questions about Elton’s mental health, made the programme worth watching every week (“Don’t tell me, the man who he just upset in the ten-items-or-less queue is going to turn out to be the doctor who does his prostate exam?”).

Even worse than hash tags on television is the use of the hash tag in a SONG title. Will.I.Am did it for both album ‘#Willpower’ and single ‘#thatPOWER’ featuring monkey-botherer Justin Bieber, while Mariah Carey saw it necessary to name her new single featuring 2016 Olympic kick-boxing hopeful Miguel, ‘#Beautiful’. The hash tag has no use whatsoever in these song and album titles. You do slightly expect that kind of behaviour from Will.I.Am, as he is now better known for being a silly, catchphrase-churning TV personality than for being a respectable musical artist, but there is nothing about the Mariah song and video that suggests it is gimmicky enough to warrant a hash tag in its name (expect, perhaps, her stupid giggling and writhing around like a woman who should know better).

We should not be humouring or encouraging this blatant disregard for a symbol’s purpose, just think about that boy squirting piss onto your nice, clean suit. Nor is it right to castigate these people for their ignorance, as much as I’d like to lock up Will.I.Am, Justin Bieber and Mariah Carey, and force them to listen to eardrum-burstingly loud ‘Harlem Shake’ on repeat for 24 hours. The best thing to do is to just ignore them so they stop. Searching the Official Charts Company’s online records shows that they do not have a favourable view of the ‘#’ in song titles, simply listing the songs as ‘BEAUTIFUL’ and ‘THATPOWER’, and rightly so. Incidentally, among the songs that are listed including the hash symbol, the first charting song to employ the hash tag was ‘#9 Dream’ by John Lennon in 1975. If he were still alive today, would we punish him for this? No, we would not, because the symbol was used correctly to mean ‘number’. That’s John for you, he respected the rules. He didn’t deserve to die.

Embedded above here is the song that has driven me to write this rant, the current number one single, ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke ft. T.I. and the ageless Pharrell Williams. The song itself sounds like your typical, basic Pharrell-produced track, and the first time I heard it, I thought it was another Pharrell-produced track, ‘Give It 2 Me’ by Madonna feat. Pharrell (don’t get me started on that bloody ‘2’). If that wasn’t enough to tempt you, the song (and video) are very sexist, which isn’t so appropriate in this age, but you have to love a song that features the line “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two”, right guys?

The video for the song is 4:32 long, and features the hash-tagged name #THICKE filling up the screen a ridiculous TWENTY-EIGHT (28) times, and the hash-tagged song title #BLURREDLINES, a further three times. That equates to a hash tag filling the screen, and it’s not exactly discrete, every 8.7 seconds.

In case, in the last 8 seconds, you have forgotten what you are listening to...

In case, in the last 8 seconds, you have forgotten what you are listening to…

There is no need for it; it is not fulfilling any purpose. This whole thing needs to stop before everyone is saying the words ‘hash tag’ in conversation, like Poet Laureate, Kerry Katona, who exclaimed the words ‘HASH TAG: PANIC’ on an episode of The Big Reunion. It’s fine, or at least tolerable, when used in its intended forum of Twitter, but it is simply not acceptable in REAL life. We all know that everyone spends half their life trawling social networking sites while pretending to be doing something more worthwhile, but nobody actually admits to this! We don’t want another situation like where everyone was making the  old Facebook ‘poke’ sex joke a few years ago (or like an episode of ‘The Wright Way’ did last week, well done Ben Elton), despite it being a feature that I am pretty sure nobody actually used.

Otherwise we’ll all grow to accept this kind of behaviour and we will end up with the General Register Office issuing birth certificates to babies called bloody @Britney.

HOW TO SAVE HMV & THE HIGH STREET

Mourning the Great British high street and
An open letter to HMV with an idea on how to save the sinking ship

 

tumbleweed wasteland

As another week passes, another shop on my high street closes, falling victim to that bargain-offering behemoth in the sky, the internet. Maybe I’m just bitter with regards to these huge invisible corporations because Amazon interviewed me for a job once and all I got out of it was a day out in Slough, a branded pen and a sheet of Amazon logo stickers, that’s probably true, but it’s not just that.

