Beyoncé, Bandcamp And Bob Dylan: The Week In Music News

Feb 3, 2017
Originally published on February 4, 2017 4:54 am

With stories about politics and international affairs dominating the news cycle, it can be easy to miss what's going on in the world of music. To help with that, NPR Music has a Friday roundup of what was on its radar this week.

Of course, even the music industry has had its sights trained on politics; musicians and other industry players around the globe responded forcefully this week to President Trump's executive action on immigration. But a brief, internet-breaking respite arrived Wednesday with the week's biggest music news. In two words: Beyoncé. Twins.

Jacob Ganz, senior editor at NPR Music, spoke with NPR's Audie Cornish about that announcement and some other highlights from this week. Listen at the audio link for their full conversation and dive deeper with the links below.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're going to turn from financial to music news. And joining us now to do that is Jacob Ganz, senior editor with NPR Music. Jacob, thanks for coming down.

JACOB GANZ, BYLINE: You're welcome, Audie.

CORNISH: All right, so we're going to get to some of the big news of the week, especially since music kind of intersected with politics this week. But first I want to start with what turned out to be the number one headline. Do you want to say it?

GANZ: Do you want the honors?

CORNISH: All right, I'll do it.

GANZ: Yeah.

CORNISH: Beyonce, twins...

GANZ: Twins.

CORNISH: ...Instagram.

GANZ: Wow.

CORNISH: Yeah. Beyonce Knowles, biggest star in pop music right now, posted a picture on her Instagram where she's posing bare belly, wearing a veil, cascade of flowers and with a caption that implied that she was going to be giving birth to twins. Now, why did this break the internet?

GANZ: Everything that she does is so perfectly calibrated to communicate directly to her audience that she basically controls that communication from the beginning all the way to the end. She gave people exactly what they wanted. She did this with her self-titled album that came out in 2013. She did this with her album "Lemonade" that came out last year. She's able to give people very, very tiny pieces of information that just bust everything else out of the conversation for a short period of time. And for...

CORNISH: And we have some data about how she was able to pierce the zeitgeist, right? I mean, this is pre-Super Bowl during Trump's second week. And what was she able to do?

GANZ: She was able to get more likes on Instagram than any other photo that's ever been posted on Instagram within, like, six hours of being posted. Over 9 million likes so far on this photo, which is basically just a birth announcement. I mean, everybody gets them in their emails, right?

CORNISH: (Laughter) All right, well, I want to get to our cover story this week because the president's executive order keeping citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. actually had an impact on the music community, on some artists from overseas. And then you saw the music kind of business kind of take steps in the direction of protest towards this administration. People have talked about that a lot with tech. What happened here in the U.S. with some of the big music companies?

GANZ: Well, one of the things that happened is Bandcamp, which is a music sales and streaming website, that's sort of more artist friendly. They are donating all of their proceeds from sales today to the ACLU, and over 200 musicians and labels have joined them in doing that. And this is a thing that you've actually seen since the administration started, band after band after band, protest album after protest after protest album have come out, some of them actually specifically against the executive order on immigration itself.

The British electronic musician Kieran Hebden, who records as Four Tet, started putting together this playlist on Spotify just immediately after the order made news that features only musicians from those seven countries. It's 337 songs long at this point and growing.

CORNISH: And meanwhile, there are artists from some of these essentially blacklisted countries who have put out music, right? Can you give us an example?

GANZ: Yeah. There's an Iraqi oud player - it's a traditional instrument - named Rahim AlHaj who's actually an American citizen. He lived in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's reign and was tortured, moved to the United States, became an American citizen, lives in New Mexico, performance regularly We've had him here at NPR to play a Tiny Desk Concert. He is putting out an album soon called "Letters From Iraq," but he's the very first musician on that Four Tet Spotify playlist.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAHIM ALHAJ SONG, "TAQSIM MAQAM AJAM")

CORNISH: Who are the artists coming out for Trump in this atmosphere?

GANZ: Well, there have been a few. I mean, during the inauguration Lee Greenwood played "God Bless The USA." Toby Keith played, Three Doors Down played. There haven't been as many who have had specific responses to his administration or to the policies of his administration. I think that's something that you would expect, but I'm sure that we will hear from musicians who support him. But the response in the other direction has really been overwhelming. And it is, you know, financially and musically notable at this point.

CORNISH: All right, last story of the week, new music from someone we think of as being a protest singer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I COULD HAVE TOLD YOU")

BOB DYLAN: (Singing) I could have told you she'd hurt you. She'd love you a while, then desert you.

CORNISH: Although that's not what he's doing here, right?

GANZ: Yeah. Well, Bob Dylan has always said he's not a protest singer, right? But he's the guy when you think of protest songs who in the 20th century embodies that role for so many people. And there are still people actually who are using his songs as protest songs against this administration.

Dylan is, for the last few years, going through this phase where he's putting out love songs written and recorded in the 1940s and '50s, mainly known as songs by Frank Sinatra. It's a very strange turn for him. It's a very baffling thing, I think, for a lot of his fans. If there's one musician who you'd really like to see turn Donald Trump - the president of the United States Donald Trump - into a character I think it would be Bob Dylan, but that's just not what we're getting it.

CORNISH: That's NPR Music senior editor Jacob Ganz. Jacob, thanks so much.

GANZ: You're welcome, Audie.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I COULD HAVE TOLD YOU")

DYLAN: (Singing) I hear her now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.