How social media killed the pop star interview

Listening to Radio 4’s Archive Hour is a stark reminder of the loss of pop’s great philosophers.

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“You don’t think that you’ve saved lives? Oh my dear boy! You’re living in a Never Never Land!” An Archive Hour on the subject of the political and philosophical outpourings of pop stars (7pm, 4th August) contained a clip of a famous confrontation: John and Yoko in 1969, post bed-in, being interviewed by New York Times Vietnam correspondent Gloria Emerson. “If I’m gonna get on the front page I might as well get on it with the word ‘peace’,” starts John. “But you’ve made yourself ridiculous!” withers Gloria, and on it goes.

This was during a short period when Lennon’s charm was outweighed by his anger and sense that he had wasted time (I hate the Beatles... Peace peace peace, and so on). If you watch the confrontation online you see him, toxically pale in a black polo neck that looks like an oil slick. But hearing the interview stripped of image only made it all the more striking, and exciting. People strongly disagreeing on serious matters while remaining (vaguely) respectful!

You realise the extent to which the pop interview as a form is, 50 years later, over. Paul Morley, one of the show’s contributors along with the New Statesman’s Kate Mossman, mourned this. No famous songwriter would now expose themselves to that live moment when they can control things so thoroughly on social media. (One thing you can say for Morrissey is that he believes in the interview as an art form. That’s why he’s always quoted saying hateful, crazy things. Nobody is stopping him.) Morley also made the excellent point that people don’t now expect pop stars to say anything mind-blowing – they look instead to Silicon Valley. He’s right. But isn’t that more to do with material aspiration? Fifteen-year-old boys look up to guys such as Elon Musk – made Bruce Wayne-ishly wealthy by a culture of naked capitalism via (ironically) post-Jobsian, 1960s anti-materialist Ted Talk waffle!

Capitalism has encouraged an iron belief that technology will cure our problems in an Ex Machina way. Not politics, social interaction or personal morality. The god complex is no longer with pop stars, it’s with those quickest with an algorithm. Said Lennon, when he’d regained his sense of humour: “The more I see, the less I know, for sure.” 

Archive on 4
BBC Radio 4

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 08 August 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The rise and fall of Islamic State