Recently I went into my local branch of Millets, only to see that it will have disappeared by next week. The problem, of course, is that anything you buy from Millets, whether it’s a tent, sleeping bag, or bag of sausage casserole that magically heats up and turns into food, you can get it cheaper online, as with everything that has ever appeared on the high street. I didn’t stand in the road chucking paint at the walls and screaming THE INTERNET IS THE DEVIL, because I’m far too idle to ever physically protest about anything, but I wanted to help out somewhat, so I went inside and bought a handy waterproof coat, or a ‘Kag in a Bag’ for £5, since I am poor and it rains a lot. When I was at the checkout, I overheard the staff talking to a woman who was openly mourning the loss of her local outdoors shop, dressed in black, with a handkerchief held to her eye, and they told her that Millets had been kicked out of the store to make way for a Sue Ryder charity shop.

Every British high street

Every British high street

 While I can’t vouch for the veracity of the ‘kicking out’, I did let out a little sigh and audibly mumble “For god’s sake…”, as  another charity shop is the last thing this particular high street needed.  On that small Suffolk stretch of road there were already PDSA, Barnardo’s, Cancer Research, and British Heart Foundation charity shops. I can’t pretend I don’t love a charity shop; they are my first point of call when I want a board game I will only play a handful of times (Monopoly Europe printed in German, a language I can’t read; Lenny Henry: The Game) or if I want to add to my growing collection of 80s vinyl albums which I CAN play, but don’t often do so,  yet nobody is going to visit a town whose shopping street is made up entirely of charity shops flogging crusty clothes and heinous ornaments. I understand charities need money, I’m not stupid, and I’m willing to give it to them, if I can get a good CD or something out of it, but it’s hardly going to save the high street, is it? People weren’t staying away from the town because the choice of charity shops was too limited, ready to head to their nearest bus stop and hop on a bus as soon as the long-awaited Sue Ryder shop opens (that is, if their local bus route hasn’t been cut to save money, like mine was). They stayed away because the town had absolutely nothing to offer (But at least the car park is free, which I do appreciate).

An all too familiar sight

An all too familiar sight

 

Despite living in such an isolated part of the country, I am fortunate to live between three small towns (I like to think of this as the Boremuda Triangle), so I have a choice of which rubbish run-down town I want to go to.  The biggest of these three towns, despite losing every other entertainment shop in the last ten years, still has an HMV despite the recent closures, which brings me on to my main point. Anyone who has stepped into an HMV in recent years will be well aware that they have tried to stay afloat by no longer specialising in music and entertainment, but instead by flogging shoddy merchandise, in the vain hope that somebody will stumble into the shop looking for a new CD release (that hasn’t been stocked) and end up making an impulse purchase of a ‘TEAM EDWARD’ T-shirt, or Justin Bieber – The Sticker Book, the latter which I was nearly tricked into buying because of the low price and short-term Christmas ‘lols’ this would provide, before deciding not to, since I hate planning anything that far in advance. The good people at Popjustice have addressed this topic far better than I can, due to their large amount of photographic evidence in this article where they investigate the various pieces of JLS merchandise sold in their local HMV.

morrisons ant and dec

So onto my main  point…

Recently, I read in the news that supermarket to the stars, Morrisons, has bought out six branches of HMV, in order to turn them into mini high street supermarkets, which will then sit alongside the Tesco Metro, Sainsbury’s Local, and the five Co-ops already on the road, giving more choice when getting a pint of milk on the way home. But this gave me an idea and it is an idea that I believe will rejuvenate everyone’s favourite (only?) high street music store, and potentially even stop it from being completely wiped out in the next year. In my student days, I used to do my weekly shop in Morrisons, since it was within walking distance and you could often get 10 bakery items for under a pound at closing time, so I thought to myself, what are the best features of Morrisons, and one of the answers is, of course, the fresh pizza counter, where the huge pizzas are prepared in store. I then wondered how this feature could be applied for the high street music store, and this is my answer.

