Sunday, April 22, 2012

Interview with Jen Chaney, Washington Post

Jen on the 'red carpet' at the recent Oscar awards

She writes for the Washington Post. She has been writing Celebritology since 2006. Recently, she had taken time out of her busy schedule (covering Hollywood movies, TV, following whats trending online in popular culture, and interviewing stars) to talk about Duran Duran to the Rock Hall:

Since Jen Chaney did us the favor of covering DDTTRH, we thought, why not cover her? In this interview, Jen talks to us about Celebritology, about Duran Duran (and her favorite band member--and there's a funny story about would not want to miss!), the music industry, the Rock Hall, and advice for us as we continue trying to raise awareness of Duran Duran. I for one had so much fun talking to Jen--I hope you enjoy this chat I did with her and will follow her on Celebritology. ~Kirk, DDTTRH

Kirk, DDTTRH: I read that you have been writing for Celebritology since 2006. Before that I read you were a web producer at the paper and what led you to Celebrity was blogging about movies, TV, then live blogging with Liz Kelly about the show LOST. My question to you is, how exciting is it to be doing Celebritology and was it something you always wanted to do and you prepared yourself for it, or was it something you discovered about yourself that came out for you as a surprise?

Jen Chaney: Before I answer your excellent question, let me clarify a little bit about the background that led me to Celebritology. As you noted, I was a web producer before I started writing for the blog full-time. But I was also doing a lot of writing about entertainment and pop culture - including, in fact, this piece about Duran Duran ( I started contributing to Celebritology more regularly when Liz Kelly -- who created the blog originally -- and I started doing our dueling analyses of "Lost." The partnership worked out so well that in 2010, I joined the blog as a full-fledged partner and left the producing part of my job behind. Liz, much to my chagrin, left the Post the following year, which left me to anchor the blog, with a tremendous amount of help from Sarah Anne Hughes.

So, to more specifically answer your question, my work on Celebritology evolved over time in a way that made it seem very natural, as opposed to something for which I needed to prepare. However, writing about pop culture and entertainment for The Washington Post was literally my dream job when I began my journalism career after college in the mid-1990s. And my fascination with pop culture was born when I was in elementary school. So for both of those reasons, doing this job is something I have prepared for, and hoped for, my whole life. As absurd as it may sound, the job can be demanding. But it also affords me the gift of being able to talk with the filmmakers, TV stars and musical artists whose work I admire. I am thankful for that gift every day.

Kirk, DDTTRH:  I don't know about you, but when I talk to people about Duran Duran they seem 'stuck in the 80's' with the band and many haven't really seen or even paid attention to the amazing things the band has done since then. In fact, one of the reasons we changed the mission of Duran Duran to the Rock Hall (to focus less on the Rock Hall and more on trying to raise awareness to what Duran Duran has done for music history throughout
their career up to today) is to take a step back, to be less like other groups just pounding on the Rock Hall's doors and becoming disappointed, and to focus on promoting the band in many other ways and bringing to light valuable research on the band so more people will pay attention.

Your question is--what do you think could be done to raise more awareness for Duran Duran so that more people have the opportunity to see how legendary they really are?

Jen Chaney: Changing perceptions about the band is a challenge. Some people will always see them a certain way and not much can be done to change that. Having said that -- and I think your Duran to the Rock Hall site has done this -- it could be helpful to continue succinctly listing the significant things the band has done since the '80s. For example, number of songs that have charted, number of successful tours, induction into MTV VMA Hall of Fame, number of contemporary artists who have performed onstage with them, etc. Almost like a one-sheet that summarizes all the things they have continued to do. Again, I don't know how many minds that will change and I feel like your site has already done this, but it's something to consider disseminating more widely. Also, posting the equivalent of blog items on the site around the time of significant Duran anniversaries (Duran-iversaries?), like the release of "Sing Blue Silver," or when "Ordinary World" came out, etc. will provide constant reminders of the band's significant achievements.

The truth is that the band's greatest cultural significance obviously happened in the '80s. Duran Duran was the key band of the music video revolution, a revolution that, in my view, transformed American popular culture on a massive scale that transcended pop music. It's very hard to divorce them from that, and that's why most people seem "stuck in the 80s" when it comes to them. But the music they made in the decades that followed demonstrates that they were not a one-decade wonder, and speaks to the longevity I mentioned above. That's the value of evangelizing about the band's work since the birth-of-MTV era.

Kirk, DDTTRH: I agree with you that many are 'stuck in the 80s' with Duran Duran. In fact, I think part of the reason too is that the music industry has lost the ability to cultivate artists and promote them over a long period of time. I can't tell you how disappointed I was when the new album All You Need is Now was released, and I expected to hear some of the new songs on the radio. There was nothing. It didn't seem to matter how AMAZING some of these new songs were, they seemed to just stay in the rut of playing the same songs by the same artists over and over again. I don't know if you had the chance to read the article I wrote for Andy Taylor's website, talks in more detail about my thoughts on this subject. Here is the link:

My question to you you think the music industry could do more to cultivate and promote artists over a long period of time?

Jen Chaney: I think the music industry could do more to cultivate artists. In pop music there has always been a tendency to embrace the new thing; as a general rule, a big pop band has a short period of time to reign before getting pushed aside for the next big thing. Certain artists have managed to find longevity despite that -- Bruce Springsteen, U2, the Rolling Stones, Madonna, to name just a few. I think Duran Duran has done pretty well in that regard, too, considering that most bands fold up the tables and go home after a decade or so.

