November 16, 2012
That One Time Justin Timberlake Showed Me His MySpace
In the past few years, the name “Myspace” has become somewhat of a dirty word–or worse, a joke. Once the top social network for a bulk of the ’00’s, their reign came to a grinding halt as Facebook opened its doors to the general public. But now, the original massive social network is planning to make a grand comeback. And to do so, they’ve focused on the one aspect that helped to shape Myspace’s original legacy: Music.
Yesterday, myself and a group of journalists were invited to the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills to hear about the brand new MySpace and have a chat with the owners themselves: Tim Vanderhook, Chris Vanderhook…and Justin Timberlake. (I know.)
It sort of feels like decades ago at this point, but there was a time in our lives when artists like Lily Allen and Sky Ferreira were being scooped up left and right and signed to labels based on the demos posted on their MySpace page. Now, the network want to recapture that magic.
Around noon, we were all gathered into a room, where Chris and Tim Vanderhook came to introduce us to the new Myspace.
First and foremost, the duo acknowledged that Myspace knows what they’re up against, and that they need to “re-earn the respect of a skeptical audience.” They stressed that they weren’t trying to be “just another social network,” and that Myspace is primarily about fostering creativity–and the design certainly speaks to achieving that goal.
The new site is incredibly sleek, if you haven’t already watched the preview. It’s not a typical feed-style network: For one thing, you scroll from left to right, magazine style. There’s a music player that follows you along for the entire site experience, when you watch a video, it takes up the whole screen (while you can keep interacting on top.) It’s the kind of forward-thinking design you’d expect to come from the mind of an artist who cares about the overall experience, rather than a team of SEO-minded programmers.
Instead of “friending” or “following,” there’s “connecting”: If you like any piece of media–photos, videos, playlists–you “connect” with the content, allowing you to see who else has connected with the same type of media. There’s also “mixes,” which are essentially multimedia playlists that thread audio playlists, photos and videos into one neat package, in any combination.
Everything about the site experience–from the super high quality photos to the in-your-face layout–is a vastly more emotional experience than what Facebook has slowly lost over time.
In keeping with the new site strategy, Myspace is now heavily focused on exploration, which is a treat for unsigned and signed artists alike. There’s a “Discovery” tab to find out what’s currently trending (the tab opened up to a big, beautiful photo of Sky Ferreira), lots of editorial (I read through a MySpace reporter’s play-by-play on Rihanna‘s 777 Tour), charts, analytics, recommendations, advanced search capabilities (you start typing on any page, and you’re instantly searching the site.
Also new to the experience is “Top Fans,” a section of the artist’s page which uses algorithms (Klout comes to mind) to display their most influential fans–meaning not only do these people consume a lot of content, but they reach a lot of people too. This could become a highly sought-after honor, and in the case of acts like One Direction, I imagine the daily wars between diehard Brazilian stans battling their way to the top of the list on the slight offchance that Zayn or Louis sees their name could get rather ugly.
On a nostalgic note, Myspace is reintroducing two of the features from their original incarnation: The profile song, which is a single song a user can set for their profile, as well as the beloved/hated Top 8, which allows you to decide which relationship you value more: Your best friend of 20 years, or Katy Perry.
After the presentation from Chris and Tim, we all took a break for lunch (read: stress-eating pre-Justin interaction). Then, we were broken into groups and led into a room to play around with MySpace for a bit.
The product is still in the early, early stages of beta, and that became clear fairly soon: There aren’t many users on the site right now (obviously), and the breadth of interaction capabilities right now is fairly minimal. However, the site’s design and navigation is incredibly impressive, although it does require a slight learning curve. It’s easy to get lost in the site (as I’m sure is the intention), and there’s plenty of opportunities to explore new talent. For unsigned acts, the site seems rich with opportunity for self-expression and, most importantly, self-promotion.
After the demo, our group was led into a room full of couches, where we eagerly awaited Justin and the Vanderhooks. (Possible band name?) And then, they walked in and introduced themselves. And by that, I mean Justin Timberlake shook my hand. To clarify: His hand was on mine. To clarify further: We shared an intimate moment.
Immediately, the group began to discuss the mission of Myspace–and for a bulk of the discussion, Justin took the helm: “I’m an artist first,” Justin told us, explaining that the new MySpace was “built by an artist, for an artist.” He stressed the fact that the new Myspace would become the hub for musicians as it once was, and that it would be a place where an artist could curate the experience beyond simple interactions. At one point, someone mentioned the vast amount of unsigned acts that were displaced after Myspace began to decline in popularity years ago. “It’s going to be their home again if I have anything to do with it,” he said.
Later on, I asked Justin how Myspace plans to provide artist-to-fan connection, like the instant gratification of getting a tweet from your favorite artist. He agreed that he loves tweeting fans, but in his vision for MySpace, artists will be able customize their interactions with fans as they see fit–not simply limited to a single method (like a 140-character text response.) I would have more quotes from that entire exchange, but the only notes I took at the time were “AHHHHH” and “just talked to me for 10 minutes” as I was busy DYING INSIDE BECAUSE HE WAS STARING INTO MY SOUL THE WHOLE TIME AND I COULDN’T BREATHE, SO SEXY, OH MY GOD. #Journalism
When I regained my vision/hearing, I found the conversation was still happening. In Justin’s view, the new Myspace is aspirational: “I don’t want it to be drunk party pictures or what I’m doing right now…it’s who I’m going to be, and what I have to offer.” In a way, it’s a way for fans to take a glimpse into an artist’s creative process–or as he referred to it, an “inspiration board.” The team stressed that there were still plenty of developments on the way, including concert ticketing and opportunities for artists to sell merchandise directly on their own pages.
And then, at the very end, came the million dollar question from MTV News: Will this mean that Justin’s planning to get back into music?
“You guys act like I said I retired,” he joked. “I can tell you this,” he said as the room suddenly felt very quiet. “When I’m ready to say something, I will in the biggest way possible…I’m really patient. It’s not about them. It comes from a pure place.”
Not to speculate (well, maybe just a little), but it sure seems then that an event like say, the re-launch of a social network, could be the needed provocation for some long awaited new tunes. In any case, it certainly seemed like he’s preparing to reclaim his throne in the near future. I have faith.
With services like last.fm and Spotify, there are opportunities to discover new artists. With Soundcloud and Bandcamp, there are ways to new artists to promote their music. But there’s no single service, App or website has ever acted as a central hub as well as Myspace once did–and from what I saw yesterday, it has the potential to become that source once again–and in a gorgeous new way.
After all, you can always count on Justin to bring sexy back.