1)      Instead of a pizza base you have a blank CD.

2)      Instead of picking a variety of toppings to go on it, you pick a selection of SONGS.

3)      The good people at HMV make up your mix CD for a fair price, while you wait.

 For this to work, it would need to be made a fairly prominent feature in store, the same way the CD singles chart used to be in the old days. You could clear out of all the shelves in the middle of the story that only contain Family Guy DVDs and Owen Wilson films covered in ‘SALE £3’ stickers. Nobody buys them so nobody is going to lose out on profits there.

chart MOCK UP 

Once you’ve got a space you need to put up a massive garish digital display, basically a big flashy, neon lights version of the chart on the Official Charts Company website. This should feature all of the songs in the Top 40 Chart, or Top 100 even, plus all of this week’s new releases.  Each song listed should feature the following information:         

– POSITION               – CHART MOVEMENT                       – Track name
(Big arrow                  – Last week’s placement                    – Artist
symbol etc.)               – Weeks on chart                                – Song length, – Label

Chart example

Using Justin Timberlake’s seemingly hour-long track Mirrors as an example, this is one way in which this information could be displayed. This would reignite people’s interest in chart statistics; just imagine how good all of this would look on a huge wall. There was a time when people would know what the number one single was, and more importantly, care. My mum, being the anorak she is, used to sit at her typewriter as a child and type out the week’s chart. Although I struggle to see the benefit of doing this, it shows an interest in the chart that is rarely shared by anybody today. Before digital music became the norm, you could go into Woolworth’s and look at the CD singles chart, where all of the songs would we lined up in order and it was exciting to see where your favourite artists were placing and who was flopping. The closest you get to that now is the variably trustworthy iTunes chart, or the Radio 1 midweek ‘Chart Update’ on a Wednesday, but there is no real visual aspect to this.

Being a bit of a nerd, I miss this visual aspect of album and single artwork, which is slowly disappearing for good. Artists and record labels are getting lazy when it comes to producing artwork for a single, but why should you spend money on creating an image that will only show up a little icon on someone’s iPod, which they won’t even be looking at. Artists would produce an image that would be eye-catching, and draw your attention to the song on this vast list of anorak-pleasing stats. Basically you would avoid single artwork like this:

1/10

1/10

 Below this big board you would need scraps of paper on which people could note down their song choices, with available writing implements to help them with this. It would basically be Argos’s little blue pen scheme, before they did away with those and replaced them with the less exciting blue pencil. Even if people only came into store to pinch a small pen, this would increase traffic in stores and fill them out a bit, if only briefly, plus there’s a small chance these petty thieves might actually buy something (a set of One Direction coasters?).  This form could look like this, for example (look HMV, I’m doing all the work for you here):

HMV MIXTAPE FORM 

Pricing:

Pricing would have to be pitched so that you would get a good deal by buying a large number of songs. A song on iTunes used to cost you 69p before a few songs started being sold in a ‘Plus’ format for 99p, before this was rolled out to all chart songs. Amazon MP3 prices songs at 89p and 7 Digital prices songs at 99p. I think this is still a bit high for today’s music business. Of course in the olden days you would buy a CD single for a few pounds but  you used to get a case, a disc, artwork and b-sides for that, whereas for a single MP3, you’re just getting a little bit of ‘space’, invisible data, some virtual information. To ask HMV to sell MP3 singles at less than this is obviously silly but imagine, just imagine, if you could put ten tracks onto a mix CD for five or six (5 or 6) pounds (£), making each track cost 50/60p. That’s not too much lower than the 69p of iTunes past and a far better deal. For many other things you get a deal when you buy in bulk, so why should it be different for MP3s?  I admit this bit is hopeful.

Artwork:

With this being a CD of MP3 tracks, it will come in a case and that case will need artwork. For the sake of an example, let me pick ten of the more enjoyable tracks from this week’s  Top 100 singles chart courtesy of the Official Charts Company.