Older adults -- let's say late 30s and up -- are more likely to buy a physical CD than younger people are. These are the consumers who can keep the music industry going strong. Why was Adele such a huge success? Her music appealed to a wide spectrum of age groups -- high schoolers listen to her, but so does my mother-in-law who likes Michael Buble. Finding young artists with that appeal, and continuing to nurture veterans who fogies like us still know and love, is a really important way for record companies to navigate a challenging economic future. A quick scan of this week's top-selling artists shows that Springsteen's latest CD is currently in the top 10, as is Whitney Houston's greatest hits. Van Halen's new album also has been on the charts for seven weeks now, and was in the No. 2 spot at one point.

It's also worth noting that catalogue sales do quite well, because people still long to hear the great, timeless music that was made 20, 30 or 40 years ago. That means those artists are still relevant on some level, even if we only want to hear the old favorites.

Of course, some artists just lose their creative edge after a while. It's not like every band deserves to stick around indefinitely because not all of them can continue to crank out great music. In fact, I would say few can. But I think it would be wise for the industry to foster more of those relationships. Nostalgia has a magnetic effect on our musical tastes, and it breeds lifelong loyalty to certain bands, whether it's Van Halen or Duran or the Backstreet Boys.

Kirk, DDTTRH: Do you think as I do that perhaps the music industry is missing the mark in really understanding and building artists across that they could generate more long-term and meaningful profits over time?

I don't know if you feel the same way I do, however I think there are many artists (not just Duran Duran) that are playing great quality music today that the music industry just misses out on. And its a shame too, because I feel the general public is being given a disservice because of this prevalent short term business focus the music industry seems to have (especially since much of the music out there today lacks the kind of artistic quality that bands like Duran Duran put into their craft).

I think I sort of addressed this in my answer below. I think they may be missing the mark with some bands, but not with others. As I said earlier, some bands just may not have it in them to keep going over a long period of years, either due to personal issues or a desire to do something else with their lives or whatever the case may be. In terms of the issue of respect within and outside of the industry, I think we'll see more respect for Duran Duran and bands like them as more of the baby boomers retire and move on. Most Gen Xers have a certain reverence for the music of the 70s and 80s; obviously opinions differ on which bands were more significant or talented, but I think anyone who was young during that time doesn't need to be convinced that a group like Duran Duran was a huge deal.

The other thing worth noting is that thanks to the Internet, a band doesn't necessarily need a company's support to continue making music for their fans. Social networking and the capacity to independently produce CDs make it possible for any band to stay in the game, albeit on a smaller level than they might with a major marketing push from Sony. But when a group has a strong following, it's very easy to see that online and that could motivate a smart executive to reconsider signing or promoting an artist if they see a lot of interest and revenue being generated already.

Jen with John Taylor (her favorite!)

Kirk, DDTTRH: Well--for the Duranie fans--I must ask this one. Who is your favorite Duran Duran member and why? I know you've mentioned Duran Duran in several of your articles. Are you a big fan of the band?

Jen Chaney: To answer your last question first, yes, I am a fan of the band. My favorite member was always John. When I was in seventh grade, every inch of wallspace in my bedroom was covered with Duran Duran posters and pin-ups. And each night before bed, I kissed the pictures of John in every single one, which was a lengthy process. Why was he my favorite? Yes, his handsomeness certainly had a lot to do with it. But there was a mischievous quality I saw in him, and in Simon, too, who was my second-favorite, that made him more interesting. He had a cheeky sense of humor, too, which I also loved.

Kirk, DDTTRH: What does it mean for you to be a Celebritologist? Any interesting or funny stories you'd like to share with us since many don't get the chance to ever meet or interview celebrities (that must be so exciting!)?

Jen Chaney: Anyone can be a celebritologist, technically, I'm just fortunate enough to call myself one professionally. Really, I wear a lot of different hats: blogger, reporter, film critic, etc. It is a fun job but also overwhelming at times. From the minute I put my feet on the floor and get out of bed, I am on deadline and feel that way until I get back into bed at night. Which is mentally exhausting, On the plus side, I've gotten to go to the Oscars and Comic-Con a few times, I get to see movies ahead of time and I've even been called a chicken shit (good-naturedly) by George Clooney.

I have a lot of stories (the chicken shit one, for example, is pretty good). But I'll tell my John Taylor story since it's most relevant. When Duran was touring around the Red Carpet Massacre release, I wrote a piece about them and got to interview JOhn via telephone. It was mind-blowing to think about how obsessed I was with him so many years ago, and that I had finally gotten a chance to speak with him. So I wrote the story -- it was an advancer that ran before their DC area tour date -- but managed to get on the list to go backstage after the article was written. So I met Simon, Roger and John. I had brought a copy of my article to give the PR person for her records, but she told me to hang on to it so John could sign it. I didn't feel comfortable asking him to do that, but my husband didn't mind. So I got to stand there and watch while John Taylor read the article I had written about John Taylor, which was one of the odder experiences of my life.

Kirk, DDTTRH: I must did a story in Elementary School (from what I read online) on the movie 'Christmas Story'. Do you have any connections to Cleveland or the Midwest? I live in Cleveland and the Christmas Story house is here.

Jen Chaney: I have no connection to Cleveland or the film, other than loving it. It was the first movie I ever reviewed, in my elementary school newsletter.

Kirk, DDTTRH: What advice would you give our group as we continue trying to promote Duran Duran's contributions to music and raise awareness of the band?

Jen Chaney: I have one word of advice for you -- memes. If you want spread the word about the band, the smartest thing you can do is generate viral content that will get passed around online and remind people how much they love Duran. The trick about it, though, is that it can't seem too forced. Whatever you create has to come from a clever, organic place, otherwise it will seem like you're trying too hard. Clearly there are other things you can do as well, but that strikes me as one very specific thing to consider.

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