Justin Timberlake – Mirrors,
Bastille – Pompeii,
Taylor Swift – I Knew You Were Trouble,
Adele – Skyfall,
Rihanna – Diamonds,

James Arthur – Impossible,
Olly Murs – Troublemaker,
David Guetta/Sia – Titanium,
Arlissa – Sticks and Stones,
Calvin Harris/ Florence – Sweet Nothing

You could have two options for the cover of your mix tape: the first being a patchwork design featuring all of the single artwork from your select tracks, as below.

Lovely

Lovely

The second option would be to ignore all of this artwork, into which has gone so much effort (ha!) and replace the cover with a stock greetings card-style cover from a selection featuring favourites such as Happy Birthday, Get Well Soon, I Love You etc. etc. This would not only see the resurgence of the mix tape and the singles chart, but also in the greetings card. Get Clinton’s Cards involved if you need do, all chip in together to try and save the high street! If you stuck a ‘Happy Birthday’ cover on it, it would be the perfect cheap gift for a pal, assuming you know their music tastes well, they’ll know that a little bit of effort has gone into choosing it, and that you didn’t be a full-on cheapskate and make something, you’ve at least spent a fiver on it. Or even better: you could get a fun celebrity cover to bung on the front, with a suitable lyric splashed on it, such as the one below. Of course there would probably be some imaging rights and copywriting nonsense that this would get caught up in, but maybe the artists who already have too much money would take a quick snap and sign it over to HMV for free for sole use on their mix tape/greetings card covers, after all we are saving the high street here and you can’t really put a price on that, can you? And who wouldn’t like a Le Bon Anniversaire birthday card? I think someone made one for me once, and I appreciated it.

MIXTAPE COVERS

Process:

So you pick your songs on your little card with your little HMV pen, you go to the counter and hand this over paying your five or six pounds, and the staff member says ‘good choices!’ or more likely makes a sarcastic comment about your music taste, ‘The Saturdays… interesting’ and they then tell you that your CD will be ready in 5 minutes. While you go and busy yourself by having a coffee in the coffee bar that has by this point been installed in each store in order to boost profits, or sit in a listening booth which has been reinstalled to boost interest in HMV, the staff member burns your tracks onto a CD and prints off your cover then assembles it all for you.

Perhaps if you’re easily pleased and can find ten songs in the chart that actually appeal to you, you might go through this process a number of times per year. Each of these mix CDs, if you are making them for yourself, will serve as a little time capsule of sorts, remind you what you were listening to at a particular time, making them a fun thing to look back on and laugh at your poor taste. Kind of like a Now That’s What I Call Music CD, but for a fraction of the price and without an extra disc of crap that you don’t want.

There are so many advantages to this:

  • Increased interest in the top 40 and chart stats.
  • Cheaper singles.
  • More singles sold.
  • Non-regular buyers buying singles.
  • More effort put into artwork by artists.
  • Nice gift idea.
  • Rebirth of the physical mix tape.
  • Increased traffic in HMV stores thanks to free pens.
  • A fun atmosphere in HMV.
  • A reason to actually go into HMV.

 

So, HMV, if you are reading this, this is my idea. There are probably a few downsides to this idea; I expect there’s a lot of complicated legal stuff that will need to be manoeuvred, you’ll need to install all of the necessary machinery and refurnish a large section of each of your stores, and you’ll have to get every single record label on board, but that’s all possible, right? You’re making a small initial investment that could possibly see huge returns in the long run.  You can’t make enough money to keep the company afloat by just selling Mrs Brown’s Boys DVD box sets and the occasional Emeli Sandé album. Get rid of all the DVDs in store. Few of them are any good, and you can get them all cheaper online anyway. Focus on music again. Focus on making music interesting and accessible and a price that people will be willing to pay, and then you will see customers return. Diversification and innovation is the key to longevity.

I would buy this product, and I haven’t bought a single for about seven years.

Have a little think about it, at least, then call me, before every branch turns into another bloody charity shop.